The prohibition on headgear imposed upon pupils of North Spring Primary School (NPSS) on Racial Harmony Day will not encompass religiously-linked or racially-linked ones such as hijab for Muslim female students.
Businessman and candidate in the 2015 General Election, Khan Osman Sulaiman shared a screenshot of a message from the administrator of the school’s Facebook page on Wed (17 Jul), which stated that “Hijab will be allowed on Racial Harmony Day”.
“However, we have students from many other countries who do wear other forms of head gear,” the message read. The school added that it will advise its students to “be careful and respectful of other races’ practices”.
Khan, in compliance with the school’s request, said that he has removed his previous post regarding the prohibition.
Netizens questioned the motive behind NPSS’ clarification, as well as the initial prohibition on headgear without specifying the types of headgear that are exempt from the ban beforehand:
One netizen recalled her distressing experience of allegedly being told by her teachers to remove her hijab on Racial Harmony Day, as she was told that wearing the hijab may serve as “a bad influence to thousands” of other students in her school:
However, one netizen pointed out that the banning of headgear by public schools is commonplace, and that schools have the right to dictate the kind of rules they should implement:
Another netizen responded saying that such prohibitions defeat the purpose of Racial Harmony Day, particularly when garments such as the hijab pose no clear harm or threat to those from other communities:
One netizen expressed his hope for a more genuine understanding among the diverse communities in Singapore, one that is rooted in acceptance and not mere tolerance:
Earlier yesterday, Khan posted a copy of a circular or notice dated 10 Jul — in which the name and other details of the school were blurred — regarding regulations on clothing to be worn by the school’s students on Racial Harmony Day this year. The advisory regarding the headgear ban was highlighted in yellow as seen below:
The post — which, as Khan has indicated, has now been removed — was captioned with the following: “The irony of Racial Harmony Day.”
Khan then went on to question as to what danger could possibly arise as a result of wearing the tudung, in reference to the “no headgears are allowed” rule stated in the notice on 10 Jul.
Tudung is the Malay word for hijab, an Arabic term which means “barrier”. It is a “headscarf” or “veil” often worn by Muslim girls and women to cover their hair, necks and chests.
Mainstream interpretations of Islamic dress code suggest that hijab is only obligatory for Muslim girls upon reaching puberty, which usually takes place in their early- or mid-teen years. However, some Muslim parents enforce the tudung on their daughters at an earlier age. There are also many Muslim women who begin wearing the hijab past puberty out of personal will after making a personal hijrah, or a form of spiritual migration or transformation.
TODAY reported Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as saying in 2014 that while it has always been within the Government’s policy to ensure that racial and/or religious minorities in Singapore are able to practice their culture and creed as freely as possible, he also believed that changes to the status quo should be introduced gradually and broadly rather than “being pushed for in terms of rights and entitlements” at the expense of the Republic’s national harmony.
Highlighting that there have been an increase in corporate officers working for statutory boards wearing the tudung, Lee said, in response to questions as to when the Government will be ready to allow Malay-Muslim frontline officers in public service to wear the headscarf: “You never arrive. Over the last ten years we have gradually moved. Nobody has really noticed. I think that’s really the way to go … This is not the sort of thing where you want to put all your attention on this item and measure the progress of either racial relations or the progress of the Muslim community based on this one item.”
The Singapore government, to this date, prohibits the wearing of headscarves by students on public school grounds. Three primary schoolgirls were suspended from their respective schools in 2002 for continuing to wear their hijab to school despite previous reminders against doing so, which sparked a heated public debate on the right of Muslim girls and women to wear the hijab in public schools, and on a larger scale, the frontlines of government or government-linked offices, as seen with Muslim female police officers and nurses.
Following the schoolgirls’ families’ decision to sue the Singapore government over their daughters’ predicament at the time, lawyer Sadari Musari told Reuters in Apr 2002: “The directive given by the Ministry (of Education) to the school principals not to allow these three daughters, school children to put on their headscarves — it’s unconstitutional.”