Professor Saad Al Deen Al Hilali Image Credit: Supplied

Cairo: A controversial Egyptian academic has drawn sharp criticism for suggesting that Muslim women’s head dress, the hijab, is not obligatory.

Saad Al Deen Al Hilali, a professor of Islamic jurisprudence at Al Azhar University, this week said on private television station ON TV that texts in the Quran on women’s attire are not “definitive” on the headgear. “The Quran does not state a certain thing on this issue,” he added.

His remarks have drawn the ire of several clerics, who accused him of inciting indecency and sedition.

“The Quran is not open to interpretations by anyone according to their whims,” said Abdul Moneim Fouad, a professor of Islamic theology at Al Azhar.

“Even the most biased Orientalists did not say what Dr Al Hilali said on denying that the hijab is mandatory,” Fouad added in a statement. “The woman has no right to interpret the Holy Quran’s verses on the hijab as she likes and wear what she wants.”

Fouad called on Al Azhar, Egypt’s top Islamic institution, to take a stance against Al Hilali.

Al Sayed Al Beshbeeshi, an ultraconservative Salafist, condemned Al Hilali’s view, calling it “poisonous”.

“What Al Hilali said is a distortion of texts of the Quran and the Sunna,” he said in a statement, referring to Islam’s two main sources of jurisprudence. “Al Azhar has to respond to this fatwa that can cause sedition among Muslims.”

The majority of predominantly Muslim Egypt’s women wear the hijab in public. Egypt has seen a wave of Islamism in recent years.

Last month, Al Hilali triggered a major controversy after he had said that Muslims can slaughter birds and offer them as sacrificial meat during Eid Al Adha, a major Islamic festival.

His opinion challenged a widely shared view among Muslim clerics that only cattle can be sacrificed on this occasion.