Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A Christian Season, a Muslim Practice, and Living in the Shift

I am carrying my Lenten practice in my body this year. Instead of giving up caffeine, television or eating animal products (as I have done in some Lenten seasons), I am taking something on: the wearing of hijab, the headscarf most commonly worn by Muslim women.

Other than the times I am serving as a chaplain, my head and neck are covered by a scarf whenever I am out of my house, and my body is covered to wrists and ankles in modest clothing. That’s it. No special clothing,  no special actions, really just a scarf around my head.

I have chosen this as my spiritual practice this Lent partly because I want to stand in solidarity with my Muslim sisters, simply to honor them and their experience. This practice of covering is in a very small way a “giving up” in the traditional Lenten sense: for a small amount of time and in a very small way, I am giving up just a bit of the enormous amount of privilege that I have as an attractive, educated, middle-class American woman. We all make assumptions all the time, but the assumptions made about me change a little when I have the scarf on. I do not say that they change for the better or the worse, just that they shift. I want to understand more about what it means to live in the midst of this shift.

I am wearing hijab; what I am not doing is attempting to live as a Muslim. The spiritual practices of Islam are beautiful, but that is not what I have undertaken here. I am simply wearing the scarf.

Some of my friends have challenged my practice, asking me to consider on the one hand whether I am misappropriating an important symbol of Islamic culture without accepting the practices that go with it, and on the other whether I am supporting a cultural symbol that is used to suppress women. I am grateful for their thoughtful comments that help me see viewpoints other than my own. I seek to honor my Muslim sisters with my headscarf, and I know that some women choose hijab or other forms of covering and some are not given the choice. At the end of the day, though, I am simply wearing the scarf. I seek to understand, to learn, and to grow in love and compassion.


  1. Cynthia, based on what little I truly know about you these days, I sense that you have grown up to be exactly the kind of person that many of us wishes of everyone. If empathy is a virtue, then truly you have found divinity on earth. Rock on.

    1. Pattrick, I am moved and deeply honored by your words. Thank you.

  2. One of my favorite values about you, Cynthia, is I adore that you challenge yourself about misgivings and stereotypes that exist in society. Your wearing of the hijab is an example of this. In addition, you view people's comments about you adopting the hijab, or "just wearing of the scarf" as you say, as a way to expand your views that you would not have thought of. Even though you say you are wearing just a scarf to be in solidarity with your Muslim sisters, it is the start of perhaps a bigger change. After all, change occurs in phases/stages. You may choose to stop at this stage of physically understanding your Muslim sisters or you may want to know more. Whatever happens, I commend your willingness to take a leap of experience that can only change you in so many ways.

  3. Two years ago, I chose to cover (head to toe) as a practice of modesty. It offered a sense of respect I have not known in my adult life. I had seen it as a young person. That is decades past. Even while I was waiting at a red light, the car in front of me was blaring music with foul language. The guy lowered the volume. In the store, men toward me, nodded, and moved on. My daughter on the other hand was greatly distressed. The women in my workplace wanted an explanation. I am not Muslim or nor declare any religious affiliation, but there are many that practice covering and modesty.

    I covered for almost four months - Spring to Fall. When I shifted my dress, I felt naked. It was the first time I understood my grandmothers admonition of my fashion. No part of my body was exposed to public view, but I could feel where I was uncovered.

    Head wrapping gives one a defined sacred space to be within. It secures a boundary for the wearer and the outside as well.