Those who laud Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam for stating that nurses who wish to don the garment at work will likely be allowed to do so have “grossly misplaced” their priorities, given how it was the Workers’ Party’s Faisal Manap who has been consistent in raising in Parliament the issue of the tudung ban in uniformed professions, said entrepreneur Rudy Irawan Kadjairi.
Mr Shanmugam conveyed the Government’s current position in response to a question from Ustaz Mohd Hasbi Hassan, co-chairman of the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) on updates regarding the outcome of the Government’s consultations on the issue.
Speaking at the quarterly engagement session with RRG at Khadijah Mosque in Geylang on Tuesday, Mr Shanmugam reiterated the position he expressed in a meeting in Aug last year.
“I told you very frankly: We can see good reasons why nurses should be allowed to wear tudung if they choose to do so. I said this was being discussed internally.
“And after that, our view is there is likely to be a change and we are also consulting with the community before we make a change,” he said.
Mr Shanmugam also said that the matter has also been discussed with the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS), adding that the views offered by MUIS “have been very helpful”.
Discussions with the community, he said, are ongoing and will take several more months.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will also engage Muslim community leaders on the issue, added Mr Shanmugam.
“When the discussions are completed, the Government will announce its decision,” said Mr Shanmugam.
In a post on Wednesday (24 Mar), Mr Rudy said that people should not be thanking the Government “for doing something they should have done a long time ago”.
While he is grateful that there is “finally a breakthrough” on the issue, Mr Rudy said that people should not “thank the ones who enforced the discrimination” who only “relented” after many years of being prompted to address the problem.
“If anything, The Workers’ Party MP, the Honourable Mr Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap should be lauded for his steadfast and consistent raising in Parliament of issues that affect the Muslim women in our community,” said Mr Rudy.
Minister-in-charge for Muslim Affairs portfolio “now proven to be entirely redundant and important only for ceremonial purposes”: Entrepreneur Rudy Irawan Kadjairi
In a later post, Mr Rudy also criticised Minister-in-charge for Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli for upsetting “not just Muslims, but many other decent minded Singaporeans alike” with his remarks in Parliament earlier this month on the issue.
Mr Masagos 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.
Mr Faisal, an Aljunied GRC Member of Parliament, 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.
Mr Rudy said that Mr Masagos’ claims that there are Singaporeans who are uncomfortable to be served by tudung wearing women “really looked like the ruling party is now scrapping the bottom of the barrel for excuses to a contemptible policy.”
Mr Rudy lambasted the current situation, where “the Minister of all ministers” made a public statement debunking “everything that tiny little goateed Masagos took pains to say in Parliament”.
“If I were Masagos, and if he had an iota of decency, dignity or honour left in his subservient body, I’d submit my resignation amid the embarrassment of having been brushed aside to inform the community my portfolio is named after, the news that they’ve been longing for. But of course, he won’t. He needs that salary, doesn’t he?” said Mr Rudy.
Thus, the portfolio of Minister-in-charge for Muslim Affairs “is now proven to be entirely redundant and important only for ceremonial purposes”, he said.
“Why do we need the ineffectual Masagos when we already have the Minister of all ministers to bring good tidings for the community?” Mr Rudy quipped.
Right to wear tudung in uniformed professions already enshrined in S’pore’s Constitution, says entrepreneur as he criticises leaders’ apparent pandering to “bigots” in upholding hijab ban
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”.
“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”.
“A lot of misunderstandings” around Minister Masagos, Minister Maliki’s views on tudung issue: K Shanmugam
Mr Shanmugam on Tuesday said that Mr Masagos’ and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister for Education and Foreign Affairs, Maliki Osman’s views during the Parliamentary debate have been misconstrued.
Dr Maliki on 8 Mar had expounded on Mr Masagos’ views on the Government’s secularist standpoint, saying that uniforms are meant to project neutrality and a common identity.
In the case of nurses and other public healthcare workers, he said that a uniform “underscores” the concept that such professionals “provide impartial care regardless of race or religion”.
He also cited the opinion of Ahmed Al-Tayyeb, the grand imam of the world-renowned Al-Azhar University, who had advised Muslim women to not leave their jobs solely out of being prohibited from wearing the hijab due to workplace requirements.
Mr Faisal had asked why opposition MPs such as himself are not included in closed-door discussions concerning such matters.
Dr Maliki replied that “whether Mr Faisal Manap participates in these sessions or not, I think the most important thing is a large segment of the community has been consulted and we continue to consult them”.
Mr Faisal highlighted that Muslim policewomen and nurses in countries like Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom are now allowed to wear the hijab in their respective countries while serving.
Mr Masagos responded that there are “many things that other countries do that we do not do”.
“We are Singaporeans; we will do what is good … If you want to do something that they like, we must also then do what we don’t like that they do. I don’t think we want that either. We do what is good for us, our community, and our nation,” he added.
“In public, we are careful of how all of this is discussed. So, on tudung, Minister Masagos said in Parliament that the Government is empathetic, and the matter is being discussed. What does he mean when he says the Government is empathetic?
“It is that we understand the feelings of those who wish nurses to be allowed to wear the tudung. It is to signal flexibility. He didn’t say no,” he added.
Mr Shanmugam stressed that both he and Mr Masagos had both stated the Government’s position in the meeting in Aug last year.
“But because he was speaking in Parliament, in public, he had to be more general, whereas I could be more direct with you, in private,” he said, addressing Ustaz Hasbi.
Separately, Mr Masagos said on Tuesday that he was merely “reminding ourselves that we must proceed on this issue in a measured and considered way” in his Committee of Supply speech.
“We will need a few more months to work out how to move ahead,” he said, adding: “The Government will announce the decision when the discussions are completed.”