Any change in the tudung policy for nurses is a sensitive issue that needs to take into account the views of other communities in Singapore, said dialogue participants who met government leaders to discuss the topic yesterday.
Mufti Nazirudin Mohd Nasir said that the issue of wearing the tudung with the uniform is about balancing the needs of Muslim nurses who choose to put on the tudung, "while maintaining a high level of trust and confidence between communities".
"I think it is very important that on such matters, we should not make a move that can undermine our social cohesion, but instead continue to strengthen it and to enlarge our common spaces. This is something very unique in Singapore," he said.
Asked how asatizahs, or religious teachers, can play a bigger role to help the community better understand the issue, Dr Nazirudin - who is the highest Islamic authority here - said that they will continue to provide guidance to the Muslim community while acknowledging the aspirations of some segments to fulfil their religious needs.
He was among the 70 or so Malay/Muslim community and religious leaders who attended a dialogue yesterday on the tudung issue with government leaders that included Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli.
The need to make sure harmony is preserved and common space maintained when such a policy change happens was also a point made by PM Lee in his remarks to the media after the dialogue, which was held at the Civil Service Club in Tessensohn Road.
"We have to make sure that everybody understands this is a careful adjustment and not a wholesale change," said PM Lee. "We must make sure that Singaporeans, both Muslims and non-Muslims, are ready to accept the move."
Mr Masagos, who is also Minister for Social and Family Development, told media after the dialogue that the Government has always empathised with the request by the nurses to put on the tudung with the uniform. But the dialogue also saw a common understanding that the issue had to be approached carefully as it involves racial and religious sensitivities.
"We cannot rush into a decision. The heart of the matter is how you strike a good balance in allowing our nurses to put on the tudung within their uniform, so that this position can win the support of all communities and preserve our common space, and at the same time strengthen our social cohesion."
Madam Rahayu Mohamad, the immediate past president of the Singapore Muslim Women's Association and a Muis council member, said Muslim women who aspired to follow as closely as possible to the religious prescription would want to be given the choice to observe the hijab.
She was responding to a question on whether Muslim women are looking forward to the likely change. "But you also have a segment of women who understand that religion may not necessarily put a stop to what they can actually do for the country and for the community at large," she added.
"With regard to what are the concerns, I cannot put everything in a basket, but definitely for those who want to observe their religious prescription, they would welcome the new moves the Government is going to announce."
Vice-chairman of the Religious Rehabilitation Group Mohamed Ali said the Government's consideration of allowing Muslim women to don the tudung is a positive move.
"As Singaporean Muslims, we need to appreciate multiculturalism... but also to be very sensitive in matters of inter-religious relations," he added.
Lim Min Zhang