Wednesday, April 30, 2008

COMMENT: On quoting the Bible to support veils ...

Christians regard Paul as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Although Paul never met Christ in person, he did see a vision of Christ during a journey to Damascus.

Paul's letters form part of the New Testament, which Christian theology regards as inspired by God. Of course, unlike Judaism and Islam, Christianity is not a law-based faith. Hence Christians are not bound by dietary and other rules contained in the sacred law of Moses.

According to a recent report in The Australian, Sheik Tajeddine Hilaly has written a book in which he claims that the Bible "mandates" women to wear veils on their heads. The headline of the article suggests that Hilaly is effectively saying that non-Muslim women are also required to veil in the same manner that Muslim women are.

The report then quotes a prominent Sydney Anglican cleric:

The Anglican Bishop of South Sydney, Robert Forsyth, challenged Sheik Hilali's comments about the veil being "mandated" in the Bible, saying they were misleading.

"The New Testament does call upon people to dress modestly," he said. "But there is no understanding that women are commanded to wear the veil. But it is mandated that you should dress appropriately for your social context."
Fair enough. So what are the actual words used in the New Testament? This is where Paul of Tarsus comes in. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes (KJV, verses 4-16):

Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head.

But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.

For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.

For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.

For the man is not of the woman: but the woman of the man.

Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.

For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.

Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.

For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God.

Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered?

Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?

But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.

But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.
And in the 14th chapter of the same letter, Paul writes (NIV, verses 35-36):

As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.
Do the instructions outlined in these verses represent some kind of law for Christians? Are all Christians bound by these rules? As a non-Christian, I don't think it is appropriate for me to comment on this. But I do observe that in many Christian cultures, women do veil when attending church (and even outside church). Certainly in many Orthodox churches, women continue to veil in church.

If Sheik Hilaly had quoted these verses and similar Biblical verses in his book, does that mean he is ordering non-Muslim women in Australia to veil? Or is he merely suggesting that non-Muslims should not feel affronted by veiled Muslim women as similar practices are mentioned in both Jewish and Christian scriptures? And if so, why should Bishop Forsyth or any other non-Muslim Australian have a problem with this?

(Thanks to BC for pointing out the Biblical references.)

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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