A group of Egyptian female students threatened to sue the minister of higher education and the president of Cairo University over a ban on wearing the face veil, or burka, on campus, local press reported Tuesday.
Students wearing the niqab, an Arabic term for face veil, have been trying to meet Cairo University President Dr. Hossam Kamel for the past two days in order to protest the ban. After failing to do so, they threatened to sue him and the Minister of Higher Education Dr. Hani Helal, the Egyptian daily independent al-Masry al-Youm reported Tuesday.
Students affiliated with the Islamist Labor Party supported the disgruntled girls and organized a rally in front of the university hostel where the girls were denied admission because of the face veil. The Labor Party, originally socialist but now turned Islamist, has been suspended since 2000 by the Egyptian Committee for Political Parties.
The stance taken by Cairo University is not shared by other universities in the Egyptian capital who have no plans to ban the niqab.
The administration of Ain Shams University is determined to accommodate students' preferences in the university dorms, said university Vice-President Dr. Atef al-Awam.
“We have no intention to ban face-veiled students from living in the university dorms,” he told the paper.
Helwan University followed the same policy. University President Dr. Mahmoud al-Tayeb said the university does not adopt a specific ideology as far as the students’ clothes are concerned.
“Wearing the niqab is a matter of personal freedom,” he said.
Sheikh Mohamed Sayyed Tantawi, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, the world’s leading school of Sunni Islam, stirred controversy Monday when he banned female students at al-Azhar from wearing the face veil.
Tantawi then visited a class in al-Azhar where he told a middle student to take off her face veil saying the niqab it is not obligatory in Islam.
Tradition vs obligation
“The face veil is a tradition and not an obligation,” said Abdel-Moati Bayoumi, member of the al-Azhar Center for Islamic Research. “It is not even a Sunnah (prophet’s teaching).”
Bayoumi explained that Islamic dressing entails covering the entire body with the exception of the face, the feet, and the hands.
Bayoumi added that the stance taken by Tantawi is representative of that of al-Azhar scholars who agree that niqab is not ordained in Islam.
“I and other scholars support banning the face veil in al-Azhar affiliated schools.”
Dr. Amena Nasseer, professor of theology at al-Azhar University, said she supports the ban.
“A law banning the face veil on campus should be drafted,” she told al-Masry al-Youm. “This will protect society and guarantee the safety of all people.”
(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)