Female students in Egypt are now banned from wearing a full-face veil, such as the niqab, during university examinations according to a Cairo court ruling as reported by the World News Network.
It was reported that the government decided on the ruling partly because “students, male and female, were sitting [in on] exams disguised as other candidates by wearing a face veil.”
Political attention to the wearing of the burka has also been brought about recently in France, where, in 2004, under President Nicolas Sarkozy, the wearing of Islamic headscarves and certain other religious symbols was banned. Now, according to CBC News World, President Sarkozy is showing his support to ban the wearing of the burka by women in France.
Elizabeth Alexandrin, an assistant professor of religion at the University of Manitoba explains that there are many different types of veils and other forms of modest dress for Muslim women.
“For example, while one form of Islamic modest dress and veiling is known as the ‘burka’ in present-day Afghanistan, in present-day Iran, women wear ‘hijab’ [head-scarf] and ‘manteau’ [long overcoat], sometimes also wearing gloves to be as modestly attired as possible, whereas in other parts of the Middle East, Muslim women may wear ‘niqab.’”
She said that modest dress for both Muslim men and Muslim women is strongly encouraged in the Islamic religious tradition.
“Because the Qur’an has been interpreted by many different Muslim communities, historically there have been many understandings of Muslim women’s veiling as a religious practice.”
Banning the wearing of such coverings, even during university examinations, has lead to debate on whether it infringes upon rights to peacefully practice one’s religion, and to uphold their cultural values.
Neil Marnoch, U of M registrar confirmed that the U of M does not have any such policy.
He said, “All students, however, are required to show photo ID as proof of identification. A student whose beliefs prevented her from revealing her face to a male exam invigilator could request that her identity be verified by a woman.”
All U of M students have their faces showing in their student ID.
Despite a few occurrences in the past, he said that exam impersonation is rare, and not known to be a big problem.
According to Aezeden Mohamed, University of Manitoba Muslim Student Association (UM-MSA) president, the burka pre-dates Islam, and is not an obligation according to the majority of scholars of Islam.
However, he says, “some do it for cultural reasons. Others do [it] for religious reasons in accordance to the views of the minority scholars.”
When asked about policies that prohibit the wearing of the burqa during university examinations he said, “The number of women who wear [the] burka in the West is so insignificant [that] it doesn’t warrant such heightened attention. Intervention by policy will only make things worse.”
As reported by the National Post, Wahida Valiante, chair of the Canadian Islamic Congress, said that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms absolutely covers the rights to wear a burka.
She said, “If anyone ever finds this to be a huge problem, I’d be the first one to participate in that discourse. There’s freedom of choice. [ . . . ] Women can choose to cover their face in this country.”
Mohamed said that if a university or government takes action against the wearing of the burqa, it just creates more tension and other issues.
The Egypt court ruling in question may still be appealed and re-filed many times.