Shaikh Ali Abu al-Hasan, the former head of the Fatwa Council at the Islamic Studies Institute (ISI) in Cairo, said although it was not required by Islam for women to cover their faces, Al-Azhar University should allow women to chose what they want to wear.
"No official has the right to order a young lady to remove a form of dress that was sanctioned by none other than Umar ibn al-Khattab, except for the purposes of identification for security reasons," he said.
"The niqab [face veil] is not in contravention of the sharia or Egyptian law."
Shaikh Safwat Hijazi, a scholar and preacher, said he would personally sue anyone who prevented his daughter or wife wearing full niqab from going about her daily life, including entering government offices.
"Preventing a woman from wearing what she wants is a crime," Hijazi said. "Whoever says the niqab is a custom is not respectable."
Husam Bahgat, of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, said the series of government decisions against the niqab are "arbitrary" and while designed to combat extremism, only end up being discriminatory against women.
"[Veiled female students] are barred from government subsidised housing and nutrition because they are considered extremists," he said.
But other Egyptian scholars, such as the ISI's Abd ul-Hamid al-Atrash, said there would be nothing wrong with such a ruling at a time when the anonymity afforded by the face veil was being abused by people intent on causing trouble.
"There have even been instances of men entering [schools for girls] under cover. So there is no reason why a ruling that benefits the people and the nation cannot be issued", al-Atrash said.
And Abd ul-Moati Bayumi, a scholar in an al-Azhar affiliated research centre, said most scholars would back Tantawi if he issued the order.
"We all agree that niqab is not a religious requirement," Bayoumi said.
"Taliban forces women to wear the niqab ... . The phenomena is spreading" and it has to be confronted.
"The time has come."
Source: Al Jazeera English