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Monday, 11 February, 2002, 10:08 GMT
Should Singapore allow religious dress in schools?
Three young Singaporean girls have been suspended from school for wearing traditional Muslim headscarves.
The children's parents decided to defy a government ban on wearing the scarves despite a warning from the Prime Minister, Goh Chok Tong, that this would result in suspension.
Mr Goh says the ban is aimed at promoting racial harmony in the city-state.
For devout Malay Muslims, the tudung, or scarf, is obligatory once girls reach puberty, but some parents like to start the practice much earlier.
France and Turkey faced strikes and demonstrations in 1999 after making similar bans on traditional dress in schools and public offices.
What do you think of the laws regarding religious dress? Should the children's parents have complied with the law?
This debate is now closed. Read your comments below.
Joanne Stoddart, UK
What's wrong with the scarf? We talk so much about democracy and freedom yet we don't practice it.
I support the move by the Singapore Government and I have read most of the comments posted by those who oppose it. I believe most of them have a misperception of what the issue is. Nowhere did Singapore say it would ban the wearing of scarves by Muslims. Muslims in Singapore are not denied their religious freedoms. It is only few hours in school and for females who have yet to reach puberty. Beside, (correct if I am wrong), it is neither an obligation nor compulsory for children (before puberty) to wear 'tudung'.
Gerald Tan, Singapore
To all of those people who responded from Saudi Arabia - why don't we cut a deal? Muslim women can wear traditional dress in non-Muslim countries when you let Christian women get around in their traditional apparel in Saudi.
I'm not Muslim, but I think the girls shouldn't have been suspended for wearing headscarves. What so many people don't understand is that some Muslim women prefer to wear Western dress and others prefer hijab, chador, etc. It's only a matter of opinion.
Rachel Yaro, England
I agree with the Spore Mufti and the Malay Ministers that the parents of the two girls should think of their daughters' future and educations first.
If they insists on the tudung why do not sent their daughter to the madrasah.
"If you (the fathers) as a Muslim do not have faith and trust in your madrasah, who else will".
Why make an issue on this matter and let outsiders criticise us.
We have always leave peacefully and we are always happy, don't let this became a setback and tarnish the good image of Singapore.
As fathers, please think the best for the girls and don't let them blame you for your decisions today, in future.
I think the president has definitely taken a step backwards. Also to relate that conformity of uniform to headdress is hardly the same. The answer is very simple but overlooked, why not include the headscarf as part of the uniform for the children and make it a particular style and colour to blend in with the schools uniform!
The Singapore government should respect the rights of every individual, irrespective of religion. This situation creates further animosity and division between religions, rather than promoting freedom and harmony. As a British Muslim, I don't think religious tolerance is undermined by the fact that I was allowed to wear a scarf at school.
I'm not a Muslim. However, in this case, I think the freedom of choice should be given priority.
By banning wearing headscarves in schools, we shall definitely not be able to ensure racial harmony.
Education should be the key, not enforcement of laws.
No. This is the starting point for 11 September tragedy in USA.
Leslie Allan, Nigeria
I am asking the Government to allow religious dress in the school.
The headscarf is part of the dress of an Islamic woman and it will not hurt anyone; on the contrary, it is a reflection of how tolerant the atmosphere is for other faiths and religions.
Wearing of religious dress won't have to be disallowed in any sector of the world.
Mohamed Barseem, England
Religious conviction and law are different issues altogether. As no citizen can be forced to defy the law of the land, similarly no person should be coerced into disobeying his/her religious directives. And in the case of Islamic law or Sharia'h, it calls for women to cover their heads in public. The scarf is a part of the Islamic dress code prescribed for women. Modern lifestyles and obsolete traditions have nothing to do with it. Even if the world changes, the religious code of conduct never does. A law of the land should not prevent anyone from practicing his/her religion. I absolutely support the wearing of the scarves, not only by Muslim girls in schools but also by all Muslim females in all walks of life and not only in Singapore but in all parts of the world.
Wearing of headscarves should be individual's choice. It is not to promote fashion, but identification. When it does not harm anyone what is the need to ban or oppose it? Moreover, the lawmakers should be aware of public sentiments, and should pass laws, which do not oppose or clash with religious sentiments. Wearing of headscarves is an individual's choice, but in school we can decide upon a colour to go with the uniform or avoid flashy colours (which scarves are usually not to help keep young minds from distraction).
People of all faiths have been observing their religious faiths for centuries. Why does the government of Singapore need to suddenly enforce such an archaic and detrimental ban? For what purpose? It will cause anything other than 'harmony' in my view.
Yes I support the wearing of scarves in not only school but also everywhere. What's wrong in it? When nuns can wear headscarves why can't we Muslims. Why only Muslims are targeted in every aspect. At least these girls are asking to where something more and not trying to wear less and create a bad environment as in western countries.
Yes, Every Muslim female should wear scarves and cover their body as per Islamic law, when they are out of home.
David Wong, England
Sikhs are allowed to wear turbans as a historical legacy from British days. The government in Singapore is pragmatic above all. Sikhs have been allowed to wear the turban because their numbers are very small and they have proven to be not exclusivist. Even if they were, three Sikhs wearing turbans in a school of a thousand are not likely to be disruptive. On the other hand, a hundred or more Malays wearing Islamic headgear in the same school are likely to become even more exclusivist than they are already perceived to be. If there is a contradiction in principle, in the interests of keeping the school system secular, I'd rather the government ban Sikhs from wearing the turban than allow the Islamic headgear.
To me, the parents of the students said that their child had insisted on wearing the headscarves, which to me, is rather obvious that the parents were the one insisting, not the children who are still too young to make such a decision. Singapore's school has been this way for a long time. Sikhs are allowed to wear turbans for they had to wear it since young. But for the Muslims, they have an option, and a reference whereby Muslim females can wear the headscarves when they reached puberty. So, I think that, it is not discrimination at all for they have observed the traditional rules of the different races versus the upcoming competitions and advancement being faced.
In the government schools, there's uniformity among the students when they dressed the same. At a young age, they are able to mingled around without much trouble. With the addition of their headscarves, this has, in one way or another create an invisible line between the different religions. This is not what we want to achieve. We want to create an environment whereby the children are able to accept each other.
The uniform creates an identity. Like many people who said, does it make you less devoted to your belief without the headscarves? I believe that a true Muslim isn't like that, especially in modern times like this where certain restrictions are implemented to carry out their assigned tasks. They can wait until the suitable age where there are special institutions for them to wear headscarves. I hope that they can make a decision for the benefits of the country, which includes the other races and religions too.
What can one possibly achieve by refusing to allow these little girls to wear a headscarf. The one thing I find interesting as events develop around the world concerning Muslims and Islam is the main fundamental: that Islam is not a religion (i.e. a spiritual belief) but a way of life. A way of life which advises us on the way to dress, eat, sleep etc. STOP this discrimination against Muslims; it'll only back fire. You can't kill the faith that we have inside our hearts.
After all I do not believe that the children, if left to make their own decision, would be too bothered whether or not they can wear scarves in school", I think you are absolutely wrong. This has nothing to do with the Government, but the refusal to freely follow a religion. The headscarf forms an important building brick in the form and character of a woman. Nothing can be said that will justify what is happening in Singapore today.
It is silly of Singaporean government to think that banning headscarves in schools can create harmony. The headscarf has no relationship with harmony among Singaporeans. Wearing the scarf is a personal matter it is not for the governments to interfere in the personal matters of its citizens.
The actions that the Singapore government took in regards to head scarves was indeed for racial harmony. By the way this was a public school and they do not want a student to risk decimation. I believe that as a Muslim myself, not wearing a headscarf would make a woman less Muslim. People should admit that this is a secular society. Singapore is not an Islamic state.
So Singapore wants to promote 'racial harmony' by 'discriminating' against Muslims! Restricting one group's freedom to practice their religion would surely lead to resentment and social disharmony.
Ameer(UAE), Islam is not backward/obsolete and does not have a problem adapting to modern life. In every Muslim country there are backward\obsolete traditions which are UNISLAMIC, unfortunately some people tend to assume (wrongly) that these traditions are Islamically inspired... but getting back to the question 'Should Singapore allow religious dress in schools': YES.
Lets hope the Government of Singapore decides to takes a more enlightened and tolerant approach to 'promoting' racial harmony.
We always talk about freedom of choice. The headscarf for a Muslim woman is her right-her expression, you cannot oppress her. The headscarf is her identity so why should she change who she is.
One day you will come and say wear this dress only. Every female has a feature to hide her "Haya" (exposing her self). Some expose less and some expose with out limit. Adding to a limit is no problem. But going out of limit is problem to all others. This is why female is told to be within "Haya". Scarves are worn in all religions.
If the Singapore government ban scarves, they should also ban turbans, and scarves for nuns, the Singapore government has violated the human right of these Muslims, everyone should be free to practice their religion without discrimination.
Since the parents have decided to send their child to a government school, they should oblige by the rules. They will be free to wear the tudung once they are outside the school. I don't feel that it is in anyway discrimination, as it's a start to racial harmony by getting rid of the feeling of difference between young and impressionable minds.
I support the notion it should be left to the individual to wear whatever he/she desires.
YES, wear it proudly.
The headscarves must be allowed in the schools any where in the world. Religious freedom is the right of every individual in the society and as much as headscarves are concerned they are not the danger or threat to any society in any sense. This is the very much personal matter and should be left on individuals to follow it on their will. The fact is any religious activity should not be condemned unless it's a threat to society. To the extent racial discrimination is concerned it's not promoted from headscarves, but from the attitude and relation of the people with each other.
I agree with what the Singapore school did, because even though she has the right to wear her headscarf, she must realized that a democracy is not always perfect. A school is a place where democracy only takes shape when you become sensitive to other peoples' cultures. She has to realize that the majority of the students in the school do not want to wear the headscarf. Democracy means majority rules! Religion should be never mixed with school and government!
I think it is undemocratic to prevent someone from practising his or her religion publicly.
These young girls who are far below the age of puberty should not be wearing scarves. It is not a religious requirement until puberty. These children are being made use of by their blinkered parents and a few others. Girls and women not wearing these scarves in the Asean region are not lusted after like those in the Middle East and the Indian Subcontinent where the wearing of scarves and the burkha are almost mandatory. Lust is not the fault of these women but the starved vision of the men there.
Women who do not wear scarves or burkha are not any less God-minded than those who do wear. Godliness is in the soul, not the apparel. The Singapore Government definitely is not anti-Islam, but, in fact, supportive of it. The prohibition against wearing the scarf is only during school hours to ensure a standard uniform which helps in building of oneness among students of various ethnic backgrounds.
Yes, I support every kind of movement to allow wearing head scarves in school, or anywhere in the world.
Linda Finnie, Scotland
This is discrimination. Islam asks women to wear headscarves. Having rules not allowing that is insulting to Islam and Muslims.
People should be able to practice their religion! If that means wearing a scarf then let them practice their religion.
I applaud on Singapore's government on their strive to achieve social cohesion amongst the multi-racial and cultural Singaporeans.
However, I think the issue is bigger than just allowing 7 year old girls to wear headscarves. Rather it is the implementation of choice and religious freedoms.
The Sikh is allowed to wear turbans in national schools since the colonial times.
This has not brought forward any negative vibes, or caused them to be marginalized or cause further segregation by race. Rather it has taught people to respect the various cultures, and learn from one another. Children need to learn that though we are different, this does not create conflicts and intolerance in our diversity. Rather, with proper education, cohesion and unity can be enhanced.
Not allowing the headscarves is just contradicting this social cohesion and understanding that all parties would want to achieve.
I don't think there is any harm in wearing headscarves to any other students and this is our religion and we can't change that. So I say the Singapore government should allow this headscarves.
I agree with the Singapore government. I sincerely hope those opposite the ban would understand that the uniform is symbol of harmony, a mean in which we can connect with each other as human beings, not a race of a religion. It is good for both Muslim and non-Muslim students because it can help them to narrow the gaps. By banning, this is not to say that the government dose not support the Muslim community or the Muslim as a religion. Yes, nuns are not banned from wearing headscarves from attending mission schools or churches. But the Singapore government only bans in the public schools, not in mosque or Muslim schools.
I have heard many talks of discrimination towards Muslims, and it seems they are always on the victim side. I hope one day I can hear a constructive voice to promote harmony, from the Muslim side. We should remind ourselves all the time, in the very sense; we are the human beings as it.
It is a political correctness going mad. I even heard news on TV here calling for ban of bikinis on the beach because it hurts Muslims sensitivity.
Harmony can be only achieved from two sides; this needs efforts from both sides with good wishes and reconciliation.
Shazni Shahruddin, Malaysia
Yes, I positively support the wearing of scarves in school, not just in Singapore but also anywhere in the world, and no government needs to interfere in this matter.
If the Sikhs can wear the turban, then why not the Muslims. School uniforms does not prevent from barriers of rich and poor. I grow up in such kind of school and I always found myself to be separated from others just because I was poor. Schools inside maintains one code and the country outside maintains another code, social equality never works. Further more the fall of Communist (social equality) proves my point.
A comment to the above commenter, Ameer Hassan of U.A.E. Do you think there is a different God for political life and a different God for social life. It's a shame that a monotheist thinks like a polytheist.
Everyone should be given the freedom to exercise and practice his or her religion.
Are you going to stop priests (especially Franciscan and Camalite) wearing their habits? Are you going to ban them to wear only ordinary clothes when celebrating Mass? Should all Christians be banned from wearing crucifixes and stop reading the Bible? Should Buddhist Monks be banned from shaving their heads and wearing their religious clothing?
While the rest of the civilized world is moving towards 'strength in diversity', the Singapore government is enforcing 'complacence in uniformity'. The next step is plastic surgery, so that everyone looks the same too.
I think the girls should be allowed to wear the headscarves if they desire. It is truly racist to allow one religion Sikhs, to wear religious attire and not allow Muslim girls. There is religious harmony in Singapore. I hope that the Government does not disturb it.
The scarf does not need to be worn until puberty, but if they feel like wearing it before, they should be allowed to.
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