The Pot, the China and the Hijab (Tudung) in National Schools

March 7, 2002
Singapore Democrats

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It would not be presumptious to claim that when the issue of the hijab in national schools became news, many in the Muslim community simply cringed. It was not that the petition for the hijab was breaking the law or it was an esoteric request, it being a matter clearly supported by the stipulations of the constitution and led in precedence by the turban. Neither should this recoiling in quiet panic be confused with the servile opposition of the opportunistic sycophants who are unfortunately so common in our midst because these who cringed are sincere and perhaps even passionate about their faith.

Rather their frantic dread emerged from the fear of being accused for the umpteenth time of undermining our racial and religious harmony and the thought of being scrutinized and questioned must have been unbearable, not unlike being stripped and made to stand naked under the sun to be judged and ogled. In a sentence, shameful, hot and uncomfortable.

This fear is not premature or abritrary however.

The objection to this petition has been made in the name of preserving our racial and religious harmony by arguing that the presence of the hijab would impede national integration, an argument which paints this petition and any other effort which pursues its implementation as a deliberate act of risking our racial and religious harmony by putting a communal interest above a national one. This makes the petition criminal.

Yet the argument that the hijab hinders national integration is frivolous, and it has been and will continue to be successfully debunked, and it is this same frivolous argument which has lent legitimacy to that dangerous accusation that by this petition the Muslim community wants to be different and to be treated differently.

These accusations are false because they coloured the fact that the petition for the hijab is firmly rooted in the belief that it is about pursuing the right to religious freedom as mandated by the constitution. Therefore any objection to this petition should have revolved on this point, solely and completely, where rejecting it would mean the need to prove that it does violate the constitutional rights of the Muslim community.

It should not have descended like it did into a frontal attack on the Muslim community and its religious practices where its commitment to national integration is questioned. In a word, it was nothing less but a character assassination of the Muslim community.

Thus the image of the bad Muslim community resulting from the hijab petition, especially where it is potentially divisive and where it could mean lesser economic opportunities for the community, is manufactured as opposed to being true. What is obvious is how this issue has been reconstructed, so deliberately and so concertedly, that the petition is criminalized and the Muslim community demonised and what is apparent is how the cry for our racial and religious harmony is managed to overwhelm the facts in order to sanctify the fiction.

Indeed the petition for the hijab is not the first time that the Muslim community has been slapped hard and tight on both cheeks with the accusation and insinuation, intimidation and insult that it is a perpetual and dangerous agent of instability, and always it is its religious beliefs and requirements which are painted as the source and cause of its disloyalty.

It is noticeable how for an additional flavouring, as a spice to a stew, totally irrelevant and totally untenable points are raised to further bolster the claim that the Muslim community is unwilling to integrate or having difficulty to, and this time the observance of halal laws became the target for attack and for that extra spicy taste the high percentage of ethnic Malays in some national schools suddenly became a matter of interest.

It is this demonisation of the Muslim community, pictured not only as lacking in commitment to our national integration but actually being quite hostile towards it, which is dangerous to our racial and religious harmony. It may serve to dismiss the petition of the hijab but it is a gamble too dangerous to play because the dice could have fallen off the table this time, considering the stress already on our racial and religious relations.

It is difficult to ignore the pattern.

It must be remembered that this cry has been heard before specifically in the issues of the madrasah and the collective leadership proposal where the primary justification for the shackling of the former and the bludgeoning of the latter were made in the name of our racial and religious harmony. Here too the merit and legitimacy of each case, of the arguments put forth in their favour, became immediately lost in the emotional mutterings of this cry. Here too the Muslim community were subsequently abused and beaten into a corner with the charges of being segregationist and chauvinist among others.

The merit of this cry for our racial and religious harmony is made even more questionable by another point, and this is for those who need more to chew on as food for thought.

Those who are quick to accuse the Muslim community of undermining our racial and religious harmony do so with the moral authority of the wholesome and holy but yet these are those who have been genuinely guilty of undermining that harmony.

It is a matter of record, if not public knowledge, that the misrepresentation of Islam by the local media channel has been allowed to grow and fester and this despite they being informed repeatedly and intimately. In other words, they have allowed the creation of an environment of hate and fear within our muti-racial and multi-religious society and unless they can prove that this vilification of Islam does not and cannot injure our racial and religious harmony, it is absolutely hypocritical to the point of criminal for them to accuse the Muslim community of endangering our national integration.

If the pot calling the kettle black is bad enough, it is worst when the accused is actually the porcelain-white china.

It is a point which cannot be emphasized enough that the misrepresentation of Islam which demonises the Muslim community poses the threat which is arguably more genuine to our racial and religious harmony but yet it has been allowed to continue even as they besieged the Muslim community with their accusations. Even now, at this moment, false and often vicious images of Islam are being propagated by our local media channel with apparent immunity.

This is a delicious piece of discrepancy and unless it can be explained satisfactorily the conclusion is almost too conspitorial to be palatable. Yet the fact is where the issue of the misrepresentation of Islam is concerned, our racial and religious harmony is suddenly taken out of circulation and indeed it seem null and void where the demonisation of the Muslim community is deem a political expediency but when the issue of the hijab, and indeed that of the madrasah and collective leadership, is concerned this cry is beaten with war drums.

Certainly there can be no contest between an aurat-covering school uniform and the systematic propagation of hate against an entire community and its religion. There is no uniformity of policy apparently where our racial and religious harmony is concerned, and as it has been painfully observed uniformity is creed in this country. There is a double standards and it is almost unbelievable but nonetheless needs to be recognised.

If many in the Muslim community cringed when the issue of the hijab in national schools became news, they should really not and now they know why. I noticed it and so should you.

Preserve Our Racial and Religious Harmony
&
Stop Media Terrorism Against Islam

Faris Osman