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. Continue reading
On August 21st, with Ramadan beginning in most countries the following day, President Obama issued a Ramadan message to Muslim communities around the world. This is another gesture by the President to work on the relations between the United States and Muslims worldwide. For me, though, this message was unique. Growing up as a Muslim American, Ramadan was never formally recognized by the larger American community, except on a local level. President Obama’s more visible efforts to fully incorporate the Muslim American community have led to more awareness–positive awareness, I should say–of Islam and the commonalities that it shares with other faiths.
In President Obama’s speech in Cairo, we heard something perhaps unprecedented for an American president: references to the Qur’an—positive references! Quoting verses from the Qur’an was significant because it brought the holy text into the discussion in a way that reflects its real spirit–especially for the over 1.3 billion Muslims worldwide.
In what has been widely billed as a major step in his promised effort to reach out to the Muslim community worldwide, President Barack Obama gave a speech entitled “New Beginnings” at Cairo University last week. The president did not, however, directly address conflicts between the West and the Muslim world. Instead, he tried to set a new tone in favor of global dialogue and to that end he was successful.