Govt to decide on wearing of tudung for nurses by National Day Rally in August: PM Lee

SINGAPORE – Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong hopes a decision on the wearing of the tudung by Muslim nurses, as part of their uniform, can be announced by the National Day Rally at the end of August.

PM Lee told reporters this on Saturday (April 10) after a closed-door dialogue with about 70 Malay/Muslim community and religious leaders on the issue at the Civil Service Club in Tessensohn Road.

He added that while the Government should prepare to make such a move, as attitudes have changed and the tudung is now more common in social and work settings, more work needs to be done.

PM Lee said: “Before we actually make the change, we have to prepare the ground. We have to make sure that everybody understands this is a careful adjustment, not a wholesale change, and we want people to realise what the limits are, as we make these changes.”

He added that the Government must make sure that Singaporeans, both Muslims and non-Muslims, were ready to accept the move.

He said the last time he had such a dialogue on the same issue was in 2014, and Saturday’s dialogue was candid and sincere.

As a multi-racial and multi-religious country, there is a delicate balance to be struck, but Singapore is fully committed to preserving its harmony and maintaining the common space, he said.

“We want to avoid creating unintended consequences, when we make well-intentioned moves.”

The change for Muslim nurses to wear the tudung with their uniforms can be done, said PM Lee.

“We want to do it but it will take a bit of time. I’ve discussed the issue with the community leaders, and asked them to help us in this process over the next few months.

“And I hope that by the National Day Rally, which will be at the end of August, we should be ready to make a decision, and I should have something to report,” he added.

While the issue has been discussed for years, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam had disclosed during a dialogue with senior Muslim leaders on March 23 that the Government was considering allowing nurses to wear the tudung at work.

It was a point he said he had made at a similar dialogue with the leaders last August.

Mr Shanmugam had said during the March dialogue that discussions were ongoing and would take a few more months, adding that the Government’s view was likely to change.

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Mr Shanmugam’s comments had come two weeks after two Malay/Muslim ministers’ speeches in Parliament on the issue drew a reaction from some in the community.

Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli had told Parliament on March 8 that the public service’s policy on uniforms cannot be tilted towards any particular religious beliefs, save for practices inherited from the British government.

“Allowing tudungs would introduce a very visible religious marker that identify every tudung-wearing female nurse or uniformed officer as a Muslim,” he had said then, during the Budget debate.

This was in response to Workers’ Party MP Faisal Manap, who had asked whether nurses and those serving in uniformed services can be allowed to wear the tudung.

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On Saturday, Mr Masagos said the latest dialogue was constructive and candid, and both the Government and the community left it understanding each other much better.

“There was common understanding that this issue must be approached carefully because it involves racial and religious sensitivities, and therefore, we cannot rush to a decision,” he told reporters.

He said Singapore’s racial and religious harmony was precious, and the Muslim community will safeguard this together with the rest of Singaporeans.

“We will continue to engage Singaporeans on this matter, I hope to seek everyone’s support as we deliberate on this issue, and work towards an outcome that is acceptable to all Singaporeans.”

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