Personal attacks on Muslim leaders over hijab issue uncalled for: Dr Yaacob Ibrahim

SINGAPORE - Singapore's Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs has weighed in on an ongoing debate over the Government's rules on wearing of the Muslim headscarf in the public service, calling for mutual respect from all involved.

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Read Dr Yaacob Ibrahim's full Facebook post here:

Recently, the hijab issue has garnered renewed attention in mainstream and social media. The PAP Malay MPs and I are aware of this concern as it has been raised in our discussions with our community. We have discussed the matter with PM and my Cabinet colleagues.

This issue is important to many Muslim Singaporeans. But that doesn't mean that we should use abusive and disrespectful language in discussing it. Personal attacks on former Mufti Shaikh Syed Isa Semait and current Mufti Dr Fatris Bakaram are 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. Let us always treat each other with due respect, whether in our own Muslim community or when engaging those belonging to other faiths.

Singaporeans enjoy freedom of religion. Everyone has the right to practise his or her respective faith. This right also entails a responsibility - to promote mutual respect and understanding among different religious groups, and to preserve the common space that all groups share.

I'm sure that the Muslim community treasures the peace and harmony that depends on this mutual respect and understanding. We have worked hard to achieve this harmony, and accepted the compromises and restraints that are necessary in a multi-religious society. Hence Muslims have been able to practise our religion freely and peacefully, as have people of other religions. Look around us. Muslim women enjoy many freedoms in Singapore. They don the hijab in many situations, including in Parliament, the highest elected chamber in the land.

As for wearing the hijab at work, I'm glad that many employers do exercise flexibility for those who follow specific religious practices, and ensure that employees who wear the hijab are not disadvantaged.

But some professions require uniforms which do not include the hijab. 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. We do not allow police officers or SAF servicemen to wear or display conspicuous religious symbols on their uniforms or their faces. Nor do we allow Muslim police women officers to wear the hijab on duty. But when they are out of uniforms, they are free to wear the hijab, as indeed many do going to and from work.

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.

I urge our community to remain patient and understanding. My colleagues and I will continue our discussions with our community.

Negotiating our common space in a way that all are comfortable with is a continuing work in progress. Muslims have to do this, as do people of other faiths. We have come a long way together as a society, and we should approach the adjustments that will be needed from time to time with the same spirit of tolerance and mutual respect.