Can Muslims Legally Wear the Tudung at Work in Singapore?

Last updated on January 24, 2022

Muslim women at work

The tudung is the Malay word for “headscarf” or “veil”, which is worn over the head to cover the hair, neck and chest, whilst leaving the face exposed. The similar Arabic term is hijab, which means  “barrier.” Hijab and tudung are often used interchangeably but linguistically, the tudung is a form of hijab.

The impetus for wearing the tudung is for maintaining one’s modesty as per the Islamic dress code at the workplace.  This article seeks to explain Singapore’s rules on wearing tudung at the workplace, as the issue affects the Muslim community and has been widely discussed in Parliament over the years. It will cover:

Types of Workplaces Where Wearing the Tudung is Allowed and Not Allowed 

Muslim women are legally allowed to wear the tudung in most work settings in Singapore. This includes the healthcare sector, but subject to certain guidelines (discussed below).

However, Muslim women are not allowed to wear the tudung while working in uniformed sectors like the police and armed forces. This is because their uniform signals to the community that their services are rendered equally and regardless of race or religion.

As per the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore or Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (MUIS), Muslim women are required to wear the tudung but can be excused from this requirement when working in uniformed groups. The reasons being the need for a stable and meaningful livelihood for oneself and one’s dependants, and contributing to one’s well-being, stability and prosperity of Singapore. MUIS regards these as legitimate considerations that allow more flexibility in donning (or not donning) the tudung at work.

Guidelines on Wearing the Tudung in the Healthcare Sector 

There are certain guidelines that those wearing the tudung in the healthcare sector should adhere to. First, nurses will have to adhere to the “bare below the elbows” (BBE) policy. This entails wearing short-sleeved attire that keeps their forearms bare during patient care, to reduce the risk of infection and ensure the safety of the healthcare staff and the patient.

Second, as per the National Healthcare Group’s Chief Human Resource Officer, the tudung should not compromise the proper usage of an N95 surgical mask. The tudung may compromise the proper usage of the mask if it is modified with extenders, as this may not allow a proper seal for the mask to function well.

Third, as per the National University Health System (NUHS), the nurses are not allowed to have any embellishments on their headscarves. They are also encouraged to wear tudungs that are made of breathable or sweat-wicking material if working in non-air-conditioned settings.

Fourth, the tudung will not be allowed in high-risk settings that require more stringent levels of cleanliness like operating theatres, where only single-use disposable caps are allowed.

Can an Employer Prohibit Me From Wearing the Tudung

In situations where you are allowed to wear the tudung at work, your employer cannot prohibit you from doing so. All employers are expected to comply with the principles of fair employment practices as promoted by the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) government agency.

On the other hand, an employer may impose restrictions on wearing the tudung at the workplace, if for example, a standard uniform is required due to the nature of work. TAFEP guidelines state that if such a restriction is implemented, the person in question should be informed about the restrictions at the application stage of employment. This allows the potential employee to be aware of the rules and restrictions of the place of employment when deciding whether to proceed with their job application.

Most workplaces in Singapore should allow the tudung to be worn. However, if you know that there are no restrictions on wearing tudung at your workplace, yet are still being asked to remove your tudung, you can report the incident to TAFEP. TAFEP will be able to investigate and assist you with the matter.

You may also wish to contact a lawyer who can advise you on your legal rights in such a situation, and the potential legal recourse obtainable.

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