The world we live in today promotes tolerance. And I’m not talking about tolerating your next door neighbour’s late-night parties. Nor am I talking about tolerating the 10 year build up of clutter in the garage.
The world we live in today expects society to be open-minded. The prevailing worldview in our largely secular culture is “live and let live”. So, for instance, to claim that there is only one true religion is seen as bigoted. Behind these expectations is the assumption that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and that one should be accepting of others’ views, or at the very least, tolerant of them.
In line with this, World Hijab Day has made it a goal to foster global religious tolerance and understanding through hijab awareness. An annual event on the 1st of February, Muslims and non-Muslims all over the world were invited to wear the hijab for a day to gain new perspective. With over 140 participating countries, including Australia, the thrust of World Hijab Day was to show that the discrimination against hijab practice of Islam is very much unjust and unnecessary. While many think that Muslim women are oppressed or subjugated in their covering up of themselves, they assert that wearing the hijab is a personal choice.
In response, there are a number of things we could say from a Christian perspective:
Firstly, on the issue of tolerance, the Bible teaches us, “If it is possible, as far as depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Rom 12:18). This means, among other things, that we take the posture of peace-making in our relationships with all people. Therefore we don’t offend un-necessarily and seek to accept marginal differences as citizens living in a multi-cultural society. In this context we should accept a woman’s choice to wear the Hijab.
Secondly, it is interesting to read what the Bible, particularly the New Testament, has to say about our manner of dress, noting that modesty is in fact highlighted at several points. We might want to think about what this in fact means for us personally.
However, what is most interesting about what lies behind World Hijab Day is that it is calling for people or more specifically women, to identify with Muslim women by wearing the Hijab. The more cynical of us could see this as a clever piece of marketing for Islam, however a more thoughtful approach might be to see an important distinction between what faith in Christ means as opposed to following a religion, whatever that religion may be.
Christ has come to break racial, gender, social, inter-generational and cultural distinctions, “where there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). To follow Christ does not mean identifying with a particular culture, which has all the trappings of specific dress codes, language or “insider” behaviour. Rather, to follow Christ means that I bring with me all that I am as a human, along with my heritage, nationality and cultural norms, following him as the one who broke the power of my sin in order to reconcile me to God.
This is quite a different worldview from the one that associates a specific dress code with my identity as a follower of a particular religion. It would be helpful if Christians considered ways to thoughtfully articulate how following Christ can be accepting of cultures, yet not subservient to certain cultural expressions.