By Emmanuel Gandu
Wearing the Hijab, Habit, Burqa, Niqab, and Veil by women is a tradition in ancient Greek culture that predates both Christianity and Islam.
In this culture, respectable married women and widows wore a Habit, Burqa, or Hijab to indicate their humble background.
“They were never to be seen in public exposing from their hair down to the shoulder, chest and rest of the body to the eyes of men other than their husbands as enshrined in the Assyrian Law from 1400 – 1100 BC” – Kwasniewski
This is the culture from where Christianity, and much later Islam arose.
Interestingly, both Christianity and Islam embraced the use of these modes of dressing as a way of preserving the sanctity of womanhood.
In view of this, both the Bible and Quran devotes verses that serve as indicators on how best the woman is expected to dress in public and in worship.
However, this mode of dressing is receiving attention, scrutiny, critical commentary, variety of perception, misconception, etc. These thoughts are conveyed through private and and public discussion, thus having impact on the fashion trend, legitimacy, legality, or otherwise of its continues use. Some have argued in support, while others do not.
This discourse and exposition is an attempt to interactively interrogate, expose, enlighten, understand, appreciate, and therefore bring to the fore the power and potency or otherwise of the Hijab, Habit, Burqa, Niqab, and Veil etc as a vehicle for the preservation of among others, the chastity of womanhood by Islam and Christianity.
It is for the realisation of this objective that some of the issues, concerns, perception, contestations, and questions which have likely been agitating the minds of the public are presented in order to provoke further discourse :
(1) Why is the Muslim woman discriminated against for wearing the Hijab, Burqa, Niqab?
(2) Is the use of the Habit, Hijab, and Veil by Christian women Biblical ?.
Is the use of the Hijab, Burqa, Veil, and Niqab by Muslim women expressed in the Quran ?
(3) If Jesus as the founder of the Christian religion and Mary his Mother was seen everywhere dressed in the Habit/Hijab as depicted in recorded historical archival documents, why the unpopularity of these modes of dressing in christendom ?
(4) If Christianity embraced the Hijab/Habit long before the arrival of Islam, why is Islam pursuing the use of these modes of dressing with positive aggressive efforts and compliance than Christianity ?
(5) Is there any similarity between the Christian woman dressed in the Habit and the Muslim woman dressed in the Hijab ?
(6) To what extent has western fashion and civilization influenced the Christian woman mode of dressing ?
(7) Why is Islam not adversely affected by western influence on their women fashion and dressing ?
(8) If yes to (5) above, to what extent can Nigeria take advantage of the similarities to encourage inter religious dialogue ?
(9) Can’t the use of the Habit, Hijab, Burqa, Veil, and Niqab be a helpful deterant to the menace of vices especially in this our society with high prevalence of promiscuity, sexual harassment, rape, sex violence against women and the girl child ?
(10) Which would you rather prefer to see – your wife, daughter, sister, or mother dressed up in Hijab/Habit that covers from head down, or in exposed breasts, nipples, and buttocks in public ?
ORIGIN OF THE HIJAB/HABIT/BURQA/VEIL
The findings of a reknowned historian revealed that statuettes depicting veiled priestesses dates as far back as 2500 BC.
Elite women in Ancient Mesopotamia, and in the Byzantine, Greek, and, Persian empires wore the Hijab/Veil as a sign of respectability and high status of class, rank, and occupation in society. Female slaves and prostitutes were forbidden to veil, and faced harsh penalties if they did. “Wearing the Hijab/Habit/Veil was a mark of Aristocratic rank, respectability, and status symbol” – Dawson.
Prior to the advent of Christianity, respectable women in Greek society were expected to seclude themselves, wear clothing that concealed them from the eyes of “strange”men.
Interestingly also, Roman and later in the Babylonian society, married Jewish women had to cover their hair.
Worthy of note is the postulation of a prominent researcher that “at the inception of Christianity the women continued to cover their heads with the Veil” – Fadwa El Guindi.
This practice gained acceptance as it was widely enbibed by those early Christians around 200 CE.
According to two prominent Scholars, the Hijab or Veil had not only gained prominence but was gradually creeping into the fashion and culture of the people.
In Rome for example, a Veil called “Lammeum” was the most prominent feature of the costume worn by the bride on her wedding day, they asserted.
Christian communities in Israel/ Jerusalem, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, and other ancient Middle East regions popularised the Hijab which was the dress code for women in conformity with the prevailing culture.
And by the time Islam eventually came, these modes of dressing which had long been inculturated into Christian communities was easy to adopt and adapt in the emerging Muslim communities.
“The Habit, Hijab, and the Veil mode of dressing was adopted into Muslim Culture during the Arab conquest of the Middle East” – Spuler, and Garland.
This therefore is the culture from which Christianity and much later Islam arose.
HABIT AND HIJAB IN CHRISTIANITY
The use of these modes of dressing by Christian women / Christendom is as culturally historical in origin as it is Biblical. Bible verses support women to Veil and cover parts of their bodies :
(1) “Any woman who prays or proclaims God’s message in public worship with nothing on her head disgraces……..” “If the woman does not cover her head…… she should….. but on a woman it is a thing of beauty” – 1Corinth 11:5-15.
(3) “I also want the women to be modest and sensible about their clothes and to dress properly”. “………as it is proper for women who claim to be religious” – I Timothy 2 : 9 – 10.
(3) The Veil is a fine linen used to cover whatever is sacred. It is no longer a mere human cultural tradition but it is willed by God. The veil is a sacred mystery. It is the sign of the sacredness of being Christian, the Holy of Holies -:
(a) Exodus 25 : 8 – 9
(b) Exodus 26 : 31 – 33
(4) Wearing the Habit, Veil or Hijab by women in the Jewish culture is depicted in the Bible, and archival/historical documents and literature, having the Jerusalem women, and Mary the mother of Jesus as the symbols of purity,and chastity in womanhood.
It is this physical distinguishing feature that contributed, and stood her out among women, and therefore honoured to be the custodian of the cherished ideals of womanhood. This was granted by God, and attested to through the Angel Gabriel – Luke 1:26 – 37
(5) The use of the Habit and Veil by the Rev. Sisters, and women in other Christian denominations serves as a continuation of that culture and Religious aspects of keeping/maintaining the purity and chastity of womanhood.
This also reminds you and I that these Nuns have dedicated themselves to the service of God and humanity as they remain the “handmaid of God” – Luke 1:38-39
(6) The Habit, Hijab, or Veil is meant to hide what may attract a man’s eyes to the Nuns and other Religious women. This protects them from drawing inappropriate attention to their bodies, and also to indicate that they are “not available” to the intrigues of the secular world.
ISLAM AND HIJAB, BURQA, VEIL, NIQAB
Hijab or Burqa etc is usually worn by Muslim women and usually covers the head, shoulders, and most parts of the body in conformity with Islamic standards in order to maintain their privacy from unrelated males outside the woman’s immediate family.
The Encyclopedia of Islam and Muslim World states that “modesty in the Quran concerns the woman’s gaze, gait, garments, and genitalia”.
According to three prominent Islamic Scholars and Authors – Karen Armstrong, Reza Aslan, and Leila Ahmed the stipulation of the Hijab/Veil were intended to maintain the inviolability of the Muslim woman. This was strictly observed by the Prophet Muhammad on his wives.
These scholars/authors argued that the term “darabat al – hijab” (taking the veil) was used synonymously and interchangeably with “becoming Prophet Muhammad’s wife”.
Aslan’s writings suggests that Muslim women started to wear the Hijab/Veil to emulate Prophet Muhammad’s wives who are revered as “Mothers of the Believers” in Islam. Aslan goes further to state that “there was no tradition of veiling until 627” in the Muslim community.
These three Islamic Scholars argue to prove that Veiling or Hijab did not originate from Islam.
However, Islam today and in the past is seen to have uplifted the dignity and morality of womanhood in the Hijab much more than in the culture from which the Hijab originated, and even in Christianity which first embraced this mode of dressing as depicted in archival/historical documents in Mary and the women of Jerusalem.
Interestingly, Islamic guidelines and dress codes that support the use of the Hijab/Veil are found in texts of the Hadith and are derived from the verses (ayahs) referencing Hijab in the Quran.
Of the more than 6,000 verses in the Quran, about half a dozen refer specifically to the way women should dress or walk in public – for example :
(1) Surah 24 tells women to “guard their private parts and draw their Khimar (Hijab) over their breasts, and not display beauty except to their husbands, ……..” – Quran 24 : 31
(2) In Surah 33 Prophet Muhammad is commanded to ask his family members and other Muslim women to wear outer garments when they go out so that they are not harassed – “O Prophet ! enjoin your wives, your daughters, and the wives of true believers that they should cast their outer garments over their persons (when outside) that is most convenient that they may be distinguished and not be harassed” – Quran 33 : 59
THE ARGUMENTS, THE CONTESTATIONS, AND THE CONVERGENCE
From the foregoing, it is indicative of the fact that the Hijab, Habit, Veil, Burqa, Niqab exist in both Christianity and Islam. However, some issues of conflict arising from some Muslim women preference for the Hijab over the approved dress code of their profession in many societies and regions seemed to have attracted unnecessary notoriety to Islam.
These and many other isolated incidents associated with the use of the Hijab had unfortunately culminated in some kind of ban or partial ban placed on the use of the Hijab by Muslim women in some western and American countries.
Interestingly, Mary the mother of Jesus who is one of the symbols of the Hijab and the Habit, as the case may be, exists both in Christianity and Islam.
However, Islam is seen to have uplifted the dignity, morality, and the widespread use of the Hijab in womanhood much more than the culture from which the Hijab and Habit originated, and even Christianity that first embraced the dress code.
WHY IS ISLAM IN THE FOREFRONT ?
(1) While the fashion of wearing the Habit/Hijab by women in Christendom is no longer revered nor fashionably in vogue, and seems to be abandoned and left to only the Catholic Rev. Sisters (Nun) and some white garment Churches; Islam on the other hand is vigorously encouraging/enforcing this dress code for their women, girls and children.
(2) No doubt the credit for the positive aggressive Islamic drive on this dress code must first be given to the Prophet Muhammad and his wives for showing/leading the way.
(3) Another contributory factor to the sustenance and hence the popularity of the Islamic Hijab dress code is the fast growing Islamic fashion industry which is embraced by every Islamic woman, girl, and the girl child.
(4) The Muslim population is the fastest growing in the world and so is the number of women using, and thereby making more popular the Hijab.
(5) The boom in business and marketing in the Hijab fashion industry is catching up like wild fire thereby making textiles and fabric manufacturers keep smiling to the banks.
Faegheh Shirazi (2010), an Islamic fashion scholar explains the reasons for this growth to include the huge increase in the lucrativness of the global Muslim fashion industry. According to her, “Milliyet”, a Turkish Newspaper research report in 2010 estimated the global Islamic clothing market in Turkey alone to be worth $2.9 billion for that year.
Still according to that research, the Hijab fashion was expected to rake in $488 billion in 2019 alone.
From the foregoing, it is without doubt Hijab, Habit, and Veil exist in both Christianity and Islam.
While the fashion has occupied the backseat in Christendom, Islam on the other hand is seen to have uplifted the dignity and morality of the Hijab, Habit, and Veil etc more than the culture from which the fashion originated, and even Christianity which first embraced it.
Lamentably, it may be argued that westernization is largely having an overbearing “negative” influence on some Christian ideals especially the mode of dressing.
Interestingly however, the biggest lesson that we may take home from all this presentation and argument on the veracity or otherwise of the Hijab, Habit, Burqa, Niqab, and Veil is the onenes, and unity of purpose that these modes of dressing will bring to a rather schismatic and polarized society like Nigeria.
If Christianity and Islam, the two major world religions both share the culture, religious, beauty, and use of the Habit, Hijab, and Veil as a symbol of dignity, purity, and Chastity for womanhood, are we therefore not much more alike than different ?.
As our fashion taste, tribe, culture, upbringing, and perception differ, so our religious practices, doctrines, and inclination.
However, we are one people, one destiny, one love, and one God. The Habit, Hijab and Veil rightly represents this common heritage.
It therefore remains to be seen whether Nigeria will take advantage of these similarity to foster the much needed unity between Christians and Muslims or miss the opportunity.