Today, I was in a public place in New Orleans waiting for an event to begin. It was crowded. I was among strangers.
As I study crowds, I look for people I might know – a churchgoer, a military person, someone my age, another parent, etc.
What caught my eye was a younger woman’s daughter – a girl about the same age as my daughter. Her mother wore a hijab in a public setting in a large crowd of people. I saw people of every age. I saw people of every ethnic background. I saw men, women, and children. My hometown of New Orleans is much more diverse than when I was young. When I was a kid, it was unusual to run into anyone who wasn’t either Anglo or African American in New Orleans. Today, you run into people whose parents (or they themselves) were born on nearly any continent on our planet.
The girl looked just like hundreds of girls her age. But I couldn’t help but think that in just a matter of years, she no longer would be indistinguishable from her peers. She would be wearing a hijab, too. And, if she kept to the exact faith of her parents, no one except her immediate family would see anything but her face (in some cases just her eyes) again.
I have two competing ideals within me. Firstly, I am a Christian. I believe in the Christian faith, and I believe that God has most clearly spoken to us through his Son. I believe that the more we adopt what he taught, the better off we will be. I don’t believe Jesus was just a really good guy. I believe he was God among us. Secondly, and at the same time, I believe that God wants us to grow as individuals and as a species, and part of that growth is through choices we make and how we live with others.
After 21 centuries, it is clear to me that God expects Christians to live in community with non-Christians. He does not want us to compel people to believe what we believe. If we can convince them to make that choice, fine and good. But we are not to force our faith on anyone (or it wouldn’t be faith). And God has filled the world not just with potential believers but also with many people who are unlikely to become Christians. Perhaps they grew up in another faith. Perhaps they have had experiences which have made them look on faith in a negative light. Perhaps they simply aren’t biologically wired for their brains to grab on to faith. (I don’t mean by this that they are unintelligent. Some people have a gift for music, some for math, and some for faith.)
How will we live in community with a diversity of people? I have had friends–some good friends–who were Jews, Muslims, and agnostics, among other things. I feel blessed and stronger for knowing them.
But the intentional covering of one’s entire body goes against my sense of fairness. I would never want this for my own daughter. While I do want my daughter to feel that her body is for the eyes of only one man, I don’t think she has to be covered from head to toe in front of others. I would not want her to feel she is not as free as my son is to live autonomously.
It isn’t my faith in God which gets rubbed the wrong way when I see the daughter of a woman in a hijab. It is my sense that somehow this is a cultural practice that is not helping men and women live in equality and fully appreciate one another as equals in the eyes of God. Yet, I understand that these are my values, not hers. I don’t want to live in a society where everyone is just like me. I am not for a society where anyone dictates the rules, even me. Some schools try to make rules against such religious garb. I don’t think forcing people into our perceptions or beliefs, even right ones, is usually helpful.
I guess my hope is that one day that girl, when she grows up, will choose differently. I hope that she learns from the women who are not in a hijab around her that she can live a full and righteous and faithful life without having to cover herself head to toe. No matter what faith she chooses to live, I hope that she believes her body is nothing that is in need of covering anymore than her brother’s body (if she has one) would be for modesty’s sake.
I also hope the boys in our culture can grow into men who will make better choices when they grow up and stop the objectification of women. Our culture does nothing to allay the fears of parents who practice other faiths that their daughters won’t be objectified.
I guess my confession is that the logical side of me says, “Tom, don’t let it bother you. We live in a multicultural world.” Nevertheless, the emotional side of me says, “I hope she chooses differently.”
What do you think?
Until next time,