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.