Ethnic Indian Hindus in Malaysia have strongly criticised a Muslim cleric’s suggestions that Prime Minister Najib Razak should not have donned a “Hindu” attire, nor should he have been garlanded at a “Hindu” ceremony, media reported Saturday.
Malaysian Prime Minister Razak donned the kurta and was garlanded at the Tamil Thaipusam celebrations in Batu Caves near Kuala Lumpur Tuesday, to which the mufti of the Malaysian state of Perlis, Mohammad Asri Zainul Abidin, took umbrage, the Malaysian Insider reported.
Malaysian Hindu Sangam president R.S. Mohan Shan said that presenting a garland was, in fact, a sign of respect for honoured guests.
“It has always been the Indian way of respecting others. It is an important aspect of our culture and has nothing to do with religion,” he told The Malaysian Insider.
“There is nothing in the Quran that says Muslims cannot be presented with garlands,” he added.
Asri had said that the prime minister’s advisors should have been firm on the matter and informed the organisers of the function that he would attend on the condition that he would not take part in any Hindu ritual.
“This is what Islam forbids. Muslim leaders are not prohibited from attending other religious festivals, but there are rules and limits,” the cleric said.
R.Nadarajah, chairman of the Batu Caves’ Sri Subramaniam temple, said that it was a tradition to garland any distinguished guest at a function as a sign of respect.
“Many sultans, prime ministers, chief ministers and other dignitaries have attended Thaipusam celebrations at Batu Caves,” he said, adding, “As a mark of respect, we garland them. This is tradition. Datuk Seri Najib attended as our guest and we did the same.”
Razak did not enter the temple and was just at Batu Caves to perform his official duty as the prime minister, M. Saravanan, vice-president of the Malaysian Indian Congress, said.
“Why is this being made into an issue? The mufti has failed to understand that the kurta and the garland are cultural elements for Indians. They are not a Hindu thing,” he said, adding that Najib was prime minister for all Malaysians.
Hitting out at the mufti, Mohan said Muslims in countries such as India, Bangladesh and Pakistan wore kurtas and not the “baju Melayu”, which is a Malay traditional costume.
“We don’t deny that Najib is a Muslim. And we have given all the respect to him as a Muslim. But Muslims in other countries wear similar clothes, as Islam does not impose any dress code as long as one is dressed modestly,” he said.
Bringing up such a trivial matter, Mohan said, was yet another attempt to create discord among the different races and religions in Malaysia.
Two years ago, the mufti of Perak state, Harussani Zakaria, claimed Najib had “sacrificed his faith” by attending the Thaipusam celebrations, and said he advised the prime minister each year not to attend such events as they were an “idolatrous act”.
Harussani later back-pedalled after Najib spoke to him personally.
Ethnic Indians comprise a little over seven percent of Malaysia’s total population of nearly 30 million.