Egyptians battle over veil ban

In an attack on rising Islamism, the niqab is cast out of state-run schools

Published November 2, 2009 10:01PM (EST)

In yet another episode of What Not to Wear for Muslim Women, Egypt's state-run schools have banned the niqab in all-girl classrooms. As is always the case with sartorial edicts regarding women showing too much or too little skin, it's sparked quite the furor.

It all began last month when Sheikh Mohamed Sayed Tantawi, head of Al Azhar University, visited a secondary school and ordered a female student to take off her full face veil. The niqab, he said, "is a tradition, it has no connection with religion.” Later, to drive home his point, he issued a fatwa against the niqab. Now, conservatives are speaking out against what they call a violation of their religious freedom. Rokaya Mohamed, a teacher at a state-run elementary school, wears the full face veil and told Reuters she would "rather die than take it off." She added: "I know what makes God and his prophet love me, and no sheikh is going to convince me otherwise."

She, and others like her, are especially uninterested in following the guidance of a state-supported cleric like Tantawi, who is part and parcel to the government's attempt to fight the growing influence of Islamism, particularly from Gulf states. The majority of Egyptian women choose to cover their hair, according to Reuters, but more and more women are opting for the severe niqab. As they do, more and more attempts are made to stamp out the practice. And so it goes -- round and round, where it stops nobody knows.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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