The debate over wearing the tudung in the public service needs constructive dialogue rather than abusive language if a solution is to be reached, the Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs said on Thursday.
In a Facebook post, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim criticised "abusive and disrespectful language" that some have used in online discussions. Personal attacks on two Muslim leaders, in particular, were completely uncalled for.
"They will not bring the discussions forward, much less solve any problems. Such behaviour reflects badly on those who engage in it," he said.
"Let us always treat each other with due respect, whether in our own Muslim community or when engaging those belonging to other faiths."
They were his first comments on the issue since a lecturer asked at a race forum last month why nurses were barred from wearing tudungs.
Media reports of the forum sparked a discussion on whether front-line public officers should be allowed to don the Muslim headscarf, or hijab.
An online anonymous petition championing the cause and aiming to garner 20,000 signatures was then posted on Oct 12, but received only about 12,000 before being taken down last week.
Singapore's mufti, Dr Fatris Bakaram, and his predecessor, Mr Shaikh Syed Isa Semait, were also criticised online for their comments.
Mr Shaikh said the petition could breed misunderstanding and questioned whether all Muslim women working at the front line as nurses want to wear a tudung.
Dr Fatris defended his predecessor, and said that different approaches to pushing for the wearing of the tudung in public workspaces should be respected.
Dr Yaacob, who is also Minister for Communications and Information, noted that Muslim women wear the hijab in many situations, including in Parliament, Singapore's highest elected chamber.
But some professions require uniforms which do not include the hijab, he said.
Police or military officers cannot wear or display conspicuous religious symbols on their uniforms or faces. Similarly, Muslim women in the police force are also not allowed to wear the hijab when on duty.
Urging patience and understanding, he said: "We need constructive dialogue to promote better mutual understanding of the diverse needs and requirements in our multi-racial and religious society. This process will take time, but I'm confident that we will find practical solutions if there is goodwill all round."
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