and yet again, someone thinks they can tell women how they should dress:
Egypt's Al-Azhar University, the most prestigious centre of religious learning in the Sunni Muslim world, said on Thursday it will ban the face veil from female-only classrooms and residences.
"The Supreme Council of Al-Azhar has decided to ban students and teachers from wearing the niqab inside female-only classrooms, that are taught by women only," a statement said.
The ban extends to women's dormitories and to schools affiliated with the university, it said.
The face-veil, or niqab, is worn by some devout Muslim women. Local press reported that Mohammed Tantawi, head of Al-Azhar, said last week that he intended to ban the practice in the university.
The supreme council's statement added that Al-Azhar does not oppose the niqab, which it said only a minority of Muslim scholars consider an obligation, but it opposes "imprinting it on the minds of girls."
The decision came after female students who wear the niqab were banned from the women's dormitory of the state-run Cairo University.
now let me be clear, even the most staunch defenders of the niqab (face covering) will tell you that it's not required when there are only women in the room. so on the face of it, there's absolutely no harm in this ban, because there is no requirement to cover in this situation. but even so, i feel very strongly about the state (or any of its institutions) not telling women what they can wear, and in what circumstances.
and i can understand the desire by egyptian authorities to combat extremism growing in their society, of which they see the niqab being a symbol. but i can't stomach the thought that the fight against extremism has to be by control over women's bodies.
egypt is a country that has a very poor human rights record, and there is a lot of evidence that political dissent results in some extremely nasty and violent consequences. there is a history of extremism by the state to combat extremism in society. in that context, this move is much more of a worry.
al-azhar is, of course, an institution of quite some reknown. possibly the oldest ever university, it has a long and distinguished history and has produced some of the finest scholars. i'd say that it is well known to have a strong liberal bias, and certainly doesn't tend to produce scholars of the bent of, for example, the saudi conservatives.
i have to say that i'm not particularly surprised by this move. i understand that some scholars at al-azhar provided support for the french government's ban of the headscarf in public schools. and there is certainly precedent for bans like this in other countries with a muslim majority population - tunisia, turkey and the sultanate of oman come immediately to mind.
though not surprised, i'm definitely not happy with this move. it smacks too much of ends justifying means, and of women being pawns in a political game. the best way i know of combatting extremism is through social justice and poverty reduction.