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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Niqab controversy in Egypt

A fascinating article in The Daily News Egypt about dueling clerics and women covering their faces:
Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar Mohamed Sayed Tantawy says he plans to ban the full face veil (niqab) at Al-Azhar schools, educational institutions and universities.

According to a statement he made in Al-Ahram Sunday, he was upset to see many preparatory school students (aged 11-12) wearing the niqab inside the classroom.

In an interview with a local news channel on Sunday, Tantawy said that “the niqab is not obligatory and there is no need for those young girls to wear it inside the classroom.”

Commenting on Tantawy’s statement, Sheikh Mahmoud Ashour, member of the Islamic research Center said that the Sheikh’s decision is not a fatwa, but a move aimed at preserving security among students.

“Muslim women are allowed to show their faces and hands,” Ashour said.

Allowing the niqab in academic institutions can cause problems, he added, since anyone can use it as a disguise to enter the university, even terrorists.

Muslim Brotherhood MP Hamdy Hassan couldn’t disagree more. He told Daily News Egypt Monday that he denounces Tantawy’s anti-niqab statement.

According to Dar El-Iftaa, the official authority charged with issuing religious edicts, the niqab is not obligatory but is “allowed and accepted according to the interpretations of some Islamic scholars.”

In a related note, on Monday the Minister of Higher Education Hani Helal banned the niqab inside Cairo University dorms.

However neither Ain Shames University nor Helwan University issued similar decrees.

In 2007 Helwan University was the subject of a huge controversy when university security guards prohibited the entry of some female students wearing the niqab into the university dorms, even though they agreed to reveal their face to the female security guards for an identity check.

In the same year, Minister of Religious Endowments Hamdy Zaqzuq dismissed an employee from a meeting for refusing to remove her niqab.

Zaqzuq publicly maintains his denouncement of the niqab stressing that “it is a tradition, not an Islamic practice.”

In 2004 the American University in Cairo (AUC) caused a similar stir after a decree prohibiting the entry of students wearing the niqab into the university campus.

A year later some of these students won a court case against the university allowing them to enter provided they show their face to security guards to check their identity.

As a reaction, the university issued a new internal regulation prohibiting the niqab.

Tantawi has been in hot water before, for shaking hands with Shimon Peres. But before you think of him as some sort of moderate, keep in mind that he also supports terror attacks against Israeli civilians.