There is no restriction for Christian students to wear necklaces bearing the cross sign to school, despite a controversy involving a principal of a secondary school in Serian, which has gone viral on social media.
Minister of Welfare, Women and Community Wellbeing Datuk Fatimah Abdullah said such controversy would not have happened if the principal had been more careful in his choice of words when reprimanding the students.
She revealed that the Serian District Education Officer (PPD) had already set up an investigation into the matter, which cropped up after the principal is said to have uttered insensitive remarks when reprimanding students for wearing ‘big-sized’ crosses.
“Based on what I read from the report, the way he reprimanded the student could have been done more decently. There is restriction upon students when it comes to wearing religious symbols to school – that they must be worn appropriately. In this case, however, it could be that the principal had talked to the student in a way that was ‘tidak berhemah’ (lack of courtesy).
“Nevertheless, we don’t want this matter to cause tension among us in Sarawak as we all come from different racial and religious backgrounds,” she told reporters here after officiating at a function here yesterday.
Fatimah also said this issue should not be blown out of proportion, to the point that it could cause division not only among Sarawakians, but also between Sarawakians and Peninsular Malaysians.
On another aspect, the minister – a former school principal herself – said principals acted as disciplinarians to ensure that students would oblige by the rules.
“Based on what I was told, the principal had been reprimanded for his action by the Serian PPD.”
Fatimah added that while the wearing of religious symbols was not a prohibited act, the wearing of gold jewellery was not allowed at school because this could lead to students being harmed, such as becoming victims to snatch thieves.
The ‘cross necklace’ issue, which had gone viral on Facebook and WhatsApp, drew massive responses from many Sarawakians, who were calling for the principal to be transferred out and be replaced by a local who would have better understanding of the local environment.
The Association of Churches in Sarawak (ACS) secretary-general Ambrose Linang said it had received a complaint from one of the students on Thursday, but it was withdrawn by the same student yesterday morning.
Nonetheless, he said the ACS was still checking if the complaint had basis.
“ACS would urge the authorities to take appropriate action if the complaint was found to be true.
DAP Serian chief Edward Andrew Luwak said the action by the school principal, who hails from Peninsular Malaysia, demonstrated his ignorance of the local situation.
“He seems to be unaware of the fact that the local people are very tolerant of each other’s practices. He needs to realise that Serian is a Christian-majority territory, with heavy Christian student population in its schools.
“It is appreciated that there are codes of ethics at school. Displaying of bibles and crosses openly in school premises, for example, may not be allowed. But students should be allowed to have them as their private possession; for examples, religious items of their choice inside their bags or tucked underneath their garments,” said Edward yesterday.
He also said parents of students of that school were dismayed by the situation and they had brought up the matter to the church leaders in Serian.
A lay leader then brought up the complaint to the PPD, who eventually summoned principal for a meeting few days ago to seek explanation, Edward added.
Meanwhile, PBDS Baru vice-president Andrew Puro lodged a report against the matter at Serian police station at 11am yesterday.
Puro, who was accompanied by party president Cobbold John Lusoi, said he was upset and saddened by what he read on Facebook, believing that the insensitive statement allegedly made by the principal was an insult to the Christian religion.
It is learnt that the school principal had apologised for his action. Serian PPD Yunus Apok could not be reached for comments yesterday.
Samuel Aubrey and Jude Toyat, firstname.lastname@example.org