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Women, Religion, and Feminism Essay


Introduction

Religion is a powerful tool whose practices, beliefs, and traditions influence the way in which people live and relate with each other.

Part of the reason why religion enjoys greater influence and power than any other practice worldwide derives from such integral components as the rituals, values and beliefs, sacred texts and scriptures, symbols, history, as well as the presence of authority figures, and the continuous participation in collective meetings, among many other components.

The greatest influence of Islam, for instance, among its female believers is the tradition of wearing veils or head scarves. These veils commonly referred to as hijabs have, however, caused many other problems to the Muslim women, particularly in other regions of the world, such as North America, where Islam is relatively a minority religion.

This paper undertakes a research to compare, as well as contrast the traditions and beliefs of three major religions in the world, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. This research focuses on the women believers of the three religions and elaborates on some of the challenges that Muslim women encounter by virtue of their belief and tradition.

Quran Sanctioned Dress Code for Women

The Quran is the official holy book used by Muslims for their respective religious teachings and guidance. The holy book cites numerous guidelines that can be summarised into four basic rules that determine how women are expected to dress.

The First Rule

The first rule identifies the best garment for women. It defines the best garment as one that does not reveal a woman’s body to the others, but one that is decent.

Muslim women, thus, are expected to cover their bodies completely to avoid any sections from being revealed to other people. This gives the idea of hijab as a perfect dress code that can cover the entire body of a woman (Bigger, 2006). The hijab is freely designed piece of cloth, sometimes adorning special designs, that protects the hair, head, bosom, as well as the neck of the wearer.

On the other hand, the Bible, which is the holy book of teachings among the Christians, also identifies modest dressing as appropriate for women believers (Piper & Grudem, 2012). In particular, the Bible calls on women to dress in a distinctive style that makes it easy to identify them from men. Nevertheless, the Christian traditions and practices on women dress code are not as compelling as those practiced by Muslims are.

The modern-day Christian woman worshipper is allowed to go to church with the dress code of her own choice and worship with others without any restraint. The Christian tradition appears to be an evolution as it has failed to retain the original dress code that was the fashion during the biblical times.

The Christian tradition mostly adopts modernity, with women being allowed the free choice of determining what is effective for them to wear.

Like Islam, the Jewish teachings and laws also stipulate on a special dress code for women believers. Women and girls are required by law to cover their main body, as well as cover up their legs and arms, particularly when they are in public or with individuals who are not their immediate family members (Gurtner, 2006).

The strict law on women dressing does not provide room for women to change their style because of prevailing customs or other changes, such as modernity. This contrasts with the Christian tradition. Despite having a modest dress code during the Biblical times, the trend in Christian tradition has since changed as worshippers cite modernization and changing life conditions.

The Second Rule

Muslim traditions and beliefs consider it mandatory for women to veil their bosom, which is also regarded as the second dress code rule in the religion (Ssenyonjo, 2007). The hijab becomes the most ideal clothing that women can be used by women in the effort to cover their bosoms and protect them from being revealed to the public.

According to the religious teachings of Islam, exposure of a woman’s body part may turn out to be the origin of sinning, particularly the sin of adultery (Ssenyonjo, 2007). Muslims refer to the fact that the Quran has mentioned about hijab more than five times to emphasise the fact it is God’s wish and demand that women have to use this piece of cloth to cover their bodies as a measure of protection against falling into sin.

In comparison to the Jewish traditions, women believers are required to cover their heads and bosom and protect these parts from being revealed to others. Jewish religious teachers insist on women to cover their heads as a way of perpetuating the traditional practices that were exercised in the past.

This has prompted Jewish women to continue with the practise, particularly while in the synagogues, at religious festivities, or even while attending weddings (Freziger, 2009).

However, unlike Islam, the Jewish culture of women covering their bosoms and head is not one that originated from their religious practise. It was a society practise that existed before the founding of Jewish religion and only adopted later as an acceptable practise among the women.

It, thus, instructs the reasoning that although wearing of hijab among Jewish women is a common practise that continues to date, the practise has no religious ties and has only been integrated as part of the dutiful practices.

Several other Christian denominations and beliefs have their women cover their hair with headgear to protect them from revealing their hair to other people. Among the catholic nuns, for instance, the practise involves covering the head throughout, whether in attendance of a religious function or not.

This tradition among the nuns, however, does not extend to the other women believers who are not nuns. Catholic women can go to church and attend other religious functions without necessarily having their heads covered with a piece of cloth or headgear.

The Third Rule

The Quran mentions a third rule on the manner of dressing that Muslim women are required to observe and adhere. According to the Quran, God has instructed all women to conceal their adornments or beauty spots.

This instruction has in turn influenced the use of hijab among the Muslim women since the piece of cloth is used to conceal a woman’s beauty, particularly the face, hair, and neck as per the instructions of God (Ssenyonjo, 2007). Like in all instances where women are required to cover their bodies, the main objective is to minimize the chances of men getting sexually attracted to the women, which may in turn lead to adultery.

The greatest adornment in a Jewish woman is her hair. Thus, Jewish women have to equally cover their hair in order to protect it from being revealed to other women (Freziger, 2009). A hijab is perfectly suggested and won among the Jewish women as a way of ensuring that their important adornment remains concealed.

However, as already noted earlier on, the hijab wearing among the Jews is a practise that has only been incorporated into religion. This dress code is traditional among the Jews, and therefore was easily included as part of a religious doctrine. The holy Bible mentions about women veiling their heads during prayers. It also mentions further about their hair and the need to keep it concealed.

According to the Bible, failing to cover the head during prayers is tantamount to dishonouring one’s own head. It equates such an act to having one’s head shaven. However, the Bible teachings appear to provide women with alternatives about covering their head, where those not willing to do as per the instructions can still have their heads shaven. This account is covered in the first epistle to the Corinthians in Chapter 11, verse 5 and 6.

Although a majority of the Christian denominations do not emphasise on their women members to veil their heads when in church, a section of them follow the teachings to the latter (Piper & Grudem, 2012).

The Christian traditions and belief appear to contrast greatly with the strict Islam doctrines and to an extent even the Jewish teachings on veiling for women. Although the Bible has instructed women to cover their heads when praying or prophesying, these requirements do not seem to be conservatively applied by Christian women.

Equally, the church and its leadership, to a greater extent, do not seem to emphasise on the need for women to follow the dress code rule strictly. It is possible that the Bible account itself introduced this laxity and freedom by giving women the alternative to either cover their heads or shave their hair (Piper & Grudem, 2012).

The Fourth Rule

Another critical verse contained in the Quran instructs Muslim women to lengthen their garments as a way of gaining recognition and evading molestation (Ssenyonjo, 2007). The idea of lengthening women’s garments has particularly influenced the use of hijab among Muslims. Religious teachers see it as a way of adhering to God’s teachings and have over the ages emphasised on the need for Muslim women to veil themselves.

The lengthening of garments for female believers has seen women being required to cover all parts of their bodies, including their hands, legs, and feet. Among the Muslims, women find it agreeable to wrap themselves totally in huge clothing as they see it as a religious command that has been issued by God himself.

It is evident from the Quran accounts that there have been numerous attempts towards interpreting the lengthening of garments. However, Ssenyonjo (2007) indicates that the use of hijab as an additional clothing to conceal body parts is acceptable as a Godly practise.

The Islam tradition on wearing hijab, although cited in the holy Quran, also receives greater emphasis from religious leaders. Equally, the greater Muslim community strengthens the adherence of religious traditions through emphasising on particular practices (Ssenyonjo, 2007). Thus, it is not easy to see a Muslim woman attend prayers at the mosque without veiling her head.

The rest of the worshippers will openly rebuke such an act, even before the religious teachers notice. Such strict traditions, however, are not witnessed among Christians. While the religious teachers may be responsible for leading their congregations, their roles do not seem to go beyond offering teachings and rebuking their members for failing to adhere to certain teachings.

This explains why such a practise is not a common occurrence among Christian women, despite the Bible mentioning on the need for women to cover their heads when praying or prophesying in church (Piper & Grudem, 2012).

The Jewish traditions have a closer resemblance to the Muslims and their practise, particularly where emphasis by the religious leaders is concerned. The religious teachers among the Jewish emphasise on the need for women to always use hijabs to cover their head and bosom and to help avoid sinning via adultery.

This emphasis has helped in creating a strong and deeply rooted tradition as women feel as though the practise is part of their responsibility. They do not need to be reminded about wearing hijabs because the tradition has been engrained in them (Freziger, 2009).

Problems and Issues of Hijab

The hijab is the strongest symbol of Islam, particularly in regions such as North America and Europe where other religions, apart from Islam, are practised more (Ameli & Kharazmi, 2013). At a time when global terrorism has become an issue of great concern, the hijab has met great resistance in this region of the world with the Muslim world being considered to be the greatest source of terrorists (Ameli & Kharazmi, 2013).

Terrorists, for instance, have targeted the United States of America in the recent years in what the dissidents say is an effort to punish the country for its anti-Islam crusade.

The Al-Qaeda terror network successfully wrecked havoc in the US in September 11, 2001 when terrorists allied to the group hijacked passenger aircraft and crash-landed them on significant landmarks in the country, including the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, the US’s military headquarters.

As such, most American’s view Islam as an evil practice whose main teachings and traditions are trained on killing and tormenting others, more so Americans (Bell, 2003). Such negative thoughts have had far-reaching consequences on Islam and its traditions, symbols, as well as practices in the country (Haddad & Smith, 2002). Women on hijab in the country continue to face open discrimination and mistreatment.

The hatred that is pegged on stereotype has seen the non-Muslim communities in America utter obscenities and other uncomfortable words at veiled women, and sometimes physically insulting the women.

Instances of religious discrimination against Muslim women have been rife in institutions of learning, with the female staff and students being denied their right to practice their religion. The Muslim communities in these institutions have been agitating for the right to wear hijabs rather than the official dress codes observed in the institutions (Gurbuz & Gulsum, 2009).

However, the common reaction from the administrators of such institutions has been unwavering, with the Muslim students and members of staff required to observe the laid-out dress code rules strictly.

In some instances, as Gurbuz and Gulsum (2009) note in their article, the affected Muslim communities have sought for legal redress in their attempt to compel the administrators of such institutions to give them the leeway to wearing the hijab as their religion demands.

Feminist groups in North America have equally been fighting the hijab, which they see as a form of discrimination against Islam’s women believers. The hijab is particularly viewed as a conservative garb whose main aim is to deny women the freedom to choose their dress code without such a choice being compelled by such forces as religion (Russo, 2006).

The feminist groups are not in disagreement with the choice of religion that Muslim women have opted to confess their beliefs too. However, the main cause of disagreement is on the strict religious rules and laws, which they say seek to undermine the rights of women.

The feminist groups demand that women have beautiful bodies that they need to show off to others as an appreciation of whom they are rather than covering the bodies in the hijabs throughout their lifetime.

The fact that Islam does not allow for women leadership offers yet another dimension upon which feminists are taking issue with the hijab. The religious laws that condemn women into wearing hijab are particularly fronted and stressed upon by men, something the women’s right bodies are taking exceptions over (Russo, 2006).

Racial and religious discrimination has also been cited by hijab wearing women in North America when it comes to seeking public services (American Civil Liberties Union, n.d.). Visitors entering North American countries when wearing hijabs, particularly the USA, are looked at with a lot of suspicions and treated as second-class citizens.

In the US embassies and consular based in foreign countries, women on hijab have reportedly found it difficult to secure visas to the country. Often, the reason for instituting such complex barriers for Muslim women seeking to enter the USA has been supported by the authorities, who consider it as a security measure aimed at curbing the spread of terrorism in the country.

Women and girls who wear hijab are sometimes denied entry in public places such as shopping malls, public buildings, and even swimming pools. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (n.d.), such women are usually sexually harassed by being subjected to search by male guards.

In some other instances, Muslim women wearing hijabs are given the single option of removing their headgear before being allowed access into the facilities.

With the increasing mistreatment and discrimination that women wearing hijabs continue to suffer in Northern America, there has been a growing tendency among Muslim women to stop wearing their veils when in public (Reeves & Azam, 2012).

The suffering that the women endure has prompted quite a majority of them abandon their veils, albeit against their wishes and beliefs, in order to reduce their susceptibility in the hands of a hostile society. However, these decisions go against the Islam teachings and to an extent force the women to sin, which is against their beliefs.

In other words, the hijab, which is a religious outfit, is being forced into oblivion as the Muslims in Northern America attempt to dispose of any physically visible religious symbols in order to stay safe from heinous acts being directed at them (Reeves & Azam, 2012).

Conclusion

Different religious beliefs and practices have varying doctrines, especially on how women are supposed to dress. While these doctrines may appear different in certain aspects, there are several similarities that apply across board. Islam requires that women cover their bosoms and heads with hijab as a way of preventing men from getting attracted to women and ending up sinning through adultery.

The hijab has been mentioned severally in the holy Quran, which highlights God’s strong preference for the garment. A woman’s body is only supposed to be revealed to her husband and not any other strangers because that is an avenue through which sinning can be condoned. The Jewish religion, on the other hand, equally prefers the use of hijab particularly among the women in order to conceal their heads from strangers.

Unlike in Islam, the Jewish religion does not have any special mention on the hijab, despite the religious leaders and teachers emphasising on its use. The hijab was part of the dressing code which women used to veil women and conceal their bodies from being exposed to strangers in the traditional Jewish culture, prior to the advent of religion.

The practise among Christians is, nonetheless, not pronounced as a majority of the women do not veil themselves when in churches or attending to religious events. However, Catholic nuns strictly cover their hair and heads every time. Hijab’s have been the greatest source of attacks and discrimination directed towards Muslim women, particularly in Northern America.

The spread of global terrorism and its perceived association with Islam has seen non-Muslim communities target women on hijab in America. Muslim women also complain of discrimination, especially being perpetrated by institutions of learning. Muslim women accuse these institutions of refusing to grant them the permission to wear hijabs.

References

Ameli, S. R., & Kharazmi, Z. N. (2013). American virtual colonialism and the Islamophobia politics: Muslim/Iranian Women’s “Hijab” at “YouTube” international Journal of Women’s Research, 3(1) 5-22.

American Civil Liberties Union (n.d.). . Web.

Bell, W. (2003). How has American life changed since September 11? Journal of Futures Studies, 8(1), 73-80.

Bigger, S. (2006). Muslim women’s views on dress code and the hijaab: some issues for education. Journal of Beliefs & Values, 27(2), 215–226.

Freziger, A. S. (2009). Feminism and heresy: the construction of a Jewish metanarrative. Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 77(3), 494-546.

Gurbuz, M. E., & Gulsum, G. (2009). Between sacred codes and secular consumer society: the practice of headscarf adoption among American college girls. Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, 29(3), 387-399.

Gurtner, D. M. (2006). The veil of the temple in history and legend. JETS 49(1), 97-114.

Haddad, Y. Y., & Smith, J. I. (2002). Muslim minorities in the west. Oxford: Altamira Press.

Piper, J., & Grudem, W. (2012). Restoring biblical manhood and womanhood: a response to evangelical feminism. New York, NY: Crossway Books.

Reeves, T. C. & Azam, L. (2012). To wear hijab or not: Muslim Women’s Perceptions of Their Healthcare Workplaces. Journal of Business Diversity, 12(2), 41-51.

Russo, A. (2006). The feminist majority foundation’s campaign to stop gender apartheid: the intersections of feminism and imperialism in the United States. International Feminist Journal of Politics, 8(4), 557–580.

Ssenyonjo, M. (2007). The Islamic veil and freedom of religion, the rights to education and work: a survey of recent International and national cases. Chinese Journal of International Law, 6(3), 653–710.

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IvyPanda. "Women, Religion, and Feminism." July 8, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/women-religion-and-feminism/.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "Women, Religion, and Feminism." July 8, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/women-religion-and-feminism/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'Women, Religion, and Feminism'. 8 July.

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