CAIRO: “Why are women and girls coming to church if they’re wearing revealing and inappropriate clothes?” That was the message of the sermon delivered by Father Daoud Lamei whilst presiding over an Orthodox Easter mass, celebrated by the Coptic Christian community in Egypt.
“I personally think any man, who agrees to his wife leaving her home in that way will be judged before God,” Lamei added. “At least during Christmas, we don’t have to worry because it is cold ... We want it to be cold always.”
The priest’s comments about revealing clothing have sparked a heated debate in the Coptic community. Some have criticized Lamei, while others supported his call for modesty in religious buildings.
“He is specifically attacking Christian women, not explaining the appropriate dress code and attitude for a church in general,” said Maryan Youssef, a 19-year-old student. “Egyptian Christians wear decent clothes, and if some are not dressed properly they should be given guidance, but there aren’t that many.”
Hani Abdo, a religious teacher, said: “I fully agree with Lamei. I am a Christian man, and feel uncomfortable when I see Christian girls wearing inappropriate clothes in church. They are harassed in the streets.” He said: “Christian girls must learn from nuns. The Church is a sacred house that must be respected.”
Father Luke Rady of the Church of Marmina in Assiut, said: “We trust in our daughters and in their commitment to proper clothing.”
Dr. Nabil William, a psychology teacher at the University of Assiut, said Christianity does not impose uniforms on anyone, but always calls for decency.
Following Lamei’s comments, an online campaign called “Cover Up” was set up by Orthodox Copts, calling on women to wear more conservative clothes when in church. In addition, a group of worshippers at a church in Upper Egypt started a seperate online campaign urging young women to dress modestly, which was vehemently criticized by Facebook users for its conservative language.
These campaigns have raised fears among some Christian women that they will be subjected to harassment for their outfits, restrictions on their personal freedom or forced to wear a prescribed uniform.
Lamei’s remarks were dubbed “Christian Salafism” by Ishak Ibrahim, a researcher with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. Ibrahim said such rhetoric hardened attitudes that would “justify harassment” of women simply for their attire. “There is a crisis in clerical education, and many clergymen end up tying piety to modesty,” he said.