The practice of holding "kongsi raya" and open houses in Malaysia will be continued so long they are not observed as religious gatherings, prime minister Abdullah Badawi was quoted by the national news agency, Bernama on Friday.
He said currently kongsi raya is being celebrated as more of a social gathering among Malaysia's multi-racial society.
"The celebrations have been going on very well and have not created any problems among the various races. They are not religious festivals but social gatherings without any religious rituals and customs to be witnessed by visitors and those attending the celebrations," Abdullah said.
On Wednesday, chairman of the Working Committee of the Ulama (Islamic scholars) Conference 2006, Harussani Zakaria was quoted as saying that the conference had called on the government to review practices such as the kongsi raya celebrations and open house to ensure that they do not contradict Islamic laws. He said the review was necessary because the National Fatwa Committee had decided that celebrating the festivals of the other religions would erode the Muslims' faith and could lead to blasphemy.
As and immediate reaction, I wrote a letter and was published by the New Straits Times (NST) today (Friday, June 16) pointing out that not all festivals are religious in nature. Most are cultural festivals celebrated by communities concerned, irrespective of their religious beliefs.
For example, Chinese New Year is not religious festival. It is celebrated by the Chinese, Muslims and non-Muslims.
The harvest festivals celebrated by the Kadazan/Dusuns of Sabah (Tadau Kaamatan) and Gawai Dayak by the Ibans/Dayaks of Sarawak are also cultural in nature and celebrated by the ethnic communities, both Muslims and non-Muslims. So is deepavali.
The only non-Muslim religious celebration in question is Christmas.
From my understanding, there are occasions when Muslims join in celebrating festivals of non-Muslims. Such practices glorify the peaceful co-existence which is recommended, particularly in a multi-racial country like Malaysia.
I strongly believed that Muslims should be allowed to attend such festivals so long as their attendance does not include participation in any haram (prohibited) action.
As Muslims, we are allowed to exchange gifts with non-Muslims, to congratulate them on happy occasions and to express sympathy if calamity strikes.