Thursday 7 November 2013

PM Lee meets MPs over headscarf issue

He discusses govt response to calls for Muslim workers to freely don hijab
By Robin Chan, The Straits Times, 6 Nov 2013

PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday met People's Action Party (PAP) Malay-Muslim Members of Parliament to discuss the Government's response to recent calls for Muslim women to freely don the hijab or headscarf in all workplaces.

The MPs were glad Mr Lee understood that the hijab issue was important to many Muslims, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim later said in a Facebook post.

"PM stressed that his aim was to create an environment where Muslims and other faiths can practise their religions freely and peacefully. But he also explained why we must manage and balance the diverse needs of our multi-racial and multi-religious society. Hence the need for accommodation and compromise by all parties," Dr Yaacob wrote.

Also present were Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong and Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob, together with six Malay-Muslims MPs. Three MPs were unable to attend.

Currently, Muslim women in public-sector professions that require uniforms, such as nursing, cannot don the hijab. The police force and military service also do not allow the wearing or display of conspicuous religious symbols on uniforms or faces.

Last month, a polytechnic lecturer asked at a forum why nurses were barred from wearing the tudung. The Suara Musyawarah committee, tasked to collect feedback on Malay/Muslim community concerns, also raised the issue in July.

The Singapore Hijab Movement, launched this week on Facebook, has garnered more than 18,000 likes. The Fellowship of Muslim Students Association wants the issue to be discussed further.

Yesterday, Mr Teo issued a statement saying that Dr Yaacob and the Malay-Muslim MPs had raised the hijab issue on a number of occasions and the Government supported the aspirations Dr Yaacob had expressed earlier.

He added: "Every community, when it presses for its own concerns, must bear in mind how that affects other communities and how others might see it. That is the reality of living in a multi- racial, multi-religious society that we all have to internalise."

PAP MP Zainal Sapari said he did not believe that Mr Teo's statement meant there would be no change to the hijab policy.

"The PAP Malay MPs will continue to push this agenda... If the societal climate is right, then a change in policy is possible," he said.

Dr Yaacob, who also met leaders of Malay-Muslim organisations last night, said government leaders and Malay-Muslim MPs yesterday agreed that they must continually work towards better mutual understanding.

He stressed that constructive dialogue was the best way forward, adding: "It will take time but we will find practical solutions if we continue to engage with goodwill."

Had a meeting with Yaacob and Malay PAP MPs this afternoon. - LHL
Posted by Lee Hsien Loong on Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Pergas urges Govt to review stand on tudung
By Andrea Ong And Maryam Mokhtar, The Straits Times, 9 Nov 2013

THE Singapore Islamic Scholars and Religious Teachers Association (PERGAS) yesterday thanked Minister Yaacob Ibrahim and Malay-Muslim Members of Parliament for their efforts to advance the community's well-being, including advocating for the hijab or Muslim headscarf to be worn at the workplace.

But PERGAS feels the attempt to resolve the tudung issue is still unsatisfactory, it said in a statement yesterday.

It hopes the Government will review its stand of not allowing the tudung for certain uniformed public sector jobs, to fit the community's aspirations.

It also hopes the Government will have a clear timeline for allowing the tudung in the workforce, "gradually if not immediately".

Responding in a Facebook post last night, Dr Yaacob welcomed PERGAS' leadership in adopting a rational approach and guiding the community to be calm on the tudung issue.

The Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs pledged that he would personally continue to pay close attention to the issue.

PERGAS also announced it was setting up a task force to propose an action plan for the short and long term.

Yesterday's statements came in the wake of recent calls for Muslim women to be able to don the tudung in nursing and other uniformed public sector jobs.

In thanking Dr Yaacob and the Malay-Muslim MPs for accepting its invitation for a dialogue on the issue on Tuesday, PERGAS said through it, it was made aware of MPs' efforts.

"We truly appreciate their contributions in advancing the well-being of the Malay-Muslim community, which may have been less publicised to some segments of the community. This includes efforts in advocating the tudung in the workplace," it said.

"We consider this dialogue as part of their sincere efforts in addressing the issues faced by the Muslim community."

Also present at the dialogue were the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis), Mendaki and some nine other organisations, said Dr Yaacob in his post, noting that that exemplified "the community spirit in addressing this issue".

"I'm glad that we agreed at the dialogue to move forward on this issue with goodwill and understanding the importance of balancing the diverse needs in our multiracial and multi-religious society," Dr Yaacob said. "Our community understands this by and large, and community leaders will play their part to continue reinforcing this message," he added.

On its part, PERGAS reiterated its stand that the tudung is an "important religious obligation" symbolising a woman's dignity and decency. It was concerned to hear Muslim women's worries about not being able to fulfil religious requirements due to workplace restrictions on the tudung.

While it appreciates some government agencies' willingness to allow Muslim women to wear the headscarf, it called for the flexibility to be extended to all agencies.

Don’t politicise hijab issue: Workers' Party
TODAY, 6 Nov 2013

The hijab issue should not be politicised, the Workers’ Party (WP) said today (Nov 6) as it called for “open-minded” discussions where chiefs of uniformed professions should also provide their views on whether it is feasible for their Muslim employees to wear head scarves while on duty.

Public discourse on the matter, which had sparked a spirited debate more than a decade ago, was revived recently after a polytechnic lecturer had asked during a September forum on race why nurses were barred from wearing the hijab. Since the forum, several Government leaders and Members of Parliament have weighed in on the issue and met with Muslim leaders.

Issuing a statement today, Member of Parliament (Aljunied GRC) Muhammad Faisal Abdul Manap, who is a WP council member, said that his party “believes that a workable consensus is best achieved through public dialogue”. The WP noted that the “overwhelmingly rational response” of the Muslim community on the matter “augurs well for positive discussions”, he said.

He said: “The discussions should be carried on with an open mind, and include the input of the heads of uniformed professions on the feasibility of accommodating the wearing of the hijab in their organisations, subject to considerations such as operational exigencies.”

He added that “as a principle, WP recognises the genuine desire and aspirations of Muslim Singaporeans who seek a change in government policy to allow the wearing of the hijab in the public sector’s uniformed professions”.

“WP observes that over the years, Singaporeans have grown accustomed to working Muslim women who choose to don the hijab in government offices, as nurses in some private hospitals, in schools as teachers and even as participants at National Day parades,” he said.

Wearing of tudung at work: NSP calls for official survey
By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 8 Nov 2013

THE National Solidarity Party (NSP) yesterday said it supports the wearing of the Muslim headscarf in all places of work and study, and called for the Government to commission an official survey on the issue.

This could gauge how other communities feel about Muslim women donning the hijab in public sector professions such as nursing and the police force, where it is prohibited. It would also provide empirical evidence to back any decision on the matter, said the NSP's secretary-general Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss in a media statement.

Acknowledging the Government's concern about the issue's impact on social harmony, she expressed worry that prohibiting the hijab in certain public sector professions might restrict job opportunities for some Muslim women.

A similar concern about discrimination was raised by the Suara Musyawarah committee, tasked to collect feedback on Malay-Muslim community concerns, in its report in July.

In September, a lecturer asked at a forum why nurses were barred from wearing the tudung, sparking a debate that has since seen ministers, MPs, the Workers' Party and the former and current muftis weighing in.

Yesterday, the NSP said it agrees with Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim that constructive dialogue is the best way forward. Besides Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circles, the Government should explore other avenues to engage the Malay-Muslim community, it said.

WP straddling fence on hijab issue: Indranee
By Robin Chan, The Straits Times, 14 Nov 2013

SENIOR Minister of State Indranee Rajah has criticised the Workers' Party (WP) for not taking a clear position on the hijab issue in its statement last week.

The opposition party, she wrote on Facebook yesterday, "avoids stating clearly their position on the issue".

"It sounds sympathetic, but if you read the statement carefully, WP straddles both sides of the fence and merely calls for public dialogue," she wrote.

"This does little to help resolve a delicate and difficult national issue and runs the danger of encouraging groups, including those from other communities, to take rhetorical positions and make public demands which they may then find difficult to move from," she added.

Her comments came after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong met Malay-Muslim Members of Parliament and Minister-in- charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim met leaders of Malay-Muslim organisations to discuss the hijab issue.

The meetings followed calls from some quarters for Muslim women to be allowed to wear the headscarf in nursing and other uniformed, public sector jobs.

Ms Indranee said both the WP and National Solidarity Party (NSP) had, in their statements, presented the hijab issue as "a simple, straightforward matter, with no trade-offs or downsides".

"If it were that easy, we would have been able to solve it long ago, and countries like Turkey (even with a government led by an Islamic party) would not be grappling with similar difficulties," Ms Indranee added.

But, unlike the WP, the NSP, she said, had at least made clear it supports the wearing of the tudung in all places of work and study.

In a statement last week, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said the Government understood the aspirations of the Muslim community but it also "has the responsibility to balance all these different community requirements, and keep in mind what we need to maintain overall social harmony".

Dr Yaacob called for patience and constructive dialogue to find practical solutions to the matter.

Yesterday, Ms Indranee said: "The issue is a difficult one. While I fully understand the desires of many Muslim Singaporeans, we also have to consider carefully its impact on our racial integration and harmony."


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