Over the years, the “tudung issue” – whether Muslim women can wear the tudung in professional settings – has attracted public discussion.
In August 2020, public attention to this issue was stoked by a viral social media post about a Muslim woman being asked to remove her tudung before she could work as a promoter at Tang’s department store. The decision by the Tangs store was subsequently reversed.
Mindful of the need to be racial and religious sensitive by engaging all community groups, the Government has regularly spoken with religious leaders in closed-door sessions, which provides a safe space for airing different views.
Similarly, the tudung issue was discussed behind closed doors on various occasions, with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong conducting two such dialogues with the Malay/Muslim community and religious leaders in 2014 and 2021.
After the April 2021 closed-door meeting, PM Lee told reporters that the Government was preparing the ground for a change to allow Muslim nurses to wear the tudung with their uniform if they wish.
“We have to make sure that everybody understands this is a careful adjustment and not a wholesale change,” he explained. “We want people to realise what the limits are as we make these changes, and we must make sure that Singaporeans, both Muslims and non-Muslims, are ready to accept the move.”
A few months after this dialogue, PM Lee announced at the National Day Rally in 2021 that female Muslim nurses in Singapore’s public healthcare sector were allowed to wear the tudung as an add-on to their uniforms if they wished to do so.
“Wearing the tudung has become increasingly important for the Muslim community. Over the last few decades, more Muslim women in Singapore have worn the tudung, both in social settings and workplaces,” PM Lee wrote in a Facebook post.
He noted that the Government understood the desire of more Muslim women to wear the tudung but were cautious about how non-Muslims would react to this “visible change”. It decided to proceed after observing that “by and large, interactions between the races remain comfortable”.
“Specifically in hospitals, some of the non-uniformed staff do wear the tudung, and we saw that their relationship with patients and colleagues was alright,” PM Lee wrote.
While the policy has been changed for Muslim uniformed workers across the public healthcare sector, it still applies to school students as there is an important need to minimise differences and emphasise similarities among all students. Similarly, the policy remains unchanged for uniformed sectors such as the armed forces and police force.