Egypt Al-Azhar scholar supports French niqab ban

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A leading cleric at Egypt's prestigious Al-Azhar Mosque on Wednesday applauded France's ban on the face veil worn by some devout Muslim women, saying the niqab harmed Islam's image.

Abdel Muti al-Bayyumi, a member of an influential council of clerics at al-Azhar, said the niqab, a full-face veil that leaves an opening for the eyes, "has no basis in Islamic law and there is nothing in the Koran or Sunna that supports it."

"I personally support (the ban) and many of my brothers in the Islamic Research Academy support it. My position against the niqab is actually older than France's," said Bayyumi, who has authored a book against the practice.

"I want to send a message to Muslims in France and Europe. The niqab has no basis in Islam. I used to feel dismayed when I saw some of the sisters (in France) wearing the niqab. This does not give a good impression of Islam."

The French parliament passed a law on Tuesday prohibiting wearing the full-face veil in public, meaning a ban will come into force early next year if it is not overturned by senior judges.

The text makes no mention of Islam, but President Nicolas Sarkozy's government promoted the law as a means to protect women from being forced to wear Muslim full-face veils such as the burqa or the niqab.

Al-Azhar, which runs the leading Sunni Muslim university, has opposed the face veil in Egypt and banned it in female-only classes in affiliated schools. Most Muslim women in Egypt wear a hijab, which covers the hair and neck.

The mosque and university follow a traditional school of Islam that is seen as moderate compared with the stricter Salafi school followed in Saudi Arabia.

Egypt's education ministry imposed a ban on the veil in university residences for women but a court overturned the ban on constitutional grounds.

© 2010 AFP

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