Allowing hijab problematic for some jobs: Yaacob

Allowing hijab problematic for some jobs: Yaacob
Dr Yaacob Ibrahim. TODAY file photo
Minister urges members of Malay-Muslim community to be patient and says they will continue discussions
Published: 4:03 AM, November 1, 2013
Updated: 9:45 PM, November 5, 2013
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SINGAPORE — Wearing a Muslim headscarf at the workplace would be “very problematic” for some professions that require their staff to be in uniform, said Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim yesterday.

Weighing in on the issue for the first time since a debate began in September, Dr Yaacob said in a note on his Facebook page that many employers here have exercised flexibility on the practice. However, he pointed out that police officers and Singapore Armed Forces servicemen are not allowed to wear or display religious symbols on their uniforms or faces.

“Nor do we allow Muslim police women officers to wear the hijab on duty,” Dr Yaacob, who is also Minister for Communications and Information, wrote. “But when they are out of uniform, they are free to wear the hijab, as indeed many do going to and from work.”

He added: “Muslim women enjoy many freedoms in Singapore. They don the hijab in many situations, including in Parliament, the highest elected chamber in the land.”

The issue was first raised at a forum on race in September, when a polytechnic lecturer asked why nurses were barred from wearing the Muslim headscarf and sparked a debate on whether front-line officers should be allowed to.

An online petition championing the cause then began on Oct 12, with the aim of garnering 20,000 signatures. It was taken down last week, with only 12,405 signatures.

Former Mufti Shaikh Syed Isa Semait was then embroiled in the controversy after he told the Berita Harian that the petition could breed misunderstanding, and that one question to ask was whether all Muslim women working at the front line as nurses want to wear a hijab. This led Mufti Mohamed Fatris Bakaram to weigh in on Monday, as he criticised netizens who had used abusive and disrespectful language in the debate.

Dr Yaacob, who noted the issue has garnered “renewed attention” in mainstream and social media, said Malay Members of Parliament from the People’s Action Party had discussed the matter with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Cabinet ministers.

While the issue is important to many Muslim Singaporeans, Dr Yaacob said the attacks on the former and current Muftis are “completely uncalled for”. He added: “They will not bring the discussions forward, much less solve any problems. Such behaviour reflects badly on those who engage in it. Let us always treat each other with due respect, whether in our own Muslim community or when engaging those belonging to other faiths.”

While everyone has the right to practise his or her respective faiths, Dr Yaacob said this also entails a responsibility to promote mutual respect and understanding among different religious groups and to preserve the common space that all groups share.

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