Top Egyptian cleric bans burka in schools

Tantawi stresses face veil is not obligatory in Islam


Egypt's top Islamic school, al-Azhar, banned women from wearing the burka, or face veil, inside all its affiliate schools on Monday as a top cleric said the burka was only a tradition and not necessary in Islam.

The ban was issued after al-Azhar's Sheikh Mohammed Sayyed Tantawi told a middle school student in a class he was visiting to take off her burka while in school.

Tantawi told Al Arabiya that he explained to the girl that the burka was only a tradition and said she was required to wear only the school uniform at al-Azhar, the world's leading school of Sunni Islam.

The majority of Islamic scholars say the face veil is not obligatory in Islam and is merely a custom that dates back to tribal, nomadic societies living in the Arabian desert before Islam began.

While a vast majority of Egyptian women wear the headscarf, only a few wear the face veil, also called niqab in Arabic.

Critics of the move, however, say the ban has little chance of being implemented.

A previous law by the minister of religious endowment to ban women preachers wearing the burka from mosques was hotly contested. A ban on nurses wearing the full face veil was announced last year, but not enforced.

A burka-clad researcher was prevented from using the library at the American University in Cairo in 2001 and took her case to the Egypt's Supreme Court and won as the court ruled a total ban on the burka to be unconstitutional.

The court did, however, recommend that women wearing the burka be made to uncover their faces before female security guards to verify their identity.