July 20, 2010 in Nation/World

Syria bans face veils at all universities

Move meant to protect country’s secular identity
Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Arab women wear the niqab, a face-covering Islamic veil, as they shop in Souk Al-Hamediah, Damascus’ oldest market, on Monday.
(Full-size photo)

DAMASCUS, Syria – Syria has forbidden the country’s students and teachers from wearing the niqab – the full Islamic veil that reveals only a woman’s eyes – taking aim at a garment many see as political.

The ban shows a rare point of agreement between Syria’s secular, authoritarian government and the democracies of Europe: Both view the niqab as a potentially destabilizing threat.

“We have given directives to all universities to ban niqab-wearing women from registering,” a government official in Damascus told the Associated Press on Monday.

The order affects both public and private universities and aims to protect Syria’s secular identity, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the issue. Hundreds of primary school teachers who were wearing the niqab at government-run schools were transferred last month to administrative jobs, he added.

The ban, issued Sunday by the Education Ministry, does not affect the hijab, or headscarf, which is far more common in Syria than the niqab’s billowing black robes.

The issue has been debated across Europe, where France, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands are considering banning the niqab on the grounds it is degrading to women.

Opponents say such bans violate freedom of religion and personal choice, and will stigmatize all Muslims.

In Damascus, a 19-year-old university student who would give only her first name, Duaa, said she hopes to continue wearing her niqab to classes when the next term begins in the fall, despite the ban.

Otherwise, she said, she will not be able to study.

“The niqab is a religious obligation,” said the woman. “I cannot go without it.”

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