Wearing Hijab

I can understand why some Christian women are attracted to hijab. It is a code for modest dress; it is attractive and allows for the wearing of colour and pattern, if one is not inclined to be Plain; for those of Eastern European or Middle-Eastern descent, it is an appropriate ethnic dress. I am of Northern stock myself. The dress of Scottish women two hundred and fifty years ago shocked the Quakers of Phildelphia when the clans started to emigrate to the New World, so that ancestral model is not one for a truly modest woman to look to. (The issue was too much free-flowing hair and way too much bosom and ankle.) A more Quakerly approach suits me, having dressed in black as a priest for several years.

I suppose one question is if Christian women should adopt hijab. I would say that strictly speaking, no, because it implies an adherence to Islam. But adopting hijab-style principles and dress would always be appropriate. The covered head and modest garment are correct in terms of Biblical teachings, as well as Christian practice for centuries.

How much is too much? Christian and Jewish women were never required to cover their faces as a religious principle; niqab is inappropriate for Christians as a spiritual discipline.  I would avoid anything that implied an ethnicity that would mislead someone. This could be an important issue in some Moslem countries. Christians should avoid dressing too native lest it lead to misunderstanding. I knew an American man who got taken in by the police for refusing to go to the mosque when he was found in the market in Arab dress, in Saudi Arabia.

At the same time, don’t dress in such a way that it would embarrrass your Moslem friends. The hijab is a sign of modesty, and a rather strict one at that. Cover from neck to ankle and past the elbow. If you are comfortable wearing pants, then the top you wear should cover down to your thighs, and be loose. The bosom should not be emphasized, nor the hips. I would avoid excessive jewelry, too; it isn’t modest to show off either wealth or fashion sense.

It is up to you to wear the hijab bonnet or simply a scarf draped to cover the hair. For those with delicate or fragile hair, the bonnet may rub too much and break your hair. It would be best to pull your hair back gently, and tie and pin the scarf rather than wearing two layers of pressure. If you have really long or thick hair, avoid the camel hump bun at the top of the head.

Make-up, if you wear it at all, is best kept natural and soft – no long lashes, obvious colours on the eyes, or china doll blush. Lipstick should be natural and light. It is not modest to draw too much attention to your features. The hijab, close to the face, already acts as a frame. Choose the fabric colour to complement your natural features, not clash.

My main concern is that while your body and hair are covered, your face is exposed to UV rays. I can’t see wearing a bonnet or large-brimmed hat with hijab, although the hat would be a good idea outdoors! A bad sunburn is dangerous, so be sure to wear a sunscreen or carry a parasol.

Those who are already wearing hijab-type dress may want to add to this, or corrct me if I’m wrong. I’d be interested to hear from you. why did you choose Eastern dress? How do other people, Christian and Moslem, react? Has it caused you problems?

Be assured that I am supportive of your decision. Modesty is always right!

Plain, Niqab, Hijab

Quebec wants to ban the wearing of chador and niqab. That is, they want to outlaw women covering their faces.

Most of us are aware that Islamic custom calls for women to be modest, even to the point where they don’t show their faces. Not many Muslim women who live in the West do this. While many practice the headcovering and modesty of hijab, they don’t feel called to cover completely. The government of Quebec, as well as other places, wants to prevent women from covering to the point of anonymity.

Why does the government think they can legislate religious practice and modesty? It’s just none of their business. If I want to go out in public in a hat with a full net veil, are they going to suspect me of plotting sedition? Western women used to veil under certain circumstances – getting married, wearing widow’s weeds (a long black dress, hat and face veil were common until about eighty years ago) and when they travelled in dusty or contagious conditions. A face veil that partially or fully concealed the features was considered fashionable at certain times.

This singling out of Muslim women is nothing but xenophobia. It is prejudice and hostility toward the religious practices of other cultures. There seems to be an assumption that the woman has no choice in this (according to a columnist here in Ontario) and that women do it because their husbands order them to. This shows a fundamental misunderstanding of Islam. Not all Islamic women practice hijab or niqab; not all Islamic men wear the beard or head cover. It is an individual choice. Certainly, some husbands may hypocritically order their wives in hijab or niqab while looking thoroughly Westernized themselves, but that is between the couple and maybe their religious community. Matters of family structure are not public matters unless they cross the line into abuse and violence.

My concern is that those of us who cover in other ways are going to be regarded with suspicion and come under scrutiny. We all look alike to some people, we cover too much of our hair and our bodies; there’s nothing to make us look like individuals. Which is the point. My individuality has nothing to do with my attire, my hair colour, or how much face or ankle I show. It has everything to do with being the person God wants me to be.

Traditional and Plain women need to stand up for their Muslim sisters’ right to choose niqab, the chador, the burkha and hijab. Their rights to religious expression and freedom are just as important as ours. If you want tolerance, you must practice tolerance.