Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has expressed hope that the Government will make a decision on whether to allow Muslim nurses to wear the tudung at their workplaces by the National Day Rally at the end of August.
Last month, the issue on the right of Muslim women to don the tudung in uniformed professions was raised in Parliament when the Workers’ Party (WP) Member of Parliament (MP) Faisal Manap asked for the Government to reconsider the current ban.
Minister-in-charge for Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli 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,” he said.
Mr Masagos noted that a closed-door approach must be maintained when discussing such matters as it would be difficult to achieve compromise under the weight of “public aggressive pressure”.
Following that, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam on 23 Mar said that it is likely that nurses who wish to don the garment at work will be allowed to do so once the Government concludes its internal discussions on the matter.
“When the discussions are completed, the Government will announce its decision,” said Mr Shanmugam.
Speaking to reporters after a closed-door dialogue with the Malay/Muslim community and religious leaders on Saturday (11 Apr), PM Lee said: “I told them that I had concluded that we should prepare to make such a move for nurses because people’s attitudes have changed, because in social and work settings, the tudung is now more common.”
“And on its own, we can see the merits of allowing…Muslim nurses to wear the tudung with their uniform if they wish,” he said, as quoted by CNA.
PM Lee said the community leaders acknowledged that the Government has been considering to allow Muslim nurses to wear the tudung for “quite some time”, given that the Government has been “engaging and consulting them quietly”.
“We have to make sure that everybody understands this is a careful adjustment and not a wholesale change.
“We want people to realise what the limits are, as we make these changes and we must make sure that Singaporeans, both Muslims and non-Muslims, are ready to accept the move,” he added.
PM Lee said it is possible to allow Muslim nurses to wear the tudung in their uniforms, but the process will “take a bit of time”.
“We want to do it but it will take a bit of time. I’ve discussed the issue with the community leaders and asked them to help us in this process over the next few months.
“I hope that by the National Day Rally, which will be at the end of August, we should be ready to make a decision, and I shall have something to report,” he noted.
“S’poreans never against them wearing tudung”, netizens say
Penning their thoughts under the comment sections of CNA’s and ST’s Facebook posts, netizens questioned the Government’s reluctance to allow Muslim nurses to wear the tudung at work, saying that Muslim nurses should have the right to do so.
Some asked why there is a need to wait until the National Day Rally to make such a decision.
One netizen said that the Government should be transparent in the issues “or fears” it has with regards to allowing the wearing of tudung to avoid “unnecessary speculation”.
They added that Mr Masagos should be the one “asking the Government this question” as he is the representative of the Muslim community, being the Minister-in-charge for Muslim Affairs.
One netizen said there should not even be “a law to impose a ban on wearing one [tudung] in the first place”.
One netizen highlighted that “everyone should have the freedom of choice to wear what they wanna wear” in a country with “true democracy”.
Another netizen commented that the Government should allow the wearing of tudung for Muslim nurses who wish to do so, adding that there is no need “to mandate or debate this trivial matter till Parliament”.