SINGAPORE: There is “likely to be a change” in the Government’s stance on nurses donning the tudung, Minister for Home Affairs K Shanmugam said on Tuesday (Mar 23), adding that this was an issue he discussed with Muslim religious leaders six months ago in a closed-door dialogue.
The Government is “consulting with the community before we make a change”, said Mr Shanmugam, who was speaking at a dialogue session at Khadijah Mosque, organised by the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) as part of its quarterly engagement.
He was responding to a question about nurses wearing the tudung at work, an issue that was raised in Parliament about two weeks ago.
Mr Shanmugam, who is also Law Minister, recounted a meeting he had with officers from Islamic non-governmental organisation Pergas and Muslim religious leaders Ustaz Ali Mohamed and Ustaz Pasuni Maulan in August last year.
“You asked me about nurses wearing tudung,” he said.
“I told you very frankly: We can see good reasons why nurses should be allowed to wear tudung if they choose to do so, and I said this was being discussed internally. And after that, our view – there is likely to be a change.”
They spoke in private about how women wear the tudung in many parts of government departments, including in the healthcare sector, he said.
“Our President wears tudung. Parliament MPs wear tudung. I also said if you only look at that one point, nurses wearing a tudung, it would not be an issue. The rules would have been changed long ago.
“But it was connected to other factors, so we had to make careful considerations,” he said.
In private, they had to weigh the “different considerations against each other, and reach a judgment”, Mr Shanmugam said.
SPEAKING IN PUBLIC AND IN PRIVATE
“We spoke frankly, behind closed doors. In private I was able to share with you candidly our position, and the sensitivities and difficulties we worry about,” he said.
However, in public, “we are careful about how all of this is discussed”, he added.
He noted that Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli said in Parliament two weeks ago that the Government is “empathetic”.
“What does he mean, when he says Government is empathetic? It is that we understand the feelings of those who wish nurses to be allowed to wear the tudung. It is to signal flexibility. He didn’t say no,” Mr Shanmugam explained.
But there was “lots of misunderstanding” about what was said by Mr Masagos and Second Minister for Education and Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman, Mr Shanmugam said.
Mr Masagos had said in Parliament on Mar 8: “We emphathise with the views of those who want to don the tudung as part of their uniform in nursing.”
“For sensitive issues like the wearing of tudung in the workplace, where uniforms are required, we continue to have discussions and consultations with the community, our community, especially, behind closed doors. We previously engaged unions, religious teachers, and respected members of the community, and they understand why we have adopted our current approach on uniforms in the Public Service,” he added.
READ: Government’s secular stand on issue of wearing tudungs with public service uniforms has been ‘consistently clear’: Masagos
Mr Masagos was responding to a suggestion by MP Faisal Manap (WP-Aljunied) to allow Muslim nurses to wear the tudung as part of their uniform.
On Tuesday, Mr Shanmugam said that it is “true” that these issues are being discussed with the community and with others behind closed doors.
The Government has also discussed the issue with the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) and has taken into account their views, which have been “very helpful”.
The minister added that the “clearest indications” of the Government’s position is what he said to Muslim religious leaders six months ago.
Mr Masagos, speaking in public, had to be more general, Mr Shanmugam said.
“Discussions with the community are going on, and will take a few more months,” he said, adding that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will also meet with the community leaders.
“When the discussions are completed, the Government will announce its decision,” he said.