GEORGE TOWN: The new trend among Muslim students in Methodist Primary Girls' School buying only from Muslim stalls at the school canteen has raised concerns with the state government.
Penang Deputy Chief Minister II Dr P. Ramasamy said the matter was highlighted to him during a meeting with the school's board members on Tuesday (Oct 1).
"Of late, there is a trend among Muslim students only to buy food from those stalls operated by Muslims, and not from the non-Muslim stalls.
"But, the overall school canteen is managed by a Malay-Muslim.
"This lack of mingling and subtle segregation among students of different races and religions is worrisome to the school officials, both the management and the school board," said Ramasamy during a press conference in Komtar on Wednesday (Oct 2).
Ramasamy, who is state Education Committee chairman, said in order to overcome the divisions, the school decided to introduce unity speeches for Christians and Muslims.
In response to accusations the school did not allow Muslim prayers during a recent prize-giving event on Sept 27, Ramasamy refuted the matter, saying that it was merely a unity speech.
"A Christian member of the board gave the unity speech after a Muslim member who was assigned to the unity speech failed to do so.
"Apparently, the person who was in charge of preparing the speech did not prepare it on time.
"As a result, only the Christian representative ended up giving her unity speech; a speech that called for understanding and cooperation in a multi-racial and multi-religious society.
"The programme as a whole was a success to bring about some level of unity and togetherness among the young students.
"However, the school officials were shocked when a police report was lodged by a Malay-Muslim group accusing the school of allowing Christian prayers, while not allowing Muslim prayers," Ramasamy said.
He added the police report went viral and led to more than 10 police reports lodged and a stern warning issued by the Education Ministry to the school.
"No Muslim prayers were denied in the school and they want the authorities to understand why the unity speeches were organised.
"Although mission schools come under the Education Act, there are circulars that acknowledge the special character, tradition and ethos of these schools that were established in the country during the colonial period.
"Mission schools are not exactly national schools, although they share the same curriculum.
"They were established long before national schools made their appearance and the emphasis of teaching and the importance of Christian prayers distinguish these from the national schools," added Ramasamy.
Ramasamy also said he will be meeting Penang Education Department acting director Abdul Rashid Abdul Samad to discuss the matter further and urged the Education Ministry to be careful when calling for punishment before knowing the facts.
On Oct 27, a 42-year-old businessman-cum-political activist lodged a police report, claiming that the school had recited Christian prayers before the national anthem was sung.
In the latest update, police have questioned five people, including parents, in its probe into the claim and will be calling in more witnesses.