CAIRO (Reuters) - A research body in Egypt's main center of Sunni learning has backed a ruling on when a Muslim woman should lift her "niqab," the veil that virtually hides the whole face, the official MENA news agency reported Saturday.
The issue of when to wear the "niqab" has generated heated debate in mainly Muslim Egypt, where many women cover their hair with the "hijab" but where the numbers of those covering their faces too is increasing, even if still not the norm.
The furor was sparked this month when Sheikh Mohamed Sayed Tantawi, head of Al Azhar, the centuries old Sunni center of learning, told a girl in a classroom to remove the "niqab" -- at first interpreted in some media as an outright ban.
Al-Azhar clarified to say it was a ruling against women in all-female classes wearing the most conservative form of veil.
Saturday, al-Azhar's research center confirmed the ruling and lent its support to "the three cases when a woman is banned from wearing the niqab," MENA reported.
It said the niqab should be removed when: a girl is in an all female class with women teachers; in exam rooms when all students and supervisors are women; and in all-female dormitories.
The "niqab" is associated with highly conservative Islamic schools of thought, the kind of thinking Egypt's government has been wary of since it crushed Islamists in the 1990s seeking to set up a purist Islamic state.
Writing by Edmund Blair