Hala Shiha, a 39-year-old actress who previously abandoned acting to live a traditional religious life, shattered the Muslim world as she announced her comeback and expressed a willingness to shun her traditional Muslim attire.
She suspended her career at its height for the first time back in 2006, when she fully embraced a Muslim lifestyle, including by wearing a more conservative niqab to disguise her face, all throughout an uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak and the two years that the Muslim Brotherhood executed power until President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi took office in 2013.
Shiha, despite the political change, with the military-backed government speaking out against political Islam, continued to wear Muslim clothes and stressed afterwards that her religious outlook had nothing to do with any ties to Islamist groups.
Five years later, Shiha, well-known for her sentimental romantic roles, opted to take off her hijab, although stressing the move was “not meant to insult or offend anyone,” The Associated Press quoted her as saying.
“Just because I took off my hijab, doesn't mean I am against it. Not at all,” she said, citing personal reasons for the decision and adding that since she is an actress by profession, she does not want to be “dragged into political conflicts.”
Shiha’s move as well her rhetoric have ignited a real storm in the Muslim community, with conservative preacher Sameh Abdel-Hameed noting that a whole legion of girls “trusted her as a virtuous sister,” viewing her as a perfect role model.
Khadija Khairat el-Shatter, the daughter of a jailed Muslim Brotherhood leader, wrote a long-winded post on Facebook calling Shiha her “soul twin” and inviting her to appear in public against donning the veil and thereby refute the claims. She referred to the reports on Shiha’s gesture as “rumors,” concluding by saying that they “slaughtered her with a blunt knife.”
Mohammed el-Sawy, a Salafist preacher, went further, posting a video of himself crying and, in a quivering voice, calling on Shiha to backtrack and repent. He then demonstratively belittled the actor’s decision, saying she succumbed to “worldly pleasures.” A number of Twitter users echoed the same line of thought, calling on her in Arabic to demonstrate “steadfastness in her obedience.”
A recent video on Instagram, in which Shiha, who is not new to online fame in her country either, expresses a desire to change her hair color, appears to have struck an even deeper chord with Internet users. Her family, however, has acknowledged that she had recently created an account, which showcases not a single image of her wearing a hijab.
There were also voices congratulating Shiha on her determined comeback, with one user referring to it in Arabic as an “exit to life,” and many others explicitly welcoming her back and summoning “God to bless and guide” her.
The Egyptian society is currently deeply entangled in a large-scale debate centered on women’s roles, among other issues. In particular, the country has been lately polarized over whether wearing hijabs is an option or an obligation, in light of a spike in sexual harassment incidents on Egyptian streets.