FEB 19, 2002

Ex-Fateha chief confirms Malaysia visit

By Ahmad Osman

MR ZULFIKAR Mohamad Shariff, the former chief of the Fateha Muslim group here, visited Malaysia recently to discuss the tudung issue with three Malaysian non-government organisations (NGOs) and an opposition lawyer.
He confirmed yesterday that he was in Penang and Kuala Lumpur from Feb 9 to 12 at the invitation of the International Muslim Action Network.
He also met leaders of the Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia or Abim, the Jemaah Islah Malaysia missionary group and Mr Karpal Singh of the Democratic Action Party.
Mr Singh gave him legal advice on the suspension of three Singaporean Primary 1 schoolgirls who wore the tudung, or Islamic headscarf, in the Republic's national schools.
'I was not in Malaysia to raise funds,' said Mr Zulfikar.
'I was there to brief the NGOs that the perception that the no-tudung rule applies only to six-year-old schoolgirls is not right.
'Those in national secondary schools and junior colleges are also not allowed to put on the scarves,' he said.
The three girls were suspended for flouting the common-uniform policy set by the Government to boost integration of pupils of different races and religions.
The move was criticised by several Malaysian politicians and Muslim groups, who saw it as a restriction of the right of Muslims to practise their religion freely.
The opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia has also started collecting donations from Malaysians to help the girls who were suspended. It also urged their parents not to pressure their daughters to take off the scarves in school.
There were also calls for the cancellation of a visit here later this month by Umno Youth, despite the moderate stand taken by most Malaysian government leaders.
Mr Zulfikar's comments on his trip follow Sunday's statement by Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, who said that it was not wise for some people here to travel to Malaysia to raise funds and get Malaysians to be involved in the tudung issue.
Mr Zulfikar said his visit to Malaysia was similar to efforts by government leaders in Singapore to put the tudung issue in the right perspective through interviews in the international media.
He added that he plans to start a new society with a website discussing issues affecting Muslim and non-Muslim Singaporeans in a 'direct manner', and not 'sugar-coating them like Fateha.com did'.
Mr Goh's latest comment on the tudung issue was endorsed yesterday by Mr Masagos Zulkifli, president of Perdaus, the Adult Islamic Religious Students' Association, and Mr Ameerali Abdeali, secretary-general of the Islamic Fellowship Association.
They urged Muslim Singaporeans to tackle the issue within the Singapore context and follow the advice of the Mufti, Syed Isa Semait, who has urged parents to give higher priority to the education of their children over the wearing of the headscarves