I saw an interesting thread over at Ginny’s Thoughts and Things about an encounter the head of Egypt’s leading Islamic University had with a high school aged girl. You can read about it here and here. What it boils down to in the simplest of terms is he asked a young high school aged girl to remove her face veil in his presence and when she demurred, he used the full weight of his position as the head of a major state supported institution to have it removed against her will. Whether you agree with the article of clothing the young woman was wearing or not, the issue is, up to the time of that encounter with Sheikh Tantawi, it was not against the law of her land to wear it, but because her appearance offended him he brought the full action of the State against her. It appears that even in Egypt, despite its claims of Islamic roots, the State supersedes individual freedom that Egyptian culture, religion and LAW give to the citizens of that country, and the sensitivities of a civil servant of the State, albeit a powerful one can determine what is legal and illegal.
After reading this news, I wonder what came first, Tantawi’s indignation towards this young woman or Egyptian men and society’s disrespect of Egyptian women in general? Sexual harassment is a big problem in Egyptian society, and Tantawi’s heavy handed approach with this young woman, which has caught the attention of the society, probably serves as an example of how Egyptian men view their relationship with women. I question whether the Sheikh is the leader of this movement to denigrate women’s rights or is he a follower of a mob trend in society to intimidate and harass women? It is a sorry state of affairs for an esteemed position or rank in scholarly Islam, and no amount of backtracking can undo the damage done to the young woman or to his position.