Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Egyptian University Bans Niqab in All-Female Areas

by Shannon Togawa Mercer

An all male committee at Al-Azhar University in Egypt has banned use of the niqab (conservative, face-covering veil) by female students in women-only areas like male dormitories and all-female classes, according to CNN. Al-Azhar, the center of Sunni Islam and debatably the oldest university in the world, is an influential center of Islamic theology and scholarship.

The niqab is worn by a more conservative Muslim female population in Egypt, but it is a common choice for women in the Arabian Peninsula nations and Pakistan. CNN reports that many Egyptians interpret this as Al-Azhar’s attempt to counteract the “growing appeal of the strictest interpretations of Islam”. The niqab is not mandated by the Qur’an and its origins are still debated among scholars of Islam.

As expected, the Muslim Brotherhood, an opposition party, is protesting the ban, arguing that the niqab is being characterized as “something bad that needs to be suppressed”. A group representative told CNN that the wearing of the Niqab is a personal choice that the Sheikh of Al-Azhar has no business legislating.

This ban has drawn mixed reactions from all sides of the issue (female, male, students and scholars). Egyptian society is quite liberal compared to many of its neighboring Middle Eastern nations, but this move on the part of a traditionally more moderate institution hints at a deeper political agenda.

For more on women’s educational issues, check out a new not-for-profit group on campus that works to fund raise and plan for girl’s schools in developing countries. The “Circle of Women” (as this group is so aptly dubbed) has just “circled up” a Princeton chapter headed by the inimitable forces-of-nature Sandy Thomas ‘11 (sandyt@) and Janelle Morris ’11 (jmorris@). Princeton’s project is just getting off the ground with a proposed location in India and several collaboration possibilities on the table. Harvard’s chapter has already successfully established a girl’s school in Afghanistan. For more information meetings are every Tuesday at 9 pm in Campus Club or visit www.circleofwomen.org.

Image from CharlesFred's flickr.

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