MOE And JAKIM Spark Outrage For Making It 'Haram' For Muslims To Celebrate Ponggal

In a letter dated 13 January, the Ministry of Education stated that it is "haram" for Muslims to celebrate Ponggal.

Cover image via Najib Razak/Facebook Gowri Sritharan via Srikandaswamykovil

A letter by the Ministry of Education (MOE) stating that it is haram (forbidden) for Muslims to celebrate Ponggal festival is going viral

The letter, dated 13 January, stated that the decision was based on the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia's (JAKIM) position on the celebration.

"It is informed that JAKIM's 100th Syariah experts panel meeting, which convened on 8 and 9 April 2019, had decided on the ruling hukum (laws/punishment) on Ponggal festival for Muslims," the letter read, which was signed by Ministry of Education deputy director-general Adzman Talib.

"Ponggal is a celebration for Hindus. Therefore, JAKIM decided that it is haram for Muslims to participate in the festival, particularly in the practice of cooking rice with milk."

Today, 15 January, marks the first day of the three-day festival.

The letter stated that if Muslims were forced to attend the event, they should not participate in the "religious" activities

JAKIM stated Muslims should avoid these five activities:

- Should not wear any special clothing that has religious symbolism, such as the robes of a Hindu priest,

- Should not use any tools that have religious symbolism of other religions such as wearing necklaces, flower garlands, or apply religious marks on the forehead,

- Should not be involved in rituals in any shape or form,

- Should not enter a house of worship where a ritual is ongoing, and

- Should not curse the gods of other religion.

However, Muslims are advised to greet friends and neighbours without sidelining Islam.

The Star has confirmed the authenticity of the letter.

However, netizens have since called out the MOE and JAKIM for inaccurately labelling the harvest celebration as a religious event

Activist Siti Kasim shared the front page of the letter on Facebook yesterday, 14 January, where the post has garnered over 1,100 reactions and hundreds of comments.

Siti Kasim claimed that "power craze" officials in the government do not understand Ponggal is not associated with any religion, citing that Muslims and Christians in India celebrate the festival too.

"Ponggal is a celebration of light and success in our harvest. Nothing to do with religion," commented a netizen.

"Seriously, I'm tired of all these atrocities. The worst part is, the notice began with 'Sukacita dimaklumkan...'. Come on la, get a life," a Facebook user wrote.

Another netizen questioned, "Could this be another of the deep state's antics to paint the Pakatan Harapan in a bad light?"

Image via Facebook

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, in a video posted on Tuesday, wished Malaysians a happy Ponggal celebration

‪Selamat Menyambut Hari Ponggal. ‬ ‪Semoga tahun ini memberi kemakmuran yang melimpah-ruah untuk kita semua. ‬

Posted by Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad on Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Dr Mahathir is currently the acting Education Minister after Dr Maszlee Malik resigned on 3 January.

Penang Deputy Chief Minister II P Ramasamy questioned if the MOE is trying to embarrass the premier with the timely circulation of the letter, reported Malaysiakini.

"Why are they sending this to schools? Is the 'deep state' still active?"
said Ramasamy.

"Are they attempting to embarrass the acting Education Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad? (If that is so, then) this person should resign."

Former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, too, posted an undated picture of himself dressed in traditional Indian attire

Najib said that he wishes Malaysians will be blessed with fortunes in this economically trying time and a happy Ponggal festival.

"This festive day signifies gratitude for the rezeki (fortunes) that have been collected," Najib said.

"I also hope that we all have the confidence, belief, and awareness to fight against the oppressive forces so that people's voice will be heard and their welfare will continue being protected."

Recently, a 2018 speech by Tun Dr Mahathir vowing to change the school syllabus to cut back on religious classes went viral:

Last week, a school in Puchong was pressured into taking down its Chinese New Year decorations because it was deemed too "religious":

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