Hijab issue: Enterpreneur criticises Muslim political leaders in S’pore for purported silence and inaction

In the wake of the fiasco surrounding the pop-up booth promoter who was allegedly asked to remove her hijab by managers at Tangs Department Store, entrepreneur Rudy Kadjairi criticised Muslim political leaders in Singapore for their purported silence and inaction on “what is clearly a discriminatory practice”.

Mr Rudy in a Facebook post on Wednesday (19 August) condemned “people claiming to represent this particular minority” who “go extremely quiet and cower from having an open discussion about” the hijab issue.

Referencing President Halimah Yacob, who is popularly cited as an example of a Muslim woman in government wearing a hijab, he said that the “token representative” of Singapore’s racial and religious tolerance in the nation’s “highest office” is “not even saying anything”.

“And she’s wearing a tudung,” added Mr Rudy.

It is unclear if Mdm Halimah has publicly made an unambiguous stance on the tudung issue to date.

Mr Rudy also said that the Muslim community in Singapore “shouldn’t go berserk at the incident” as it is no longer a surprising thing.

“With community and political “leaders” who you idolise and voted for, paid to remain exhaustingly unmoved after all these years to continue to bend whichever way for their unseen masters, how do you think the rest of the country will take the rest of you seriously?

“You’re delusional to think that blatant discriminatory practices do not continue to exist and flourish in this country,” he lamented.

Mr Rudy also opined that the comments made on the original TODAY post demonstrate “the sheer ignorance, naivety and indifference of still so many Singaporeans towards Muslims in this country”.

As of Wednesday evening, many commenters of multiple racial and religious backgrounds have expressed their shock and disbelief against how such discriminatory practices remain well and alive in a renowned establishment such as Tangs.

A number of others, however, argued — on the TODAY Facebook post published today — 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, as seen below.

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.

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.

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.

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