Posted by Terry Xu
Indranee Rajah, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Law and Ministry of Education, criticises the Workers’ Party for its statement on the hijab issue.
Without any rephrasing any of her words, the below quote is taken from Ms Indranee’s facebook status update posted on Wednesday,
“I am heartened by how the government and the Malay community are approaching the hijab issue, through calm and constructive dialogue. The issue is a difficult one. While I fully understand the desires of many Muslim Singaporeans, we also have to consider carefully its impact on our racial integration and harmony.
Two opposition parties – the NSP and WP – have made statements on this issue. Unfortunately, they have presented it as a simple, straightforward matter, with no trade-offs or downsides. If it were that easy, we would have been able to solve it long ago, and countries like Turkey (even with a government led by an Islamic party) would not be grappling with similar difficulties.
NSP, at least, have stated their stand. WP avoids stating clearly their position on the issue. It sounds sympathetic, but if you read the statement carefully, WP straddles both sides of the fence and merely calls for public dialogue. This does little to help resolve a delicate and difficult national issue and runs the danger of encouraging groups, including those from other communities, to take rhetorical positions and make public demands which they may then find difficult to move from.”
Also not defending either parties and for the benefit of our readers to decide for themselves, we have attached below the stances of the three political parties to see if the statement made by Ms Indranee for both National Solidarity Party and Workers’ Party is any vastly different from the stance made by the People’s Action party.
People’s Action Party
Recently, the hijab issue has garnered renewed attention in mainstream and social media. The PAP Malay MPs and I are aware of this concern as it has been raised in our discussions with our community. We have discussed the matter with PM and my Cabinet colleagues.
This issue is important to many Muslim Singaporeans. But that doesn’t mean that we should use abusive and disrespectful language in discussing it. Personal attacks on former Mufti Shaikh Syed Isa Semait and current Mufti Dr Fatris Bakaram are completely uncalled for. They will not bring the discussions forward, much less solve any problems. Such behaviour reflects badly on those who engage in it. Let us always treat each other with due respect, whether in our own Muslim community or when engaging those belonging to other faiths.
Singaporeans enjoy freedom of religion. Everyone has the right to practise his or her respective faith. This right also entails a responsibility – to promote mutual respect and understanding among different religious groups, and to preserve the common space that all groups share.
I’m sure that the Muslim community treasures the peace and harmony that depends on this mutual respect and understanding. We have worked hard to achieve this harmony, and accepted the compromises and restraints that are necessary in a multi-religious society. Hence Muslims have been able to practise our religion freely and peacefully, as have people of other religions.
Look around us. Muslim women enjoy many freedoms in Singapore. They don the hijab in many situations, including in Parliament, the highest elected chamber in the land.
As for wearing the hijab at work, I’m glad that many employers do exercise flexibility for those who follow specific religious practices, and ensure that employees who wear the hijab are not disadvantaged.
But some professions require uniforms which do not include the hijab. Most Muslims recognise that if we allow employees or officers to modify their uniforms for religious reasons, particularly for the police and the military, it would be very problematic. We do not allow police officers or SAF servicemen to wear or display conspicuous religious symbols on their uniforms or their faces. Nor do we allow Muslim police women officers to wear the hijab on duty. But when they are out of uniforms, they are free to wear the hijab, as indeed many do going to and from work.
We need constructive dialogue to promote better mutual understanding of the diverse needs and requirements in our multi-racial and religious society. This process will take time, but I’m confident that we will find practical solutions if there is goodwill all round.
I urge our community to remain patient and understanding. My colleagues and I will continue our discussions with our community. Negotiating our common space in a way that all are comfortable with is a continuing work in progress. Muslims have to do this, as do people of other faiths. We have come a long way together as a society, and we should approach the adjustments that will be needed from time to time with the same spirit of tolerance and mutual respect. – Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for Communications and Information and Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs.
WP is committed to the ideal of a multi-racial and multi-cultural Singapore where citizens of all faiths and races have the right to practice their religion as fully as possible in harmony with all the communities. We value diversity in unity, and believe that the understanding and embracing of diversity will allow Singapore to become a more inclusive and integrated society.
Therefore, as a principle, WP recognises the genuine desire and aspirations of Muslim Singaporeans who seek a change in government policy to allow the wearing of the hijab in the public sector’s uniformed professions.
WP observes that over the years, Singaporeans have grown accustomed to working Muslim women who choose to don the hijab in government offices, as nurses in some private hospitals, in schools as teachers and even as participants at National Day parades. We recognise that good relations exist among our communities in Singapore, and believe that this will decide how far each group can practice their religion in an environment of tolerance and mutual respect.
WP is of the view that the current hijab discussions should not be politicised. WP believes that a workable consensus is best achieved through public dialogue within the Muslim community, among our communities, and with the government elected by the people. The discussions should be carried on with an open mind, and include the input of the heads of uniformed professions on the feasibility of accommodating the wearing of the hijab in their organisations, subject to considerations such as operational exigencies.
Finally, WP notes the overwhelmingly rational response of the Muslim community in voicing their views and concerns over the hijab discussion so far. This augurs well for positive discussions between the community, the government and the uniformed services going forward. We urge that Singaporeans be guided by a spirit of mutual understanding and support in these discussions, so as to preserve and strengthen cohesion in our society. – (WP) Muhamad Faisal bin Abdul Manap, Member of Parliament (Aljunied GRC)
National Solidarity Party
NSP supports the wearing of hijab in all places of work and study. We agree with Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for Muslim Affairs, that constructive dialogue is the best way forward. With local-level inter-faith platforms like the Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circles (IRCC) in every constituency, the Government already has the infrastructure to kick-start such constructive dialogues.
Apart from the dialogues within the IRCC, the Government should also explore other avenues to engage with the Malay-Muslim community, so as to discuss this issue in a manner that will give confidence to the community that the Government is listening to its legitimate concerns.
The Government’s concern on the impact of the hijab issue on social harmony is understandable. To help it decide on this matter objectively, the Government should commission an official survey to gauge how the other communities feel about Muslim women wearing the hijab in Government professions where it is currently not allowed.
It is especially important to have empirical evidence to support any decision on this issue, because it has economic impact for Malay-Muslim families. Prohibiting the wearing of hijabin certain public sector professions means a restriction of job opportunities for Muslim women who desire to wear the hijab.
The Malay-Muslim community has shown much sincerity in promoting inter-religious harmony and loyalty to the nation. In ensuring the success of the nation, they have made the sacrifices together with citizens of other races, showing much resilience and dedication despite facing socio-economic challenges.
Now, the community wishes that the restriction on wearing the hijab in certain uniformed jobs in the public sector be lifted, so that Muslim women in such professions who desire to, may be better able to express their conviction of the religion. The Government should not be filled with trepidation at this request of the community, dismissing it outright. Neither should it doubt the noble intention of the community.
NSP hopes to see the Government having open dialogues with the community and other racial/religious communities and conducting surveys to obtain empirical evidence to rely on, in coming to an appropriate decision on this issue.
– (NSP) Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss, Secretary-General
On a side note, Ms Indranee missed a post by Singapore Democratic Party which was posted on 11th November to restate the party’s stand on the Hijab issue. However, the post is of a different setting as it is a speech made by Dr Chee Soon Juan, secretary general of SDP in 2002 on the controversy around the suspension of four Muslim girls from school when their parents insisted that they wear the tudung to national schools.
Singapore Democratic Party
This issue of the wearing of the tudung and the banning of the schoolgirls is a complex one – and one that is highly emotional. There has been a lot of heat generated in this controversy. This afternoon I want to shed more light on this matter and in order to do this I need to use reason, not emotion; logic, not rhetoric.
I see two outcomes to the present situation: One, the Muslim girls are banned from school for an extended period, maybe even indefinitely. Two, the parents give in and send their children to school without the tudung. In either scenario the PAP Government gets its way. In either scenario would the Muslim community become any happier? More importantly, would this problem be resolved? Or would it just cause the Malay community to be even more resentful.
What is the problem?
How then you ask is the problem going to be resolved? The Government must do the right thing and allow schoolgirls – if their parents want them to – to wear their tudung to school. If wearing the tudung to school does not trample upon the rights of other students, then what seems to be the problem?
The problem, the Government says, is that this will cause racial disunity and harm social cohesion. What proof does the Government have to support its case? When policies are put into place there must be substantive reasons for doing so. The Government bans smoking in public places because there is scientific evidence to show that smoking and second-hand smoke increases the chance of the inhaler developing cancer. The Government imposes speed limits on roads because there is evidence that high speeds increase the chance of drivers losing control of their vehicles. But what evidence is there to show that schoolgirls wearing tudung will cause racial disharmony? If the Government can cite evidence and convince us that such is the case, I will be the first one to support the banning of tudung in schools. To this date, the Government has not provided any evidence to support its claim.
On the contrary, allowing students to wear their headscarves to schools will expose schoolchildren to diverse cultural practices at a young age. Children at such ages are very impressionable. We can capitalise on this by teaching them about differences in people so that when they grow up, they feel comfortable in the midst of diversity. We can teach them that differences in our clothes and religion and language are good things, and that they should be embraced. This is what will enhance racial harmony.
Schools in developed countries are encouraging diversity in the classroom so that schoolchildren are exposed to different cultures and practices from a very young age. Ask any psychologist and she will tell you that the best way to remove prejudices and racial bigotry is to expose children to the various cultures when they are young. Even the educational videos that my daughter watches have themes relating to the different cultures and religions. Why are we moving in the opposite direction?
The Government says that if it allows the girls to wear tudung, then there’ll be no end to what every one wants for their children. Let us be realistic. For almost 40 years, we have allowed Sikh boys to wear turbans and Christian children to wear crucifixes to school. Has there been an explosion of parents clamouring for their children to wear this and that type of dress to school? When I was in school I had schoolmates who wore their turbans to school and no one ever thought that because of that they, too, wanted to wear their own types of clothes to school.
Let me summarise the points I have brought up thus far:
- There is no evidence to show that different types of religious headwear will cause social division.
- There is good reason to believe that exposing children at an early age to different types of cultural practices will lead to greater tolerance and acceptance of diversity later in life. This means enhancing social cohesion.
- The wearing of the tudung does not impinge upon the rights of other students.
- The Government already allows students of other religions to wear clothing that expresses their faiths. Why not the tudung?