Banning the Face Veil

This past month, Sheikh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar, shocked many by issuing a ban on students and teachers wearing the niqab, or face veil, in Al-Azhar University or its adjoining schools, specifically in all female settings. Tantawi’s decision to issue this ban stemmed from an interaction that he had with a secondary school student on one of his visits. According to many sources, Tantawi asked the girl why she was wearing the niqab in an all girl classroom and demanded she remove it. He added that niqab is not part of Islam, but is rather a cultural custom. His decree came soon after this interaction that was criticized by many in Egypt. There were then reports from female students who wear the niqab at Cairo University (not affiliated with Al-Azhar) that they were being prevented from entering the dormitories unless they removed their niqab.

Muslim women are already not required to wear hijab or niqab in front of other women. So the ban really is not saying anything much, but it does have consequences. While the history of the veil has fluctuated in Egypt, this recent ban has many troubled about its implications for Muslim women living in Western nations. Even though many are critical of Sheikh Tantawi, Al-Azhar, as an institution, still represents the highest seat of Islamic learning. Thus, what Al-Azhar does can have far-reaching consequences for the representation and perception of Islam worldwide. More specifically, in light of the move by some European countries, notably France, Tantawi’s edict seems to support Sarkozy’s ban of the niqab to a certain degree. The argument by supporters of niqab in Egypt is that it is a personal right that should be protected. This argument is paralled in Western countries where some Muslims see the recent attempts of banning the hijab and niqab as attacks first on their personal rights and second on Islam. Therefore, one can see how Tantawi’s decree can be used by opponents of the veil.

Some argue that Tantawi’s ban is part of a larger project of curbing certain expressions of religious commitment, specifically those deemed to be “extremist.” Personally, I strongly believe that forcing a women to cover or to uncover is counter-productive and generally results in resistance. That’s what is happening in Egypt. If women who wear niqab agree to security precautions, then they should not be prevented from wearing it. It is a personal right and with every right there are responsibilities; as long as those responsibilities are fulfilled, the right should be protected.

What do you think about the face veil? Should it be banned or not? How much should religious and state authorities interfere in personal expressions of faith? Is a ban against religiously related attire different from edicts requiring it? Please leave your comments below.

4 thoughts on “Banning the Face Veil

  1. Amr Khaled is a non-clerical advocate of veiling.
    Sheikh Tantawi is a clerical advocate of non-veiling.
    There are too many men with opposing views asserting
    opinions and attempting to influence women.

    If full veiling is “wrong,” then Muslim women scholars of the
    Qu’ran must be the ones to say so. Education and experience
    changes perceptions and ideas. In the final analysis,
    women must decide for themselves.

    Men have been dictating to women for centuries what they must
    or must not wear. Those days are over.

  2. I agree that men should not dictate to women what they must or mustn’t wear but I do not agree that it is women that should decide for women. I believe the real answer will be when each and every person regardless of their gender is able to choose what is right for themselves. And hopefully, we will eventually be able to have intelligent non-sexist discourse between the genders about issues such as these that would help inform individuals in their personal decisions.

  3. I can’t believe this has happened in Egypt and of course al lthe European countires are looking at this and going to eat it up… Can you imagine Muslims having no rights to their faith in a Muslim country…. So sad…and How can he say that the Niqab doesn’t hold an religious connections with the Wives of the Prophet (SAW) wore it…. Were they no Muslim? Isn’t Aisha seen as the Mother of the believers? SO with that- If a muslim sister wants to walk int he Foot step of the mother of the believers then wouldn’t it be her choice to wear the Niqab? YEs…

    I feel that Egypt just want to be in the Favor of Europe so their economy can grow and they can then lay with France/ England Canada… and they will put muslim out there to hang just for that matter…
    People can talk what they want about America but Freedom of religion is just that… Freedom of Relgion with NO hidden agendas…

  4. I think that as long as something does not go against the religion, then it is the individual right to do it. This is not just for the niqab but for any habit in general. Forcing a woman to take off her niqab is ridiculous, because whether it is a religious requirement or simply cultural, it doesn’t go against Islam. So why make a big issue out of it and attracting so much unnecessary attention?