Wednesday, August 29, 2007
"And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and adornments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers..." (The Qur'an, Chapter 24, verses 30-31).
Covering one's head is a common practice among the "People of the Book"— Christians and Jews as well as Muslims. Jewish tradition contains references to covering men's heads and a married woman's hair. There is a tradition followed among Hasidic Jewish sects today, where women will wear wigs in public to cover their hair instead of veils. Both Jewish men and women cover their heads in synagogues, where men wear a yarmulke or Kippah—a skullcap—as a sign of respect for God, and many Jewish men wear a skullcap every day.
Christianity has similar traditions, the most visible of which is the Catholic nun's habit, and less so, the caps worn by Amish and Mennonite women. In Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, there is direction to keeping a woman's head covered during prayer: "Every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is just as though her head were shaved." Devout Catholic women continue the tradition by covering their heads when in a church, a practice still common in Europe and among Orthodox Christians.
In her book "The Battle for God: The History of Fundamentalism," Karen Armstrong states that the veil was actually a symbol of protest. Hajib, she writes, was once a symbol of wealth and status in Muslim countries, not a religious symbol. It was not adopted by commoners until very late in the 19th century, and then as a reaction to the colonialism of European powers. For Muslim women, Armstrong says, the veil became their way of separating themselves from modern Christians who threatened their existence as a culture.