SINGAPORE – Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday announced that starting in November, Muslim nurses in the public healthcare sector in the republic will be allowed to wear a ‘tudung’ (hijab) with their uniforms, if they wish to.
“I hope this decision will be accepted by all parties with the right spirit, in an effort to strengthen our shared commitment to Singapore’s multiracial and multi-religious community,” Lee partly said while delivering his National Day Rally (NDR) English Speech 2021 here today.
“We are making a careful adjustment to keep our racial and religious harmony in good order. This approach has worked well for us for many years.
“And we should celebrate what it has achieved: a truly multiracial, multi-religious nation, where many heart-warming interactions happen every single day,” said Lee.
In 2014, Lee said when there was intense discussion on the ‘tudung’, where he had a closed-door meeting with Muslim leaders.
“We spoke candidly, heart to heart. They explained to me why the ‘tudung’ was important to the community, and what they hoped the Government would allow.
“I told them I understood how strongly they felt, but I also explained the Government’s perspective, and the reasons behind our policies,” said Lee.
Lee noted that the status quo for the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), Home Team and other uniformed services must be maintained.
“They are impartial and secular arms of the State. They wield armed force, and enforce the laws of Singapore. They must always be seen to be doing so without fear or favour.
“Therefore, everyone wears the same uniform,” he said.
For the nurses in hospitals, Lee said “here, the opposing considerations are more finely balanced.”
“On the one hand, the community’s desires. On the other hand, the government’s concerns – both national and specific.
The prime minister said he told the Muslim leaders in 2014 that government policy in the healthcare sector was not set in stone.
“We would monitor the situation. If and when we changed our position, we would first make sure that everyone – Muslims and non-Muslims – understood and accepted the change.
Since then, Lee said the government has been watching the situation closely.
“We observed that by and large, interactions between the races remain comfortable. Non-Muslims have become more used to seeing Muslim women wear the ‘tudung’.
Furthermore, Lee said younger Singaporeans are more accepting of racial and religious differences.