Government appreciates growing significance of tudung to Muslims, considering how nurses can wear it with uniforms: PM Lee
SINGAPORE: The Government appreciates the growing significance of the tudung to Muslim Singaporeans, and is considering how Muslim nurses can wear the headscarf with their uniform if they wish to, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
Mr Lee conveyed his views in a letter replying to the Mufti of Singapore, Dr Nazirudin Mohd Nasir, on Wednesday (Mar 31).
"The Government fully appreciates the growing socio-religious significance of the tudung to Muslim Singaporeans, and the desire of some Muslim nurses to wear the tudung with their uniform if they wish to do so," said Mr Lee.
"We are presently considering how this can be done."
Minister for Home Affairs K Shanmugam had said last week that there is "likely to be a change" in the Government's stance on nurses wearing the tudung at a dialogue session organised by the Religious Rehabilitation Group.
READ: Likely change in stance on nurses wearing the tudung; issue discussed with Muslim religious leaders in August: Shanmugam
On Wednesday, the Prime Minister reiterated that Singapore is one of the few countries in the world where different races and faiths live peacefully and closely together.
"Our racial and religious harmony is based on treating everyone equally without prejudice or discrimination, and building a national identity shared by all communities, while allowing each community to practise its faith and way of life.
"We have done this through mutual accommodation, compromise, and trust building by all groups. Over time, we have reached a delicate balance that considers the interests of all communities."
However, this balance is dynamic, said Mr Lee. He pointed to younger generations of Singaporeans growing up and attitudes changing, giving rise to new issues and pressures.
"These must be addressed taking into account Singapore's context. Any change we make must be carefully considered and gradual.
"Only thus will the changes be understood and accepted by all communities, and the outcomes reinforce rather than weaken our racial and religious harmony," he said.
READ: Government’s secular stand on issue of wearing tudungs with public service uniforms has been ‘consistently clear’: Masagos
Mr Lee also thanked Dr Nasir and religious teachers for participating in the Government's consultations on the issue in recent years, as well as the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) for supporting the Government's deliberations.
MUIS has stepped up on many occasions to lead interfaith efforts and strengthen the bonds of trust between Muslims and other religious communities, said Mr Lee.
"In recent months, MUIS' outreach to the Christian and Jewish communities has been crucial in maintaining our social harmony in the face of terrorist threats," he said.
The council also rallied and provided timely guidance to Singapore's Muslim community to adjust its religious practices during the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr Lee said.
"I look forward to working with MUIS to strengthen social cohesion, and achieve progress for the Muslim community and all Singaporeans," said Mr Lee.
A COMPLEX DECISION, SAYS MUFTI
Mr Lee was responding to a letter from Dr Nasir, in which the Mufti welcomed the recent updates on the likely shift in the Government's stance.
"We are assured that the Government can see reasons why Muslim nurses can wear the tudung if they choose to do so and note that a decision will be made when discussions with stakeholders on this matter are concluded," said Dr Nasir in his letter dated Mar 27 and released on Wednesday.
"With the review, we hope the Muslim nurses will find comfort and continue to excel in their professionalism."
He added: "The Muslim community fully appreciates that this is a complex decision with many difficult and competing considerations.
"In our multireligious society, it is indeed not easy to manage different aspirations and expectations and maintain a high level of trust and confidence between communities at the same time.
"We fully support the government's secular and neutral stance in treating various religious groups evenly, while it consults the community and considers the impact of its policies on society."
READ: Some places of worship could see stepped up security, including use of 'discreet' guards: Shanmugam
Dr Nasir said that MUIS appreciated the opportunities to provide feedback and input, and that many policies consider and support the needs of the Muslim community.
He pointed to the Human Organ Transplant Act, the functioning of madrasahs and mosques, and measures to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
"While the Muslim community has specific religious needs, we strongly believe that our religious principles and values underscore the importance of good citizenry," he said.
Dr Nasir said his fellow asatizah, or religious teachers, shared this view and supported the approach.
"On the tudung issue, in my many conversations with them over the past year, they agree that any policy change should be done sensitively without undermining our social cohesion.
"We also agreed that as social challenges become more complex, we must strive towards public discussions that are thoughtful and respectful, and driven by a desire to strengthen the common good and social harmony.
"In pursuing one step forward, we should not inadvertently take a few steps back," said Dr Nasir.
The issue of Muslim nurses wearing the tudung in the workplace re-emerged recently after Member of Parliament Faisal Manap (WP-Aljunied) brought it up in Parliament last month.
Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli had said the public service's policy on uniforms cannot be tilted towards any particular religious beliefs, in his response to Mr Faisal earlier this month.