The Tudung Issue: Open Letter to the Prime Minister



MalayForum2-1Dear Prime Minister,

Wishing you a very Happy New Year.

I hope that what I am going to say here will help to make you reconsider your stance with regard to several issues which the Malay Muslim community has long been unhappy about, the latest of which concerns its women folks’  desire to wear the tudung wherever their employment may be.

To say that the Malay Muslim community is sad and disappointed with your decision to still disallow its woman folks in certain sectors of employment to don the tudung is an understatement.

As usual the mainstream media tried to paint a different picture with its lopsided report. The Berita Harian topped it up with a group photo of seemingly happy, smiling people to give the false impression that the community is happy with your decision. I do not see any sensible reason as to why they should be smiling.

Inso far as this issue is concerned the community has been keeping track of statements made by your ministers, including those of the Minister in charge of Muslim Affairs and members of Parliament from your party over the last few months.

I read the statement you made after last Saturday’s dialog session several times over to try and make some sense of what you were saying and what message it was supposed to convey.

I find it strange that in spite of having lived among Malay Muslims all your life and after more than 50 years lording over the people – 55 years of PAP rule since 1959 – you and senior members of your party still do not understand the psyche of the Malays and their steadfastness over their religious faith.

Perhaps you have been relying too much on feedback from the mainstream media and from people around you who may include those who regard themselves ulamas and who have the tendency of making a virtue of telling you only what they think you would like to hear.  Many among them may have mastered the art of posturing or are simply playing the PR game.

If you continue to rely on the mainstream media – in this case the Berita Harian,which many in the community feel is being micro managed by your Minister in charged of Muslim Affairs – for your feedback and be counseled largely by people around you,chances are you will remain blissfully ignorant of what the Malay ground is really saying.

Some are already saying that the Prime Minister seems to think that he is now mightier than God since he has the power to easily overrule what has been made obligatory by the religion.

They are not happy that they have to subject themselves to the discretion and whims and of the government even in carrying out certain aspects of their religious obligation.

Granted that not all Muslim women will want to put on the tudung even if they are allowed to. That is their personal choice and they are answerable to God for their defiance. As for those who choose to don the tudung it is felt that there should not be an earthly power to prevent them from doing so. Even the Constitution guarantees them the freedom to practise their religion.

You also warned against a ‘push back’ from the other communities should we insist on having it our way.

At the same time you noted that the issue over the tudung was an old one and that you fully appreciate the desire of those who want the headscarf to be able to be worn by women more freely. According to you the change has got to be gradual.

It can be agreed that change has got to be gradual. We have no quarrel with that and have been patiently waiting for change to happen. There has not been muchprogress since the 10 years that the issue last surfaced. We are neither asking for any concession nor are we taking anything away from or even depriving the other communities of anything, let alone intruding into their space.

As such the likelihood of any push back from the other communities is very remote.It is only your government that is making it sound so threatening. Singaporeans are very rational  people and when given the proper explanation as well as by citing examples shown by other countries where Muslims make up even smaller numbers there is less likelihood that they would raise any objection.

As things stand today, there is no evidence that members of the other communities are unhappy if Muslims women are allowed to wear the tudung no matter where their places of employment may be. They have got so usedto such sights. Contrary to what you think, my experience shows that they are quite supportive of our effort. This only goes to show how out of the touch you and your government are with the ground.

I shall not dwell into the example you mentioned, equating the tudung issue with the putting up of Chinese language signs on the circle line as I feel that it is irrelevant in this discussion and totally out of context. This can be discussed at another forum.

ButI agree that the issue at hand is broader than the tudung itself. I suppose you are trying to say that you have to be fair to followers of the other faiths, hence the term ‘push back ‘. I suppose the breath of the issue also include the need to broaden the common space and your government’s declared intention to build an inclusive society.

I find this argument quite hollow and insincere. On the one hand you and yourministers talk about broadening the common space and the government’s desire in building aninclusive society. But on the other hand and in practice you are shrinking the common space by importing large numbers of immigrants mainly from the People’s Republic of China, India and the Philippines to swarm our limited space and in the process making life less bearable for Singaporeans. This has also further reduced the percentage of Malays compared to the others. Again no worries about any push back.

But what is so annoying and detestable to the Malays is the carving out of areas and making them exclusive to non Malays and Muslims. In case you miss the point I am referring to your long time discriminatory national service policy which bars us from large sectors of the armed forces, especially the in the more specialised areas in the army, the air force and the navy.

You have turned these sectors into exclusive domains of the non Malays and non Muslims.And you still have the audacity to talk about broadening the common space andbuilding an inclusive society? Can there be more hypocritical than this. We are taken to be fools.

The psychological, and to a certain extent, economic, damage this destructive policy has done to the nation as a whole and to the Muslims in particular is incalculable.This is no way to build a united multi ethnic nation. Of course you are not worried about any push back since non Malays make up an overwhelming 86.6% of the population.

For the sake of our future as a peaceful, united and progressive nation urgent steps need to be taken to make right where you have gone wrong.

You may begin by allowing our Muslim female nurses to don the tudung and gradually the other sectors like the Customs and Immigration, the Civil Defence and the rest. This should be followed by changes to other areas. Let us celebrate our diversity in unity.

Sincerely yours,

Mohamed Jufrie Mahmood


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