Singapore

Hijab issue: Govt must ‘balance community requirements’

Hijab issue: Govt must ‘balance community requirements’
Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean. Photo: Wee Teck Hian
DPM Teo weighs in on debate; PM Lee Hsien Loong, Yaacob meet Malay PAP MPs
Published: 4:04 AM, November 6, 2013
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SINGAPORE — Government leaders yesterday weighed in on the hijab issue, which made its way back into the national spotlight in recent weeks, with Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean reiterating that, while the Government understands “community perspectives”, it also “has the responsibility to balance all these different community requirements and keep in mind what we need, to maintain overall social harmony”.

Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim, who met Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong together with Malay Members of Parliament (MPs) from the People’s Action Party over the matter, called for “constructive dialogue” as the way forward. “This is the Singapore way and has served everyone well over the years,” he said on Facebook.

Separately, a closed-door discussion was held between Malay PAP MPs and Muslim leaders, including those from PERGAS (Singapore Islamic Scholars & Religious Teachers Association).

On the meeting with the Prime Minister, Dr Yaacob said Mr Lee “stressed that his aim was to create an environment where Muslims and other faiths can practise their religions freely and peacefully”. “But he also explained why we must manage and balance the diverse needs of our multi-racial and multi-religious society,” he said. “As I mentioned before, it will take time, but we will find practical solutions if we continue to engage with goodwill.”

In 2002, a spirited public debate ensued after four Primary 1 girls who wore headscarves to school faced suspension if they continued doing so.

The issue cropped up again during a forum on race in September, where a polytechnic lecturer had asked why nurses were barred from wearing the Muslim headscarf.

This was followed by an online petition championing the cause last month, which was removed after 12,405 signatures were collected. Some netizens also criticised former and current Muftis who publicly spoke about the issue, prompting Dr Yaacob to speak out last week on Facebook against the attacks.

Dr Yaacob also noted then that wearing a hijab at the workplace would be “very problematic”. While Muslim women police officers, for example, are not allowed to wear the hijab on duty, Dr Yaacob pointed out that, “when they are out of uniform, they are free to wear the hijab”.

Issuing a statement yesterday, Mr Teo noted that “every community, when it presses for its own concerns, must bear in mind how that affects other communities and how others might see it”. He added: “That is the reality of living in a multi-racial, multi-religious society that we all have to internalise.”

Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC MP Zainal Sapari told TODAY that the Government is concerned about setting a precedent. “We cannot underestimate ... that other religious groups might make similar demands if the Government were to give leeway to the requests of a particular community,” he said. As an example, he cited Jehovah’s Witnesses who do not believe in doing National Service, which is contrary to the Government’s position of compulsory conscription.

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