Mutual respect: the underlying issue of the tudung debate

TehTarik Journal

The re-emergence of the tudung issue in Parliament came as a bit of a surprise. After all, the presence of the tudung-wearing Muslim Singaporean has been increasing – on the streets, in politics, and the mass media, where tudung-donning celebrities are becoming something of a norm. Under these circumstances, it is easy to forget that there are still certain job sectors that exclude tudung-wearing Muslims.

In a perfect world, Muslim women – or any woman or man, for that matter – shouldn’t have to choose between their career and their religious beliefs. Unfortunately, it isn’t and will never be a perfect world. Not that long ago, it was common for women to give up a career when she started a family. It may be an overly simplistic analogy, but we need to understand that life is rarely without compromise. Complaining that uniformed officers in some sectors cannot wear the tudung brushes aside the existence of tudung-wearing uniformed frontline officers (including in the public sector). It also disregards how far removed we are from countries which have officially banned the headscarf in the public sector[1], or from courts which have ruled that firing an employee for wearing a headscarf is permissible.

Singapore is one of the few countries where a woman can wear literally anything she wishes (short of wearing nothing), without fear of being the victim of hate crime.  On top of that, we are globally renowned as a society living in actual racial and religious harmony. All this has more to do with a growing acceptance of each other’s differences – and less to do with top-down legislation.

While we should stop expecting the government to make everything right for us, at the same time, MPs should have the space to respectfully debate their constituents’ concerns. But if our politicians – and citizens – cannot even display such mutual respect at such a basic level, then it is pure irony to demand our policewomen and nurses be allowed tudungs.



This article is written by our contributor: Teh Talk
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