The hijab, or headscarf, has emerged as a subject of heated debate not only in Egypt but also across the wider Arab and Muslim world. While some argue that it is an absolute obligation imposed upon women, others say that expressing one’s religion is not confined to a piece of clothing and that women should have the freedom to choose whatever they want to wear.
In recent years, what is sometimes referred to as reformist Islamic scholars have emerged on the scene of religious debate in Egypt, appearing on nightly talk shows, hosting events or creating their own YouTube channels to spread their message. They are largely young and some of them are critical of the old generation of religious authorities that have for long dictated how the religious texts of Islam should be interpreted.
With this background, al-Azhar, the Sunni Muslim world’s oldest seat of learning, issued a fatwa, or religious verdict, on Monday saying that the hijab is compulsory for Muslim women and those who oppose this view are “abnormal” and “extremist”.
In a statement, the institution asserted that the obligation of hijab has been proven in the Quran and that there is no room for interpretation on the matter.
“It is not acceptable that anyone from the public or non-specialists, regardless of their culture, to voice their opinions on the matter. The hijab […] aims to preserve [women’s] feminine nature, ” the statement read, according to privately-owned Youm7.
The statement went on to say that the obligatory nature of the veil contributes to women becoming successful and active participants in society while also protecting their body from being looked at by men.