Singapore— The tudung issue is both a deeply personal as well as a national concern for educator Nur Friday, who spoke to historian PJ Thum and Wake Up Singapore’s Sean Francis Han.
In a conversation uploaded to New Naratif’s YouTube channel, the hosts talked to Ms Nur, who, as a Malay Muslim woman, represents the people most deeply affected by the issue, and whose voice in the debate has been curiously lacking.
To recap, during a Budget debate speech earlier this year, Workers’ Party MP Faisal Manap suggested that Muslim nurses be allowed to wear the tudung or headscarf as part of their uniform.
This is not a new issue, but a recurrent concern that Mr Faisal has championed over the years.
Responding in Parliament on March 8—which Ms Nur points out is International Women’s Day — Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli said that the uniform policy in public service cannot be tilted towards any particular religious belief.
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Maliki Osman joined Mr Masagos in highlighting that sensitive issues, such as the tudung, are discussed behind closed doors in Singapore to avoid serious ramifications.
On Mar 23, Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam clarified that the Government can “see good reasons why nurses should be allowed to wear the tudung if they choose to do so”. He added that the issue was discussed six months ago.
And on Mar 31, PM Lee also weighed in on the issue, saying that changes must be carefully considered.
A commitment to faith & a national issue
Ms Nur explained that, on her part, the choice to wear the tudung is a commitment to her faith. After a period of soul searching, she came to her decision as the tudung reminds her “that life on earth is not the final destination”.
Later in the interview, she underlined that wearing a tudung should be a personal choice for Muslim women, as not all should be expected to choose to do so.
Some may decide not to wear one at all, and either way, both decisions must be respected, she said.
But she also called for the voice of more Muslim women to be heard regarding the issue, saying that men’s voices have been front and centre—Messrs Faisal Manap, Masagos, and Maliki, and later on, Mr Shanmugam.
Muslim women are an important part of Singapore’s culture and history but don’t have a real platform. Neither have they been invited or encouraged to join the policy-making table, Ms Nur said.
Additionally, the fact that the Law and Home Affairs Minister has spoken has made it a national issue, which means “we can have the conversation now”, she said.
One voice she says she wished to hear is that of President Halimah Yacob who, as a Muslim woman, wears a tudung herself in her daily life.
Ms Nur, who has met the President in the course of her volunteer work, called her “an amazing woman”, but expressed concern over her current silence on the matter.
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