Singapore – When Workers’ Party (WP) Member of Parliament (MP) Faisal Manap suggested that Muslim nurses wear the tudung as part of their uniform, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli said that the uniform policy in public service cannot be tilted towards any religious belief.
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Maliki Osman joined Mr Masagos in highlighting that Singapore’s approach to dealing with sensitive issues, such as wearing the tudung or headscarf in certain professions, is to discuss them behind closed doors to avoid serious ramifications, which could impact religious harmony.
In his speech, Mr Faisal proposed the Government allow the tudung to be worn as part of the nurses’ uniform. He noted how some Muslim women could not serve as nurses because they were unable to wear headscarves at work.
If the tudung could be worn as part of a nurse’s uniform, more women could fulfil their desire to work as a nurse, said Mr Faisal, noting the initiative would also increase the pool of local nurses.
Responding to Mr Faisal’s suggestion in Parliament on Monday (March 8), both ministers expressed understanding of the views of nurses who wished to wear the tudung with their uniforms. The topic was brought up during the debate on the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth’s budget.
The ministers noted they have engaged with the nurses, union leaders, religious teachers, and other community members on this issue, reported straitstimes.com.
Both Mr Masagos and Dr Maliki said that there is a consensus onS discussing the issue on closed platforms.
“They agree that these are sensitive issues and best discussed behind closed doors. They also agree that the solution is not straightforward, and we should not rush into one without addressing these other concerns,” said Dr Maliki.
The Government’s secular stand on the issue “has been consistent,” and the uniform policy in the public service cannot be tilted towards any particular religious belief, explained Mr Masagos.
Furthermore, the use of a uniform indicates equal rendering of services, regardless of race or religion. Introducing headscarves to be worn over the uniform would present “a very visible religious marker”, which would identify the nurse or uniformed officer to be Muslim, he added.
“This has significant implications – we do not want patients to prefer or not prefer to be served by a Muslim nurse, nor do we want people to think that public security is being enforced by a Muslim or non-Muslim police officer. This is what makes the decision difficult and sensitive,” said Mr Masagos.
“Public, aggressive pressure on such an issue can only make compromise harder. Any government concession to religious pressure will cause other groups to take note and adopt similarly aggressive postures.”
Mr Masagos further added that “race and religion will become increasingly polarising, and this will harm all of us, especially the minority communities.”
As a community, Singapore Muslims have been skilful in adapting and adjusting religious practices through the years, said Mr Masagos. He cited one example, which was lowering the volume of the call to prayer at mosques in consideration of their neighbours.
“At the heart of our approach is our desire to protect the precious harmony that we have built over the years with other communities in Singapore.”
“Rest assured, my team and I are engaging with stakeholders widely and deeply behind closed doors, to achieve solutions and outcomes to our unique challenges, that fulfil the aspirations of our community, while being mindful of the secular nature of our state,” he added in a Facebook post./TISG
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