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Religious leaders confident tudung issue will be given appropriate attention

Singapore's highest Islamic authority Mufti said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong understands that the tudung is an important issue for Muslims.

SINGAPORE: Singapore's highest Islamic authority Mufti said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong understands that the tudung is an important issue for Muslims.

The Prime Minister held his first dialogue session on Saturday with the Malay-Muslim community on the issue.

During the dialogue session, Singapore's Mufti Dr Mohamed Fatris Bakaram said the Prime Minister understood the natural desire and aspiration of a Muslim, which is to be allowed to practice his or her religious obligations as much as possible.

The Mufti also apologised for abusive language by netizens on the wearing of the Muslim headscarf in the public service.

“I sincerely apologise on behalf of some of the Malay community who might get carried away by their emotions in expressing their thoughts. They might not understand how difficult it is to solve the issue. I regret that their usage of language is inappropriate,” said Dr Mohamed.

Some religious leaders said they hope to see change and are confident the Prime Minister will give this issue the most appropriate attention.

"PM Lee shared examples when some participants picture us as ‘sparring partners’, but PM Lee in all honesty said we are not a sparring partner but a dancing partner," said Haji Mohamad Hasbi Hassan, president of Pergas.

The dialogue session gave Malay-Muslim leaders and those in the community the opportunity to have a frank exchange about the tudung issue.

Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, who participated in the two-hour discussion, said the changes cannot be sudden.

He also said the dialogue allowed the Malay-Muslim community to clarify their position to the government and that going forward; constructive solutions need to be found.

"This is a larger issue that concerns the type of society that you want to become. While we can pretend that we can remove any vestiges of race, language and religion, it is still below the surface,” said Dr Yaacob.

“I think that is something that we cannot ignore. And I think people recognise that because when you look at it from a single perspective, you think it's about your rights, but when you look at it in a wider context, where other people have other rights also, it becomes a battle of who is right and who is wrong."

Others who participated in the dialogue felt that the community should not be distracted by the tudung issue.

Madam Moliah Hashim, former CEO of Mendaki, said: "My hope is we exemplify what it is to be a good Muslim woman. Not only in the way we… dress but in the way we… work, the way we uphold our integrity, in the way we are competent in whatever assignment we are given. That is to me is much more important than wearing the hijab or not.

Others felt the issue had to be looked at more holistically, rather than involving one community and one religion.

Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar, MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC, said: "I think we need to continue this dialogue so that we understand one another better, not just from the community, to the government, through the MP, but also from the perspective of the government, the challenges that it faces and how the community and the society can understand those challenges better."

The closed-door dialogue session saw some 100 leaders and representatives from the Malay-Muslim community. 

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