CAIRO: Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research Hani Helal supported a number of universities’ decision to ban faculty members wearing the niqab, or the full face veil, from giving lectures.
“The faculty member who is wearing the niqab should sit at home or in her office communicating with her students through the telephone or videoconference,” said Helal during a visit to Cairo University and Ain Shams University on Saturday, stated official news portal, Egynews.
He explained that interaction between the teacher and students during the learning process is essential, a component he says will be diminished if the professor is wearing niqab.
Helal also pointed out that security guards at universities are working to protect the campus and only follow the administration’s instructions.
Last year, the allowing female students wearing the niqab were banned from entering university premises. In a meeting with university students at the Qir Youth Camp last July, Helal affirmed that no female wearing the niqab will be allowed on campus this academic year.
Although he respects the niqab as an expression of personal freedom, he said this freedom ends when it violates the freedom of others. “Every female student has the right to wear the niqab outside the university campus but will not be allowed to do so on campus,” Helal said.
Although there has not been an official ministerial decree to this effect, the minister’s decision reflects an ongoing debate over allowing niqab-wearing students on campus, in university dormitories and even in exams halls.
Last January, an Egyptian court upheld the ban on the full face veil in schools affiliated with the Islamic Al-Azhar University. In June, 200 students wearing the niqab were prevented from sitting the spring semester final exams when the presidents of Ain Shams, Cairo and Helwan Universities refused to allow them entry.
The Administrative Court at the State Council supported the decision of the three universities to deny these students entry, saying that the decision was consistent with the rules and regulations of the universities in addition to the fact that it is an issue of public welfare.
Human rights activists were up in arms following the decision, with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) condemning the decision. "University administrations had a large number of options they could have applied in order to meet security and discipline requirements inside examination rooms,” EIPR director Hossam Bahgat said in the statement.
"They chose instead to resort to the most extreme measure, a measure which cannot be separated from a series of measures which plainly seeks to punish students wearing the niqab for their views and beliefs,” Bahgat continued.
A few days ago, a cleric at Al-Azhar Mosque told AFP that he applauded France’s ban on the face veil worn by some devout Muslim women, saying the niqab harmed Islam’s image.
Abdel Muti Al-Bayyumi, a member of an influential council of clerics at Al-Azhar, said the niqab "has no basis in Islamic law and there is nothing in the Quran or Sunna that supports it."