PETALING JAYA: The education ministry says a Jan 13 circular barring Muslim students from taking part in Ponggal festivities which begin today was not intended to stop schools from organising events to celebrate the South Indian harvest festival.
“The letter was issued to allay fears among Muslim parents over the involvement of their children in the celebration.
“The letter takes into account the stand and guidelines issued by the Department of Islamic Development (Jakim),” the ministry said in a statement today.
Jakim, in a separate statement, said it had merely given its view on the matter after being approached by the education ministry.
“The decision (to issue the directive) comes under the jurisdiction of the ministry,” the department said, adding that it had never said wishing Ponggal greetings was “haram”.
Meanwhile, the education ministry said it encouraged efforts to “instil tolerance, understanding and mutual respect” among people of all races, adding that all students should take part in cross-cultural activities in schools.
An earlier directive by the ministry, sent to all state education directors, had warned that participation in the rice and milk boiling – a key ceremony during Ponggal – was strictly out of bounds for Muslims.
It was signed by education deputy director-general Adzman Talib, who said a shariah experts panel from Jakim had decided last year that Ponggal was haram for Muslims.
It listed six conditions for Muslims attending Ponggal events, including a prohibition on wearing clothes and paraphernalia with Hindu symbolism, taking part in rituals, as well as the proper manner in greeting friends and neighbours “Happy Ponggal”.
The directive also warned Muslims not to make fun of Hindu gods during the celebration.
Several non-Muslim ministers have criticised the directive, saying Ponggal is not a religious festival.
“It should be viewed as an event for our society to strengthen their ties, respect culture and promote unity and nation-building,” said Communications and Multimedia Minister Gobind Singh Deo in a Twitter post today.
Ponggal is traditionally celebrated by Indians after the first harvest as a mark of gratitude for the produce.
In agrarian societies, the first grains that are harvested are placed in a pot and boiled with milk, and as the cooked rice and milk boil over, everyone rejoices.
It signifies the start of good times and puts people in a positive frame of mind to face the challenges of the year ahead. Many Tamils consider it the new year.