A recent decision to ban the use of “niqabs,” otherwise known as burqas, is creating controversy at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt.
The Sheikh of Al-Azhar, Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, formed an all-male committee to address the problem of women’s dress on campus. The committee returned the decision that the niqab would not be allowed in all-female dormitories or all-female classes in the institution.
Those opposing the policy argue that the committee’s decision should be reconsidered because of the lack of a female voice in the committee.
“[They] should have taken at least one woman’s opinion,” Al-Azhar student Muna Abdel Fatah said. “Because the decision will impact her.”
Egypt isn’t the only country to have recently faced this issue. French President Nicolas Sarkozy passed legislation forbidding the Muslim headdress from being worn in public schools, and British Justice Minister Jack Straw has requested that women do not wear them when in his office.
The verse in the Koran dealing with the niqab is open to interpretation. It states that Muslim women of all ages should cloak and cover their bodies but does not specify the circumstance for which it is required.
“The niqab should be worn under two circumstances,” a cleaning lady working at Al-Azhar said to CNN. “A very beautiful woman should wear it to prevent men from fighting over her, and an ugly woman should wear it to hide her face.”
In response to the ban, Egyptian Parliament member Muhamed Baltagi, argued that women should be allowed to dress the way that they wish and that the Sheikh of Al-Azhar has no right to suppress the garment given its growing popularity in the country.
“It’s unacceptable that the niqab is treated as something bad that needs to be suppressed,” Baltagi said. “It’s unacceptable to violate private matters in this way.”
In addition to Al-Azhar, the niqab has also been prohibited at other institutions of higher education in Egypt.