My ears are still doing that weird void of silence things after an assault in the cinema at Cairo’s glamour mall, City Stars. I know Egypt has only two levels of volume: off and 10 and like the rest of the region, love nothing more than a good blast of polar-strength air-con. Loud and cold is probably not the best environment to enjoy a movie, though, especially the three-hour doomsday saga of 2010.

As interesting as the movie were the clientele: being the holiday period of Eid, Cairo is once again full of holidaying Arab guys (that’s Saudi Arabians, for you and me) with their long hair and fat wallets. Also, one of our gang was shocked to see a munaqqabah in the cinema. The niqab is the all-encompassing dress some women wear that leave only their eyes visible, and lately I’ve been noticing women on the metro who go the final step and have a piece of black gauze over their eyes so they can see out but you can’t see in.

What’s so weird about a woman wearing the niqab in the cinema? I asked, only to be reminded that many in this super-conservative group consider movies and music to be haram, or against Islam.

Recently, the imam of Al-Azhar mosque, the esteemed seat of Islamic learning, banned the niqab from female-only classrooms in the mosque’s schools, secondary schools and university institutions. The debate amongst bloggers is raging.

I don’t know a lot about it: I do know women wearing the niqab aren’t so keen to sit beside the obviously non-Muslim foriegner, though I had a chat with a nice young munaqqabah last week on the train. Locals can’t understand my fascination with the topic, but I maintain that what people don’t understand, they fear. And in a time when the world is in religious upheaval, understanding and appreciation are the only ways toward acceptance and tolerance.

(Pic credit: Bikyamisr)