Cairo Egypt’s top Islamic cleric said Thursday that students and teachers will not be allowed to wear face veils in classrooms and dormitories of Sunni Islam’s premier institute of learning, al-Azhar, part of a government effort to curb radical Islamic practices.
The decision announced by Sheik of al-Azhar Mohammed Sayyed Tantawi came days after he said the face veil, or niqab, “has nothing to do with Islam.” His comments and actions have sparked an outcry from Islamists who see them as an attack on their religion and some rights organizations who believe banning the niqab violates constitutional freedom.
The explosive issue of how much of a Muslim woman’s body should be covered remains contested among Islamic scholars.
The majority of scholars say the face veil is not required but is merely a custom that dates back to tribal, nomadic societies living in the Arabian desert before Islam began.
While a vast majority of Egyptian women wear headscarves, few wear the niqab, which is common in Saudi Arabia where the more conservative form of Wahhabi Islam is practiced.