Egypt's Ministry of Religious Endowments has launched a campaign against wearing the full face veil known as a niqab in government jobs claiming it is not an obligation for Muslims.
The latest crackdown on the niqab follows a prohibition against nurses wearing the full face veil in hospitals.
In the first in a series of seminars aimed at eradicating the niqab from public posts held under the auspices of the Ministry of religious endowments Dr. Salem Abdel-Gelil, Deputy Minister of Religious Endowments for Preaching, explained to the ministry's face-veiled female employees that niqab is not an obligation in Islam and that the headscarf is enough.
"[N]iqab is a custom that has no basis in religion whether directly or indirectly," he told AlArabiya.net. "[A]ccording to the four schools of thought in Islam the face is not awra [a body part that has to be covered]."
Abdel-Gelil stressed that the Islamic dress code required covering the entire body with the exception of the face, feet, and hands and that it cannot be tight or transparent.
"Women performing hajj (pilgrimage) show their faces, and this is the ultimate proof that niqab is not a must."
There are two contradictory references attributed to one of the major Sunni imams Ahmed ibn Hanbal, founder of the Hanbali Sunni school of thought. One of them makes the face veil a requirement while the other says it is not an obligation.
"However, there was a consensus amongst Islamic jurists that covering the face is not required," said Abdel-Gelil, explaining that in Islam, jurists resolve contention through consensus.
Niqab is a custom that has no basis in religion whether directly or indirectly
Dr. Salem Abdel-Gelil, Deputy Minister of Religious Endowments for Preaching
Wave of fatwas
The majority of questions addressed at the seminar were related to the wave of fatwas, or religious rulings, issued by several preachers about the necessity of wearing the face veil.
"I asked them where they got these strange fatwas from, and they said from satellite channels. I told them these are amateur preachers and fatwas have to be issued by authorized bodies," he explained.
The Egyptian institutions authorized to issue fatwas, are al-Azhar, the leading Sunni Islamic institution in the world; al-Azhar's Center of Islamic Research, Dar al-Iftaa, the institution specialized in issuing religious edicts; and the Ministry of Religious Endowments.
Seminar attendees received a book entitled Face Veil is a Custom not a Religious Obligation, written by Minister Zaqzouq, which reviews the opinion of several scholars about Islam’s perspective on the face veil.
In the next seminar, there will be a discussion with the employees about what they read in the book, added Abdel-Gelil.
I asked them where they got these strange fatwas from, and they said from satellite channels. I told them these are amateur preachers and fatwas have to be issued by authorized bodies
Campaign against nurses with niqab
The seminar series come on the heels of a Ministry of Health campaign launched earlier this month against nurses wearing niqab. They were told to either removing it or quite their hospital jobs.
MP Farid Ismael criticized the ministry's new law, which would affect an estimated 9,630 niqabi nurses, about 10 percent of all Egyptian nurses. He called the law unconstitutional and said it aimed to distract public opinion away from more pressing issues nurses face such as insufficient salaries and benefits.
The new law, which came into effect this month, puts in place one identical uniform for all nurses in an effort to curtail the increase of face veiling in hospitals.
(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid and Marwa Awad)