In the Name of God, the Most Gracious; The Most Merciful.
Insha’Allah today I’d just like to post some thoughts on the hijab. In the last decades this has become a controversy around the world. In many countries the media has portrayed hijab as a symbol of women’s oppression. Rather than talk about hijab from the Islamic perspective I’d like today to address this by looking at head-covering in Christianity.
Many of the “western” countries are ones that either are currently populated by a majority of Christians or have historical roots in Christianity and Christian thought. Women covering their heads with a scarf is nothing new to these countries. For example, over 100 years before Canada was even made into a country there was an organization of Catholic nuns set up in Montreal. These women covered their heads in the Catholic tradition.
The next question might be: does the Christian church encourage this, or is it some kind of attire for Catholics? Let us turn the New Testament in 1 Corinthians 11, a chapter which clearly details this issue. Verse 5 states that a women praying or teaching without her head covered is dishonored. Verse 6 states that a women doing so ought to have her head shaved.
Another question might be: Was this historically practiced by Christians? The answer is very clearly: absolutely. In nearly every church there is a picture or painting of the Virgin Mary. In each of these, she is covering her head with a scarf. Many Christian groups today advocate the head-covering for women.
Now that we’ve established that fact, you may be wondering why I’ve posted this and of what use it is. First and foremost it is good for Muslims to know this. Often people get caught up in the media and don’t question the ideas being shared. This is a great example. I was recently talking about hijab with a non-Muslim and one point turned the conversation, I said: “Honestly, I don’t see any issue. Catholic nuns have been doing it for centuries; it is nothing new or oppressive.” My friend took a mental step back and said: “habit (name of nuns attire) and hijab, ya, basically the same.” And the whole issue was dropped.
Insha’Allah these points will be useful for some readers. I certainly have found hijab to be one of several issues that nearly every non-Muslim brings up. I have found that knowing and understanding this history can be beneficial in such a conversation. While always keeping the tone polite, the dialogue merciful and the words mentioned with wisdom.
 This is one example of many Catholic groups in Canada. In this case nuns based on Montreal since 1737: http://www.greynun.org/Branches/Branches.htm