Controversy over suggested ban on niqab continues in Egypt

Cairo, Egypt - Controversy over a ban on full-face veils in Egypt mooted by one of the Islamic world's leading scholars continued to burn Tuesday, local media reported. The Grand Imam of al-Azhar University, Sheikh Mohammed Tantawi, vowed to ban the full-face veil, the niqab, in affiliated schools after visiting the university at the weekend and ordering a female student to remove her niqab.

The niqab is a "tradition that has nothing to do with Islamic faith and obligations," Tantawi said.

An Egyptian Islamist lawmaker on Tuesday demanded Tantawi's resignation, calling the imam's decision "totally irresponsible."

"On what basis does he issue such an edict and ban teachers and students who wear the niqab from entering al-Azhar," Hamdi Hassan, was quoted by the weekly Egyptian Mail as saying.

"If they can't wear such Islamic dress in religious institutions, where else could they wear it?" added Hassan.

Tantawi left Cairo late Sunday on a visit to Tajikistan and has not commented on his remarks.

Atef Mohamed Abdou, head of an al-Azhar-affiliate institution in Cairo, was quoted by the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat as expressing doubt that Tantawi would go through with the ban.

Abdou suggested that the wearing of the niqab should be considered a personal decision.

Asharq al-Awsat also quoted Minister of Higher Education Hani Hilal as saying that female students have been ordered to remove the face veil upon entering the university dormitory.

Hilal said the decision was made to prevent any man from sneaking inside the female-only dormitories disguised as a woman.

Sunni Muslim scholars are divided on the full-face veil, while most scholars say a woman must cover her hair and her body with loose fitting clothes.

Most Muslim women in Egypt wear the hijab, a headscarf, but the growing number of women wearing the niqab has alarmed liberals and authorities.