Saturday, November 13, 2010

Should Christians support laws that ban Muslim women from wearing the face veil in public?

From Christianity Today, Christians Should Defend Muslim Liberty:

Joseph Cumming, director of the reconciliation program at the Yale Center for Faith and Culture at Yale Divinity School, David Johnston, author of Earth, Empire and Sacred Text, and Christine Schirrmacher, a scholar with the Institute of Islamic Studies of the Evangelical Alliance in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, discuss whether Christians should support laws that ban Muslim women from wearing the face veil in public.

Christian commitment to religious liberty is rooted in Jesus' teaching, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" (Luke 6:31). When Christians dialogue with Muslims, a vital concern we rightly address is restrictions placed on Christians in Muslim-majority countries. If we want Muslims to uphold religious liberty for Christian minorities, we must defend religious liberty for Muslims when they are the minority.

Some respond, "We will defend Muslims' freedom when Muslims begin respecting freedom for persecuted Christians in Muslim-majority countries." Concern for the suffering church is right (Heb. 13:3), but immediately after the Golden Rule, Jesus adds in the Luke passage, "Do good … expecting nothing in return" (6:35). We must defend liberty for others whether or not they reciprocate. Christians should set a moral example for the world, not wait for others to lead.

But does Islam really require a face veil? This is vigorously debated within the Muslim community. Most Muslims worldwide interpret Islam as requiring a headscarf but not a face veil for women. A minority of Muslims sees the face veil as mandatory or recommended, while an opposing minority sees even headscarves as unnecessary. Should the state adjudicate this debate?

To answer this following Jesus' do-unto-others principle, consider the parallel issue among Christians. Most Christians interpret 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 as not requiring women to cover their heads. But a significant number of Christian women (notably in non-Western and African American churches) do cover their heads in Sunday worship. And some (e.g., traditionalist Mennonites) conscientiously cover their heads throughout the week. Though we each have opinions on this exegetical question, we would not want the state to adjudicate it for us. If we would not want this for ourselves, then Jesus' teaching strongly suggests we should not impose it on Muslims.

But is the veil inherently oppressive to women? In some contexts (for example, Afghanistan under Taliban rule), women have been forced to wear face coverings against their will. In such circumstances, defending women's human rights as equal before the law is a legitimate Christian concern (Gal. 3:28).

Nevertheless, many self-respecting, articulate Muslim women make a conscious choice to veil, or they advocate their sisters' right to do so. Some even see their modest clothing choice as a feminist statement.

When the state compels them to uncover themselves in public, they feel violated. Jesus' do-unto-others principle suggests we let Muslim women speak for themselves about what their clothing choices mean to them.

But what about security when we cannot see people's faces? The state has a legitimate concern to ascertain the identity of people entering sensitive locations like airports. In such venues, however, we already offer women the option of being checked in private by female security personnel.

Jesus' words about logs and specks (Luke 6:41-42) suggest we first must defend Muslim fellow-citizens' liberty in our country, and only then will we "see clearly" enough to ask Muslims about treatment of Christians in Muslim-majority countries. This may make us uncomfortable, but Jesus never said discipleship was anything but costly.

1 comment:

Al Shaw said...

I agree with your conclusions and the spirit in which you argue the point.

Do we really want the state to act as clothes monitor?