[UPDATED 8 Nov, 1224pm: Added NSP statement]
The National Solidarity Party calls on the government to conduct surveys and open dialogues with the community with regards to the hijab issue, the party said in a media statement on Thursday.
NSP said, "It is especially important to have empirical evidence to support any decision on this issue, because it has economic impact for Malay-Muslim families. Prohibiting the wearing of hijab in certain public sector professions means a restriction of job opportunities for Muslim women who desire to wear the hijab."
Earlier, the Workers' Party also weighed in on the issue of traditional head garb worn by Muslim women in the public sector, calling for discussions not to be "politicised".
In a statement on Wednesday evening, it said it believes that a "workable consensus is best achieved through public dialogue within the Muslim community, among our communities, and with the government elected by the people".
It called for debate to be held with "an open mind", and that discussions should include the input of the heads of uniformed professions on the feasibility of accommodating the wearing of the hijab in their organisations, subject to considerations such as operational exigencies.
On Tuesday, amid calls to ease the "no hijab" rule at the workplace, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said the government had to maintain overall social harmony even though it understood community perspectives on the issue.
"Every community when it presses for its own concerns, must bear in mind how that affects other communities and how others might see it. That is the reality of living in a multi-racial, multi-religious society that we all have to internalise," Teo said Tuesday.
In a statement released on the Ministry of Home Affairs website, Teo, echoing Dr Yaacob Ibrahim’s earlier comment on the hijab issue, said, “We have been able to enjoy a peaceful and harmonious society, and also the many freedoms that all religions have in Singapore, because our communities understand the need to balance what each wants, and have been moderate and restrained in accommodating one another. I hope this will continue well into the future.”
His full statement can be read in full on the website.
Thousands of Singaporeans have shown support — asking for the use of the tudung to be allowed — on a Facebook page called “Singapore Hijab Movement”, which was set up on Sunday.
In just two days, the page has garnered over 18,000 Likes and several supporters have also changed their profile pictures to the same one used in the page -- a red and white illustration of a woman wearing the tudung, also known as "hijab" in the Arab world.
Tudung means headscarf in Malay, and it is worn by Muslim women in Singapore in order to conform to the Islamic standard of modesty by covering their heads and chests. The current tudung debate reportedly began after it was brought up at a forum in September.
A statement on the Singapore Hijab Movement page said it was set up to help change the fact that some Muslim women cannot don the headscarf in some workplaces and schools, especially where the wearing of uniforms is necessary.
“Even if the reason of such restriction were justified in the past, surely it is anathema to the values we are collectively forging for a Singapore that is matured, progressive and inclusive,” the statement said.
The page was created two days after Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, the Minister in-charge of Muslim Affairs in Singapore, commented on the hijab debate on his Facebook post.
He said, “Most Muslims recognise that if we allow employees or officers to modify their uniforms for religious reasons, particularly for the police and the military, it would be very problematic.”
His comment has drawn some flak online.
A Facebook user commenting on Yaacob’s post said, “I think the point that Muslims are making is, why our ladies aren’t allowed to join the uniformed services/nursing professions, without compromising on what they wear. Surely uniforms can be easily adjusted?”
Other Muslim leaders in Singapore, Mufti Dr Fatris Bakaram and Shaikh Syed Isa Semait, were also reportedly criticised for their comments on the hijab issue; Yaacob regards them as “personal attacks” that were “completely uncalled for”, he said in the same post.
A local student body Fellowship of Muslim Students Association (FMSA) showed support for the Singapore Hijab Movement by producing a press release on Tuesday, calling on the government to “change the policy on Hijab/Tudung”.
“FMSA views the initiative to do an online poll on the above issue as another round of effort driven by individuals or groups both formal and informal with sincere desire to call upon the Government to reconsider its policy on the above matter. It is worth noting that the last campaign happened more than 10 years ago,” FMSA said in the release.
In October, an online petition for a similar cause had reportedly taken place via campaigning site avaaz.org. The petition was taken down after failing to achieve its target of 20,000 signatures and receiving only 12,405, according to reports.
[UPDATED 8 Nov, 1224pm: Added NSP statement]