By Chelsea Flores
“Look…look at her. Did you see her? It’s truly heartbreaking. I bet she’d be a victim of an honor killing if she didn’t wear it; I saw something on the news about that once. They have no choice, you know? Their fathers make them wear it, so they can marry them off young. Poor oppressed thing. Surely there is something we can do.”
We dwell in a society that is excellent at perpetuating stereotypes. Unfortunately, in the average Westerner’s mindset, the hijab has become a symbol of oppression. In the average Westerner’s vocabulary, the hijab is synonymous with 9/11 and misogyny. Interestingly enough, those that are perhaps most guilty of keeping these stereotypes alive are those that claim some sort of a Judeo-Christian worldview. Overlooked or unbeknownst to the average Westerner, the practice of wearing hijab or veiling oneself not only predates Islam, but is a practice that is alive and well in many different sects and denominations of both Judaism and Christianity.
Since the inception of Judaism, the oldest Abrahamic religion, Jewish women have covered their hair. Today, many Orthodox Jewish women keep this tradition alive by donning snoods, tichels, or wigs after marriage. Head covering is practiced to preserve modesty, as well as to denote status as a married woman. It is believed among certain Orthodox groups that the hair possesses sensual abilities that are reserved for the husband’s eyes alone.
Christian women are commanded in 1 Corinthians 11 to cover their heads. “…Every woman praying or prophesying with her head uncovered disgraces her head, for it is the same as if she were shaven. For if a woman is not covered, let her be shaven. But if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head.” Bible scholars and historians have debated the historical context of this verse; however, many denominations of Christianity interpret this verse literally.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, is depicted in icons and paintings as a veiled woman. Most, if not all, of the female saints honored by the Catholic Church are shown wearing a head covering. For hundreds of years, the Catholic Church required women to cover their heads while within the Church. Hats, scarves, hoods, mantillas, (a sheer lace veil) or even handkerchiefs adorned women’s heads within the Catholic Church until the 1960’s, when that rule was abandoned in pursuit of a more modern Church. However, many Catholic women still choose to cover their heads when attending services.
Perhaps the most obvious example of modern Christian veiling is the mental image we all carry of the Catholic nun, donned in a habit that covers her from head to toe. This outward expression of her inward faith is viewed by the general public as devotion, not oppression or victimization.
Anabaptist communities are home to another form of Christian head covering. Amish and Mennonite women are most easily recognized by their prayer coverings—Kapps—that covers the back of the head. Amish and Mennonite women cover their hair for the sake of modesty and humility, as well as in obedience to Scripture. Anabaptist women dress simply and modestly as a reflection of their humble lifestyle—one that is often without modern conveniences such as electricity or telephones. One of the most recognized Anabaptist communities is in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, a place that tourists frequent year-round to both observe and absorb the simple and peaceful lifestyle of the community.
Neither the Jewish or the Christian woman needs to be rescued from their head covering, nor are they portrayed as such. This whole idea that Muslim women need to be liberated from wearing hijab is ignorant and disrespectful of both her faith and her ability to practice it. Women of all faiths ought to have the right to choose to cover what they wish to cover, and we, as a society, need to maturely embrace that, in order to protect our women. Hijab is not something that should be insulted or looked down upon, it should be held to the highest regard by people of all faiths. Those of us who practice a faith other than Islam need to fully understand and embrace our own heritage in head covering and its significance, both in years past as well as now. We need to stop promoting these dangerous ignorant ideas that equate hijab to extremism. This ignorance will continue to have a detrimental effect on the hearts and minds of our young people, on the media and its portrayal of women, as well as dangerously affect the safety and livelihood of our Muslim sisters who have chosen to represent their faith in this way.
This cycle of ignorance and hate needs to end with us. Promote interfaith discussion. Help to create a safe environment for women of all faiths. Pray for the safety of our veiled sisters; ask God to protect them from acts of discrimination and hate crimes. Stop discussing how to rescue women from the “oppressive” hijab and start defending and supporting the right to choose.
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