Last week Egyptian education minister, Moheb Al-Refai, caused a bit of a stir when his comments regarding the hijab in primary schools were interpreted as a sign of an upcoming ban for girls.
While Al-Refai may not have explicitly called for a ban on the hijab for prepubescent schoolgirls, his sentiments were clear. Stating that Islam does not require girls to wear hijab before puberty, Al-Refai expressed his displeasure with the notion of a uniform hijab.
“Imposing the Islamic headscarf on primary level students by some people is unacceptable,” he said. “They are just children, they have to move freely and carry out activities.”
One has to wonder if these anti-hijab sentiments have anything to do with the ongoing push for hijab bans in Europe. France has banned the hijab in public schools and universities, as well as government institutions, since 2004. Since then, there have been large groups pushing for the same in other European countries, such as the United Kingdom, Germany, and Spain. Belgium and the Netherlands have banned any type of veil covering the face, and there are currently proposals to push for the same in Norway and Switzerland.
The Turkish government, known for its attempts to associate itself culturally and economically with the largely non-Muslim European continent, had a public ban on the hijab since 1997 until it was lifted just last year. Morocco— another western tourist favorite— has some restrictions and discrimination against hijab as well.
Egypt did, in fact, see a ban on hijab for girls under 12 in 1994. The law was deemed unconstitutional two years later by the Supreme Court after much pushback. However, discourse in the country regarding the hijab is quite diverse. Viewpoints vary widely, and earlier this year, a teacher made national news for beating a young girl and cutting off a lock of her hair for not wearing a hijab.
Perhaps Al-Refai has a point, that the hijab should not be pushed on girls before puberty. But the fact is that nothing should be pushed on girls before puberty— even going “hijab-less”.
More importantly, Al-Refai and other Egyptian leaders should be more concerned with the Egyptian public’s issues with their education system, rather than what a 10-year-old girl is wearing to school.