Egyptian Education Minister Moheb Al-Refaei over the weekend decried the Islamic hijab worn by girls as “unacceptable,” leading to rumors the Ministry would ban the garment from elementary schools. A spokesperson from the Ministry denied this claim on Egyptian television Sunday night.
“There’s no such thing as a hijab ban, wearing the hijab or taking it off is a personal freedom,” spokesman Hany Kamal told Egypt’s Ahram news agency. “I can’t force anyone to take the hijab off or put it on, this is something that would make me subject to legal accountability.”
The government had banned the garment for girls under 12 in 1994, but the Supreme Court overruled the decision in 1996. Despite their ruling, the hijab is still a “deeply divisive issue.” Academics believe it is more cultural, while clerics state “it to be obligatory in Islam.” Among women, a collection of photos of the graduating classes of Cairo University show the hijab to become increasingly popular over time, with many more wearers in the class of 2004 than that of 1978.
Al-Refaei appears to agree with the 1994 decision.
“Imposing the Islamic headscarf on primary level students by some people is unacceptable,” he said on TV. “They are just children, they have to move freely and carry out activities. Even God didn’t mandate [wearing] the hijab until a girl reaches the age of puberty.”
Dress codes shot to national attention after a school headmaster wore a jalabiya, which is worn in rural areas, to work. Sharqia Governor Reda Abdel Sallam discovered that even teachers wore “improper outfits.”
Al-Refaei told the nation the government “did not mean to insult or embarrass the teachers.” However, he insisted the teachers and administrators must own “a certain level of professionalism.” He even offered to provide clothes to teachers if they cannot afford the proper attire.
In 2012, one teacher cut the hair off two 12-year-old girls for not wearing a hijab. Berbesh Khairi al-Rawi, a father of one of the girls, filed a complaint against the teacher and removed the girl from the school. In March, the government reprimanded an elementary school teacher after she beat a girl and chopped off some of her hair for not wearing a hijab even though it “is not part of the uniform in state schools.”