Following are excerpts from an interview with Egyptian Minister of Religious Endowment Mahmoud Hamdi Zaqzouq, which aired on Al-Hayat 2 TV on November 8, 2010:
Mahmoud Hamdi Zaqzouq: Wearing the niqab is completely forbidden in Islam.
Interviewer: It is forbidden.
Mahmoud Hamdi Zaqzouq: Yes.
Interviewer: So not only is it not a duty – it is even forbidden?
Mahmoud Hamdi Zaqzouq: It is not a duty, not part of the Sunna, and not recommended or anything.
There is another thing – the niqab prevents interpersonal communication. Islam strives to benefit society, and the spreading of the niqab is not in the best interest of society. The niqab is used to commit crimes. This has happened is several Islamic countries. In Somalia, for example, two veiled women blew themselves up in a large mosque, killing more than 50 people. Interpersonal communication is impossible unless people's faces are visible. If I talk to somebody, I want to see how my words affect this person – whether what I say is accepted or causes anger, and so on. The niqab prevents us from communicating with one another.
Interviewer: What is your view on girls who are made to wear the hijab? In Egypt, it is very common these days to make 3-4 year old girls wear the hijab, and if you ask their parents, they say it is in order to get her used to the hijab.
Mahmoud Hamdi Zaqzouq: First of all, this is not required by Islam. Let me tell you a story. The late Sheik Tantawi once told me that he went to inaugurate an Al-Azhar elementary school for girls, in Burj Al-Arab, I think. He told me that he was astounded to see all the girls there wearing the hijab. They were only six years old. So he asked: Why do you force them to wear the hijab? He was told that their parents insist upon it. This is a serious mistake, because a girl of this age wants to experience her childhood and play with her peers. Why would we deprive her of this? This hinders her development and her education. It is totally unnecessary.