On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

We’re a progressive, moderate nation

He has made it clear that the issue should no longer arise
and that the directive is final. But this is not the first time the government
circular on this matter has been ignored. It probably won't be the last.

Noh had said that the ministry would not defend any school
or teacher who implemented rules that went against ministry circulars.

The issue was raised by Datuk Wan Adnan Wan Mamat (BN-Indera
Mahkota), who claimed that his daughter, a student in Sekolah Kebangsaan
Methodist in Kuantan, suffered discrimination because she did not wear the

Last month, the principal of SMK Abdullah Munshi withdrew
her school's under-15 and under-18 netball teams from the Penang Schools Sports
Council tournament because some of her players had removed their tudung during
the competition. The students did so because they found it uncomfortable as
they were sweating profusely during the game.

Kota Baru MP Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, in a letter to The Star
recently, wrote that the Penang case "is not an isolated
incident where headmasters and teachers often make rulings involving Muslim
students either on dress code or other aspects of morality".

Schools, he said, were places where we teach our students
skills on subjects approved in the syllabus and a place where we open the
students' minds and not close them.

"Certain things in life should be left to the individual
students and their parents. One of them is, of course, whether or not female
students should wear the tudung,'' he said.

Now there is this issue involving the tudung as being part
of the policewoman's uniform in official parades, whether she is a Muslim or

We hope the leadership will understand that the tudung, in
the eyes of non-Muslims, is not a cultural or ethnic dressing. This is unlike
the baju kurung, kebaya and songkok, which are part of the Malay costume and
readily accepted by non-Muslims.

The kebaya has such elegance and beauty that it has become
the preferred dress code of many non-Muslim women at formal functions because
it has class.

The tudung is a religious statement and the arguments put
forth by Muslims centre around the religious aspect of it. The nearest one can
put from the cultural point is that it is a Middle Eastern headgear, not Malay
for sure.

Last year, the tudung issue surfaced when a woman graduate
was reportedly barred from attending the convocation in August because of her
objection to the dress code.

In an unrelated case, two non-Muslim women were seen
entering the Parliament's chamber wearing the tudung.

When a Member of Parliament asked whether there was a rule
requiring non-Muslim female parliamentary staff to wear the tudung when on
official duties inside the chamber, Speaker Tan Sri Ramli Ngah Talib clarified
that there was no such rule. Following the clarification, the two non-Muslim women
staff were seen without the tudung when they carried out their duties.

Intervention by higher-ups such as Ramli and Noh is crucial
because no one, especially non-Muslims, must feel that they are compelled,
through subtle pressure, to wear the tudung.

One would expect rulings of such nature, particularly in
dressing, to come from PAS but now, we hear of such directives from government
institutions. Surely there is cause for much concern.

We believe the Barisan Nasional under the leadership of
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has always exercised fairness
and moderation.

Non-Muslims who have brought up this tudung issue have no
intention of creating any controversy. They merely want to express their

The key word is that there should be no compulsion.
Similarly, we should be angry when Western countries bar Muslim women from
wearing the tudung or Sikh men from wearing the turban. It is their right and
all of us should respect their religious beliefs.

On that argument, if Malaysians do not wish to wear any
religious clothing, then their rights too must be respected and protected. Malaysia
has a democratically elected government with a federal constitution, not a
theocratic nation. Let's keep it that way.

Looking forward to Tunku movie

There is a lot of excitement over the upcoming film on our
first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman (pic). It is good that so many people
have shared their viewpoints, which the film makers should take into

Since The Star broke the story on Friday, many have come
forth to share their recollections of the Tunku.

We should be mindful that no film can ever give a totally
accurate depiction of any one man or incident, no matter how detailed the
research may be.

But we should be thankful that this project is under way
because there are many Malaysians today who may have forgotten the legacy left
by the Tunku.

In many of the issues that we face today, especially with
regard to ethnic and religious matters, we can look to the Tunku and learn from
our history. I am looking forward to the film.