Singapore School Girl Suspended
Feb. 04, 2002
SINGAPORE (AP) _ A young Muslim girl was suspended from school Monday for wearing a traditional Islamic headscarf to class, in a confrontation that has tested race relations in Singapore following the recent arrests here of more than a dozen suspected al-Qaida-linked terrorists.
Seven-year-old Nurul Nasihah began wearing the headscarf to class in early January, but her school, like all public schools in this island nation, bans students from wearing the scarf.
White Sands Primary School announced last week that if the girl didn't comply with the ban by Monday, she would be suspended.
On Monday she spent 30 minutes inside the school and then left accompanied by her mother and father. Her father, Mohamad Nasser, told reporters that she had been suspended.
Nurul is one of four Muslim girls whose families asked their school principals in early January for permission to wear the headscarves. Each was denied permission.
The government has repeatedly said that allowing the scarves would damage racial unity by underscoring differences among students. Almost 80 percent of Singapore's population is ethnic Chinese. Muslims account for about 15 percent and Indians make up most of the rest.
``You cannot give way'' on the headscarf ban, Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong told a group of young Muslims on Saturday. ``If the schools give way, then I think let us not have any rules.''
However, the prime minister added that it wasn't a ``never, never'' position, and that eventually ``our own attitudes may change.''
Politicians in neighboring Malaysia, which is mostly Muslim, and ethnic Malays in Singapore have voiced their anger over the headscarf ban.
While the scarves are banned in schools, they are freely worn by many Muslim women in Singapore.
Race relations in Singapore have come to the forefront since the arrests of 13 suspected al-Qaida-linked terrorists in December.
The men are accused of plotting to blow up foreign embassies, U.S. Navy ships, a shuttle bus ferrying U.S. soldiers and other Western interests in Singapore.
On Saturday, Goh said some Singaporeans had unjustifiably become suspicious of Islam since the December arrests. Schools are a place where children can mix without regard to race or religion, he said.
Racial and religious riots wracked Singapore in the 1950s and 1960s. Avoiding racial and religious tension has been a cornerstone of government policy ever since.