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May 24, 2007 Clip No. 1479

Egyptian Intellectuals Discuss the Hijab

Following are excerpts from a debate intellectuals about the hijab, which aired on Heya TV on May 24, 2007:

Bahija Hussein, Egyptian journalist: Despite this surge of the hijab and of religious clothing, the state of moral values in Egypt is at its worst, and women are harassed in the streets, even if they wear the hijab or the niqab.

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A woman is free to wear whatever she wants, under one condition: Just as I respect a woman who wears the hijab, and I have friends who wear the hijab... Society should respect the fact that I do not wear the hijab.

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What kind of man is sexually aroused by a little bit of hair and needs to be protected? The Mufti of Australia said that a woman who does not wear the hijab is like a piece of abandoned meat, and that cats should not be blamed if they sink their teeth into it. I say to him: No, this is a disgrace. I'm not an abandoned piece of meat, and men are not hungry cats.

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Moderator: In Egypt, we feel there is intimidation that exceeds what is reasonable - through talk about religion, the torments [of hell], and the world to come.

Su'ad Saleh, Al-Azhar University scholar: This is the extremist stream, which I am against.

Moderator: The hijab comes within this context.

Su'ad Saleh: I'm very much against this extremist stream. I paid a personal price because of this stream. When I said that the niqab had nothing whatsoever to do with Islam, they called to kill me. A certain [government] official – not even an imam – stepped up to the podium of a certain mosque, and said: "If I ever see Sa'ud Saleh, I will kill her." I received telephone threats in my home. Despite all this, I have never retracted my fatwa, which says that the niqab has nothing whatsoever to do with Islam.

Moderator: But this school of thought which you oppose is the one that prevails, while moderate Islam is nowhere to be seen.

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Su'ad Saleh: When I see an unwrapped piece of candy... Let's be completely honest. When I see an unwrapped piece of candy in a display window – what am I bound to do? Islam determines rules of social behavior for the relations between men and women in society. It did not say to the woman: Close up within yourself.

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In the days of the Prophet, women were not closed up or isolated. The woman went to the mosque, went to religious meetings, and participated in wars, and raids, as well as in the economy. Therefore, Islam is against the isolation of women.

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Bahija Hussein: In my capacity as the "unwrapped piece of candy" - since I'm not wearing a hijab - or in the words of the mufti of Australia, the "abandoned piece of meat" – I must oppose these statements. I am a human being. I'm not a piece of candy and not a piece of meat. I am a reasonable, adult human being.

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I made a choice about the way I look. I made this choice freely and wisely.

Moderator: Does the hijab rob the woman of her individual freedom?

Bahija Hussein: Allow me to finish. No one is entitled to criticize me for not wearing a hijab. It is between me and my God.

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The hijab of our times – which is prevalent in Egypt – does not just erase the girl's mind, but also her humanity. It erases the humanity of the girl by viewing her as merely 'awra [parts of the body that must remain covered], and the cause of all disasters and calamities, and by believing that having her wear this all-encompassing tent is what the religion is all about.

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