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Office of the Mufti

Fatwa on the wearing of the headscarf in the uniform services (English)

ADMINISTRATION OF MUSLIM LAW ACT

(CHAPTER 3, SECTION 32)

 

FATWA RELEASED

BY

THE FATWA COMMITTEE, ISLAMIC RELIGIOUS COUNCIL OF SINGAPORE

The Fatwa Committee had discussed questions pertaining to the wearing of the headscarf in the uniform services, on 6 September 2021 and 5 October 2021.

FATWA

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

الحمد لله رب العالمين ، والصلاة والسلام على سيد المرسلين وإمام المتقين نبينا محمد وعلى آله وأصحابه أجمعين. اللهم أرنا الحق حقا وارزقنا اتباعه، وأرنا الباطل باطلا وارزقنا اجتنابه، وبعد.

Background

1 The issue of the wearing of the tudung (headscarf) for nurses has been extensively discussed by the Singapore Muslim community. The government has announced changes to the policy regarding the wearing of the tudung for nurses which will come into force on 1 November 2021, after extensive efforts by leaders and the community.

2 Following the announcement, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) has received several questions on the specifics of wearing the tudung and covering the aurat1 in clinical settings so that nurses can continue to perform their duties well. Several religious questions have also been raised regarding the issue of the proper covering of women’s aurat for those who are in other uniformed services.

3 This fatwa seeks to provide guidance for nurses or other uniformed officers who may face difficulties in covering their aurat, due to uniform policies at work.

The Covering of Aurat for Muslim Women

4 Covering the aurat is a religious obligation for every Muslim who has reached puberty. From the religious perspective, the covering of aurat is a means towards preserving one’s religious character, protecting honour and modesty, and avoiding harm.The majority of the ‘ulamā’ (Muslim jurists) are of the opinion that a woman’s aurat includes her entire body except the face and hands.3 The tudung serves to complete the covering of a woman’s aurat.

5 The wearing of the tudung by Muslim women as part of practicing their faith should not in any way hinder their efforts to benefit themselves and the community. The wearing of the tudung also does not impede them from performing their jobs with dedication and professionalism, and from contributing towards the development and well-being of their country.

6 In our context in Singapore, the wearing of the tudung does not prevent Muslims from contributing to the common good and strengthening our social cohesion. On the contrary, tudung-wearing officers excelling in their duties and exhibiting high levels of professionalism will demonstrate that religion (and its practices) does not weaken harmony and community relations, but will instead further strengthen them.

Religious Practice and Context

7 Islam and its laws take into serious consideration the context (wāqi‘) and circumstances (aḥwāl) which Muslims find themselves in. Every ruling that forms our religious practice will have implications for individuals, the community, and the larger society. When a Muslim faces challenges to perform religious duties well or fully, the Shariah provides the scope for Muslims to make careful and thorough choices and adjustments, based on the relevant principles and guidelines.

8 Foremost amongst these principles and guidelines is that Islam calls for the avoidance of hardship and difficulty.

         Allah says in the Qur’an, Chapter al-Baqarah (2), verse 286

Which means: “Allah does not burden a soul with more than it can bear.”

Similarly, in Chapter al-Taghābun (64), verse 16:

Which means: “So be conscious of Allah (by obeying His teachings), as much as you are able.”

In a segment of a hadith that contains the same meaning, Prophet Muhammad explains that:

مَا نَهَيْتُكُمْ عَنْهُ فَاجْتَنِبُوهُ، وَمَا أَمَرْتُكُمْ بِهِ فَأْتُوا مِنْهُ مَا اسْتَطَعْتُمْ

Which means: “What I have prohibited, avoid it, what I have commanded, carry it out to the best of your abilities…” (Hadith narrated by al-Bukhari and Muslim).

9 Based on these religious principles, an individual’s inability to carry out God’s commands, in full or in part, because of extenuating circumstances or difficulties, does not make him or her a weak or negligent Muslim.  

10 In such situations, God’s compassion (raḥmah) prevails as God does not burden humankind beyond that they can bear.

The Issue of Working Women’s Aurat

11 In general, the Muslim community is able to practice its faith comfortably and well in Singapore. Many workplaces now allow Muslim women to fully cover their aurat. This includes the recent government policy allowing Muslim women nurses to put on tudung. The Muslim community has responded positively and is thankful for the change, especially considering the noble role that nurses play in protecting and saving lives.

12 Nevertheless, there are certain situations (and workplaces) in which Muslim women may not be able to fully cover their aurat, specifically in the uniformed services, as the work attire is subject to the policies and needs of the institutions. In such circumstances, we must refrain from taking the easy option of preventing women from working without first making a proper and thorough assessment of the situation and consider the appropriate guidance based on clear religious principles.

13 Each type of work (and workplace) has its own policies based on its own needs and considerations. Amongst those needs and considerations are personal and workplace safety.4 In the healthcare sector, the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the dangers of infection which can cause widespread harm. For nurses in particular, the risk of infection is very serious and poses a danger to both nurses and patients. The Ministry of Health has instituted clinical guidelines for wearing of the tudung whilst on duty, including the ‘Bare Below the Elbow’ policy, or BBE. This policy states that hands and arms up to the elbow should be exposed and free from clothing or any jewellery. Sleeves should be short or rolled up securely up to the elbow in order to allow access to the wrist for good hand hygiene technique. The BBE policy will be complied with by all healthcare workers during interactions with patients, or when likely to touch the immediate patient environment.5

14 Such needs are permitted within the Shariah. In the classical fiqh (Islamic legal) tradition, the limitations of women’s aurat had been deliberated, and there are views that permit the revealing of the arms outside of prayer, where there is a need.In situations when the headscarf is required to be replaced with other forms of head coverings (such as surgical caps worn in the operating theatre), or when it needs to be removed due to clinical or other safety-related requirements, this too is permitted. These considerations permit the flexibility for Muslim officers to make some adjustments without impacting work performance, whilst continuing to serve professionally, securing good and avoiding harm, and displaying positive work ethics in service. This reflects the principles and sunnah of the Prophet who said:

إِنَّ الدِّينَ يُسْرٌ، وَلَنْ يُشَادَّ الدِّينَ أَحَدٌ إِلَّا غَلَبَهُ

Which means: “Indeed the religion is easy, and not one of you should make the (affairs of the) religion difficult, or he will be defeated.” (Hadith narrated by al-Bukhari).

15 In the context of other uniformed services, affected officers should make their own considered judgments, based on their work policies and the reasons for such policies, including the need to work and serve the community and the country. They are in a much better position to weigh their specific circumstances, and form their own decisions based on the principles and values of the Shariah.

16 Amongst these principles is the prioritisation of more critical needs and responsibilities in life, following the categories that have been determined by the Shariah – beginning with ḍarūriyyāt (essentials), then ḥājiyyāt (necessities), and following that taḥsīniyyāt (desirables). It is important for us to understand these different categories to determine which takes priority when decisions need to be made. When choosing between responsibilities and the necessities of life, something that is a ḍarūriyyāt (essentials) ought to be prioritised above something that is ḥājiyyāt (necessities), and so on and so forth. This assessment should be carried out by the individual who encounters such circumstances.

17      As an example, for many individuals, work is not an option or a luxury, but a necessity. The religion commands us to be independent in sustaining ourselves, and not to rely on aid from others. It considers working as a basic necessity which enables us to take care of ourselves and our dependents, and to ensure a balanced and honourable life. In the context of today’s economy, this need is not just for the immediate short term but should also consider the long-term.

18 In addition to the above, there are occupations to protect and preserve the country’s stability and prosperity. These include the healthcare sector, maintenance of law and order, security and others. Part of the ḍarūriyyat (essentials) of the Shariah is to ensure a safe and meaningful life, and the stability and prosperity of the country. These are essential needs that should be protected. In comparison, the obligation of covering one’s aurat falls under the category of taḥsīniyyāt (desirables), as determined by some ‘ulamā’ such as Imam al- Shāṭibī.When someone is fulfilling the ḍarūriyyāt but unfortunately is unable to cover their aurat fully due to prevailing work policies, then, according to the principles of Shariah, she may choose to stay in the job, as long this does not bring harm to herself or others.

19 In view of this position, our community should not coerce Muslim women to wear the tudung whilst working, or look down on those who do not do so. On the contrary, the community should pray for their wellbeing, and for them to be able to fulfil this religious obligation as best as possible.

A Resilient and Confident Religious Community

20 Misperceptions towards any religion or race based on external appearances are truly regrettable. In a diverse society, we need to continue to build confidence and cultivate trust between the different communities, such that religious differences, including religious symbols, will not weaken or threaten our social cohesion.

21 We need to continue to work together to strengthen our relations with all segments of society, and maintain discussions that are rational, wise and balanced. Prophet Muhammad serves as our beacon in engaging others for the purpose of achieving consensus and unity. Our Prophet had always focused on seeking a harmonious and peaceful life that is meaningful for all, even if it means that certain adjustments to religious practices needed to be made. This is evident in the agreements that our Prophet made with other groups in his society.9

22 Let us strive to understand and practise our faith based on its over-arching principles, objectives and values. May Allah continue to grant the Muslim community in Singapore the strength and confidence to become a successful community that is confident in overcoming its challenges.

والله أعلم

والله ولي التوفيق، وصلى الله على سيدنا محمد وعلى آله وصحبه وسلم.

 

DR NAZIRUDIN MOHD NASIR
CHAIRMAN, FATWA COMMITTEE
MUFTI OF SINGAPORE

 



[1] ‘Awrah in Arabic, or aurat in Malay refers to parts of the body, for men and women, which should be covered according to Muslim laws for the preservation of modesty.

[2] The covering of aurat is a means (wasīlah) to achieve an objective that is paramount in the Shariah (maqāṣid). It is stated in the Qur’an, Chapter al-Ahzab (33), verse 59 that the covering of a woman’s aurat serves as a means to shield them from harm and hurt as perpetrated by others. Some of the Muslim scholars (‘ulamā’), such as Imam al-Shāṭibī, are of the opinion that the covering of the aurat is a practice that brings benefits and completeness to the akhlak and character of a Muslim (maṣlaḥah taḥsīniyyah). Please refer to Al-Shāṭibī, Al-Muwāfaqāt, (Saudi Arabia: Dār Ibn Affān Li Nashr wa al-Tawzī‛, 1997), 2:22.

[3] Al-Nawawī, Al-Majmū‛, (Beirūt: Dār al-Fikr, n.d.), 3:167. See also, Al-Ṣāwī, Al-Sharḥ al-Ṣaghīr. (Qāhirah: Dār al-Ma‛ārif, n.d.), 1:289; Al-Zayla‛ī, Tabyīn al-Ḥaqā’iq, (Qāhirah: Maṭba‛ah al-Kubrā al-Amīriyyah, n.d.), 6:18.

[4] Several studies have proven that germs/viruses can be found on nurses even after their shifts have ended. See  Kerri A. Thom (et al.), Frequent contamination of nursing scrubs is associated with specific care activities”, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0196655317312853; also Marie-Anne Sanon and Sally Watkins, “Nurses’ uniforms: How many bacteria do they carry after one shift?”, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4180417/

[5] There is strong evidence to show that clothing worn by healthcare workers are covered with germs and bacteria, and bacteria can be most commonly found on the sleeves, as well as in the pockets of these articles of clothing.

[6] Majority of the scholars are of the opinion that the arms are part of the aurat of a woman. In the Maliki madhab (legal school), the arms are a lesser part of the aurat, and should the arms be exposed during prayers, there is no need for an individual to repeat one’s prayers, should one run out of time to do so. In the Hanafi madhab, there are two opinions. The common view argues that the arms form part of the aurat that are required to be covered whether in prayer or outside of it. The second opinion states that it forms part of the aurat during prayers only. In addition to the above, the Hanafi jurist al-Sarakhsī cited opinions of scholars permitting the revealing of arms when women are carrying out tasks which necessitate it. The Arabic text is as follows:

وَذُكِرَ فِي جَامِعِ الْبَرَامِكَةِ عَنْ أَبِي يُوسُفَ أَنَّهُ يُبَاحُ النَّظَرُ إلَى ذِرَاعَيْهَا أَيْضًا لِأَنَّهَا فِي الْخَبْزِ وَغَسْلِ الثِّيَابِ تُبْتَلَى بِإِبْدَاءِ ذِرَاعَيْهَا أَيْضًا.

Al-Sarakhsī, Al-Mabsūṭ, (Beirūt: Dār al-Ma‛rifah, 1978), 10:153. See also, Al-Mawsū‛ah al-Fiqhiyyah, (Kuwait: Maṭābi‛ Dār al-Ṣafwah, 1994) 31:44-45; Ibn al-Humām, Sharḥ Fatḥ al-Qadīr, (Beirūt: Dār al-Kutub al-‛Ilmiyyah, 2003), 1:267.

[7] The primary objective of the Shariah (Maqāṣid al-Sharī‘ah) lies in three levels of priorities. Firstly, maintaining those at the essential level (ḍarūriyyāt). At this level, one has to maintain the things necessary for survival and continuity of life, such as food and drink. The concept of ḍarūriyyāt is different from darūrah as the latter concerns exigencies and emergencies that suspend original rulings and permit concessions in their place. Secondly, maintenance at the level of necessities (ḥājiyyāt). At this level, one has to maintain the things that bring ease to one’s life. Without them, life would be more difficult, however life can still continue, such as sales and purchase transactions. Thirdly, there is the maintenance of things that are considered desirable (taḥsīniyyāt), such as eating and drinking ethics. These are things that complete one’s life. See Al-Shāṭibī, Al-Muwāfaqāt, 2:17-22; Zulkifli Al-Bakri, Maqasid Al-Syariah: Satu Pengenalan Umum, (Negeri Sembilan: Pustaka Cahaya Kasturi, 2014).

[8] The Arabic text is as follows:

وأما التحسينيات فمعناها الأخذ بما يليق من محاسن العادات... ففي العبادات كإزالة النجاسات ... وستر العورة

Which means: “As for the meaning of taḥsīniyyāt, it is the consideration of what is seen as customary in society… Such as cleaning off impurities before prayers… and also the covering of the aurat.” Refer: Al-Shāṭibī, Al-Muwāfaqāt, 2:22.

[9] In the Madinah Charter, our Prophet had a contract with the Jews and the Arabs to create a cohesive community that is harmonious, preserving the peace between both Muslims and non-Muslims, as well as upholding social justice in Madinah. Similarly, in the incident of the Treaty of Hudaibiyah, our Prophet practised an approach that was full of wisdom and compromise, in his interactions and dealings with the Quraysh, even though the treaty appeared to favour the tribe of Quraysh.