CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

No, Christian Women Wearing Scarves is NOT the Same As Muslim Women Wearing the Hijab

Mar 23, 2019

The only thing that bothers me more than seeing Muslim women being treated as second class citizens is ignorant Christians being utterly clueless when it comes to head coverings. I have written on this matter before but it seems I have to keep writing on this, as rather uninformed and biblically illiterate Christians keep trying to tell me that the two are identical and think it’s no big deal.

Talk about facepalm moments. I really tire of the inability of those who call themselves Christians to actually think clearly for a change instead of just parroting the world’s wisdom on such issues. But with yet more clueless wonders pushing this silliness, I guess I have to once again write on this – hopefully for the last time.

The latest reason why some of these undiscerning folks are pushing this nonsense has to do with the Christchurch massacre. Not only has the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern spent much of her time of late “identifying” with the Muslim community there (which comprises a mere one percent of the entire population) by wearing head coverings, but all sorts of others have gotten into the act as well.

In one of the most incredible displays of dhimmitude and cluelessness thus far, last night on various NZ television news programs a number of the female newsreaders actually wore head coverings to show some solidarity with the victims and their loved ones.

I have written about similar acts of dhimmitude before. One had to do with a female professor at a leading American evangelical college. She actually wore a head covering in class and to church to show support for Muslims. As I said back then:

Spare us this “embodied solidarity” silliness. She really wants to wear a hijab to identify with and show solidarity to Muslim women? A symbol of oppression, misogyny, and second class citizenship? Get real Hawkins. Any genuine Christian would want to see Muslim women liberated and emancipated from their enslavement, not stand with them and celebrate their wretched condition.
billmuehlenberg.com/2015/12/14/20417/

In another piece I penned on this, “Islam, the Hijab, and Clueless Westerners,” I quoted Muslim Ayaan Hirsi Ali:

Islam dictates that a man must command obedience from his women, from his wives and daughters and they must submit to him…This belief is part of a larger one – that individuals don’t matter, that their choices and desires are meaningless, particularly if the individuals are women. This sense of honor and male entitlement drastically restricts women’s choices. A whole culture and its religion weigh down every Muslim but the heaviest weight falls disproportionately on women’s shoulders…The Muslim veil, the different sorts of masks and beaks and burkas are all gradations of mental slavery…The veil deliberately marks women as private and restricted property, non-persons…It restrains them, confines them, grooms them for docility. A mind can be as cramped as a body can be.
billmuehlenberg.com/2016/01/01/20532/

That Western women who fought so long and hard for their own liberation would now willingly put themselves back under the yoke of oppression and second-class citizenship utterly boggles my mind. Has feminism gone full circle now, with voluntary submission to the most patriarchal and misogynist religion ever?

Christian women and head coverings

But here the main issue is whether Christian women who might wear a head covering are in some ways identical to their Muslim counterparts. Are these two things morally equivalent? Sadly, some clueless Christians seem to think so. Let me try to explain the very real differences.

The New Testament does not speak a whole lot to this issue, but we have one passage that must be considered in this regard. In 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 Paul has a lengthy discussion about women and head coverings. He speaks of how men should not have their heads covered, while women should, especially during worship.

Verses 5 and 6 for example say this: “But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.”

Anyone who knows the slightest bit about biblical scholarship knows that there are plenty of exegetical, hermeneutical, textual and theological questions that arise here. Indeed, there are now small libraries devoted to how exactly we understand this passage.

One of the biggest matters has to do with how much of this is cultural, pertaining to the culture of the day, and therefore not directly transferable to our own culture of today. That is, what are the biblical principles being taught here that transcend time and cultures, and which matters are specific to a certain time and place?

A look at any decent commentary will reveal what a complex, nuanced and ongoing discussion this actually is. Thomas Schreiner comments: “Paul addresses a matter of cultural importance regarding the adornment of women, and it relates particularly to issues of honour and shame which played a significant role in the Graeco-Roman world. The text before us is especially difficult because cultural practices and theological matters collide.”

N. T. Wright looks at many possible interpretative options here and then says: “That’s a lot of ‘perhaps’es. We can only guess at the dynamics of the situation – which is of course what historians always do. It’s just that here we are feeling our way in the dark more than usual.” Or as Gordon Fee reminds us, “this passage is full of notorious exegetical difficulties.”

Craig Blomberg puts it this way: “This passage is probably the most complex, controversial, and opaque of any text of comparable length in the New Testament. A survey of the history of interpretation reveals how many different exegetical options there are for a myriad of questions and should inspire a fair measure of tentativeness on the part of the interpreter.”

As to the actual practice of female head covering, Anthony Thiselton reminds us, “In Roman society the wearing of hoods (or veils, or some parallel symbolic expression) marked a married woman as both ‘respectable’ and deserving of respect.” All good commentators spend a lot of time on the historical and cultural situation back then.

Suffice it to say that there are plenty of these cultural matters which must be discussed as we try to learn what Paul is saying here. Timeless theological truths need to be separated from time-bound cultural practices and beliefs. But I have already penned an introductory piece on all this, so I ask my readers to go here: billmuehlenberg.com/2017/04/29/difficult-bible-passages-1-corinthians-112-16/

However, there are other passages we can examine which speak about the need for modesty. It should go without saying that ALL Christians – men and women – should dress modestly, but some texts do remind Christian women about the importance of all this. Peter for example reminds us that such modesty for women is as much an internal virtue as an outward action.

In 1 Peter 3:3-4 we find these words: “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”

Another key text here is 1 Timothy 2:1-15. Once again, proper worship is the context of the passage. Verses 9-10 say this: “I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.”

Again, we see two main points being made in such passages. One, this is all about modesty, which is always a Christian virtue, and something Christian men and women both should aim for. Two, the setting for female head coverings is worship. This is NOT about how women must dress while at home or when shopping at Woolworths or when they go to work.

In sum, there is absolutely NO comparison between the two. A Christian woman may – if she so chooses – wear a scarf as part of modest dress. There is no clear imperative in this, and Christian modesty involves much more than just wearing a scarf. Indeed, modesty is as much an attitude as anything.

In Islam however the hijab, along with the burqa, etc., are very much part of how Islam regards women: as second-class citizens. Even if some Muslim women choose to wear these things, that does not change the reality: these are part of an oppressive and demeaning institution which really does dehumanise women.

Worse yet, when Western non-Muslim women, and Christian women, wear head coverings to “identify with” and show support for Muslims, they are really doing exactly what the political ideology of Islam wants: becoming dhimmis. They are becoming subservient dupes to the oppressive religion of Islam, whether they realise it or not.

In my last article I spoke of ‘creeping sharia’ in New Zealand. Perhaps ‘steamrolling sharia’ might have been a better term. Some folks there seem intent on turning the place into a Kiwi Caliphate. One person who lives there has put together a list of indicators of this which is frightening indeed, and well worth reading and sharing: www.lifesitenews.com/opinion/troubling-signs-new-zealand-shooting-is-being-used-to-turn-my-country-into-islamic-state?fbclid=IwAR2j4E1zkciOsOycyJwz3InFmU-KZUR8dozDCmR8_7GD6UPZld-4HY_JjhM

Dhimmitude is what keeps far too many people already oppressed and enslaved. We really do not need clueless wonders in the West to add to this. And that includes clueless Christians.

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15 Responses to No, Christian Women Wearing Scarves is NOT the Same As Muslim Women Wearing the Hijab

  • Bill, there’s just nothing to be added to what you’ve written here. There’s no adding to, correction of, or clarifying your comments on this topic. You covered it perfectly well, so “right on!”

    Bondage to sin before the light of the gospel of Jesus entered my heart and understanding and freed me was more than enough pain and grief to bear. God help me that I would ever look for some other dumbell appeasement with the world that would bring me under nonsensical bondage yet again just to fit into their mold.

  • Dear Bill,

    Thank you for writing this. Very informative.

    For Romans, yes married women should be covered. But Tertullian tells us as Christians that unmarried women should be covered as well.

    And I agree Christian women have the choice to be covered or not, it’s just sad when a Christian woman of Middle Eastern background wearing a head covering is abused in the street. This is because of ignorance of Christian tradition.

    Last point, modesty is always a good thing, even when practiced by non-Christians. Like opposition to the homosexual agenda is always a good thing even when it comes from Jews, Muslims or atheists like Mr Bolt and Mr Latham.

  • Wearing a headscarf is not oppression in and of itself. Just because a religion compels women to wear it does not mean that women are treated as ‘second-class citizens’.

  • Thanks Jannie. Of course I nowhere said that ‘wearing a headscarf is oppression in and of itself’. Had you actually read this article and my related articles you would have seen that I said that Islam is inherently oppressive, especially of women. And I quote plenty of ex-Muslims, including Hirsi Ali above to verify all that. Try reading a few of my other posts which makes all this crystal clear:

    http://www.billmuehlenberg.com/2006/11/02/islam-and-women/

    http://www.billmuehlenberg.com/2012/11/24/women-and-islam/

  • As I watched a Muslim service on TV in New Zealand, which was supported by many non muslims, it came to me that they were milking this for all it was worth.

  • Michael, Tertullian is an early 3rd century Christian writing in a vastly different culture to our own. Yes even today some denominations, or generations within denominations, believe in female head coverings (at least in church), but Christian concepts of modesty are generally strongly shaped by the society in which they live. It’s unsurprising that Middle Eastern women with head coverings are assumed to be Muslim. The ultra-modest Christian females I’ve known would never dream of wearing head coverings, but would avoid skimpy or skintight attire. That’s not true for all, or even necessarily the majority of Christian females though.

  • Dear Andrew,

    Isn’t the lesson from Tertullian that he lived in a society where married women were told to cover their heads but he told Christian women, married or unmarried, that they must be covered because the Blessed Virgin Mary covered her head?

    He didn’t urge conformity with the prevailing Roman pagan culture. He urges Christians, then a religious minority, to be true to Apostolic Age religious traditions in spite of the non-Christian’s majority’s views. That’s not “Christian concepts of modesty are generally strongly shaped by the society in which they live”.

    Maybe he was wrong, but so was St. Hippolytus of Rome, St. John Chrysostom, St. Jerome, St. Augustine of Hippo and Clement of Alexandria. Can they all be wrong?

    The western Catholic Church supported head coverings for 1500 years but for the last 500 years it hasn’t mattered that much. Taking the long view doesn’t that show the Church failed to uphold its own teaching when society moved away from it on this issue?

    And if that’s OK what can we say when we’re urged to appease society as it moves away from us on the ordination of women and homosexual marriage?

  • Here’s another perspective on the NZ headcovering issue from a Catallaxy Files poster:

    dover_beach
    #2967930, posted on March 23, 2019 at 6:51 pm

    None of the kiwis were wearing their scarves islamically

    There should not be a single hair showing, lest a male be overwhelmed by lust.

    Indeed, they were wearing it Grace Kelly-style.

  • Greetings Bill, like always you have found the perfect balance between exposing evil yet not going overboard and loving those that are our neighbors.

    Thank you. Blessings & Protection to you and yours.

    * Your pen is always mightier than your sword.

  • I might add that the two Bible passages you cited regarding modesty referred to putting on airs, not on going around half naked – something which, it seems likely, never entered the heads of the congregations.

  • Michael, what does Scripture teach? It’s clear about homosexuality – Thou Shalt Not commit it. What about female ordination? Slightly less clear but IMHO leaning that way – generally restricting women in teaching or exercising authority over men, and specifying that deacons\overseers\bishops must be the husband of a single wife and good fathers. Does it teach the same about women and head coverings? Not really. Corinthians for instance references first century culture where wearing a veil was a sign of marriage – assuming I understand the Bible note correctly. In our culture the sign of marriage is a ring on the 2nd last finger of the left hand which symbolises a wife’s bond to her husband. Some versions encourage wives to cover their head, others translate the same passage as woman. The chapter goes on to say a woman with short hair is a disgrace, but is that true of our culture? Isn’t short hair actually the norm for some women, both in and out of the church? Does God care about hairstyles, or is it a little more complex?

    What Roman Catholicism used to teach about head coverings is only of interest to most in historical and denominational terms. Similarly what Hippolytus, John Chrysostom, Jerome, Augustine, Clement etc taught, whilst interesting and informative perhaps, is not fundamental or necessarily accurate, especially as regards contemporary society. I’m definitely not suggesting Christians compromise with their pagan cultures, just noting that there is a 2 way flow, and not always to the good of Christianity.

    Mary would have conformed to the dictates of her society. Any teaching based upon her conduct needs to take that into account. Since she wasn’t one of the Disciples Scripture really doesn’t focus on her and she doesn’t really teach anything.

  • Dear Bill, Thank you for pointing out the Biblical passages which relate to women’s dress when praying. As a Catholic there has been a tendency by some to wear black or white lace veils when assisting at Mass but it is not something that has become popular and there is certainly no obligation or pressure to wear them.

    Quite the opposite. In fact most don’t choose to wear them. In my case it has everything to do with the climate. I shudder when I think of the possibility of being forced to wear a headscarf covering all my hair and neck in 40c of heat or when it is humid. I cannot think of anything worse and I can’t see how wearing one would somehow make one more sympathetic to Muslim women. I suspect that many Muslim women wear them because their husbands or their clerics expect them to wear them so going without them would show more solidarity with them in my opinion not less.

    As for the full Burqa covering the whole body and face it has no place at all in Australia and I make no apologies for saying it should be banned.

    Way back in the forties and fifties women always wore hats to Church whether Catholic or Protestant probably as much to show off the latest fashion as anything else. [ha ha]

    My mother once told me a funny story of something which happened when attending the usual morning service at the Methodist chapel in the English village where they lived. She said my grandmother turned to acknowledge an acquaintance in the pew behind and the large feathers in their hats became entwined.In order to free the feathers both ladies had to remove their hats hatpins and all. My mother said they were too embarrassed to speak to each other after that.

    As you say I think modesty is important and as a regular mass goer for many years I don’t think I have ever seen anyone dressed immodestly

  • @Patricia Halligan

    That story just made my day!

  • I had heard it taught that the “covering” referred to in the Bible was the woman’s long hair itself, as some women in the Greek culture at the time liked to have short hair as a statement that they didn’t let themselves be ruled over by their husbands. Was that potentially the case?

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