(Reuters file photo)
“Singapore Armed Forces’ (SAF) operational concerns must come first and individual needs sometimes must (be) subsumed under that,” said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen in Parliament on Thursday (7 April), on the topic of providing halal food on Navy vessels.
He was addressing an issue brought up by Member of Parliament (MP) Muhammad Faisal Abdul Manap on the provision of halal food in the SAF and the lack of Malays serving in the Navy.
In February 2015, Ng spoke to a group of students and academics during a forum organised by government feedback arm Reach and the National University of Singapore, where he said that it is difficult to have a halal kitchen in confined spaces such as those aboard Navy vessels.
According to The Straits Times, he was responding to a question on perceived bias against Malays in the SAF.
“Where we can, we will accommodate. And I’m certain that there are situations where I cannot please or accommodate all requirements. I cannot hand-on-heart assure you all my mobile kitchens are halal,” Ng said in Parliament.
“But always, the understanding (is) that the SAF’s needs and operational concerns, must come first,” he added.
Senior Minister of State Maliki Osman also addressed Faisal’s concern, saying that the SAF makes provisions for Muslims on board ships with food options such as seafood, chicken and vegetables.
“Our approach has been to accommodate as far as practicable, the needs of devotees of different religions while maintaining the common space and goals for all,” he said.
“Apart from Islam, religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism and Sikhism also practise certain dietary restrictions. However, we do not insist that public eating places cater to any specific religious requirement rather than encouraging any one religious group to push fully its own strict requirements,” said Maliki.
“These facilitates social integration where Singaporeans come together, eat in the same space and interact. This is the cornerstone of a multiracial society and Singaporeans accept this,” added Maliki.
Maliki explained that in SAF camps, halal food is prepared separately from non-halal foods. Where space is limited, vegetarian and halal food will be brought in from centralised kitchens instead of being prepared in the camps’ cookhouses. Such options are also available for combat food rations for NSmen to eat when they are out in the field.
“The preparation of halal foods require strict adherence to the religious stipulations governing the food stalls, preparation and even storage. So for Navy ships, space is always a premium - which needs to be maximised and prioritised - for key operational requirements in terms of combat systems and equipment spares,” said Maliki.