The Egyptian Parliament is drafting a new law preventing women wearing the niqab (full-face veil) in government institutions and public places, according to a statement released by MP Amna Nosseir, professor of comparative jurisprudence at Al-Azhar University.
In explaining the reasons for the law, Nosseir said that the niqab is not requried by Islamic Sharia, and that it has non-Islamic origins. She described it as a “Jewish” tradition that appeared in the Arabian Peninsula before Islam.
In a telephone interview with the satallite channel ONtv, Nosseir explained that certain passages from the Quran would not make sense if the niqab were considered proper garb for a women. For example, she asked, why should men avoid looking at women if they are already completely covered?
“How did Islam impose the niqab if Muslims are asked in the Quran to lower their gaze?” asked Nosair.
She cited the following verse from the Quran, “Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them: And Allah is well acquainted with all that they do.”
Nosseir previously declared her hopes of banning the niqab during an interview on Al-Hayat television channel, saying that in the past Jewish tribes lived close to the Arab tribes and the cultures and customs of the two became intertwined. "In the Talmud, if a woman leaves her house without her head and face covered, she is breaking Jewish religious law," she said.
Egypt independent contacted Nosseir by telephone, but she declined to make further comment on the issue.
Among those responding negatively to Nosseir's campaign is Fouad Abdel-Moneim, a professor of religion and philosophy at Al-Azhar University. He slammed the daft law, saying that Sharia scholars all have agreed that Islam urges women to guard their modesty.
"Communities are destroyed wherever immorailty spreads,” Abdel-Moneim said.
During a telephone interview with Al-Assema channel, he said that the Jewish and Muslim religions agree that the Niqab is a religious requirement for women. He said that to ban the niqab would be a blow for personal freedoms in Egypt.
Rather than passing a law against the niqab, Abdel-Moneim said, parliament should pass laws that uphold morality and prevent women from wearing revealing clothes.
“Ban nudity instead of banning the niqab,” he said in a message to Nosseir.
In February, Cairo University President Gaber Nassar decided to ban nurses and doctors from wearing the niqab in Qasr al-Aini Medical School (QAMS) and its affiliated teaching hospitals. The rule was applied to nurses, graduate doctors, specialists, consultants, technical assistants and all academic staff in Qasr al-Aini hospitals.
“The decision bans them from wearing the niqab during working hours to protect patients' rights and interests,” read a press statement.
In September 2015, Nassar prohibited female academic staff and their assistants from wearing the niqab in classrooms due to complaints that staff wearing the niqab are not able to communicate properly with students. Egypt's administrative court upheld the decision in January 2016.
This is not the first time government authorities and institutions have sought to crack down on the niqab. The issue was also a hot topic during the rule of former presentent Hosni Mubarak.
In 2009, following a ban on nurses wearing the niqab, the Endowments Ministry launched a campaign to phase out the garb, teaching that Muslim women are not obliged to wear it and should stop doing so.
The deputy minister of religious endowments for preaching at that time, Salem Abdel-Gelil, explained through seminars that the niqab is not an obligation in Islam and that the hijab (headscarf) is enough.
In November 2009, members of the Al-Azhar Islamic Research Academy upheld a decision to ban the niqab from al-Azhar affiliated institutions.
Led by Mohamed Tantawi, the grand sheikh of Al-Azhar University, the group supported a ruling previously issued by the Supreme Council of Al-Azhar banning female students from wearing the niqab inside al-Azhar institutes, examination halls and dormitories.