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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.

Your reaction:

Many Muslim girls enjoy wearing headscarves

Joanne Stoddart, UK
Whilst we are only talking about 7 year old girls, who are not required to cover until they attain puberty, this may be just the tip of the iceberg. Before long, the headscarf ban could manifest itself in other institutions. Many Muslim girls enjoy wearing headscarves as it prepares them for "doing it for real" later on and spares the girl the embarrassment of everyone knowing she's started her period. For many Muslim girls having to remove their headscarf makes them feel very naked and exposed. What "some" people seem to forget is that to expect a girl to remove her headscarf is nearly as oppressive as forcing a woman to wear one a la Taleban.
Joanne Stoddart, UK

What's wrong with the scarf? We talk so much about democracy and freedom yet we don't practice it.
Majid Siddiqui, India

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'.
Chris, Malaysia

It cannot possibly have the same significance as the turban

Gerald Tan, Singapore
As I understand it, it is not compulsory under Islam for Muslim girls to don the tudung until they reach puberty. These four girls are between 6 to 7 years old! Sikh boys do not, I believe, have the same leeway. The turban is mandatory for them, being a physical article of faith. If the tudung is not mandatory until a Muslim girl reaches puberty, it cannot possibly have the same significance as the turban. It cannot therefore be argued that allowing Sikh boys to wear a turban to school is discriminatory against Muslims.
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.
James, Australia

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.
Vijay John, USA

Shall we also discriminate against Sikhs wearing a turban, Christians wearing a cross, Hindu's wearing religious bracelets and Jews wearing their traditional attire?

Rachel Yaro, England
These girls are attending a state school. They should be allowed to observe their religion. Shall we also discriminate against Sikhs wearing a turban, Christians wearing a cross, Hindu's wearing religious bracelets and Jews wearing their traditional attire? Shall we discriminate against everyone. Wouldn't it be fairer to just allow people individual rights to observe their religious faith? We are after all "individuals".
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.
HM Suhaidah, Singapore

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!
Soul, UK

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.
Atia Azmi, UK

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.
Chin, Malaysia

No. This is the starting point for 11 September tragedy in USA.
MC Arikan, Turkey

People should try and leave religion out of state matters

Leslie Allan, Nigeria
The wearing of scarves should be banned because this is a public school and as such, the laws of the land should be followed. The wearing of school uniforms is a sign of unity, and to bring peoples of different races, cultures and religion together. Wearing scarves does not depict that as well as wearing turbans for young male children in the same school or anywhere for that matter. People should try and leave religion out of state matters.
Leslie Allan, Nigeria

I am asking the Government to allow religious dress in the school.
M.Zakaria Khan, Saudi Arabia

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.
Nermin Elsemary, England

Wearing of religious dress won't have to be disallowed in any sector of the world.
Asad Ali Manji, Pakistan

Do you prevent a nun from wearing her scarf outside churches?

Mohamed Barseem, England
Yes, the schoolgirls should be allowed to wear their headscarf- do you prevent a nun from wearing her scarf outside churches?
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.
Gulzar Wangde, Saudi Arabia

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).
Zainab Fatima, India

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.
Franchesca Anpole, Sweden

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.
Firoz Ahmed, India

Yes, Every Muslim female should wear scarves and cover their body as per Islamic law, when they are out of home.
Mohammed Ali, India

The banning of the headscarf is pure discrimination

David Wong, England
Discrimination in any form is wrong. Be that on the grounds of race, sex, religion or anything else. Islam is a way of life for Muslims. The banning of the headscarf is pure discrimination. A democracy is not about enforcing rules upon an unwilling population. Given the current coverage of Islam in the press I am not surprised that people believe this is a topic that needed to be debated yet we are not debating Sikh boys wearing turbans in the same schools are we?
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.
Bert Huang, Singapore

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.
Jasmine, Singapore

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.
Rayhanah Russell, UK

The headscarf forms an important building brick in the form and character of a woman

Faahim Mohamed, UAE
How does the thought even come up? Women not allowed to be decent by wearing a head scarf? The Sikhs wear their turbans and no ones out there pulling them off? We all know that wearing the scarf, is a means to be decent. Why stop it? How does it affect schooling in any way? And as for the above-mentioned Rob Anderson states, "I believe that the parents are using their children to test the patience of the Singaporean government.

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.
Faahim Mohamed, UAE

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.
Farrukh Sami, Pakistan

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.
Raul Lopes, USA

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.
Muhammad Iqbal, England

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.
Sukaina, United Arab Emirates

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.
Rizwan, Saudi Arabia

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.
J Richardson, UK

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.
Thomas, Singapore

I support the notion it should be left to the individual to wear whatever he/she desires.
Mohammed Khan, Scotland

YES, wear it proudly.
Hani Barghouty, USA

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.
Huma Humera Naqvi, Pakistan

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!
Vicheka, USA

I think it is undemocratic to prevent someone from practising his or her religion publicly.
Yusmin, Malaysia

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.
Ong Hon Yew, Malaysia

Yes, I support every kind of movement to allow wearing head scarves in school, or anywhere in the world.
Shakil R, India

I think the school was right to promote racial harmony and forbid the wearing of the scarves

Linda Finnie, Scotland
I think the school was right to promote racial harmony and forbid the wearing of the scarves. Religion, will never be agreed upon throughout the world and it will always be a source of disharmony. Why? When religious people are supposed to follow in their 'good' Gods footsteps does it lead to so many wars and unhappiness? Will there ever be an answer?
Linda Finnie, Scotland

This is discrimination. Islam asks women to wear headscarves. Having rules not allowing that is insulting to Islam and Muslims.
Abbas Al-Lawati, Montreal, Canada

People should be able to practice their religion! If that means wearing a scarf then let them practice their religion.
Wong Lee, USA

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.
Barr, Singapore

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.
Mohamed Favas, Sri Lanka

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.
Jenny, Australia

Banning the headscarf is equivalent to insulting many Muslim women all over the world

Shazni Shahruddin, Malaysia
A headscarf is an obligation to all Muslim women. It is part of the faith. Faith in which runs side by side with Islamic laws. Thus parents must install that faith to children even in their wee ages. Banning the headscarf is equivalent to insulting many Muslim women all over the world. If Singapore is a democracy and practices the right of free will as they so claim, why disrespect the teaching of Islam now, thus promoting further controversies? There are other countries in the world that have student-wearing headscarf yet still manage to opt for multicultural integration. Why is wearing a head scarf seems so unlawful, when there is naught act against women who wears indecent clothing, who indirectly permits themselves to many assault especially sexual ones?
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.
Munaf kaz, India

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.
Jahanur Subedar, USA

Everyone should be given the freedom to exercise and practice his or her religion.
Naushad Khan, Canada

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?
Sherwin, Hong Kong

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.
KK, Singapore

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.
Jeff, USA

The scarf does not need to be worn until puberty, but if they feel like wearing it before, they should be allowed to.
Randa Kuziez, USA

I am in full agreement with Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong. Wearing the Malay tudung is certainly an individual prerogative. However by attending an integrated public school, the parents of the suspended girls must be sensitive to the concerns of the state regarding the encroachment of strict Islamic tradition into a pluralistic educational system. This problem is also not merely a Singaporean dilemma, either. There are also Muslims who do not wear a tudung or burkha. Does this make them any less Muslim in their own minds?
Iain Campbell, Canada

Would they ban nuns wearing headscarves from attending mission schools or churches?
K. Manji, UK

A standard school uniform is used in Singapore as a means of making all children equal. The idea is to remove barriers that may inhibit interaction among students. For example, without uniforms, rich students may dress in expensive clothes and separate themselves from the others. Or students who dress in an unusual manner may be discriminated against. In adopting a uniform, students gain a sense of common identity and interaction is fostered. As for learning about each other's religion and culture, the school curriculum already provides for that.
Gavin Lee, Singapore

The authorities in Singapore were right to prohibit Muslim religious dress in state schools. Singapore is not an official Islamic country. By wearing Islamic religious dress in state schools, the Malay Muslim minority is challenging the Chinese secular society's power. The Malay Muslims live a good, safe life in Singapore. They are free to practice their religion and culture in private. They should not be allowed to publicly upset the peace and harmony of a safe, prosperous non-Muslim country.
John Robinson, USA

The parents of the suspended girls must be sensitive to the concerns of the state

Iain Campbell, Canada
I don't agree with the Singapore government. They don't allow Muslim girls to wear scarves but do allow Sikh boys to wear their turbans. This is really discrimination.
Mohd, Malaysia

I believe that the parents are using their children to test the patience of the Singaporean government. 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. Personally, having visited and worked in Singapore over the years, I find the government there to be racially neutral.
Rob Anderson, England

What's wrong with the scarf? We talk so much about democracy and freedom yet we don't practice it.
Yashimah, Malaysia

The parents should have complied with the law of Singapore. In certain schools in Malay Muslim countries in South East Asia, non-Muslim children are required to wear Muslim head-dress as part of the government school uniform. If non-Muslim parents have to comply with laws pertaining to headdress there so should Muslim parents, in whichever country they reside.
Imran bin Hj. Tahir, England, UK

This is really discrimination

Mohd, Malaysia
I think the law of the land should be followed. If the Singapore government does not want girls to wear headscarves then the parents/girls should not defy the law. Religion should never be mixed with law as so often happens with Islam. This is the modern age and Muslims around the world should wake up to this fact and live accordingly. If they keep following the age-old traditions made obsolete by modern lifestyles, they are doing it all wrong. Evolution works out best for those who adapt best.
Ameer Hassan, UAE

The effects of banning religious dress in schools will be counterproductive in the quest for "racial harmony" because those who have been restricted in the practice of their religion will feel discriminated against. If Muslim girls are allowed to wear their headscarves in Singaporean schools, I have a feeling that the natural curiosity of children will kick in, allowing for greater racial harmony in the future.
Chris, USA

Yes, I positively support the wearing of scarves in school, not just in Singapore but anywhere in the world.
Asif Rehan, India

To John Robinson, as someone from the 'land of freedom', I am extremely surprised that you would condone this restriction on human rights. The principles of school uniform as I've always understood it, is that it prevents discrimination between rich and poor - wearing a hijab does not change this in any way.
Shaq, UK

I think the law of the land should be followed

Ameer Hassan, UAE

See also:

11 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
Third schoolgirl suspended over scarf
04 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
Singapore schoolgirls defy headscarf ban
12 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
Hunt continues for Singapore militants
11 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
'Americans targeted' in Singapore
28 Apr 98 | From Our Own Correspondent
Singapore's Muslim schools under threat
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