Source AKI

Cairo, 17 Oct (AKI) - The row over the wearing of the niqab, the Islamic veil showing eyes only, recently banned in the female dormitories at Cairo University on security grounds, shows no signs of abating. Street protests, debates in local newspapers and on television, added to the complainy of a well known Islamic preacher have further fueled the controversy.

Youssef Al Badri, a member of Egypt's Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs and a famous preacher linked to the Islamic movement Gamaa al-Islamiya, on Monday denounced to the Cairo authorities a teacher of Islamic law, Souad Saleh, who was quoted as saying she was 'disgusted' by girls in full veil.  

In an interview to an Arabic satellite tv network, Saleh, who is also former head of the faculty of female religious studies at the university of al-Azhar, the highest authority in Sunni Islam, said she was "worried by this backward tendency which was reemerging with a vengeance in Egyptian society." She said those who wore the eyes-only veil were "people who do not know or understand anything of Islam."

Al Badri made an official complaint about the teacher whom he alleged had insulted hundreds of veiled women "who act freely in exercising their right."

Saleh, known in Egypt as "the women's mufti" for her numerous fatwas, or religious edicts relating to women, rebutted on daily al-Sharq Al-Awsat, that hers was "a personal comment on an increasingly common phenomenon but which was not meant in any way to offend women."

"There is a significant difference between the hijab, a simple veil which frames the face, and the niqab, which leaves only the eyes visible" she added. "The first is a religious duty, but the second is a sheer cultural convention, which has no raison d'etre in Islamic sources" she said.

During the protests triggered in recent days by the niqab-ban in the dormitories, Sheikh Sayed al-Tantawi, the highest theological figure at al-Azhar, stepped into the debate, defending the ban. He explained that as long as students were made to remove the niqab and not the hijab, it was not a sin.

In Egypt, the authorities worry that the growing strength of the Muslim Brotherhood and a movement away from secularism may slow down the democratic reforms promised but notn yet implemented by president Hosni Mubarak.

In Cairo, the number of women wearing veils, be they simple or all-covering, is growing daily.

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