Egypt: Niqab Ban Stirs Controversy

The Niqab (or face cover) is making the headlines again after the head of Al Azhar and Egypt's Imam, Sheikh Mohammed Tantawi asked a young girl to uncover her face while he was inspecting an Azhar school in Cairo.

During his tour he saw a 13 year old girl fully veiled from head to toe covering her entire body but for her eyes. Moataz El Demerdash, host of a talk show called 90 minutes had a phone interview with one of the press members who witnessed Sheikh Tantawi order the girl to take off the niqab as he told her that niqab is a tradition that has nothing to do with religion. A few days later, Hani Helal Egypt's Minister of Higher Education banned female undergraduates from wearing the niqab in the country's public universities,  Al-Masri Al-Yom newspaper reported.

The exchange between the Sheikh and the girl can be followed in this video [Ar]:

“Why are you wearing the niqab while sitting in the class with your female colleagues?” Al-Azhar Grand Imam Sheikh Mohamed Sayyed Tantawi asked the 8th grader.
The young girl was shocked with the question coming from the country’s top scholar
A teacher intervened to explain.
“She takes off her niqab inside the class, but she only put it on when you and your entourage came in.”
But Sheikh Tantawi was not satisfied and insisted that the young girl takes off the face cover.
“The niqab is a tradition and has nothing to do with Islam.”
After the girl complied he insisted she should not wear it any more.
“I tell you again that the niqab has nothing to do with Islam and it is only a mere custom. I understand the religion better than you and your parents.”

In an older post, Desert Cat blogged about a man who was caught hiding behind a niqab to go see his mistress:

بالرغم من تكرار الحوادث بارتداء هذا اللثام الا ان وزارة الداخلية لازالت لم تتحرك وسايبه الفسقه والمنحلين والمسجلين خطر يتخفوا وراه مش المفروض يتحركو بقى ويجرموه المفروض يتحركو ويمنعوا كل كيس زبالة اسود متحرك من المشى فى الشوارع حفاظاً على أمن وأمان المجتمع .. اللى بتعانى من تلف خلايا الاحساس ودمار فى خلايا الاخلاق أو شايفة فى نفسها عورة او اللى عامله مصيبة ومش عايزة حد يعرفها تستخبى فى بيتها مش تخرج منه .. إنما المواطنين من حقهم يعيشوا فى امان .. المفروض يكون فى مراقبة داخليه بقى طالما الامر وصل للانحدار ده
Although many crimes are committed behind the niqab, the Ministry of Interior did not lift a finger to counter attack the occurrences leaving all sorts of criminals and lowlifes in their cloaked hiding. Shouldn't they purge the streets of the walking “black plastic bag”? She who sees herself and her face as a shame or a disgrace should just stay home but civilians have the right to live securely.

Desert Cat hailed the Sheikh's decision saying:

برافو يا شيخ الأزهر … ولو ان الوقت تأخر يا شيخنا وتوغلت الجماعات الارهابية تحت مسميات عدة داخل مصرنا الحبيب وكل همهم وأد المرأة ثم الجهاد ضد الاثار الفرعونية اللى هى فى عرفهم العبيط والغبى اصنام
Bravo Sheikh Al Azhar … What took you so long? The terrorists invaded Egypt under so many names and their main pursuit it to restore female infanticide and destroying our monuments for in their code this is paganism.

Tarek Ez AlDen reported that an Egyptian rights organization is suing the Minister of Higher Education:

أعلنت المبادرة المصرية للحقوق الشخصية أنها بصدد اتخاذ إجراءات قانونية لمقاضاة وزير التعليم العالي الدكتور هاني هلال على خلفية قراره منع الطالبات المنتقبات من الإقامة بالمدينة الجامعية لجامعة القاهرة
The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights announced taking legal procedures to sue Dr. Hani Helal, the Minister of Higher Education, for banning female students wearing a niqab from staying in Cairo university hostels and dorms.

Elder of Zion found the reactions to the niqab ban interesting:

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.

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.

As for The Minister of higher Education's decree in Cairo University

neither Ain Shams University nor Helwan University issued similar decrees.

The niqab ban did not come as a total surprise

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.

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.

At the end of his post, he wrote:

Tantawi has been in hot water before, for shaking hands with Shimon Peres.

Like Elder of Zion, blogger Khaled Fouda reminded his readers of the day the Sheikh shook hands with Shimon Perez:

شيخ الأزهر كثرت زلاته ومصائبه ونفاقه .. لا اعترف به إماما اكبر شيخا للأزهر أو حتى شيخا للمنصر
هل نسامح هذا الرجل ونعتبره كبير في السن لا يدري ما يقوله
أم نعتبره صعيدي من ماركه (قفل) مع كامل الاعتذار والاحترام للصعايده المحترمين لان هذا الرجل أساء لهم للمصريين والمسلمين جميعا
I cannot keep up with Sheikh Al Azhar's continuous blunders and follies. I do not acknowledge him as the Grand Sheikh of Al Azhar or any sheikh of any sort for that matter. Should we just forgive his old age and random rants or should we consider him one narrow minded guy who has offended Egyptians and Muslims altogether?

Joseph Mayton of Bikya Masr wrote a post on how Europe took advantage of the niqab ban in Egypt:

On Tuesday, only one day after news of Tantawi’s possible ban hit the media, Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his right-wing coalition have presented a proposal to ban the niqab, or burqa. The anti-immigration Northern League party is leading the charge, and Italian politicians are now quoting Tantawi in support of their goal.

The party’s proposal would amend an anti-terrorism law of 1975 that forbids anyone in the country from making their identification impossible. The current interpretation of the law allows for religious reasons as a “justified cause” to cover the face, but the possible law could end such interpretation.

A party member, Roberto Cota was quoted as saying “we are not racist and we have nothing against Muslims, but the law must be equal for everyone.”

People of Freedom Member of Parliament, Barbara Saltamartini, said that “banning the burqa cannot be considered anti-Muslim because it is not obligatory in Islam,” echoing Tantawi’s sentiments, when he demanded that the young girl in a local school remove the veil as it is “not part of Islam.”

Meanwhile, Kareem El Beheiry of EgyWorkers announced his solidarity with Egypt's niqabis free right to choose and Hassan El Helali who is against hijab (regular veil that does not cover the face) writes, addressing the Minister of Interior:

يا وزير الداخليه
الدور عليك
إمنع المنقبات من القيادة أرجوك
وياريت تمنعهم من الخروج للشارع مقنعين
اللي عاوزه تكن في بيتها هي حرة
لكن الشارع ملك المجتمع الحر
القناع يلبسه الحرامي بس
Now it's your turn. Please ban women wearing the niqab from driving. Please stop them from walking up and down our streets wearing a mask. She who wishes to stay home has every right to do so but the street belongs to the free society … only burglars hide their faces.


  • اتمنى أن تحذو جميع الإدارات والهيئات حذو شيخ الأزهر كما أرجو التدخل الفورى من وزير الداخلية لمنع قطعة القماش التى يتخفى خلفها كل من هب ودب حفاظاً على الأمن العام فالجميع يعلم ان النقاب ليس من الدين فى شيئ كما أنه يرتكب من خلفه ابشع الجرائم المكررة يومياً

    اشكرك جداً مروة
    وتقبلى خالص تحياتى

    قطة الصحراء

  • Abdul Haque

    In the Holy Quran, Allah Subhanahuatala said,Surah An-Nur, Verses #30 and #31 ‘And Say to the believing women to lower their gaze (from looking at forbidden things), ………..and not to show off their adornment except only that which is apparent (like both eyes for necessity to see the way, or outer palms of hands or dress like veil, gloves, head cover, apron), Now the word ADORNMENT means beauty. Who can argue that women’s face is not a part of their beauty. Even in non- Muslim countries, where most often they see women’s everything, but still chase after a woman based on her face most of the time, , but in all Muslim countries, face alone is enough beauty to fall behind a woman. So it is from Quran, a must to wear niqab. It is not just from Hadith, or sunnah. My second point is in Alazhar, the head said, under four conditions women can wear niqab, such as a VERY BEAUTIFUL woman. Now my question is who is there to judge all the time, who is VERY and who is NOT VERY beautiful. We all know, beauty is a relative term, one person may not be beautiful in one’s eye, but may be beautiful in other’s eyes. The third point is in all Muslim countries, including, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia, till to date a vast majority is wearing niqab, and why is Al- Azhar going against it. May Allah guide us.

  • Paolo

    I already posted an anoucment but probably it was considered too hard to this site by moderor and was not publched:Italian armyfoforce in lebanon,iraqui,afghanistan and pakistan,like mulim somalia and lybyanon,and in our poor previos coloneis like eritrhea,somaly and libya,were wery softs accordind to relationchips to mudlim worrdl,but nehertheless was not published by this web site . neWonder why and I’m ginna publish trhough other democratic webses?
    Paolo northern itay

  • “Why are you wearing the niqab while sitting in the class with your female colleagues?” Al-Azhar Grand Imam Sheikh Mohamed Sayyed Tantawi asked the 8th grader.
    بصراحة دا بجد سؤال غريب جدا ومن غير المنتظر انه يصدر من شخصية من اكبر شخصيات مصر
    يمكن كان شايف نفسه والمجموعة اللى معاه يبقوا من ضمن زميلات البنت ؟
    نيجى بقى للى عمالين يلزقوا اى جريمة فى النقاب
    بسأل سؤال :لما انتم بتلزقوا اى جريمة فى النقاب عشان فى بعض الحثالة بيستغلوه فى الجرائم يبقى لازم تلزقوا كمان اى جريمة فى بدلة الشرطة لان فى حثالات كثير جدا بيلبسوا بدلات الشرطة ويضحكوا على الناس بها وينتحلوا شخصية رجل الشرطة وبيتعمل بها جرايم كل يوم نصب واحتيال وسرقة
    هل دا معناه انه احنا نقول ان ضباط الشرطة حرامية ولا لازم نسمى الحاجات بمسمياتها ؟
    بدلة الشرطة لما يلبسها ضابط بتكون حاجة جميلة وامان للمجتمع ولما يلبسها حرامى بتكون خراب على المجتمع ودا مش بسببها هى انما بسبب اللى لابسها
    برده النقاب لما تلبسه انسانة محترمة ومتدينة بيبقى شئ جميل ولما تلبسه او يلبسه حد تانى مجرم بتحصل جريمة بسبب المجرم نفسه لانه حقير ، وبالنسبة للى بيقولوا انه النقاب دا كيس زبالة اسود بنقول ما هو ياما انت ماتعرفش ان زوجات الرسول كانوا منتقبات او يا اما انت مش مسلم اصلا
    الكلام اللى اتكتب دا انا كتبته لكم وانا اصلا بنت مش منتقبة لكن لما اشوف حاجة فيها ظلم لازم اتكلم
    عشان الساكت عن الحق شيطان أخرس

  • Hijabindonesian

    the vast majority in Indonesia is wearing niqab ? VERY WRONG. The fact is niqabi women r still not accepted in our society as we only practice Islam not ARAB’S CULTURE.

  • […] Shimon Peres at a UN-sponsored interfaith conference in New York, and another time when he lashed out at a girl who was wearing a niqab in a school […]

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