To wear or not to wear?
The Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong, held a closed door conference over the past weekend with 70 Malay/Muslim community leaders.1 In a sign of how Singapore is meticulously governed, their subject was the “wearing of tudung.”2
That closed door conference and its seriousness may seem odd since Singapore known globally as a successful multiracial and multi-religious city state. Furthermore, Singaporean Muslim women are free to wear their tudung (hijab) in public and Singapore’s own President, Halimah Yacob is a Muslim woman herself who wears the tudung too.3
But it is because Singapore’s government does not allow tudungs to be worn in certain public professions and areas that the conference was held. It’s prohibited in the military, police, in some schools and most notably in nursing4.
Behind the veil
It would be easy to label this as a blatant form of discrimination against a minority of Singapore. It fits the classic discrimination story and tugs at our emotions. But that’s not the case here.
There are multiple reasons behind Singapore’s stance on not allowing tudungs to be worn in certain public professions.
One reason is that the tudung is a “very visible religous marker that identifies every tudung-wearing female nurse or uniform officer as a Muslim,” said Mr Masagos (Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs). This can have significant implications, including the ability for the public to identify and indicate their preference to be served by a Muslim or non-Muslim nurse. Or for them to think that public security is being enforced by a Muslim or non-Muslim officer. 5
Another reason is that the Government of Singapore wants to uphold secularism in state affairs. They want to portray the secular nature of Government where every citizen, regardless of their race or religion, will receive key services fairly.6
Singapore isn’t alone in trying to do this. France takes even more severe steps in upholding their brand of secularism, rooted from their special history with religion7. Since 2004, France has banned “the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols or garb” in state schools. This includes, but is not limited to, hijabs, large crucifixes, kippahs, and Sikh turbans. The French Government doesn’t just have the duty to protect freedom of religion, but freedom from religion too.8
The way forward
It’s my opinion that the Singapore Government should allow Muslim nurses to wear the tudung.
I believe that the Government should not intervene in the personal, private and religious decision making of its citizens, unless it threatens public safety.
The wearing of the tudung may have once threatened public safety in a tiny way because it was a “very visible religous marker” and could have allowed patients to choose who they want to be cared by. But practically speaking, there are already other ways to identify Muslim nurses. From their Islamic names to cruder ways like the colour of their skin.
Ideally and morally speaking, if patients are unfairly discriminating on tudung wearing nurses, it shouldn’t be the nurse who is forced to take off her tudung, but the patient who should be properly educated. One should be judged by the content of their character, not demographic boxes like race, religion, or sex.
Left on read
There are plenty of questions left unanswered if the Government does eventually allow Muslim nurses to wear the tudung (which looks to be the case).
Can Muslim women wear the tudung in the military?
How about in the police force?
How about when schooling?
But that’s probably going to be the subject of another conference.
Note: I understand that this is a contentious topic and I didn’t cover everything, nor is it possible for me to do so. If you a different opinion or want to share something new, feel free to reply. I’m open to different viewpoints to achieve a healthy and civil discourse.
Over & Under
Here, I bring up things that are over or undervalued (in my opinion of course).
Overvalued - Busyness
What comes to mind when I say “busy”? People frantically hurrying about, attending meetings, answering calls, and a jam packed schedule is what comes to mind for me. The problem is that busyness doesn’t really achieve anything. It restricts us from thinking properly, enjoying our work and our leisure time. There should be a better way.
Undervalued - Things that are not popular
Today’s online world has built in tons of popularity metrics. Public likes, view counters, follower counters, the list goes on. But what’s the point of us consuming what everyone else is consuming? What’s the point of us thinking all the same way?
Sounds of Colleagues - For your work from home needs.
I Miss My Bar - For your drink at home needs.
Homecoming - Great song, what else can I say?
That’s all from Incandescent. See you next week!
- Guan Jie