A Singapore Muslim religious teacher, Ustaz Muhammad Zahid Bin Mohd Zin, shared an unpleasant encounter he recently experienced.
He remarked that closed-door discussions are needed for issues to which some people have a strong emotional attachment.
Zahid shared on March 24 a photo on his social media account of what appeared to be a yellow envelope, with a message scrawled on it in Malay, a derogatory term equivalent to "son of a b*tch" or worse.
"Precisely this is why discussions were held closed doors. Issues raised are close to the heart. People have strong emotional attachment to it but not many have the (strength) to discuss it gently and diligently
This was left on my car today after i had my breakfast. Ive forgiven the doer. Hopefully my family wouldn’t have to see this often. Stay calm and move on 🙂"
Importance of closed-door discussions
While Zahid did not reveal what was in the envelope, his reference to "closed-door discussions" might be linked to the national conversation about certain public servants who are currently barred from wearing tudungs.
The head scarves, often worn by Muslim women, are not allowed to be worn by police officers, nurses and servicewomen in the Singapore Armed Forces while on duty.
Recently in March 2021, Minister-in-charge-of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli addressed the issue in Parliament, following a question raised by Workers' Party MP Faisal Manap.
He said the government has engaged Muslim leaders and the community, and spoke of the importance of having closed-door sessions:
"Public, aggressive pressure on such an issue can only make compromise harder. Any government concession to religious pressure will cause other groups to take note and adopt similarly aggressive postures. Race and religion will become increasingly polarising and this will harm all of us, especially the minority communities.
Hence, after discussing the Government’s considerations with the PAP MPs, we agreed to take the approach of careful, closed-doors discussions because we understand its complexity and sensitivity."
The issue is a long-running one in Singapore.
Way back in 2013, then-Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim made the following points in response to an online petition calling for nurses to be allowed to wear the tudung.
- Such public servants can wear the tudung when they are not on duty.
- Muslim Members of Parliament (MP) have discussed the issue with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Cabinet ministers.
- Singapore religious leaders were getting abuse from netizens after weighing in.
Yaacob urged the Muslim community to have patience and called for greater respect and understanding.
Zahid recently shared on social media of his involvement in such closed-door discussions, and said he was grateful for having been invited.
Possible change in policy: Shanmugam & Masagos
Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam revealed on March 23 that a change in the policy could be coming.
He stated there is a "likely" possibility that nurses could be allowed to wear the tudung while working, and that this had been communicated to a number of Muslim religious leaders at a closed-door dialogue six months ago.
"In public, we are careful about how all of this is discussed. So, on tudung, Minister Masagos said in Parliament that the Government is empathetic, the matter is being discussed."
Masagos also remarked on the tudung issue during a doorstop on March 23, reiterating that the government could see "good reasons" why Muslim nurses can be given more flexibility to wear the tudung and "were likely to change the current position".
But since the issue is connected to other factors, it has to be carefully considered.
Masagos commented on his COS speech, saying he was "reminding ourselves that we must proceed on this issue in a measured and considered way".
Zahid shared a follow-up Facebook post, calling for peace and calm, and urging the community not to fight among themselves.
Top image from Zahid Zin's Instagram page.