While I very much respect my Penang lang (fellow Penangite), Dr Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin, the well-known former mufti of Perlis, I just cannot agree with his take on Malaysian religious ceremonies conducted in public as reported by Malaysiakini's Don't just harp on korban, what about other faiths?
In responding to Hindus complaining about the slaughter of cows at SK Puchong Jaya in Selangor during Aidiladha last week, he stated that while he agrees that schools are not appropriate venues for the Aidiladha cow sacrifice ritual, other religious acts in public places should also be similarly regulated.'
The 'other' religious act in public place that he brought out was obviously Thaipusam, because he said:
"Among these, roads are not places for religious processions such as carrying idols and smashing of coconuts to the point of inconveniencing road users or messing up a public space, such as being carried out by followers of certain religions. If you want to streamline (the regulations), then do it for all."
Come on lah, Dr Asri, where's the comparison between slaughtering live animals like cattle and sometimes even camels at a school in view of its young pupils and the breaking of coconut fruits on roads.
Regardless of the school pupils’ religion, wouldn’t the animal slaughter, which would be accompanied by blood and gore, and worse, the frantic death cries of the animals slaughtered, traumatize them, in total contrast to the ritual of breaking coconuts which at worst would only temporarily inconvenience motorists.
Incidentally, on the Hindu religious festival of Thaipusam, many participants have been and will be Chinese Penangites, who for nearly a century have been among the most dedicated of devotees to the Hindu deity Lord Murugan, and who could also claim to be the most staunch supporters of the festival’s ritual of breaking coconuts for Lord Murugan's blessings.
Furthermore, the Thaipusam religious processions and the associated ritual of breaking coconuts have always been known in advance by the police who each year would via the press provide early advice to motorists, escort for the processions as well as control of the traffic along the affected routes.
As for Dr Asri’s claim that the ritual would mess up public roads, obviously (and strangely for a Penangite) he has not been aware that once the Thaipusam chariot carrying Lord Murugan had passed, the so-called mess, namely broken coconuts on the road, would be swiftly taken away and thus cleared up by members of the public who helped themselves to the blessed fruits, obviously to extract santan (coconut milk) for either personal or commercial use.
Like many others, I hold Dr Asri in the highest regard, respecting him for his intellect and fairness, but in this case I couldn’t and don't agree with his attempt to compare the ritual of slaughtering cattle and that of Thaipusam’s breaking of coconuts as being at the same level of insensitivity (both religious as well as for the young regardless of their religions).
No comparison at all
Really, it is no comparison at all, because one ritual, if conducted at a school during the schooling term, would undeniably traumatise the school children there with the bloody slaughter and of live animals, coupled with the animals terrified bawling and bellowing. The other, that of merely breaking coconuts on a road, would at most force motorists to temporarily divert from the routes taken by the Thaipusam procession.
Then, slaughtering animals which are sacred to Hindus in view of Hindu school students hasn’t been the Malaysian way of respecting other cultures and religious beliefs.
No one is demanding that the Islamic ritual of slaughtering cattle (or camels) on specific religious festivals be stopped, but only that it could be done at locations away from the sight of young schoolchildren, perhaps in the compound of the local masjid (mosque).
I am convinced that breaking coconuts would not be insensitive to other religions, unless of course the person is a new ‘Ayah Pin’ who worships coconuts.