Students and staff at Cairo University, Egypt’s largest public university, will no longer be asked to disclose their religion when filling out paperwork, as the university is taking steps to prevent religious discrimination.

The university’s President, Gaber Nassar, told local press last week that the field pertaining to religion on all university certificates and forms for students and staff will be removed from October 11 onwards.

Nassar explained that the decision had become a “necessity” after hearing reports that students were being asked to reveal their religion and sect, adding that “it was discovered that some students were denied admission” based on such information.

“We noticed several complaints about the possibility of discrimination between students due to the mention of religion.

“When a student is asked to write his religion, he may feel that he will be discriminated against because of it,” he said.

Nassar, who is also a law professor, said that the decision was in line with Egypt’s constitution and the university’s regulations, as identifying a person’s religion was not required under either one.

“At Cairo University, we don’t take random decisions, we take decisions to amend illegal or unconstitutional situations,” he added.

According to Nassar, Christian students had allegedly not been accepted into a postgraduate program affiliated with the university due to their religious beliefs.

In Muslim-majority Egypt, the Christian minority only comprises 10 percent of the overall population.

“Why should I treat the student on the basis of his religion? The decision [about removing the mention of religion] was taken and we will not revoke it. Those who do not agree with it can go to court to block it,” said Nasser.

He added that until then, all faculties and university-affiliated institutions at all academic levels are expected to abide by the decision; those who fail to do so will face disciplinary action.

While many have expressed their support of the university’s stance, there are also those who oppose it.

Egypt’s Higher Education Minister Ashraf el-Sheehi criticised the move, calling it “seditious”, reported University World News.

“Basically, there is not a single paper in universities requiring specifying one’s religion,” he said.

“The mention of religion is only limited to official papers such as those related to marriage. The university work has nothing at all to do with religion. Therefore, the decision to cancel the religion category deals with a problem that does not exist.”

This isn’t the first time that Cairo University has made a controversial move, however: last year the university banned its female lecturers from wearing the full-face Islamic veil (or niqab) inside classrooms, which sparked protests, though the ban was later upheld in court.

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