Egyptian cleric bans veiled women from schools

An impending religious edict banning women from wearing the niqab or full, face-covering headscarves in the schools of al-Azhar was announced by a high-ranking Egyptian cleric on Monday.  Al-Azhar is the premier institute of learning for Sunni Islam, and the ban would extend to middle and high schools, as well as the dormitories of several Cairo universities.  The cleric, Mohammed Sayyed Tantawi, is the sheik of al-Azhar; he claims that the niqab “has nothing to do with Islam and is only a custom”.  The announcement followed an encounter between Tantawi and a female schoolgirl, who refused to remove her niqab when Tantawi demanded it.

There has been considerable discussion of veiling in public spaces in Egypt over the past few years.  In early 2008, nurses were barred from wearing the face veil and ordered to purchase new uniforms.  This ruling was justified, again, by a denial of the religious significance of niqab; the headscarf, said a religious minister in the Egyptian government, is enough.  Last month, an Egyptian mufti defended women’s rights to wear trousers in the wake of the Sudanese flogging incident, claiming that pants are acceptable as long as they are loose and opaque.  And these are simply the discussions within Egypt; the debate over the veil rages throughout Europe and North America as well.  Earlier this year, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said that burqas are “not welcome” in France, and openly supported a ban on women wearing the burqa in public.

Egypt is not the only country to consider banning the veil in educational spaces.  Turkey is an almost entirely Muslim country, but its intense focus on governmental secularism caused a ban on veiling in universities as early as 1989.  This caused a furor among Turkish citizens, and resulted in the educational disempowerment of many Turkish women.  After all, 60 percent of Turkish women choose to veil; whether this is a “real” or coerced choice is beside the point, because with the veil they cannot gain access to universities.  Rather than abandoning the veil, women abandon their education.

Under Egypt’s new ban, women who continue to wear the niqab would be classed as “extremists” and banned from government subsidized housing and nutrition.  There were demonstrations against the ban outside dormitories in Cairo on Saturday, and students continue to agitate for the right of fully veiled women to enter the dorms.  Judicial precedent does not seem to favor the ruling; in 2001, Egypt’s supreme court ruled that a total ban on the niqab is unconstitutional.

The situation is tricky, but the Egyptian government seems to be displaying a fairly blatant disregard for the impact of this ruling on women’s access to education.  Regardless of whether the niqab is a custom or rooted in Islam itself, some women will not enter universities unless they are veiled.  Thus a full ban of the veil will result in lowered recruitment and retention of female students.  We can continue to debate whether the veil is actually empowering for women, but it is a serious issue if in the meantime women are kept from entering schools.  Let’s not make it any more difficult for women to get an education.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

52 comments

Sarah D.
Sarah D.6 years ago

"thousands of muslim women choose to actually wear the niqab purely based on their religous conviction."

How many of those thousands weren't pressured and or forced into it with threats of violence?

"Can u tell me if there is such a thing as CHRISTIAN Believing women AND CHRISTIAN Non Believing women"

Nuns don't have sex.

"as far as i understand if you not a believing women of a specific religion then u dont belong to that specific religion!!!!!!"

I'm Jewish, Reform Judaism, women aren't required to cover their hair in that religion. Also, when Jewish women cover their hair, it's because the hair is only for the husband to see unlike in the Middle East where married and unmarried women are required to cover their hair and or faces.

Salina Hussain
Salina Hussain6 years ago

hi, its an interesting debate but i wonder what actually initiated this ban??? what is the objective behind the clerics persuance for the ban??? thousands of muslim women choose to actually wear the niqab purely based on their religous conviction. They recocnise their relationship between them and their creator, it has apsolutely nothing to do with oppression, in fact its actually more like liberation. lets unite as communities and defend the right for those women in cairo, the right of an education,because if this ban is to go ahead then thousands of muslim women are being denied their right to an education just as in france and turkey pure and simple. so the discussion is not whether niqab is from islam or not, its more the case of why is their such a big outcry over a piece of cloth? when their are more serious problems occuring such as underage pregnancies, date rape,domestic vioelence the list is truely endless. We need to focus on the bigger picture, so do those in authority.

Marena Chen
Marena Chen6 years ago

The Q'ran states that muslims (both men and women) must cover their AURAT. Muslims will know what that means - others can look it up.

Ray P.
Mary P.6 years ago

Sarah D u asked "Can you provide the exact line in the Koran that says all Muslim women must cover their hair? "Note cover their hair" - is that not the same as headcovering. I did not say Veil i said headcovering.

Sarah @ " It also doesn't say that "all women" must wear a headcovering. It just says "believing women". - Sarah FYI if a women is NOT a " believing women" then she is NOT a Muslim then it obviously dont refer to her. The headcovering is for ALL Muslim Women for if u NOT a believer then u are NOT a MUSLIM.


Can u tell me if there is such a thing as CHRISTIAN Believing women AND CHRISTIAN Non Believing women - as far as i understand if you not a believing women of a specific religion then u cannot be of that specific religion!!!!!!

Sarah @ "I'll be damned if I have to hide my face to suit men's insecurities" - You are entitled to your own viewpoint as long as your viewpoint is not forced on others ( then it becomes Oppression) A person should be FREE to choose if they wanna wear a veil or not. The veil is not a requirement but the Headcovering is !!!.

Ray P.
Mary P.6 years ago

Sarah D u asked "Can you provide the exact line in the Koran that says all Muslim women must cover their hair? "Note cover their hair" - is that not the same as headcovering. I did not say Veil i said headcovering.

Sarah @ " It also doesn't say that "all women" must wear a headcovering. It just says "believing women". - Sarah FYI if a women is NOT a " believing women" then she is NOT a Muslim then it obviously dont refer to her. The headcovering is for ALL Muslim Women for if u NOT a believer then u are NOT a MUSLIM.

Can u tell me if there is such a thing as CHRISTIAN Believing women AND CHRISTIAN Non Believing women - as far as i understand if you not a believing women of a specific religion then u dont belong to that specific religion!!!!!!

Sarah D.
Sarah D.6 years ago

I'll be damned if I have to hide my face to suit men's insecurities.

Sarah D.
Sarah D.6 years ago

It also doesn't say that "all women" must wear a headcovering. It just says "believing women."

Sarah D.
Sarah D.6 years ago

"And say to the believing women that they cast down their looks and guard their private parts and do not display their ornaments except what appears thereof, and let them wear their head-coverings over their bosoms, and not display their ornaments except to their husbands or their fathers, or the fathers of their husbands, or their sons, or the sons of their husbands, or their brothers, or their brothers' sons, or their sisters' sons, or their women, or those whom their right hands possess, or the male servants not having need (of women), or the children who have not attained knowledge of what is hidden of women; and let them not strike their feet so that what they hide of their ornaments may be known;"

"Headcoverings," not a face veil.

Sarah D.
Sarah D.6 years ago

"Like i said NOT all who don veils are OPPRESSED. Thats my argument."

That's not a good argument. It's hardly an argument at all.

Ray P.
Mary P.6 years ago

@Marena "..oh, by the way, I talked to them and what I wrote is what they told me...pure and simple"
Like i said NOT all who don veils are OPPRESSED. Thats my argument. Sadly the ones u spoke to are amongst the oppressed unfortunate few. Thanks for clearing the fact that they themselves told u that they are being oppressed and it wasnt just your assumption like its usually the norm by most of the people of the world.