Egypt Proposes Ban on Islamic Face Covering in Public

The proposed law to ban Islamic face coverings is based on security, but does it violate religious grounds?

The government of Egypt is in the process of drafting a new bill that will prohibit women from wearing the niqab (Islamic) veil and burqa in government institutions and public places. This comes in the wake of an Egyptian court upholding Cairo University's ban on female teachers wearing niqab inside the lecture halls. Cairo University is the major public academic institution of Egypt. The University recently banned doctors and nurses from wearing burqa/veil in teaching hospitals and medical schools. According to the University, the ban is to protect the interests and rights of patients.

The bill is proposed by the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-sisi loyalist party, the Egypt Support Coalition. The party comprises around 250 members/parliamentarians at the 595 member strong legislature. Egypt is a Muslim-majority country. Most of the Muslim women in Egypt generally prefer to wear the niqab or veil in front of men or in public. The niqab or the veil usually covers the whole face of the wearer except their eyes.

Member of the Egyptian Parliament Amna Nuseir, who has been an ardent opponent of the burqa/veil, said that she will be participating in drafting the bill before presenting it to the Legislature. Her point of view about the burqa/veil in Islam has constantly been criticized by prominent Muslim leaders. She said that she did not mind receiving fresh criticism for her participation in making the law a reality. Amna Nuseir is also a professor at Al-Azhar University.

According to Amna Nuseir, wearing a burqa or a veil by the Muslim women is not an Islamic requirement or a duty. In fact, the tradition of wearing a burqa or a veil was part of the Jewish culture. It was followed in the Arabian Peninsula, prior to Islam. Islam only requires the men and women to dress decently. It calls for covering the hair, but not the entire face. It is also her view, from a more practical point of view, that wearing a niqab in public places may raise concerns in light of the country's present circumstances. There have been many militant attacks since 2013, ever since the army overthrew Islamist president Mohammad Mursi.

According to Alaa Abdul Moneim, spokesperson for the Egypt Support Coalition party, the law will essentially support the basic right of an Egyptian citizen to know the identity of the person walking next to him/her or sitting next to him/her. Faces will no longer be masks, but actual people.

Speaking against the anti-burqa/veil bill, Abdul Moneim Fouad, an Al Azhar University professor said that the ban on burqa/veil is a violation of personal freedom.

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