NDR 2021: Nurses in public healthcare sector will be allowed to wear a tudung with uniforms from November
- More Muslim women have worn the tudung in social settings and workplaces over the last few decades, said PM Lee.
- Status quo maintained for uniforms in the SAF, Home Team and other uniformed services, he said.
SINGAPORE: Nurses in the public healthcare sector will be allowed to wear a tudung with their uniforms if they want to from November, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced on Sunday (Aug 29).
Making the announcement in his National Day Rally speech, Mr Lee said allowing nurses to wear tudung has become a “focal issue” for Muslims in Singapore.
“Wearing the tudung has become increasingly important for the Muslim community. It reflects a general trend of stronger religiosity in Islam, around the world, in Southeast Asia and in Singapore.
“For many Muslim women, it has become an important part of their faith, and an expression of a deeply felt identity,” he said, adding that more of them have worn the tudung in social settings and workplaces over the last few decades.
“Year to year, the change is gradual. But over a generation, the shift is quite obvious,” he added.
In March, Minister for Home Affairs K Shanmugam said there was “likely to be a change” in the Government’s stance on nurses donning the tudung, and that the Government was consulting with the community before making changes.
The Government “fully understands” the desire of more Muslim women to wear the tudung, said the Prime Minister in his televised speech.
“But we are cautious about how non-Muslims will react to the visible change, and how that could affect relations between the communities. Will it be seen as more inclusive, or will it highlight and accentuate differences?”
The tudung is now commonly worn in most settings “without restriction”, including in public spaces, workplaces and in Parliament, said Mr Lee.
But in some places where uniforms are required, the Government has not allowed them to be worn. This applies to uniforms in school, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and Home Team, and in public hospitals, he noted.
“Generally, the Muslim community has understood and accepted the Government’s stance on the tudung,” he added.
Previously when there was intense discussion on the tudung in 2014, the Prime Minister had a closed-door meeting with Muslim leaders, he said in his televised speech.
“They explained to me why the tudung was important to the community, and what they hoped the Government would allow. I told them I understood how strongly they felt, but I also explained the Government’s perspective, and the reasons behind our policies,” he added.
For instance, in national schools, all students wear the same uniforms whether they are rich or poor, and regardless of race or religion. “We need to emphasise their similarities and minimise their differences,” said Mr Lee.
The status quo must be maintained for the SAF, the Home Team and other uniformed services, he added.
“They are impartial and secular arms of the State, they wield armed force, and they enforce the laws of Singapore. They must always be seen to be doing so without fear or favour. Therefore, everyone wears the same uniform,” Mr Lee explained.
He had told Muslim leaders in 2014 that the policy in the healthcare sector “was not set in stone”, and that the Government would monitor the situation.
“If and when we changed our position, we would first make sure that everyone, Muslims and non-Muslims, understood and accepted the change.
“Because the tudung is not just a matter for Muslims. It is a national issue,” said Mr Lee.
Since then, the Government has observed that “by and large”, interactions between the races “remain comfortable”, he added.
“Non-Muslims have become more used to seeing Muslim women wearing the tudung. Muslim women wearing tudung are generally also quite at ease interacting socially with non-Muslim men and women, in most settings,” he said.
“Specifically in hospitals, some of the non-uniformed staff do wear the tudung, and we saw that their relationship with patients and colleagues was all right.”
Younger Singaporeans are also more accepting of racial and religious differences, said the Prime Minister.
“I hope everyone will take this move on the tudung in the right spirit. We are making a careful adjustment to keep our racial and religious harmony in good order. This approach has worked well for us for many years,” he added.
“And we should celebrate what it has achieved: a truly multiracial, multi-religious nation, where many heart-warming interactions happen every single day.”