Egypt’s Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa issued a fatwa on Monday that states that growing or shaving a beard is unrelated to Shari’a Islamic law.

The Al Arabiya website on Wednesday reported on the grand mufti’s fatwa, which refers to a previous ruling by Egyptian Islamic scholar Sheikh Mahmoud Shaltout stating that everything relating to clothing or physical appearance should follow “according to one’s living environment.”

Gomaa’s decision comes after preacher Hisham el-Ashry stated on prime-time Egyptian television that women should cover themselves for their own protection and called for the formation of a new religious police force similar to the one in Saudi Arabia.

In the program on Nahar TV last week, Ashry said, “I was once asked: If I came to power, would I let Christian women remain unveiled? And I said: If they want to get raped on the streets, then they can.”

He also said that “in order for Egypt to become fully Islamic, alcohol must be banned and all women must be covered.”

The grand mufti condemned Ashry’s comments, saying, “This sort of idiotic thinking is one that seeks to further destabilize what is already a tense situation.”

“Egypt’s religious scholars have long guided the people to act in ways that conform to their religious commitments, but have never thought this required any type of invasive policing,” Gomaa added.

The Muslim Brotherhood spokesman also put distance between his organization and Ashry stating, “The case of promotion of virtue and prevention of vice is within the jurisdiction of the authorities and not individuals or groups.”

Some Egyptians were upset that Morsi’s government did not strongly condemn Ashry’s views.

“As long as such actions are not seriously condemned by the officials in public speeches, it leaves room for radicals to freely act and impose things on people,” said human rights activist Gamal Eid.

The issue of bearded police officers came to the fore in October 2012 when many policemen protested in front of the Interior Ministry because of their suspension for growing beards. During the reign of former president Hosni Mubarak, the government prohibited police officers from growing beards as he saw Islamists as a threat.

Morsi stated in his presidential campaign that he did not oppose policemen wearing beards and since legislative elections, the Islamists have been fighting to reverse their suspension.

The Egypt Independent website reported at the end of last month that the Alexandria Administrative Court upheld an earlier court decision ordering the government to reinstate police officers who were suspended for growing beards.

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