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IPOH - A small mosque in Perak that organised a lion dance and fireworks to celebrate the Chinese New Year in an event attended by two lawmakers from Chinese-led Democratic Action Party (DAP) has been censured by the state religious authority for angering the local Muslim community.
The Perak Islamic Religious Department (JAIPk) said the surau, as small community mosques are called in Malaysia, defied its instructions and disrespected the sensitivity of the Muslim community in the area.
The mosque is located at Taman Pengkalan Utama in Ipoh, capital of Perak state.
"Based on some postings on social media, we found that there have been a lion dance, lighting of fireworks and a speech by the Ipoh Timur MP during the celebration on Feb 1.
"The lion dance and fireworks have caused a negative reaction and anger among the Malay community," JAIPk director Mohd Yusop Haji Husin said in a press statement on Friday (Feb 7).
"And having the Member of Parliament give a speech may be seen as going against the instructions and law as set," he added.
Politicians are barred from using Malaysian prayer houses as a platform for their activities, especially by giving political speeches.
Malaysia's Malay Muslims who are turning more conservative often frown on taking part in events that are seen coming from outside the Islamic religion.
Last month, the Tamil Pongal festival was in the spotlight after a surprise letter issued by Malaysia's Education Ministry warned Muslims not to take part in the festivities, saying this was based on advice from the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim).
And in January too, a school in Selangor became a centre of attention after a complaint by a Malay political party over Chinese New Year decorations on the school's premises. Nine Cabinet ministers and deputy ministers led by Deputy Prime Minister Wan Azizah Wan Ismail came to the school to hang up big red lanterns as an affirmation to Malaysia's multiracial culture.
On Friday, Datuk Mohd Yusop said JAIPk was informed by the surau committee on the celebration on Jan 31.
"We have questioned the suitability for such a programme to be held, given that there were no Chinese members in the surau.
"The surau committee chairman said the programme was to build a closer rapport with the non-Muslim folk and to show that they also respect the culture of various races, while changing the negative perception towards Islam," he said.
The surau committe chairman who was not named also said, according to Mr Mohd Yusop, that there would be a performance by traditional Malay drums called the kompang and a feast. Two Perak DAP lawmakers - MP Wong Kah Woh and assemblyman Abdul Aziz Bari - were invited with the hope of getting funding for the mosque's upkeep, the statement said.
Mr Mohd Yusop said the surau committee chairman has apologised for the incident and has also sent in a formal letter, admitting his mistake and oversight.
"We will bring the matter up in the next Perak Islamic Religious Council and Malay Customs meeting.
"I would like to reiterate that we have no objections and would support programmes that promote harmony and understanding between races and among the people," he said. "But whatever programmes to be held at mosques or surau, it needs to respect the sensitivity of the Muslims and the Malay community, while not causing conflict with Malay customs.
"We also wish to remind all mosque and surau committees not to allow their premises to be used for any activities by political parties to gain mileage," he added.