Showing posts with label tzniut. Show all posts
Showing posts with label tzniut. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Clothed in Righteousness

O children of Adam, We have bestowed upon you clothing to conceal your private parts and as adornment. But the clothing of righteousness - that is best. That is from the signs of God that perhaps they will remember.
(al-Araf 7:26)
According to Islam, appropriate attire is one component of an ideal, righteous society.[1] While some may consider covering the hair and body a burden, a backwards tradition or even a sign of oppression, as a woman who adheres to this tradition I know it is quite the opposite. The hijab (veil) shifts the focus from a woman’s external appearance to her intellect and internal beauty, and thus contributes to the betterment of society by elevating the level of social interactions between people. Women who choose to wear the hijab are highly motivated to obey God and honor His commands; their sense of humility and selflessness is heightened because they live in a state of constant awareness of their Creator and Sustainer. As humans seeking righteousness in our lives, we are often thwarted by our own shortcomings.  The religious teachings regarding appropriate dress are designed to help us reach beyond ourselves toward God.

I am heartbroken by misguided criticism of any religious practice, including the wearing of the veil, whose intent is to direct one’s focus to God. Indeed, images of a veiled Mary, mother of Jesus, influenced the Christian practice of women wearing head coverings, especially at worship, for centuries. Still, head covering as a sign of a woman’s submission to God became equated in early Christian dogma with their submission to human authority. The belief arose that a man’s head was to be kept bare before God, while a woman’s head would remain covered in submission to her husband.  As a Christian woman who sees herself validated by God as a full partner with her husband and others, I (like Yasmina) see submission to God as central to the righteous life, and I applaud any religious practice that, in demonstrating true humility, is liberating rather than oppressive.

Having spent several weeks reflecting on the words of Yasmina and Grace, I remain conflicted about how to respond.  My sense is that in both Islam and Christianity the practice of women covering their heads was adopted from Judaism and adapted to be more appealing. Rabbinic sources prescribe the covering of married women’s hair in public to ensure that anyone other than her husband will not be enticed by her appearance.  This clear mandate of tzniut (modesty) applies only to married women. A parallel custom of men covering their heads—in humble recognition that God is above them—also developed in Judaism, but it never pertained to women.  Today, women who regard themselves as equal to men before God may choose to wear a kippah (also known as a yarmulke or skullcap), and married women may reject the custom of covering their hair as outdated.  However, in both cases, because the women are reinterpreting centuries-old tradition, they may be accused of being arrogant—rather than humble—as they attempt to transform religious norms and infuse old ideas with new meaning.

[1] The actual details of proper dress are addressed in other verses of the Quran and various Hadiths.