Malay-Muslim community’s 'hearts are full', says Masagos on public healthcare nurses being allowed to wear tudung
- More than 7,000 female Muslim uniformed staff will be affected
- Private healthcare employers are encouraged to take reference, although it is not compulsory
SINGAPORE: The Malay-Muslim community’s “hearts are full today”, said Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli on Sunday (Aug 29) after the announcement that nurses in the public healthcare sector will be allowed to wear tudung with their uniform from November
“This has taken us quite a long journey. It is not an issue only about what Muslims want or what our nurses want to wear - it has national dimensions,” he told reporters over Zoom, after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced the new policy in his National Day Rally speech.
“When we move on issues surrounding areas like uniform, we must make sure that everyone understands this move, accepts this move, Muslims, non-Muslims, and that gives it a national dimension. At the same time, we want to make sure that as we move on this, it brings us together, it does not divide us.”
Second Minister for Education Maliki Osman said that the community was “appreciative” of the announcement and society’s “understanding” of Muslim women’s desire to wear the tudung.
“We hope that this will also continue to allow them to perform their duties effectively, professionally, especially during this time when they are in the frontline fighting COVID for us,” he said.
PRIVATE HEALTHCARE EMPLOYERS “ENCOURAGED” TO TAKE REFERENCE
In a press release issued on Sunday, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said that the revised policy will be applicable to more than 7,000 female Muslim uniformed staff across the public healthcare sector.
They comprise staff from the public healthcare clusters of SingHealth, the National Healthcare Group and the National University Health System, as well as the Health Promotion Board, Health Sciences Authority, Vanguard Health and the Ministry of Health holdings.
The dress code will be based on implementation and clinical guidelines developed by the MOH-appointed implementation steering committee and clinical advisory panel.
Dr Benjamin Koh, MOH’s deputy security of development and chairman of the implementation steering committee, said: “We have extensively engaged healthcare workers across different races and religions on their views and consulted clinical experts in drawing up the guidelines, taking into account the current practices for the wearing of the tudung in healthcare settings in other countries.”
The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) also released a statement on Sunday noting that private sector healthcare employers are “encouraged” to take reference from the new policy, although it is not compulsory.
“Private sector employers should continue to establish uniforms or dress code requirements that are suited to the nature of their work, or for operational and safety reasons.
“Where such requirements do not allow for religious attire or artefacts, employers must communicate and explain the reason clearly to employees and job applicants,” said MOM’s spokesperson.
In its press release, MOH said: "Institutions that decide to allow staff to wear the tudung should align with the clinical guidelines as part of infection prevention and occupational safety best practices."
The Healthcare Services Employees’ Union also issued a statement on Sunday, saying that it was “glad” for more flexibility for nurses in the public healthcare sector to wear the tudung.
“By allowing nurses to decide if they wish to wear a tudung, we hope that this will help to lower the barriers for Muslim nurses who are keen to join the healthcare sector but have been holding back due to the current guideline on this.”
It added that nurses who choose to wear a tudung while at work should do so “without compromising on the way they conduct their work and more importantly, uphold infection control protocols as well as prioritise the safety of themselves and those around them”.
“Should there be situations where it may get in the way, we hope that nurses will practice professional vigilance and put the needs of the patients first.”
TUDUNGS IN SCHOOLS
On allowing students to wear tudung in schools, Dr Maliki said that there are reasons why the Government has to ensure a “clear uniform policy” in schools.
“We want to make sure that students grow up understanding and appreciating commonalities. I think that’s been the overriding reason why we will hold on to the policy in schools,” he said.
He added that it was “useful” for the Malay-Muslim community to take lessons from the mufti’s recent op-ed.
“Even if we’re not able to fulfil, totally, the obligations required by the religion, we should be able to continue to have conversations and allow society to evolve over time, so that we can continue to find spaces where we can do better; focus on areas we can build a more cohesive society - which really is also something that Islam also encourages,” he said.
HOME OWNERSHIP AND EDUCATION
Mr Masagos noted two areas of concern for the Malay community: home ownership and education outcomes.
The Housing and Development Board (HDB) has put up more rental flats to help with overcrowding in family homes, especially Malay homes, the minister said.
However, young couples who are not prepared to own homes end up moving into these rental homes, he added.
“We worry that there will be an entrenchment because rental homes are quite cheap and very affordable. If they get used to it and they don’t aspire to move into owning homes, then we are worried that we will have a generation who might be entrenched living in rental homes.”
As for education outcomes, the Government is concerned about quality participation of the Malay community.
“If we do not participate in a qualitative way, even going through a school journey for ten years, twelve years, even fifteen years, may end up with qualifications that may not be demanded by the market, or skills that may not be up to the level of respect, dignity or pay that they should get, because you did not participate in the quality that is expected of you,” said Mr Masagos.
In his speech on Sunday, Mr Lee said that it is “entirely baseless” to claim that there is “Chinese privilege” in Singapore, adding that Singapore treats “all races equally, with no special privileges”.
Dr Maliki said that the Prime Minister’s comments were made in the context that “the Chinese community, as well as the other communities, have made sacrifices that allow racial harmony to continue to prevail” and for Singapore to “continue to strengthen it”.
He added that minorities have their own privileges as well.
“The Muslim community also have our own privileges too,” he said, in terms of Malay being the national language, the way mosques are being run and the establishment of Muslim law.