Tudung


Tudung is the Malay term for a headscarf or veil that is worn over the head to cover the hair, neck and chest areas while leaving the face exposed. Known in Arabic as the hijab (which means “barrier”), the tudung is considered an important part of the Islamic dress code for Muslim women.1

Description
The tudung is a headscarf that many Muslim women wear in order to comply with the Islamic dress code, which requires Muslims to cover their aurah (body parts that should not be exposed in public). In the case of Muslim women, the definition of aurah covers the whole body except for the hands and face.2 Maintaining one’s modesty is thus the main impetus behind wearing the tudung.3


The central reference points for the Islamic code of dressing are the Quran, the Hadiths (reports of Prophet Muhammad’s sayings) and the Sunna (normative examples set by Prophet Muhammad’s life).4 The references to head coverings found in the Hadiths and the Sunna in particular are believed to form the basis for the tudung being regarded as an integral part of a Muslim woman’s attire.5

Muslim girls usually start wearing the tudung when they reach puberty,6 although some parents train their daughters to wear the headscarf from a young age.7 Most Muslim girls start to wear the tudung only after a period of hijrah, or spiritual migration. The process, which marks the end of one lifestyle and the beginning of another, can take months.8 Wearing the tudung is usually a personal decision that an individual has to make and a commitment that is kept for life.9

Historical background
The practice of veiling, or covering the head with a piece of cloth, was common among ancient Roman, Greek, Zoroastrian, Assyrian, Egyptian, Sumerian and Byzantine women.10 In modern times, Indian, Jewish and Muslim women still continue the practice of wearing the veil.11

In the past, the basic tudung consisted of a scarf that was tied behind the head leaving the neck exposed. Today, it is also common to see tudungs that are worn in such a way as to cover the neck and chest areas as well. This usually involves pinning the edges of the tudung fabric over the top of the head and securing it in place with a brooch.12

This trend of wearing the tudung to conceal the hair, neck and chest areas started in the 1970s among reformist female Muslim university students studying in campuses in the United States, England, Australia and the Middle East. The tudung was part of the Islamic dress that was created by these women for three main reasons: first, to reaffirm their identity as pious Muslims; second, to reject Western fashion; and third, to foster a sense of solidarity among themselves. This new form of Islamic dress appeared in Southeast Asian campuses in the early 1970s and was known as dakwah fashion (fesyen dakwah). This symbolic outfit spread from university campuses to schools, workplaces and eventually the kampongs (“villages” in Malay). Initially considered a conservative form of dress, younger generations of Muslim women today now wear the tudung with Western-style clothes such as T-shirts and jeans.13

Varieties
There are several types of tudung, each of varying length, material and design. In the early 20th century, many Malay/Muslim women chose to wear the selendang, which is a type of tudung made from sheer fabric that is used for covering the hair.14


Another variant is the tudung dakwah, which is a square piece of cloth that is folded in half to form a triangle with the two sides then sewn together. The tudung dakwah is used to cover the hair, neck and chest areas.15

The tudung labuah, also known as a mini-telekung, is used to cover the entire upper body. This type of tudung is usually worn as part of the uniform for Muslim girls studying in madrasahs (religious schools).16

Cultural significance
For the Muslims, the wearing of the tudung has religious connotations as it identifies the wearer as a follower of Islam. In addition, the donning of the tudung is also meant to guide the behaviour, manners and speech of the wearer.17

Controversies
In 2002, a major controversy erupted in Singapore when four Primary One Malay/Muslim students wore the tudung to school along with their uniforms. This was against the Ministry of Education’s no-headscarf rule for public schools. The four girls were eventually suspended from their schools after they refused to abide by the dress code regulations and continued wearing the tudung in class.18

In the midst of the controversy, the President of the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS), Maarof Salleh, stepped in to urge the girls’ parents to send their children back to school without wearing the tudung. He gave this advice after consulting Mufti Syed Isa Semait, the highest Islamic authority in Singapore, whose position was that education was of a higher priority for Muslims.19

One of the girls finally returned to school without the tudung after an absence of about two months. The girl’s parents had initially withdrawn her from school and opted for home schooling instead. However, the mother eventually decided to send the girl back to public school as she wanted a good education for her daughter.20 Another girl was reported to have left Singapore for Melbourne, Australia, where she could attend an Islamic school.21

The case drew criticisms especially from several Malaysian politicians and Islamic groups who believed that the ban on the tudung in public schools was a form of discrimination against the Malay/Muslim community.22

The families of three of the girls, and another girl who was suspended in 1997 for wearing the tudung to school, decided to take their case to court. They engaged Malaysian lawyer/politician Karpal Singh as legal counsel.23 However, he was denied a work permit that was necessary for defending the case in Singapore. The manpower ministry denied the permit on the grounds that his involvement in the case was politically motivated and could possibly be seen as intervening in Singapore’s domestic politics.24

In 2003, a Primary Five girl wore a tudung to school at the start of the new school year. She was asked to comply with the school’s no-headscarf rule or face suspension. Subsequently, the girl’s parents decided to educate her at home as a form of protest against the government although she had not been officially suspended by the Ministry of Education.25

The Singapore government still maintains a no-headscarf policy for public schools. As such, Muslim girls are only allowed to wear the tudung outside of school.26



Author
Jaime Koh



References

1. Shaheed, A. L. F. (2008). Dress codes and modes: How Islamic is the veil? In J. Heath (Ed.), The veil: Women writers on its history, lore and politics. Berkeley: University of California Press, p. 295. (Call no.: R 391.41 VEI-[CUS])
2.
M. Kamal Hassan & Ghazali bin Basri (Eds.). (2005). The encyclopedia of Malaysia: Religions and beliefs (Vol. 10). Singapore: Archipelago Press, p. 56. (Call no.: RSEA 959.5003 ENC)
3.
Heath, J. (Ed.). (2008). The veil: Women writers on its history, lore and politics. Berkeley: University of California Press, p. 29. (Call no.: R 391.41 VEI-[CUS])
4. Tarlo, E. (2010). Visibly Muslim: Fashion, politics, faith. Oxford: Berg, pp. 7–9. (Call no.: R 391.2088297 TAR-[CUS]); Winter, B. (2008). Hijab and the republic: Uncovering the French headscarf debate. New York: Syracuse University Press, p. 25. (Call no.: R 391.430944 WIN-[CUS])
5.
Winter, B. (2008). Hijab and the republic: Uncovering the French headscarf debate. New York: Syracuse University Press, p. 25. (Call no.: R 391.430944 WIN-[CUS])
6.
Kahf, M. (2008). From her royal body the robe was removed: The blessings of the veil and the trauma of forced unveilings in the Middle East. In J. Heath (Ed.), The veil: Women writers on its history, lore and politics. Berkeley: University of California Press, p. 29. (Call no.: R 391.41 VEI-[CUS])
7.
Tudung: Beyond face value. (2002) Singapore: Bridge Books, p. 30 (Call no.: RSING 297.5 TUD)
8.
Tudung: Beyond face value. (2002) Singapore: Bridge Books, p. 44 (Call no.: RSING 297.5 TUD)
9.
Tudung: Beyond face value. (2002) Singapore: Bridge Books, pp. 44–45, 48. (Call no.: RSING 297.5 TUD)
10.
Shaheed, A. L. F. (2008). Dress codes and modes: How Islamic is the veil? In J. Heath (Ed.), The veil: Women writers on its history, lore and politics. Berkeley: University of California Press, p. 295. (Call no.: R 391.41 VEI-[CUS]); Tarlo, E. (2010). Visibly Muslim: Fashion, politics, faith. Oxford: Berg, p. 6. (Call no.: R 391.2088297 TAR-[CUS])
11.
Kahf, M. (2008). From her royal body the robe was removed: The blessings of the veil and the trauma of forced unveilings in the Middle East. In J. Heath (Ed.), The veil: Women writers on its history, lore and politics. Berkeley: University of California Press, p. 27. (Call no.: R 391.41 VEI-[CUS])
12.
M. Kamal Hassan and Ghazali bin Basri (Eds.). (2005). The encyclopedia of Malaysia: Religions and beliefs (Vol. 10). Singapore: Archipelago Press, p. 57. (Call no.: RSEA 959.5003 ENC)
13.
Siddique, S. (2002, February 20). Islamic dress put in perspective. The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14.
M. Kamal Hassan and Ghazali bin Basri (Eds.). (2005). The encyclopedia of Malaysia: Religions and beliefs (Vol. 10). Singapore: Archipelago Press, p. 57. (Call no.: RSEA 959.5003 ENC)
15.
M. Kamal Hassan and Ghazali bin Basri (Eds.). (2005). The encyclopedia of Malaysia: Religions and beliefs (Vol. 10). Singapore: Archipelago Press, p. 57. (Call no.: RSEA 959.5003 ENC)
16.
M. Kamal Hassan and Ghazali bin Basri (Eds.). (2005). The encyclopedia of Malaysia: Religions and beliefs (Vol. 10). Singapore: Archipelago Press, p. 57. (Call no.: RSEA 959.5003 ENC)
17.
Tudung: Beyond face value. (2002). Singapore: Bridge Books, p. 17. (Call no.: RSING 297.5 TUD)
18.
Leong, P. (2002, June 16). Tudung girl’s school return welcomed. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
19.
Ahmad Osman. (2002, February 6). Mufti puts school first. The Straits Times, p. 1; Zakaria Abdul Rahman. (2002, February 6).  Mufti’s choice: The clash of obligations between tudung and education. Today, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20.
Back to school. (2002, June 9). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21.
Raymond, J. (2002, July 30). Tudung girl quits S’pore. Today, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22.
Lau, L. (2002, January 31). Politicians and groups criticise S'pore over tudung. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23.
Muslim girls to sue Singapore govt over headscarves. (2002, April 22). Reuters News. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
24.
Singapore defends decision to ban Malaysian lawyer from working. (2002, September 13). BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
25.
Primary 5 student turns up at school wearing a tudung. (2003, January 2). Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva; Yeoh, E. Singaporean withdraws daughter from school to protest headscarf ban. (2003, January 7). Associated Press. Retrieved from Factivavia NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
26.
Ban on Muslim headscarfs in Singapore schools to remain – Lee. (2003, November 24). Agence France Presse. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/


The information in this article is valid as at 26 September 2013 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Subject
Heritage and Culture
Ethnic Communities
Women
Malay costumes
Muslim women