A common misconception is that Muslim women are the only ones who cover their hair. It may be true that Islam is the only religion in which most women follow its directives to cover the hair, but it is not the only religion to have such directives.
It is particularly interesting to look at the case of Christianity, since Christianity is the predominant religion in the West, and it is Westerners, including observant Christians, who are often the first to criticize Islam because of the hijab (modest dress, including headcovering).
Is Covering the Hair a Religious Commandment for Christian Women?
There can be only one answer to this: yes, it is! Simply open the Bible to the First Epistle to the Corinthians, chapter 11. Read verses 3-10.
But I would have you know that the head of every man is Christ and the head of the woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying with his head covered, disgraces his head. But every woman praying or prophesying with her head uncovered disgraces her head, for it is the same as if she were shaven. For if a woman is not covered, let her be shaven. But if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head. A man indeed ought not to cover his head, because he is the image and glory of God. But woman is the glory of man. For man was not created for woman, but woman for man. This is why the woman ought to have a sign of authority over her head, because of the angels.
The meaning of this passage is plain enough. We can make the following syllogisms:
Praying with an uncovered head is a disgrace
Having a shaved head is the same as praying with an uncovered head
Therefore, having a shaved head is a disgrace
If it is a disgrace for a woman to have a shaved head, she should cover her head
It is a disgrace for a woman to have a shaved head – see syllogism 1
Therefore, a woman should cover her head
In other words, the passage means what it says. Have you ever wondered why Catholic nuns dress like they’re wearing hijab (Muslim hijabi women, have you ever been mistaken for a nun? I have, more than once). Have you ever wondered why Mary the mother of Jesus (peace be upon them both) is always depicted in Christian art with her hair covered? Did you know that until the 1960s, it was obligatory for Catholic women to cover their heads in church (then they “modernized” the service)?
There are some interesting points that can be made about the Christian directive.
1) The explicit purpose of the Christian woman’s headcovering, as stated by Paul, is that it is a sign of man’s authority over woman. The explicit purpose of Islamic hijab is modesty. Strange how so many Westerners think that the purpose of hijab is a symbol of male authority. Maybe they know that that’s what it is in their own religion (Christianity) so they assume that Islam must be the same…!
2) The Christian woman is to cover her head whenever she is praying, whether it be at the church service or just personal prayer at home. This may mean that if she is not praying at home, she is uncovered around male guests who are not related to her; or if she is praying at home, that she is covered around her own husband and family. If any more proof were needed than Paul’s own words that the Christian headcovering is not about modesty, this must certainly be it!
This puts hijab in a whole new perspective, doesn’t it! To my non-hijabi Muslim sister who feels that hijab is a sign of oppression for the Muslim female, please do read the above and then read the Quran. Believe me, if Allah SWT meant for hijab to be a sign of male authority, the Quran would be as unambiguous about it as Paul is in the Bible. Isn’t this difference the kind of thing that attracted you to Islam in the first place?
Do Any Christian Women Today Cover Their Heads?
It is true that most Christian women do not, and many don’t take other teachings of the Bible (against pre-marital sex, adultery, etc) literally either. However, there do seem to be a growing number of Christian women out there who are committed to following the Bible as it is written.
Headcovering for Catholic Women
“For if the woman be not covered, let her ALSO be shorn:” 1 Cor. 11:6 (AKJV)
“But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled dishonors her head—it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her wear a veil.
“For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. (For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.) That is why a woman ought to have a veil on her head, because of the angels….If any one is disposed to be contentious, we recognize no other practice, nor do the churches of God.” (1 Corinthians 11:3-10,16)
In obedience to Sacred Scripture, many Catholic women wear some kind of veil or headcovering. Some wear a headcovering only at Mass. Others feel called to wear a headcovering at other times during the day, as well as at Mass. Many non-Catholic Christian women also wear a headcovering.
These women are following the call of the Holy Spirit. Society discourages women from wearing a headcovering and from doing anything else which shows submissiveness and obedience. Yet these women have found the light of truth in the midst of dark times.
The moral law requires all women to wear the veil on their hearts.
A woman should not wear the veil on her head, until she is wearing it first on her heart.
A woman who wears the veil on her heart accepts the place that God gives to women in the Church, the family, and society.
Women who wear the veil on their hearts are imitating the Virgin Mary in her humility, submissiveness, and obedience to Christ.