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Tudung issue is about what sort of society S'pore wants to build: PM Lee

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the tudung, or headscarf, issue is not about the tudung per se but about the broader question of what sort of society Singapore wants to build.

SINGAPORE: Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the tudung, or headscarf, issue is not about the tudung per se but about the broader question of what sort of society Singapore wants to build.

Mr Lee said Singapore wants to build a multi-racial society where everybody has equal opportunities and the minority community can live its own lives and practice its faith to the maximum extent possible.

He also added that precipitated changes should not be made as this can lead to a pushback from the other communities and thus to a weakening of Singapore’s multi-racial ties.

Prime Minister Lee engaged some 100 Malay Muslim community leaders in a dialogue session on Saturday to discuss the tudung issue.

He described the dialogue session as respectful, and participants spoke from the heart.

The tudung issue had surfaced in 2002 over primary schoolgirls not being allowed to wear the headscarf in school. More than 10 years later, the issue is over the usage of the tudung for front-line public officers.

Mr Lee said the position has not been static.

He said: "Over the past 10 years, we have gradually moved. Nobody has really noticed. I think that's really the best way to do it.

“This is not the sort of thing where you want to put all your attention on this item and measure the progress of either racial religions or the progress of the Muslim community based on just one item."

Mr Lee said more statutory boards have officers now donning the tudung, where the uniform has incorporated some form of the tudung.

He said the issue needs to be addressed in a broad and informal way, and that it cannot be taken in terms of rights and entitlement.

"So, it's best that we evolve as we go forward. Take it gradually step by step. Our society will change," said Mr Lee.

Mr Lee added that precipitated changes, which can lead to a pushback from the other communities, should not be made.

"We want to make sure the change takes place gradually and for the better, and you do not want to make precipitated changes… which can lead to either a pushback from the other community, which can lead to further demands from the other communities, which can lead to a weakening of our multi-racial ties," Mr Lee added.

Mr Lee said that as society changes, attitudes and expectations will also change as people get used to different norms.

He added that over time, Singapore will gradually move to a new balance. 

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