First Published: 2006-10-21

 
University in Egypt embroiled in battle of the veil
 

Former Islamic law dean says Koran does not say women must cover faces, it's old Bedouin tradition.

 

Middle East Online

By Alain Navarro - HELWAN, Egypt

Islam does not call for covering the face

Egyptian students whose faces are completely hidden behind the veil have been banished from the residence halls at Helwan University under threat of expulsion in what could be called the battle of the veil.

"They say nothing to indecent girls, but we -- the daughters of Islam -- are being hounded," protests 21-year-old student Iman Ahmed. Only her eyes are showing through the slit in her black face veil, called a niqab.

Even though the vast majority of female Muslim students already wear the headscarf, known as a hijab, those who chose more cover up of the face veil were told to take it off or quit the student digs.

The ultimatum provoked a vicious controversy.

It was handed down by Abdel al-Hay Ebaid, dean of Helwan University located on the edge of a large industrial estate 30 kilometres (19 miles) from Cairo. Some 2,800 female students are housed in the seven women's residence halls.

"What I want is to protect students against those individuals who might worm their way in, disguised under a face veil," Ebaid says of the ban, adding: "Their parents would kill me if a man infiltrated the women's halls."

Those in the anti-veil camp are congratulating themselves that the brake has been put on fanaticism, while those who support the veil say the ultimatum is an invasion of their freedom.

"This ban restricts my freedom," says student teacher Rihan Sami, 21, completely veiled and gloved.

"The veil is my choice… in battling against the shamelessness that abounds here."

In order to gain access to the campus, girls wearing the full veil must pass through a small office where a woman inspector checks them behind a curtain to verify their identities against a list of registered students.

"They only have to do the same thing for the halls of residence," argues Sami, adding that she decided to no longer wear the veil there in order to avoid being expelled.

Demonstrations against the ban were quickly staged by a "committee of free students.

The veil may be everywhere on campus, but there are many students who also choose to sport versions in vibrant colours -- and also to wear it along with figure-hugging outfits.

"It is also a fashion statement, not just an item of religious clothing," according to male student Ahmed Raouf.

Other universities in Egypt such as Ain Shams and AUC, the American University of Cairo -- the university of choice for the elite -- have tried in recent years to oppose the march of the veil.

But not all devout Muslims believe in the full veil.

"I don't like it," says Soad Saleh, a professor of Islamic law and former dean of the women's faculty of Islamic studies at Al-Azhar University, which is more than a thousand years old.

Her face framed in a blue headband under a white veil, this reformist Muslim -- nicknamed the Women's Mufti -- says she wants to "purge Islam of false concepts: the Koran does not say women have to cover their faces, it's an old Bedouin tradition".

She questioned the wearing of the face veil during an appearance on the Dream satellite television channel.

The controversy in Egypt echoes recent comments against the face veil by Jack Straw, the leader of Britain's House of Commons and a former foreign minister.

At Helwan University, meanwhile, the women students can continue to wear either the headscarf or the face veil. But if they want access to the women's residences there must be no cover-up.

 

Serious challenges for Arab leaders in Amman

US, allies talk of post-ISIS future, but have no plan

Tributes flood in for anti-apartheid hero Ahmed Kathrada

Tunisians demand Muslim marriage decree revoked

Historic Casablanca buildings crumbling in silence

UN says over 300 civilians killed since start of west Mosul offensive

Disputed Iraqi province votes to fly Kurdish flag

Germany laments Turkey's 'unacceptable' spying

Syria opposition says no peace deal without US role

Turkey sends delegation to UK over electronics ban

UN chief urges Arab leaders to confront Syria war

Carlos the Jackal sentenced to life for Paris bombing

Arab League set to oppose Trump Israel embassy shift

US vows to never allow 'Israel-bashing' at UN

Netanyahu ban on MP visits to flashpoint holy site challenged

IS launches counter-attack to defend north Syria town

Saudi intercepts four ‘smuggled’ Yemen rebel missiles

Saudi to set up investment fund to help Jordan

Iran slams Bahrain terror cell claims as ‘delusional’

UN says 30 million unsure of next meal in MENA region

Putin to meet Iran President in Moscow

Al-Qaeda, on the rise again, hits Assad where it hurts

Germany’s Turks cast early ballots for Erdogan referendum

German court convicts Pakistani of spying for Iran

Qatar to invest £5bn in UK within five years

'Kill Erdogan' banner probed in Switzerland, Turkey

Arab League chief urges resolution to Syria conflict

Israel arrests 22 ultra-Orthodox sex offenders

Syrian forces pause offensive on IS-held dam for repairs

Dubai's Emaar Malls offers $800m to buy Souq.com

Iraq launches fresh Mosul Old City advance

US-backed fighters battle IS near north Syria town

Hamas partially reopens Beit Hanoun crossing

Iraq investigates Mosul civilian deaths

In Algeria, everyone wants to be MP, few likely to vote

Yemeni rebel supporters flood streets on conflict’s anniversary

Syria fighting damages IS-held dam posing rising water risk

Iran to symbolically sanction 15 US companies

Iran to appeal seizure of 9/11 compensation money

Hamas shuts Gaza crossing after assassination of official

Deep concern as Israeli laws entrench the occupation

Turkey’s Kurds could sway tight referendum vote

Al-Qaeda, on the rise again, hits Assad where it hurts

US and allies talk of post-ISIS future, but have no plan

Israel’s air strike on Syria spooks Middle East