SINGAPORE - Senior Muslim leaders have welcomed the shift in the Government's position to consider allowing nurses to wear the tudung at work, following closed-door discussions that have taken place on the matter.
The leaders, who were part of such discussions in August, said that they did not mention these talks publicly so as to respect the closed-door nature of these engagements.
Ustaz Hasbi Hassan, president of the Singapore Islamic Scholars and Religious Teachers Association (Pergas), said on Tuesday (March 23) that discussions on the tudung issue have been taking place among asatizah, or religious teachers, but they could not be made public yet.
"It was still closed door, and we did not know the stand that the Government will be taking publicly. So we did not want to share news that was not concrete yet," he said.
"Today, when the Minister has made an announcement, we can talk about it openly with the community."
He was speaking to reporters after a dialogue Home Affairs and Law Minister K.Shanmugam held with senior Muslim leaders and members of the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) at the Khadijah Mosque in Geylang Road.
At the session, Mr Shanmugam disclosed that the Government is considering allowing nurses to wear the tudung at work, a point he had made at a similar dialogue with the leaders in August last year.
The minister's comments come two weeks after remarks in Parliament by two Malay/Muslim ministers on the subject sparked a critical reaction among segments of the community.
Ustaz Hasbi, along with members of Pergas' council of elders, Ustaz Ali Mohamed and Ustaz Pasuni Maulan, said on Tuesday that Mr Shanmugam had said at their meeting in August that the Government was considering allowing nurses to wear the headscarf.
This meeting had made the community leaders "hopeful", noted Ustaz Pasuni, but he said that there was a broad consensus that it was a delicate and sensitive issue which had to be discussed carefully.
"Sensitive things can rile up emotions. We cannot take actions based on emotions, because it will cause all our good efforts so far to fail," he said.
The Muslim leaders said that moving forward, more discussions will need to take place before a final decision can be made on the issue.
"I think subsequent discussions will take place from here to get views that are more concrete, (more) views which are from the community itself," said Ustaz Hasbi.
He underscored the important role that religious leaders, as well as organisations like Pergas, play in helping Muslims understand Singapore's approach to sensitive issues - given how the community highly regards religious teachers.
Mr Shanmugam told Muslim leaders on Tuesday that discussions with the community are ongoing and will take a few more months. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will also meet community leaders.
Ustaz Ali noted that the Muslim community is thankful that the Government continues to maintain law and order in Singapore, and that it upholds policies that seek to continue the peace and harmony between all the different races and religions here.
"We need to appreciate the ability and willingness of the Government to continuously listen to our different needs and practices. Our feedback is taken and policies are changed based on the context of time and need," said Ustaz Ali.
"On our part as citizens, we too need to instil an acceptance and appreciation of the secular nature of our country. If all of our differences were to become the basis of our interaction with the secular state, Singapore will cease to enjoy its peace and harmony."
He added that if people were to think only about demands and rights, this peace and harmony will be adversely affected.
"We cannot take the years of building these close relationships between each of our different communities, and with the Government, for granted," he said.