The Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep) is currently investigating an incident in which a pop-up booth promoter was allegedly instructed by Tangs to remove her hijab to continue working on the department store’s premises.
According to TODAY, Tafep is currently engaging both the business owner and the promoter, particularly for the latter to “come forward and provide more information on the incident”.
“Religious attire should generally be allowed at workplaces, unless employers have uniforms or dress code requirements that are suited to the nature of their work, or for operational and safety reasons. Such requirements should then be communicated and explained clearly to employees as well as job applicants,” Tafep stressed.
Tangs confirmed on Tuesday (18 August) that the employment watchdog had contacted the store on 11 August.
Nurin Jazlina Mahbob, 20, told TODAY that two managers who had allegedly told her to do so did not allow her to “speak up”.
“They just kept saying I couldn’t work there wearing my hijab because it’s against their guidelines,” said the recent Temasek Polytechnic graduate. Ms Nurin holds a diploma in apparel design and merchandising.
Hijab is an Arabic term which means “barrier”. In Malay, it is known as tudung. It is a “headscarf” or “veil” often worn by Muslim girls and women to cover their hair, necks and chests as a means to demonstrate piety to God.
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 their personal will after making a personal hijrah–a form of spiritual migration or transformation.
The incident was first made known publicly when the business owner, who identified herself as Ms Chin when speaking to TODAY, posted Instagram stories regarding the 29 July incident on her business account anastasiabyraine.
Ms Chin told TODAY that when she asked the Tangs staff members for an explanation behind asking Ms Nurin to remove her hijab, they responded that it was for ‘professionalism-sake’.
“Why can’t you wear a hijab and be professional? I found that ridiculous and felt the need to call them out,” she said.
Ms Chin added that other than an all-black dress code, she was not alerted to other guidelines on promoters’ attire at the time she was setting up her booth.
Noting that Tangs conducted a briefing on 27 July — the day her booth commenced operations — Ms Chin said that the briefing was attended by one of her other part-time staff members working the same day and the following day.
She stressed that such information must be conveyed not only to “anyone present and take it as a record that they have done their part”, but also to business owners.
Tangs, however, told TODAY that its staff members had informed Ms Chin’s of the store’s rules but “our reminders were received negatively”.
“We meant no harm and bore no ill will when we reiterated our guidelines,” said the store.
Noting that Tangs is currently cooperating with investigations into the matter, a spokesperson for the store told TODAY that “asking anyone to remove their religious headscarf immediately is offensive and we would never do so”.
TODAY noted that Ms Nurin was handed a copy of the store’s guidelines after the incident took place.
The “grooming standard” includes promoters wearing a black polo T-shirt and black long pants if the business they are employed by does not provide uniforms. Promoters are also prohibited from wearing religious headgear or accessories.
Several commenters expressed shock and disbelief that such discriminatory practices remain well and alive in a renowned establishment such as Tangs.
They opined that wearing religious attire does not hinder or diminish an employee’s level of professionalism.
Several commenters, however, argued that it is fair for companies to enforce and uphold their own guidelines in terms of work attire, and that it is not necessarily discriminatory against employees for them to do so.
Two commenters shared their own experiences and the experiences of those close to them who were similarly asked to remove their hijab at work.
One commenter urged the government to look into the problem and “understand our need[s]”, given that many Muslim women view wearing the headscarf as a religious obligation and not for aesthetics or fashion.
Beyond private sector: Prohibition of tudung in public schools, frontlines of govt agencies continues to be a mainstay in S’pore’s policies
Alleged discrimination against hijab-wearing Muslimahs extends beyond the private sector as the Singapore government, to this date, prohibits the wearing of headscarves by students on public school grounds.
Nearly two decades ago, three primary schoolgirls were suspended from their respective schools for continuing to wear their tudung to school despite previous reminders against doing so.
Following the schoolgirls’ families’ decision to sue the Singapore government over their daughters’ predicament at the time, lawyer Sadari Musari told Reuters in April 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.”
The schoolgirls’ suspension sparked a heated Parliamentary debate on the right of Muslim girls and women to wear the hijab in Singapore’s public schools–and on a larger scale–the Republic’s frontlines of government or government-linked offices, as seen with Muslim female police officers and nurses.
Workers’ Party (WP) MP Faisal Manap, during a motion on the “Aspirations of Singapore Women” on 4 April 2017 called upon Parliament to “not exclude Muslim women who wish to fulfil their career aspirations in line with their religious obligations”.
Citing countries such as Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States that have permitted Muslim women serving in uniformed organisations to wear headscarves, Mr Faisal questioned as to when Singapore would move to do the same for the Home Team and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).
“As a Singapore Muslim, a husband as well as a father to a daughter, I appeal to the Government to make into reality this call for inclusiveness that is often heard in this Chamber,” he added.
Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli–who is presently also the Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs–in response to Mr Faisal’s speech, branded Mr Faisal’s approach “worrisome”.
“He [Mr Faisal] has used this motion, which is focused on the aspirations of all women in Singapore, to raise again the issue of the tudung, to focus on differences instead of rallying people to be united.
“He dwells on issues that can injure or hurt the feelings of the community rather than to inspire them. In fact, Mr Faisal Manap has used many occasions to raise potentially discordant issues in this House,” Mr Masagos retorted.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in a Facebook post rebuked Mr Faisal’s move to raise the issue in Parliament.
“In the debate on “Aspirations of Singapore Women”, WP MP Faisal Manap brought up the tudung issue again. Minister Masagos Zulkifli challenged Mr Faisal and explained why this was unwise. He spoke with courage and conviction.
“Championing divisive issues publicly, to pressure the government and win communal votes, will only stir up emotions and damage our multi-racial harmony,” he said.
Changes to the status quo should be introduced over time rather than “being pushed for in terms of rights and entitlements”: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, on the tudung issue
In 2014, TODAY reported PM Lee as saying that 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.
However, he opined 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.
In response to questions regarding when the Government will be ready to allow Malay-Muslim frontline officers in public service to wear the headscarf, Mr Lee said: “You never arrive. Over the last ten years, we have gradually moved. Nobody has really noticed.”
Mr Lee also noted that there had been an increase in corporate officers working for statutory boards who don the tudung.
“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,” he added.
While President Halimah Yacob is popularly cited as an example of a Muslim woman in government wearing a hijab, it is unclear if she has publicly made an unambiguous stance on the tudung issue to date.