Government’s secular stand on issue of wearing tudungs with public service uniforms has been ‘consistently clear’: Masagos

Mar 11, 2021 | 🚀 Fathership

SINGAPORE: The public service's policy on uniforms cannot be tilted towards any particular religious beliefs, said Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli on Monday (Mar 8) as he responded to a suggestion by MP Faisal Manap (WP-Aljunied) to allow Muslim nurses to wear the tudung as part of their uniform.

Mr Faisal had raised the issue during his Budget debate speech on Feb 24, saying that the rule barring Muslim women from wearing the headscarf with their uniform has deterred some from taking up nursing.

On Monday, Mr Masagos noted the contributions of Muslim women to the nation and society, but said the Government's secular stand has been “consistently clear” when it comes to policymaking.

“This is our approach when dealing even-handedly with requests from different religious groups, especially when it affects our common spaces,” he said in Parliament.

Explaining why the uniform policy in the public service cannot be tilted towards any religious belief, Mr Masagos said that in services that play a critical role in society, the uniform is a "visible sign that service is rendered equally regardless of race or religion".

"Allowing tudungs will raise a very visible religious marker that identifies every tudung-wearing female nurse or uniform officer as a Muslim. This has significant implications," he added.

"We don't want patients to prefer or not prefer to be served by a Muslim nurse, nor do we want people to think that public security is being enforced by a Muslim or non-Muslim officer.

"This is what makes the decision difficult and sensitive."

Any government concession to religious pressure could cause other groups to adopt a similar aggressive posture, and race and religion will become increasingly polarising, Mr Masagos said.

“This will harm all of us, especially the minority community," he added.


This is why the People’s Action Party (PAP) MPs and the Government have, after discussion, decided to take the approach of “careful closed-door discussions”, as they understand the “complexity and sensitivity” of the issue, said Mr Masagos, who is also Minister for Social and Family Development.

He added that the Government previously engaged unions, religious teachers and “respected members of the community”, who “understand why (the Government) has adopted (its) current approach” on uniforms in the public service.

While expressing his empathy for Muslim women torn between their religious and professional duties, Mr Masagos said: "However, workplaces are an important part of the common experience that we share with Singaporeans, and we must not withdraw from them.

"As a community, we have been adept at making adaptations and adjustments, while at the same time being able to practise our religion."

Acknowledging that Mr Faisal might not agree with this approach, Mr Masagos said that the heart of the Government’s approach is to “protect the precious harmony” built in Singapore over the years.

“This desire to protect racial and religious harmony is aligned with Islamic teaching … Hence, we must be respectful of the secular nature of our state and maintain our common space, even as we look for outcomes that will fulfil the aspirations of our community,” he said.

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This commentator thinks MCI ad should not have featured poor Malays

May 12, 2022 | 🚀 Fathership
A Hari Raya advertisement by the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) was 'cancelled' by certain netizens online for depicting lower income Malays according to reality.

"Message for Syawal", a two-and-a-half-minute video published last month (Apr 30) captures moments in the life of a low-income Malay family living in a rental flat.


Pictured: Screenshot from MCI video "Message for Syawal"

The video, which is peppered with Malay proverbs, shows the family moving out of their rental flat to a new home several years later where they celebrate Hari Raya.

The father of the family works as a mover while the mother is a housewife.

Their young son, Syawal, skips school to earn extra income for his family before a teacher flags his absence from school to his parents.

The mother in the video later decides to return to work to alleviate her family’s financial difficulties while the father gets a new job.

Pictured: Screenshot from MCI video "Message for Syawal"

Why some netizens are outraged

The video sparked backlash online, with some viewers saying that it contained stereotypes about the Malay community.

The stereotypes:
  • The father works as a mover - commonly perceived to be a low-income job
  • The mother is jobless
  • The son plays truant
  • The family lives in a rental flat for low-income earners

Commentator implied that poor Malays shouldn't be portrayed in public to prevent stereotypes

Pictured: Screenshot from Homeground Asia video

A video commentary by The Homeground Asia went further by criticizing how the video propagates the narrative that Malays are poor and lazy, and that the ministry should have created a video that is more relatable to both the less fortunate and the more affluent Malays.

Adi Rahman, one of the interviewees in the video went further by making sweeping assumptions that the ministry lacked cultural intelligence and did not consult the community on the narrative.

Ironically, in talking about inclusivity, Adi implied that the realities of poor Malays should not be shown in public.

For example, his rationale suggested that the video contained characters (the mover, jobless mother and the son who skips school) that contribute to the problem of other races seeing the Malays in a stereotypical and reductive light.

In other words, show the good stuff but not the reality.

Adi even accused the ministry for not consulting the Malays in the vetting of the video narrative.

His accusations were without merit, however, when the Ministry said in a statement (Apr 30) that Malay-Muslim viewers - presumably a focus group - had seen the video prior to its release, and perceived the story to be heart-warming, although some expressed reservations.

Pictured: Adi Rahman - one of the commentators in Homeground Asia video

Stereotyping or masking reality?

The ministry said last month (Apr 30) the video was meant to show "a family’s journey of resilience in facing challenging circumstances and how mutual support and encouragement could nurture the process”.

Other netizens felt it was an overreaction and that low-income families shouldn't be dehumanized in a way that they are removed from the conversation. They felt that the video was a call-to-action for those from the underprivileged to strive for a better life through hard work and seeking help that's already available.

The only missed opportunity in the MCI video was perhaps the suggestion that Malays in low income families living in a rental flat could not celebrate Hari Raya unless they get a flat on their own.

But of course, like Homeground Asia, that is also a sweeping assumption.