Tudung Uniform Issue Needs To Be Discussed Sensitively, Behind Closed Doors: Masagos

The issue of wearing religious gear, such as headdresses or tudung/hijab, as part of uniforms, has long been contentious and debated over the years.

Many, particularly those in nursing, have asked authorities as to why these headgear are disallowed as part of their uniforms.

The answer is that uniformed services must remain secular, and the Government’s stance is consistent on this.

This was how Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli responded in Parliament on Monday (8 Mar) to a suggestion from Aljunied GRC MP Faisal Manap.

The Workers’ Party (WP) member had suggested that Muslim nurses should be allowed to wear the tudung.

Tudung is visible religious marker: Masagos

On Monday (8 Mar), Mr Masagos acknowledged that many Muslim women have contributed meaningfully and nobly to Singapore through jobs like nursing, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, the government’s stance on uniform policy has been “consistently clear” — it has to remain secular.

Uniforms are visible and services must be rendered equally regardless of race or religion, he said.

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Tudungs are visible religious markers, and this may affect patients’ preferences for who they wish to be served by based on whether they’re wearing a tudung, Mr Masagos said.

It is hence a difficult and sensitive issue for the government.

Religious issues may become polarising

Mr Masagos noted the potential for religious issues to become “increasingly polarising” if aggressive pushes for religious headgear occur.

This, he said, will harm everyone, including minority communities.

As a result, the Government decided on a closed-door approach to these discussions, given the sensitivities involved.

Consultations with the community are also done behind closed doors, and representatives are understanding of why the policy against headgear in uniformed services applies.

Need to not withdraw from others at workplaces

Mr Masagos then said he empathises with Muslim women who feel torn between fulfilling religious and professional duties at the same time.

However, workplaces are part of the common experience shared with Singaporeans of all races and religions, and we must not withdraw from them, he warned.

He then cited various adaptations and adjustments that the Muslim community has made so they can practice their religion alongside others.

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Mr Masagos recognises that Mr Faisal may not agree with this approach and continues to raise these issues in public discourse.

Nevertheless, he said the heart of the approach is in protecting the harmony that’s been built over the years with other communities.

Issue that must be discussed sensitively

Over the years, there’ve been numerous pleas for religious to be allowed to wear their gear as part of their uniform.

However, the government has noted that this may result in polarisation, especially as uniformed services must remain secular.

As a country with many creeds, there needs to be sensitivity when discussing these issues, especially publicly.

Nevertheless, we thank religious communities for serving in uniform to all, regardless of race or religion.

This is what makes Singapore so special — that we can live alongside each other without prejudice.

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Featured image adapted from MCI via YouTube.