Review ban on wearing of headscarf, Singapore urged

February 5, 2002
Singapore Democrats

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PETALING JAYA: The International Movement for a Just World has urged the Singapore Government to review its decision to bar Muslim schoolgirls from wearing the tudung (headscarf) to school, saying it should rescind the ban for the sake of harmony and unity in the multi-religious island republic.

Its president Dr Chandra Muzaffar said the decision by the Singapore Government might have unwittingly created a new obstacle to inter-ethnic unity.

He said the headscarf had remained an integral aspect of Muslim female attire even in secularised environments in which Islam plays hardly any role in the public sphere.

“The headscarf is also recognised as a legitimate dimension of Muslim dress form all over the world,” he said in a statement yesterday.

That, he said, was why the vast majority of societies, be it a secular state like the Netherlands with a Muslim minority or a secular Muslim-majority state like Egypt, allowed schoolgirls to wear the headscarf.

Dr Chandra said it should be emphasised, however, that the headscarf or even attire did not guarantee that a person would be modest in her behaviour.

“The Quran recognises that modesty goes beyond forms and symbols,” he added.

Dr Chandra said that at a time when it had to retain the trust and confidence of the Muslim community while isolating militant elements in its midst, the issue threatened to jeopardise the Singapore Government’s larger endeavour to ensure the stability and security of its society.

Specifically, he said, the issue might fan the embers of discontent among the disgruntled fringe within the Muslim community.

Dr Chandra said the Singapore Government should have paid close attention to the vehement protests over the issue emanating from civil society organisations in Malaysia, Indonesia and other neighbouring countries.

“If Muslim and non-Muslim groups and individuals in these countries feel that the Singapore Government has chosen to ride roughshod over the sentiments of the Muslim minority, it could do a great deal of damage to Singapore’s reputation in the region as a state that is capable of delivering justice to all its multi-religious citizens.

“How Singapore is perceived by the people of Indonesia and Malaysia, in particular, is, in the long run, vital to its well-being,” he said.