Cairo–Local officials of Egyptâ€™s religious affairs ministry have refused to apply a circular issued by the minister ordering any murshidat (female preachers) wearing the full-face niqab to be removed from mosques and put to administrative tasks. The aim of the measure, according to the independent daily al-Masri al-Yom was to ensure that the recently appointed woman preachers did not contribute to spreading too strict or radical an interpretation of Islam. â€œHow can we stop these women carrying out their job and punish them for virtuous behaviour, according to the precepts of the Koran?â€ one mosque official told the paper.
â€œThe minister is contradicting himselfâ€ said another. â€œFirst he praises ihtisham (feminine modesty) then he asks women wearing the niqab to be removed from the mosques.â€
In recent months, the minister, Mohammed Hamdi Zaqzouq, has been at the centre of controversy for his comments that the niqab, which covers the face to the shoulders revealing only the eyes, is a traditional costume rather than a religious precept. He has made it clear he does not want it encouraged in mosques. For his part Mohammed Sayyed al-Tantawi, the lead of Al Azhar, the main theological authority in Sunni Islam, has repeated that â€œthe niqab falls within the category of personal freedomâ€.
â€œInside al-Azhar no woman is forbidden from wearing the niqab; it is a personal choice and no one can ban its use.â€
The appointment of female spiritual guides is a complete novelty for Egypt. The first murshidatwere nominated last December.
Their tasks include advising the faithful on everyday issues, especially issues regarding women, sexuality and the family, as well as taking the role of imam in the female sectors of the mosques.