The Egyptians have just announced that wearing hijabs or niqabs (those black head-to-toe coverings that only have an opening for the wearer’s eyes) in schools is forbidden, though the wearing of coverings of the hair, as long as the face is fully visible, can continue. The hijab does not cover only the hair, but also much of the “surround” — parts of the chin, forehead, and cheeks — of the face’s oval. More on this welcome development can be found here: “Egypt imposes ban on hijab and niqab in schools, allows hair covers but they must not hide the student’s face,” OpIndia, September 12, 2023:
The Egyptian government has made a decision to restrict the wearing of the niqab (full-face veil) by girls in schools during the new academic year, which begins on September 30 this year. Reda Hegazy, Egypt’s Minister of Education, publicly announced the decision and described the new guidelines. Hair covers are permissible, according to Minister Hegazy, but they must not obscure the student’s face. Furthermore, unless approved by the Directorate of Education, no models or illustrations promoting the hair cover are permitted, he said.
Minister Hegazy also emphasized the responsibility of the guardian in the student’s decision. “It is crucial that the guardian is aware of and consents to their daughter’s decision to wear a hair cover, and this choice should be entirely voluntary, free from any external pressure or coercion,” the Minister said.
Should a girl want to wear a hair covering, even though it will continue to be allowed, the Minister of Education wants to make sure she has not been pressured to do so by members of the Muslim Brotherhood, hoping to have hair coverings warn in such a way that they become full-fledged hijabs. This new rule should be interpreted as part of the war that the El-Sisi regime is waging against the members of the Muslim Brotherhood. It’s another weapon to be used against members of the MB who, will, of course, continue to insist that their own womenfolk wear — if not the niqab — at the very least the hijab. And now their children can be expelled from school as a result. The Ministry is determined to turn back the clock in Egypt, to the 1950s when secularism was at its height, niqabs were never seen, and hijabs, too, were worn much less frequently on the streets of Cairo than they are today.
In fact, there is a wonderful excerpt from a speech by Egyptian President Gamel Abdel Nasser in 1958, in which he mocks the Muslim Brotherhood for wanting to impose the wearing of the hijab — a truly preposterous idea, according to Nasser — and his audience applauds and laughs and yells out their own derisive comments about the Brotherhood and hijabs. Here it is.
Apart from Egypt, several countries like Austria, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Canada, France, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Uzbekistan have imposed bans on the wearing of headscarves at schools and colleges.
Recently, in the year 2022, the Karnataka High Court in India also pronounced its verdict on wearing hijab in schools. The court upheld the ban and ruled that wearing of hijab is not an essential religious practice of the Islamic faith.
The hijab controversy in Karnataka gained traction in the first week of January last year when eight Muslim girls were denied entry to classes at a Udupi college as they wore hijabs. The college authorities had informed that the hijab was not a part of the uniform dress code mandated for the students.
There are many countries that have banned the hijab (and of course, it goes without saying, the niqab, chador, abaya), including such predominantly Muslim, but secularized, countries as Bosnia, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan. Egypt is by far the most important Muslim country in the world. It is the most populous Arab country, with 100 million inhabitants. It is the site of the most important institution of Islamic teaching, Al Azhar University. If Egypt thinks that it can ban even the hijab and not violate the tenets of Islam, this can be pointed to as proof that the hijab is not essential to the proper practice of the faith. This is important both for other Muslim countries and for non-Muslim countries.
If, say, the UAE, were to decide to ban the wearing of the hijab in schools, there would be an immediate outcry from more conservative Muslims in the Emirates and around the Gulf. But the government can now readily point, with grim satisfaction, to the fact that “even our brotherly and neighborly Egypt, the center of Islamic thought,” whom no one could possibly declare to be “un-Islamic” in any way, “has banned the hijab in schools.”
The four major Sunni schools of thought (Hanafi, Shafi’i, Maliki and Hanbali) hold by consensus that it is obligatory for women to cover their hair. That is why the Egyptian government was careful not to ban the covering of the hair by pupils, but only of the kind of head covering that also surrounds the oval of the face.
There is, in fact, no Qur’an verse that mandates the wearing of the hijab. Qur’an 24:31 merely says this: “And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest, and to display of their adornment only what is apparent, and to draw their veils over their bosoms, and not to reveal their adornment except to their own husbands or fathers or husbands’ fathers, or their sons or their husbands’ sons, or their brothers or their brothers’ sons or sisters’ sons, or their women, or their slaves, or male attendants who lack desire, or children who know nothing of women’s nakedness. And do not let them stamp their feet so as to reveal what they hide of their adornment. And turn to Allah together, O believers, so that you may succeed.”
So a Muslim woman must modestly “lower her gaze,” and “be modest,” or as another translation has it, “guard her private parts” (which no woman, Muslim or Infidel, should need to be told), and not to “reveal their adornment.” This is not generally understood as requiring the concealment of the entire face, or even requiring that all but the reduced oval of her face which is all you see when the hijab is worn correctly be covered. And that uncovered face is what the Egyptian law insists be fully shown, without a scarf covering.
It’s not only Muslim states that want to ban the hijab that now have the powerful example of Egypt to appeal to, in the face of possible criticism, but of course some of the countries of Europe that have wanted, but until now not dared, to ban the hijab. France has already banned the hijab, not just in schools but in all public buildings, as part of its national policy of laicité that bans the wearing of outward religious symbols in schools, including the hijab, the abaya, the kippah, and crucifixes in schools. Just now, France has also banned the wearing of the abaya in its public schools. If Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, the U.K., and Sweden, among other European states, now want to ban the hijab in schools, or in all public buildings, they can now point to the hijab ban by the most populous and influential Arab state, Egypt. Truly, a welcome step forward.