The right of Muslim women in uniformed professions to wear the tudung at work is one that is enshrined in the Singapore Constitution, and those who continue to argue for a ban on the garment in such services are “missing the point entirely”, said entrepreneur Rudy Irawan Kadjairi.
In a Facebook post on Monday (22 Mar), Mr Rudy said that the narrative surrounding the tudung issue “has been purposefully swayed and misdirected to make it look as if it’s a negotiable, debatable and “behind-closed-door” matter”.
Minister-in-charge for Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli on 8 Mar reiterated the Singapore government’s secular stance on the issue of allowing Muslim women to wear the tudung in uniformed professions such as nursing and the police force.
The sensitive nature of such issues necessitates “closed-door discussions” and consultations with the community, said Mr Masagos during a debate in Parliament on the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth’s budget for Muslim affairs for the upcoming financial year.
Aljunied GRC and Workers’ Party Member of Parliament (MP) Faisal Manap had earlier asked the Government whether it would reevaluate its ban on the religious headgear for women working in uniformed services, stating that the rule has prevented many Muslim women from taking up such roles.
Allowing nurses to wear the hijab at work, thus, could expand the local pool of nurses, he illustrated.
Mr Masagos in his response said that allowing the donning of the tudung “would introduce a very visible religious marker that identifies every tudung-wearing female nurse or uniformed officer as a Muslim”.
“This has significant implications: We do not want patients to prefer or not prefer to be served by a Muslim nurse, nor do we want people to think that public security is being enforced by a Muslim or non-Muslim police officer.”
“This is what makes the decision difficult and sensitive,” said Mr Masagos.
It would be difficult to achieve compromise under the weight of “public aggressive pressure”, which is why a closed-door approach must be maintained when discussing such matters, said Mr Masagos.
“None of the Muslim women, by Constitution, should need to have YOUR permission, when that permission is already granted in the most sacred document which underlines our democracy,” said Mr Rudy.
Preventing Muslim women in such professions who want to don the tudung at work from doing so, said Mr Rudy, is therefore “discriminatory”.
He also criticised Muslim leaders’ apparent pandering to “bigots” in upholding the hijab ban.
“Leaders in the community with titles, status, appointments and a huge paycheck, have shown that they prefer the idolisation of the golden calf. That’s their prerogative,” said Mr Rudy.
“But right now, there’s no point talking about it anymore. Just know that we have community leaders who would prefer to pander to the sensitivities of bigots than they are more willing to uphold the Constitution,” he added.
Continuing to support such a regime, said Mr Rudy, “says more about us than it does about these leaders”.
Last Aug, Mr Rudy criticised Muslim political leaders in Singapore for their purported silence and inaction on “what is clearly a discriminatory practice” by managers at Tangs Department Store asking a pop-up booth promoter to remove her tudung.
He 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”.
Separately, Mdm Halimah said in Aug last year that discrimination “of any form and against anyone has no place at all in our society and, most certainly, not at the workplace”.
“People should be assessed solely on their merits and their ability to do a job and nothing else. Discrimination at the workplace is particularly disturbing because it deprives the person affected from earning a living.
“During this COVID-19 period when concerns over jobs and livelihoods are greater, incidents of discrimination exacerbate anxieties and people feel threatened.
“Diversity is our strength and our society has already embraced it. I hope that employers too will fully embrace diversity at the workplace and do their part to uphold the values of a fair and open society,” said Mdm Halimah.
Any discrimination involving prohibition against wearing the tudung “a serious violation” of right to equality, special provisions for Malays as S’pore’s indigenous people: Lawyer M Ravi
Human rights lawyer M Ravi highlighted that any discrimination involving the prohibition on wearing the tudung is “a serious violation” of Article 15(1) of the Constitution, which guarantees the right of every person in Singapore to “profess and practise” their religion “and to propagate it”.
It is also in violation of Article 12, which guarantees equality, he added. This must be seen side-by-side with the “non-discrimination of Sikhs wearing turbans”.
Article 12 also prohibits any discrimination in public office on the grounds of race or religion.
Mr Ravi added that Article 152 guarantees the special position of the Malays and their culture and religion as the indigenous people of Singapore, which consequently means that the government has a duty to uphold the constitutional rights of Malay-Muslim women who wish to wear the tudung.
Tudung is the Malay word for hijab, an Arabic term that means “barrier”. 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 the 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.