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Niqab ban at Tunisian universities incites debate

By Monia Ghanmi for Magharebia in Tunis – 14/10/11

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A heated debate flared in Tunisia after a female student wearing a niqab was denied admission at Sousse University. Hundreds of Salafists last week-end protested at universities in Tunis, Sousse, Bizerte and Sfax.

The Sousse University was stormed by a large group of "religious extremists", who mounted a violent attack on the general registrar of the university, said Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities Moncef Abdul Jalil.

"We cannot deal with students when we don't know what they look like," he said. "We need to know the identity of students and their faces must be exposed so we know to whom we are speaking. The veil is not a problem, but the niqab is a problem."

Professor Mohamed Guantassi agreed. He complained of the spreading prevalence of wearing the niqab inside universities, adding that it hinders communication between students and teachers.

He told Magharebia, "As a professor, I do not allow any student to study without seeing their face so I can know the extent of their comprehension of the lesson and interest in everything put forth in the classroom."

He called on the dean and the ministry of higher education to issue an edict prohibiting wearing the niqab at various Tunisian university institutions, in line with the ministry's 2010 decision.

In April, Tunisian Education Minister Taieb Baccouche announced that the Tunisian niqab ban would remain in place, emphasising that the garment compromised academic integrity.

Tunisian Grand Mufti Othman Batikh offered his judgment, saying last July that "the niqab was not from Islam at all".

In a Saturday statement, the education ministry settled for condemning the violations endured by the university campus of the College of Arts and Humanities at Sousse, emphasising that it did not view the niqab from a religious or political perspective, but rather from a purely academic and pedagogical one.

It noted that the regulations in force at Tunisian universities necessitate verification of the identity of students before entering the institution.

For their part, the General Syndicate of Higher Education under the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) expressed their desire for a balance between freedom of dress and ease of communication in university, but also supported the niqab ban.

Interim President Foued Mebazaa called for "ensuring the factors of proper functioning of academic institutions, further improving their performance, and safeguarding them from anything that would derail performance".

Many associations and organisations – such as Society for the Defence of Veiled Women, the Freedom and Fairness Organisation, the Muslim Youth Society, and the Association of Muslim Women – expressed support for female students who wear the niqab, defending their right to education.

Meanwhile, student Marwa Saàdi insisted on her right to wear the niqab, saying that the decision banning it was illegal and an attack on the freedom of belief and dress.

"There is no law in Tunisia banning wearing the niqab or requiring any person to show their face," she said. "Furthermore, I do not think this would be a barrier to communication between the professor and the student in a niqab. I am personally ready to interact with all professors in the classroom."

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  1. Anonymous thumb

    nourdine boulabi 2014-3-9

    In the name of God the most gracious the most merciful. This law to ban Niqab in Tunisia and in Islamic countries is a challenge to the verses of God. Banning hijab is not permissible; so fear God! This is a big crime. Fear God o scholars! You will meet God and will hold you accountable for everything. No, no, no to banning Niqab! My sister, don't remove Niqab! There is no God but Allah, Mohamed is the messenger of God.


  2. Anonymous thumb

    Essid 2012-3-20

    [3] Continuation to Safira-This unwanted treatment is unfair because every human being should be treated equally regardless of their gender and clothing, but this treatment still exists all the same, and women need to determine whether or not they want to face this treatment (and perhaps its nefarious consequences) and how they will handle this treatment. I know this may sound paranoid, but there was even an article on this website about the hijab, and more than one young woman had posted a comment to say that she had given up wearing the hijab because she did not like the way men were treating her. (I am sure that you can find this article if you search the website.) Sixthly, life is full of battles, and we, as human beings, have to choose which battles we will fight and which battles are not worth wasting our time on. Dealing with the sort of unwanted attention a niqab can bring is one of the battles that I think is not worth the time, but that is a decision that each woman has to make for herself, and I will support each of them in whatever decision they make so long as it is their individual decision and not imposed on them by a policy or a husband or their family or so on. Even though, I do not at all support the forcing of women to wear the niqab, I do support a woman’s right to choose to wear the clothing that she wants to wear and to be treated respectfully and as an equal.


  3. Anonymous thumb

    Essid 2012-3-20

    [2] Continuation to Safira- Fourthly, in fact, many people in the West have only two concerns with regards to the niqab: the first concern is that it should be the woman’s choice to wear or not to wear the niqab (that is to say, not forced upon here by her parents or her husband) and the second concern is that wearing the niqab does not lead to the woman being treated differently (i.e., the woman should not be the victim of discrimination or harassment). Fifthly, personally, as a Maghrebian and as someone who was raised in the Muslim faith, I do not want my daughters to wear the niqab or hijab, but I respect that when they become adults, this will be their choice, not mine. I say this just to demonstrate the diversity of opinions here in the Maghreb. The reason that I do not want them to wear the niqab or the hijab is that I have seen the sort of behaviour this provokes from some men. I will not say all men or even a majority of men, but a large enough number that it is a cause of worry for me. This behaviour amounts to treating women who wear the niqab or hijab as sub-humans, as vessels for reproduction and as slaves for doing housework. I understand that this may not be the intention of the niqab or hijab, but I believe that my daughters and women in general should be aware of the unwanted treatment certain clothing can attract. (The same goes for mini-skirts, which can make women the object of unwanted sexual attention.)


  4. Anonymous thumb

    Essid 2012-3-20

    [1] To Safira- You are mistaken when you say that the West is anti-niqab. Firstly, it is impossible to talk about the “West” as if it were a homogenous whole just like it is impossible to talk about the “Arab world”. There are over 2 billion people who make up the “West” and their points of view are as diverse as any other people of the world. Secondly, there are most certainly some people who are not only against the niqab, but arabophobic or Islamophobic. This is largely due to a disgusting mix of ignorance and racism and disinformation from the media and in the political arena. Sensationalism has always been the tool of choice for demagogues, so it is no surprise that the voices of these people are often the loudest. However, this does not mean that these people are in the majority or even represent a sizeable population. Nevertheless, sometimes he who speaks loudest gets the most attention, and as such, certain countries of the West have adopted policies that are anti-niqab (France) or anti-minaret (Switzerland). Thirdly, but, once again, there are several countries where these “loud voices” have failed to dominate the political and social arenas. For example, in New York, there was an effort by certain Islamophobes to prevent the opening of a Muslim community centre two blocks away from Ground Zero (where the 9/11 terrorist act took place). However, almost all of the country as well as the government officials defended the right of the Muslims to build the community centre. Moreover, in Ottawa and Washington D.C., two cities I have visited, you can see women in the niqab and it seems that no one minds.


  5. Anonymous thumb

    عبد الرحمن 2012-2-14

    It is Allah (alone) Whose help can be sought against you! I suggest that the ministry separate students who wear niqab in a separate class or course. A woman doctor would explain the course to them. No males should be allowed to enter and in this way they can remove niqab in the classroom and the problem is thus solved. If it is not solved, this is a war against the religion of God. It is Allah (alone) Whose help can be sought! We ask God to guide them or shake earth beneath their feet!


  6. Anonymous thumb

    علي اكبر 2011-12-1

    This is a storm in a cup made by those who don’t know the reality of sharia. Their dress is a shirt, trousers and Afghani look, there is no other God but Allah! Saudi Arabia is the hotbed of agency and plotting against Islam. It could have been possible to tackle the issue of Niqab scientifically without extortion of wrong use. Fitna is sleeping, may God curse those who stir it!


  7. Anonymous thumb

    SAFIRA 2011-10-31

    The election results are clearly going to change things. Ghannouchi was very clear yesterday in his interview when he reassured the tourism associations that there will be no constraints on tourism and that everyone has the inalienable right to dress as they want. This general freedom, which extends to tourist women, can only equally extend to the pious girls who wear the niqab. The latter must therefore have free access to the university. The niqab is thus going to be worn more commonly and found in the Tunisian women’s closets as it was in these recent years in Egypt. The bankruptcy of Western capitalism demonstrates the futility of the “values” of this system in contract to the virtues that wearing the niqab reveals.


  8. Anonymous thumb

    Yidir 2011-10-15

    You have to understand that there is something like public order and general decency: If somebody walks naked on the streets he is gone be fined or even put in jail, no matter his religion or ideology, he can be a naturist teaching biology or a hindu sadhu with millions of followers, that wouldn't make a difference. Walking with a covered face in public is the other extrem.Its not decent and its against the public moral and a lots op poeple take offence of it....But what i don't understand is what does a woman in a nikab wants going to college??!!...to take part in society..i guess...so taking part means interacting with poeple,talking and listening to them...look too and get looked at....And at least being recogniseble....In Europe and other places all over the world, women and men who choose the path of God and the way of celibacy and altruism, don't go the univesity to study Political science or Finance and Management. They get dressed up in habits,hijab in arabic, and they go to a tempel or a monastery and live there in harmonious isolation away from the manipulations and temptations of society, looking after the sick and needy. You can't have it both ways.....Greed and grace....the other problem with those people,apart from moral corruption, is that they are so badminded and sick that they project their negative thoughts of shame and prejudice on everybody else. They have a problem of a sexualised wordlview.They see every human action in a sexual pornographical context even religion....nikab has nothing to do with faith and decency its greedy porn!!!


  9. Anonymous thumb

    Mohamed 2011-10-15

    Personally, I am a practicing Muslim and I can tell you that this sect is spreading more and more within the Muslim community and the authorities and the imams need to take action as quickly as possible to do away with this sect! Algeria is infested with this sect, and we owe all of this to the television station Iqraa, which broadcasts false information, which is misunderstood by ignorant people.


  10. Anonymous thumb

    CORSAIR 2011-10-15

    The controversy is just beginning. It will not prevent the niqab from being worn more and more. With access to greater freedom, a number of young women are more and more attracted to wearing the niqab and are taking refuge behind their rights and personal liberties. The niqab has taken root in the streets and is winning the schools and universities. Prohibiting it is not just for show. The issue is why are they made to cover themselves as such. One thing is for sure: the niqab is gaining ground.


  11. Anonymous thumb

    Mohamed Tangiers 2011-10-14

    For an academic I would have thought that professor Mohamed Guantassi would have carried out academic research concluding that there is actually a problem or hindrance with the niqab in university learning, if so, who is it a problem for? The student in this case clearly has no problem with it, so if the problem is with the professor perhaps he is the one who should be denied access, it is he who has motivated mindless attacks on the university by people who are just as mindless in their attacks as the university is mindless for their attacks on the student’s rights to wear what she has a legal right to wear, muslim clothing or not is not the issue here, the fact is she has broken no law in her choice of clothing, I’m not so sure about the university’s actions to deny her access though


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