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Uproar after Malaysia says Tamil harvest festival is ‘religious’

PETALING JAYAA: letter from Malaysia's Education Ministry describing Ponggal as a religious festival based on guidelines from the Islamic Development Department (Jakim) has caused an uproar in the country.

The Education Ministry said its guidance on the Tamil harvest festival, celebrated yesterday, was merely to allay Muslim parents' concerns, while Jakim said it was only providing advice at the ministry's request.

The incident comes after a government school in Selangor was forced to remove some of its Chinese New Year decorations earlier this month, prompting federal ministers to step in to say such festive items are normal in schools.

The Jan 13 letter from the ministry, signed by Institute of Teacher Education deputy chief registrar Adzman Talib, who is also the Education Ministry deputy director-general, states that the "Ponggal festival is a celebration for Hindu worshippers".

The letter went viral on social media, with many saying the festival has nothing to do with religion and is instead a Tamil celebration for an upcoming harvest festival.

EASE CONCERNS

Following the uproar, the ministry said in a statement yesterday that the letter was issued to ease Muslim parents' concerns about their children's involvement in the celebration.

"The statement in the circular also takes into consideration the position and guidelines issued by Jakim and the state mufti department.

"The ministry also reminded schools to follow all current regulations if they intend to hold celebrations at school," it said.

In defending its position, the ministry said it was not trying to prevent Ponggal celebrations at schools and realises that schools are a place to inculcate unity among students of different backgrounds.

"Culture and customs between races must be known, learnt and respected by all parties, including the school management, teachers and students," it added.

In a separate statement, Jakim said that its position was made known after a request from the Education Ministry. - THE STAR

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