muslim community

The Day a Christian Wore a Hijab

A tenured Wheaton College professor who, as part of her Christian Advent devotion, donned a traditional headscarf to show solidarity with Muslims has been placed on administrative leave.

-Manya Brachear Pashman, December 16, 2015
“Wheaton College suspends Christian professor who wore a hijab”
Chicago Tribune

Photo: Chicago Tribune

Actually, she never wore a hijab, just a scarf, but her actions probably won’t endear her to a lot of Christians and Jews. However, it’s important to take a moment to understand why she did what she did.

Larycia Hawkins, a political science professor at the private evangelical Christian college in Chicago’s west suburbs, announced last week that she would wear the veil to show support for Muslims who have been under greater scrutiny since mass shootings in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif.

“I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book,” she posted on Facebook.

Hawkins, 43, planned to wear the hijab everywhere she went until Christmas, including on her flight home to Oklahoma, where voters in 2010 overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment banning Islamic Sharia law.

She said it’s “a time of real vitriolic rhetoric by fellow Christians sometimes and people who aren’t Christian who conflate all Muslims with terrorist — and that saddens me — so this is a way of saying if all women wear the hijab we cannot discriminate. If all women were in solidarity, who is the real Muslim? How is TSA going to decide who they really suspect?”

I’m probably going to take a lot of heat for even writing this blog post, but I think Hawkins may have a point. My wife periodically shops at a Muslim owned food store here in Boise. As a Jew, she says she has no reason to fear or be suspicious of the owner, who seems like a really nice guy, but there’s some part of her that’s wary anyway.

Before it burned down, my family and I used to frequent the Boise International Market, a collection of businesses maintained by various refuge families.

Kahve Coffee
Kahve Coffee

I particularly enjoyed having coffee with a friend periodically at Kahve Coffee, which if I’m correct, was owned and operated by two brothers who, in all likelihood, are Muslims.

Granted, I can’t read minds and automatically know the motivations of everyone I encounter, but as far as I could tell from casual conversation, Kahve Coffee and the other family owned businesses in the Market, represented people who came to this country to build a better life and become part of our community.

Of course, these refuges were from all over the Middle East, Africa, and Central America, so probably they weren’t all Muslims, but I’m not sure it really mattered one way or the other. What mattered, is that the Market wasn’t just a place to eat, drink coffee, and buy various other goods and services, it was a gathering place for all of these families and probably their second home.

There were always children playing between the shops, the kids of the business owners. Everyone watched out for everyone else’s kids. It wasn’t always a venue conducive to quiet conversation. It was more like having coffee or a meal in someone’s living room while their children were playing.

I’m writing all this to say that, religious and political differences aside, at the end of the day, the people who ran the Market were people, parents, uncles and aunts, grandparents, children. They were people just like we’re people.

I hear they’re rebuilding (website under construction). I hope so. Not just for the sake of some of the best coffee I’ve ever consumed, or the ability to have a meal that isn’t mass-produced American pap, but for the sake of people who, like all of our ancestors who came to this country at some point in the past, just want to make a living, support their families, and be friends and neighbors who happen to live in my little corner of Idaho.

interfaithAs far as Professor Hawkins is concerned, Wheaton College chose to look at things differently:

“While Islam and Christianity are both monotheistic, we believe there are fundamental differences between the two faiths, including what they teach about God’s revelation to humanity, the nature of God, the path to salvation and the life of prayer,” Wheaton College said in a statement.

Makes me wonder what Wheaton College would have done if Hawkins decided to dress frum to support Israel and the Jewish people.

Granted, Wheaton is a private Evangelical Protestant Christian liberal arts college, and they can make decisions based on their understanding of being Christian vs. being Muslim, but they might have handled this differently. Was what Hawkins did so radical and her reasoning so out-of-balance?

Wheaton administrators did not denounce Hawkins’ gesture but said more conversation should have taken place before it was announced.

“Wheaton College faculty and staff make a commitment to accept and model our institution’s faith foundations with integrity, compassion and theological clarity,” the college said in a statement. “As they participate in various causes, it is essential that faculty and staff engage in and speak about public issues in ways that faithfully represent the college’s evangelical Statement of Faith.”

The Wheaton College administrators are within their rights to take such an action, and after all, as faculty, Hawkins does represent the college, but not everyone agrees with Wheaton’s decision.

Last week, a coalition of student leaders at Wheaton drafted an open letter calling on evangelical Christian leaders to condemn recent remarks by Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. that students armed with guns can “end those Muslims.”

Gene Green, a professor of the New Testament, said what motivated Hawkins is the same concern many faculty at Wheaton share about the unfair scrutiny facing the Muslim community.

(Renner) Larson (communications director for CAIR’s Chicago chapter), who attends a Unitarian Universalist church, said he was dismayed to hear that some view Hawkins’ gesture as compromising Christianity.

“It’s disappointing that showing solidarity means that you are somehow sacrificing your own identity,” he said. “I do what I do not to be closer to Islam but because it makes me closer to my identity as an American who believes in American ideals.”

Boise International Market
Boise International Market

I can only imagine that what I’m expressing may seem radical to some of my readers, but as Larson pointed out, it’s an American ideal to accept people who are different from you into our local communities. The vast majority of American citizens have ancestors who came here from other parts of the world. That some Muslims have committed terrible crimes here and elsewhere on our planet doesn’t make your Muslim neighbor a terrorist.

In fact, having just read a story from Arutz Sheva, I discovered the most unlikely people (at least from my uninformed point of view) can be heroes or criminals.

You can’t tell by looking.

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak out for me.

-attributed to Martin Niemöller

9 thoughts on “The Day a Christian Wore a Hijab”

  1. While we may applaud the lady’s sentiment and desire to distinguish and defend the innocent who are merely “different”, we might nonetheless criticize her naïveté to think that a head-scarf, such as any modest woman might wear, aligns her with an oppressed minority. The Muslim women who are required to cover themselves are generally under many more-severe restrictions in addition, rarely limited to wearing a mere scarf. Symbolic solidarity will not help to relieve their condition. Further, and most regrettably, her action obfuscates a distinction that is critical to make in the present time. Unlike the Jews who were taken away under Nazism for no reason but their distinctive ethnic identity, the Muslim demographic includes an embedded threat to life and limb that is very difficult to distinguish from the possibly-innocent population among which it is immersed. Islam’s intrinsic ideology incorporates the demand for conquest (and even murder), more explicitly than even the worst excesses that Christianity ever pursued and has since eschewed; hence the search for the innocent requires identifying those whose Islamic dedication is diluted and mitigated by other values that the Western world developed since the Enlightenment period. Such people are just as much under threat as non-Muslims, but they must pose as dedicated Muslim in order to feel safe even within their own communities. And sometimes that hostage mentality even presses them into service to support, or even to commit, religiously-motivated mayhem. Hence I would suggest that better methods are required to do anything beneficial for the people that Professor Hawkins has in view.

    1. You’re not wrong, PL. Even if misguided, Hawkins followed a path that is decidedly unpopular in America just now in an attempt to support those Muslims who are not guilty of any violent crimes, nor are planning to commit any. I think it’s still a much better response than what this man chose to do.

  2. I can appreciate what she was attempting to do, but wearing the hijab (or, as you point out, the headscarf) seems pretty naive to me. Headcovering for women isn’t just a cultural norm or preference, it’s a command. (And of course you know that). Headcovering is a religious act. Whether she meant to do so or not, she visually communicated something more than solidarity, something I don’t have a word for.

    Should Wheaton have taken the steps they did? I don’t know. I can see their point in saying that there probably should have been some discussion about this, but I can also understand that she ultimately has the right to dress as she pleases so long as it doesn’t violate the school’s faculty dress code. (Side note: Interesting that “dress as she pleases” comes within the context of discussing headcovering).

    What makes me uncomfortable about the larger topic that this is couched in (Islamic immigrants/refugees) is that some think that there is a “right” Christian response. Now, absolutely we should never jump on the prejudice train. We don’t need to grab those broad brushes and paint everyone with the same stroke. We should remember that we’re all people. But I don’t know what the best course of action is, and honestly I’m tired of hearing that I’m a “bad” Christian because I don’t automatically come down on the side of opening the gates to all who would enter. (I don’t come down on the side of closing them, either). I’m weary of the haughty tones and the heated rhetoric from all sides.

    1. One of the reasons I wrote this blog post Marie, was to create some perspective about refuges in our country in general and Muslims in specific. Yes, I have my “issues” with Islam but how Americans have responded recently to the Paris and San Bernardino terrorist attacks has gone way, way over the top. While we may characterize Hawkins as misguided or even naive, at least she didn’t go crazy.

      1. Oh, we’re in agreement there. That’s why I said I’m tired of the rhetoric from all sides. This can’t be boiled down to “all you need is love” or “blow them all to smithereens.” (I shudder even writing those words).

        I wish I had answers.

  3. From “all” sides. I can see that (lots of sides). Good point, Marie, that a head covering is a religious act (and not just a sign of solidarity [which “solidarity” cannot quite be felt* so easily as this, as PL said]). However, it used to be more common that women would wear scarves, at least this time of year (cool or even windy weather, think Jackie Kennedy). Today, I was picking up my youngest son from the airport. He’s home until early January, then going back to where he’s in AIT (for the Army). I grabbed something out of the closet and put it on; realized when I was in the airport that I have Egyptian symbols on my cream-colored-gold-edged hoodie. Not a problem, but I did see a couple people (not Army people) wonder about it.

    * [felt nor understood, but she understands a little]

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