PETALING JAYA: In the wake of the religious affairs minister’s call to Muslims not to attend the Bon Odori Festival, G25 has reminded Malaysians of the country’s greatest assets – racial and religious diversity.

“With the openness of our country to foreign trade, education and international travel, we benefit from cross-cultural contacts with the world.

“Let us celebrate this unique cultural diversity to make it a force for national unity, stability and prosperity,” the group of eminent Malays said in a statement yesterday.

Malaysians, it said, should be allowed to have the freedom to enjoy the diversity of other cultures and festivals of the various races.

The group said it was pleased to note that the Selangor state was taking a liberal attitude with regard to those interested in attending and enjoying the Japanese cultural dance celebration of Bon Odori.

“G25 is confident that among Malaysian Muslims who participate in these festivals, which presently are purely cultural and not religious, their akidah or faith is not affected in any way,” it said.

Selangor Ruler Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah ordered the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) not to forbid Muslims from attending the Bon Odori Festival, noting that it was a cultural celebration that had been held to strengthen ties between Malaysians and the Japanese community in the state.

G25 said Bon Odori had been celebrated since 1977, and it was perplexed that after 45 years the festival was now in question.

“G25 appreciates the family orientation of the Bon Odori Festival. By bringing families together in a reunion, it is in line with our national aspiration of Keluarga Malaysia (Malaysian Family) which is promoted by the Prime Minister,” it added.

Although the Bon Odori celebration has its roots in ancient Japanese religious rites, it’s a dance which has evolved over the centuries into a social celebration among the Japanese, where families reunite, and celebrate the summer harvest, it said.

“This festival is also celebrated by Japanese in countries where they have close trade, economic and social relationships like in Malaysia,” said G25.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of religious affairs Datuk Idris Ahmad recently asked Muslims not to attend the festival because he said it had elements of another religion.