Photo by Moritz Hager

Netizens ask where to hold discussion on headscarf if not the Parliament

In his Facebook post, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong commented on championing divisive issues publicly, and on Minister for Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli’s “courage and conviction” in explaining to MP for Aljunied GRC Faisal Manap on why it was unwise to bring up the issue of the Muslim women headscarf.

PM Lee said that some sensitive issues of race and religion have no easy or immediate solutions and that the best way to make progress on them is quietly, and outside the glare of publicity.

This was his response to a debate in Parliament on Tuesday (4 April) on the issue of Muslim women not being allowed to wear headscarves in uniformed services between MP for Aljunied GRC Faisal Manap and Minister for Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli.

The exchange took place during the debate in parliament on the proposal to express support for women in Singapore.

PM Lee stated on his Facebook page that Parliament is the forum for serious discussion on important issues.

“This Parliament has not shied away from discussing difficult or contentious matters – last November we had a vigorous debate on changes to the Elected Presidency,” he wrote.

“Championing divisive issues publicly, to pressure the government and win communal votes, will only stir up emotions and damage our multi-racial harmony,” the Prime Minister added.

However, PM Lee’s statement raised eyebrows from netizens. Many of them said that the function of the Parliament is to discuss issues that have been stirred up among citizens.

Many also wrote that they do not have any problems to have women in headscarves in uniformed services.

Here are what they wrote:

  • Zhou Hongjie wrote, “Is parliament not the place for MPs to represent the needs or views of their constituency members in rational discussion?
    The female headscarf may be a religious issue but the proscription against adorning it in the uniformed services is governmental, is it not? It is contemptible for the PAP to brush it aside by claiming it is ‘divisive’ when if I am not mistaken, the majority of Singaporeans have no problems with Muslim women’s wearing the tudung in the workplace because sheikh men have been allowed to wear their turbans for donkey’s years.”
  • Khalis Benzaima wrote, “So, i guess what he is saying is that in Parliament, the only topics that should be discussed is what the next basic necessities they can increase? Correct me if I’m wrong.”
  • Phillip Lim wrote, “I am a Chinese but I do not find in any way my fellow Malay compatriots wearing headscarves offensive or divisive. C’mon, it’s just a traditional headdress. Singaporeans have progressed and matured enough to respect each others’ cultural dress.
    Don’t see the need to sensationalise the issue into something that is “divisive” or “damage harmony”.”
  • Keith Low wrote, “A lot of issues brought up in Parliament are not publicised, or rather not broadcasted. If PM Lee asked what is the motives of WP by bringing this up again. Then I ask what is PM Lee motives by making this news out of so many issues debated in Parliament. Who is trying to be divisive?”
  • Yt Lam wrote, “If don’t bring out in public, he said there is no one protesting in front of Parliament – so no issue. Now bring up for parliament debate, he wants to discuss in a hush hush manner. Be a leader, tackle the issue head-on. I know this is the year of the chicken, but…”
  • Moe Zaldjian wrote, “So many years and so many Muslim PAP MPs with some appointed as Ministers cannot resolve this issue. What’s the point, even with a Malay President? Shame.”
  • Wong Chin Nam wrote, “If this remark is divisive, what about EP reserved only for certain race.”
  • Aku Freddy wrote, “I would appreciate a REAL LEADER to come forward with a decision Yes or No…The truth will hurt just like in the past done by late Premier.But at least he is very direct and that is wat a leader should do.To make matter worse why link hijab issues to votes?? Have some respect for minorities and we will not disappoint you. After all it’s headdress covering the hair only, it does not cover or hinder the brain from functioning…..I’m wondering if Muslim could exchange the President for a hijab, what would other races think of it?”
  • Sakinah Hakim wrote, “Dear PM Lee Hsien Loong most Muslim nurses I’ve known loved their job.They are very committed to help ppl and wish to stay longer in their jobs till they retire.All they requested is to wear their hijab according to Islamic ruling. That’s all.I hope that positive decision will come anytime soon.”
  • Choy Weng Leong wrote, “If sheikh can wear a turban in uniform service, why one can and other want to wear tudung cannot leh… Singapore = regardless of race, language or religion mah…
    I thought the whole idea of having GRC is minority representation in parliament and to raise community concerns mah… If some also behind closed door = then parliament just for rubber stamping whatever agreed and decided behind closed door huh??
    Reserved EP also sensitive mah, don’t see them having any problem raising it in parliament leh… only A can, B cannot meh”
  • QizhongChang wrote, “And what kind of ‘quiet progress’ have these private discussions brought about on the tudung issue so far? The answer is apparently no progress at all. Which is exactly why Faisal had to bring it up in Parliament.”
  • Nizam Ismail wrote, “Here are my thoughts:1) How is raising this “divisive”? The tudung issue is to promote acceptance of hijab-wearing Muslimahs. It’s about *inclusivity*, not *divisiveness.

    2) Why are still wanting to hide behind quiet engagements? There is no public accountability. The reason of having Parliament and open parliamentary debates is to ensure transparency and accountability. In any case, the matter has been debated openly for many years.

    3) The solution is a simple one but made to be a complex problem. If you are willing to have a tudung-wearing reserved president, why not allow other Singaporean Muslims to have the right to put on the tudung without discrimination.

    And so solve the problem. That would make sure that Faisal Manap will not was raise this in Parliament again.

    Until then, he has every right to.”

  • Radenah Abdullah wrote, “MP Muhamad Faisal good point. What about Muslim women that wanted to work as nurses do they have to open their hijab for that. You say about respect each other religion but when it come to hijab on Muslim women you try to put it as not relevant. It’s not fair for our children who wanted to pursue this industry. Why does the Sikh have no problem wearing their turbans in these industries, but for Muslim women are issues. It’s kind of bias if you asked me.”
  • Syed Hafeez Chishty wrote, “I see no harm. We are multi-racial. It’s with its own culture and religion. So if religious harmony to be practice than it would be done harmoniously. Get the Muslim authorities to explain to the govt the right wat of putting a hijab. I tink pm is right should be done in closed door to avoid unnecessary sensitivity.”
  • Darren Tan wrote, “”Not by suppressing or pretending that race differences, language differences and cultural differences do not exist. … but that there are Fundamental Primeval differences.” – LEE KUAN YEW
    The government has always talked about the need to deal with issues openly. But now Minister Masagos comes out to say it has to be done quietly. This is contradictory! Ask WP MPs to keep quiet, and later during the election campaign come out to criticise WP MPs for being a “mouse” in Parliament by not raising issues. Another irony!”