Egyptians are drafting a law that would ban Islamic veils in public institutions. The campaign aims to ban the niqab, a full-face veil that leaves only the wearer’s eyes exposed.
Supporters seek to ban the restrictive garment from all universities, schools, government departments, and hospitals. Clerics argue that wearing the niqab shows high moral standards and that to ban the garment would be akin to violating personal freedom.
The veil is not a common sight in today’s Egypt, but has been worn throughout the country for centuries. To assuage those who fear an attack on Islam itself, supporters are quick to point out that wearing a niqab is not an obligation for Muslims.
Professor Amna Nossier of Al-Azhar University said earlier this month that Al-Azhar fully supports the campaign because wearing the veil has never been an Islamic requirement. Amna notes that the niqab tradition has Jewish roots and first appeared in the Arabian Peninsula long before the birth of Islam. The Koran does not advocate its use.
Al-Azhar is celebrated as the world’s most prestigious university when it comes to teaching Sunni Islam and training Islamic preachers. The school is also regarded as the top resource for fatwas (Islamic religious rulings).
Several of Egypt’s universities have already banned the niqab. Cairo University instituted the ban in 2015 after students argued that the veil impeded communication between students and staff.
The Muslim Brotherhood protests the campaign, calling it “an act of freedom suppression.”
Notable Egyptian feminist and author Nawal El Saadawi says the practice of wearing the full-face veil “is not part of Islam nor Egypt.”
The Ministry of Education has not yet commented on the issue. Meanwhile, some students and teachers continue to wear the veil. Mayar, a high school student in Cairo, has been wearing a niqab since age 13 and wants to continue doing so. “I have been wearing it for five years. I don’t want anyone looking at my face, to prevent any kind of attraction. It’s haram [religious prohibited].”
Her teacher does not share her opinion. “I can’t feel any response or action from her. I can’t know if she is interested in the class or not,” he says. “I can’t have any kind of communication with a perfect student because her parents want her face covered.”
Egypt’s parliament plans to discuss the potential law soon. And while it’s doubtful the proposal will pass, there will doubtless be considerable backlash throughout the country, the region, and the rest of the world.