07/20/2010, 00.00
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Niqab banned from Syrian universities to counter Islamic extremism

Fully covered women will not be able to register for or teach in universities. “We will not abandon them to extremist ideas and practices,” government official says.
Damascus (AsiaNews/Agencies) – On Sunday, Syria’s Education Ministry has forbidden the country's students and teachers from wearing the niqab, the full Islamic veil that reveals only a woman's eyes, which is rarely used in the country. Headscarves will continue to be allowed.

“We have given directives to all universities to ban niqab-wearing women from registering," a government official in Damascus said. The reason is to avoid the spread of “extremist ideas or practices.”

The niqab is not based on any Islamic religious precept; it is found in neither the Qur‘an nor the Sunnah. However, it is widely used in some Muslim countries or regions like Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and the Arabian Peninsula.

The struggle in Syria, ruled by a secular regime, began in June when as many as 1,200 women teachers wearing niqabs and burkas were transferred out of Syrian schools and universities and reassigned to government offices where they would not come into contact with students.

It's a mistake to view the niqab as a "personal freedom," Bassam Qadhi, a Syrian women's rights activist, said. "It is rather a declaration of extremism," Qadhi added.

“Our students are our children and we will not abandon them to extremist ideas and practices,” an anonymous government official said.

Last week, France's lower house of parliament overwhelmingly approved (355 votes in favour, one against, out of 500) a ban on both the niqab and the burqa. Belgium is the first European country to ban the full body cover.

A debate has opened also in Spain and the United Kingdom.

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