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Published Date: July 31, 2006

Published Date: July 31, 2006

Featured Articles

Featured Articles

A Two-Thirds World Christian Reflection on Head Coverings


B: Bill

M: Maureena (female)

A: Ajai (male)

B: What is the niddah?

M: The niddah ritual separation is historical in Jewish, Muslim, and some other religions. The niddah veil is their warning signal. They believe, if a woman is menstruating, she is unclean. So, for example, for Muslims, when a male goes to a mosque and he prays, he should be clean. He cannot touch a menstruating woman. So, you know, when they go for prayer, they wash their hands; they wash their feet; and they go to the toilet; they clean themselves, because, before they go to pray, they should be clean. But they are not supposed to touch anything unclean, because, if they touch anything unclean, they cannot go and pray. So, they consider a woman who is menstruating, she’s unclean. So, that is why they cannot touch a woman. That is why they say sometime even to a stranger or anybody, they do not touch, because they do not know whether she is menstruating or not. If they touch, they are defiled. They become unclean and cannot pray. So, it is mainly for prayer accountability, for guarding the prayers of men. They go to mosque; women don’t go to mosque.

A: Women have a mosque, too. They have their separate mosque.

M: Some places have special mosques for women. Still, when she is menstruating, she cannot go to mosque. Nowadays, modernizations are made, though in conservative Islam there are no modernizations; females do not go to mosque.

A: They pray at home.

M: Yes, they pray at home. We Christian men and women go to church—in the conservative Muslim world, no. Only men go to mosque. Women there are not supposed to go. They’re supposed to be at home and pray. Now, this niddah practice is also among Hindus. For Hindus, if a woman is menstruating, she cannot enter the kitchen. Because, if she enters the kitchen . . .

B: She can’t enter the kitchen?

M: Yes, she defiles the whole kitchen.

B: So, who cooks?

M and A: Somebody else in the family.

A: Even these teenage girls, when they are menstruating, they don’t go to school. They stay at home.

B: That must set them back in their education.

A: It’s only a matter of four days or five days.

M: In the olden days, the women would not go to school.

B: So, it didn’t matter?

M: Yes, it’s only now they started to go, but I taught nurses. I had nursing students who wouldn’t miss even one day.

A: For them it was a different thing. But I am talking about the high schools.

B: Now, some don’t practice it in the United States. Do you have anyone working with you who wears the veil—the niddah?

M: The niddah is the time of menstruating. Head covering is something different. In Christianity, there is no niddah. In America, there is no niddah. Same way in Indian culture; there is no niddah.

B: No, but there is the head covering.

M: The head covering, yes. Some Indian Christians believe
this because of 1 Corinthians 11, that a woman, when she prays, she should cover her head, otherwise she should shave her head.

B: So, let me see if I understand this. Would the niddah outfit look different from the normal head covering?

M: Head covering and niddah are two different things, because niddah to me is the status of a woman, when she is menstruating, and she is unclean.

B:And does she wear something different?

M: No.

B: Same head covering?

M: Same head covering.

B: It’s more how she acts?

M: Not even acts.

B: Where she can go?

M: Yes, not even acts, like, just that she knows that she is unclean during these days.

B: I remember this one group of Rastafarians, the Bobo Shanti. During a twenty-one-day period, a woman would have to stay in her house. And her husband would actually put her food in through a little slit. I don’t think this is true in any of these other faiths.

A: No, no, no. Not at all. Now it’s more modern in the sense that people can move around here and there.

M: I’m not sure how much they practice not touching a woman during menstruation also. It’s like every religion. Some people will follow it so faithfully; some won’t. And I doubt every man practices that. Some believe in their religion very strong; some don’t. Like, for example, in Christianity, if you have a strong born-again Christian, you try your best to follow. They won’t go off easily; they are careful about homosexuality; they are careful about the extramarital affairs; they know about the adultery; so, they follow the faith. But some who are careless, they call themselves Christians, but they do whatever they feel like. So, same way with Muslims also. There are people like that. There are some Muslims we have seen that don’t even pray. They fast.

B: Really, they fast, but they don’t pray?

A: They are fasting just to show.

M: What I am telling you is how faithfully they are following it and how faithfully they are following the head coverings. It’s not in every group. It’s just your personal belief. But ninety percent of Muslims we know follow it. But not everybody is so committed. See, now, in my hospital, there is one doctor. She was born and brought up in a very strong Muslim family. But she went to England. She went to America. She went to big universities. She never covered her head. She had, all the time, different hairstyles. She is a staunch Muslim. But she did not follow this head covering practice. This is what modernization is.

B: Now this was in the Middle East?

M: This was in the Middle East.

B: Did she run into any trouble for this?

M: No.

B: Did that particular country have a much more relaxed culture?

M: Much more relaxed than Saudi. That is another thing. If she would be in Saudi, she’d be in trouble.

B: Saudi Arabia?

M: Yes. So, in some parts of the Middle East, people still have a little bit of freedom, you know? But, still, she was a very bold lady, because she went out of the country here and there. And she was a really big lady, because she held a very high position.

B: And she had a lot of sophisticated training.

M: Yes, but with other people there are differences. She is very highly educated and moves around in very different societies. So, she changed her style. She changed her faith practice. Another girl is very committed; she is just trying to do what is written in the Qur’an. She is very afraid of all the Mullah, the priests in the mosque. She is just committed to what is written in the Qur’an. Another girl does it, because she fears the society. But she is not very personally convinced of that. She does it, because, if she didn’t, her brother may not like it, her father may not like it.

B: It’s a family thing.

M: It’s a family thing. What if I go without head covering? Maybe my community may not like it. So, there are different groups of people. Some of them do it to please. But you can say ninety percent are bound by law.

B: I see. Now, the freedom that comes in Christ, that Ginger O’Neil mentions, this is not necessarily a freedom from head coverings, but it is a freedom from niddah?

M: Yes. I personally feel a woman is not unclean when she is menstruating. It is just a part of our human body which God has created. You know, my personal view is that she is not unclean. And men should not be clean or unclean. Nothing in the New Testament says it. Even God says you can eat everything. Nothing that God has made is unclean.

B: Yes, it makes sense. Of course, you are a nurse too.

M: Yes.

B: You think of these things much more scientifically than others do. So, where would you pinpoint the freedom in Jesus?

M: Freedom in Jesus—definitely there is freedom, because Jesus always interacted with women like the woman at the well. Even though she was the most sinful person, Jesus talked with her. And then the other lady who had many husbands and then they wanted to stone her to death. And Jesus said, if any one of you who have not sinned—is there anybody who has not sinned?—can stone her.

B: John 8.

M: So, Jesus protected her. So, Jesus was basically a protector of women’s rights. He wanted them to live in freedom.

B: Now, I notice that some Muslim women wear these head coverings one hundred percent of the time.

M: Yes, all the time.

B: All the time. But they are not menstruating all the time.

M: No, no, no. Head covering is a very different concept than having menstruation. There are two aspects. First of all, let’s talk about the head covering.

B: Yes.

M: The head covering—they feel this is a revelation from Allah. It was ordered by Mohammad. They have to cover their head, because a woman’s hair should not be seen. Not even one part of her body should be seen. The reason behind it is because Mohammad says that you are tempting the opposite sex to sin when her hair is seen. It is like a temptation to the opposite sex for the immoral sin, if she exposes any part of her body. Now, head covering is to cover her hair. In the Muslim world, they’re not supposed to show their hair. So, all the time their head should be covered. And this is according to Mohammad, and this is according to the Qur’an. But there is another aspect of it. In Indian culture, many an Indian woman, when she prays, she covers the head.

B: Oh, even so?

M: Yes. But our concept is different. Indian Christians cover the head, because they follow 1 Corinthians 11, that, when you pray, or, when a woman comes to pray, she should cover her head; otherwise she should shave it. Though not every denomination follows that, sometimes a pastor will check to see if the woman is not covering the head.

B: Really?

M: Yes. That woman is checked if she doesn’t cover her head.

B: What does that entail when she is checked?

M: Checked in the sense that you’d say that we’d appreciate it if you cover your head.

B: Really? They tell her that?

M: Some of the churches are that strong.

B: Wow.

M: Some churches don’t care. Some of the churches, our church in the Middle East, our Christian community, it was just your personal conviction.

A: But most of them used to cover. Rarely did I see anybody not covering their head.

M: I used to cover. But, when I came here, if I still covered my hair, it looked very awkward.

B: Well, it looks like you’re a Muslim.

M: Yes, so I don’t cover. But back home, in the Middle East, when you’re praying, especially if you’re a pastor’s wife and you don’t follow it, everybody will be very restless. Sometimes people will just assess you as a pastor on how the pastor’s wife is dressed. If she is not covering her head, they won’t come to church. If a pastor’s wife cannot follow the Bible, you know—the small things. But, for some Muslims, it seems it is to cover their hair, because they feel that it is a woman’s beauty and the glory of the woman. And in the conservative Muslim world, if any woman wears her hair open, she is called “prostitute.”

B: Now, in 1 Corinthians 11, I understand the hair itself is the covering.

M: Yes, but it is a very totally different culture in the Muslim world. That’s why, when we went to the Middle East, the first thing we were taught was do not walk around with your hair open. Because people would consider you are a prostitute. Because they believe that, if you show your hair, you are tempting men to the sexual immoral sin. You are enticing them. This is according to the Qur’an. Yet, in India and in other cultures like the Indian-Asian community, we do it too. Women, when praying, they cover their head, because they believe they’re obeying 1 Corinthians.

A: Women in the general population, Eastern women, when they move around, for example, if you take Southeast Asia alone, other than when praying, they also cover their head, when they move around, because they use a sari, and with a sari you can easily wear a chunni, and with a chunni you can cover your head.

B: What is a chunni?

A: Chunni is a dupatti; dupatti is a piece of cloth with which you can just cover up.

B: It’s like a kerchief?

A: Yes, it’s more like a scarf women use with the winter cold, but it’s pretty long. It is usually about 2.5 meters long. And they usually use it for covering their head. And the reason in the Eastern countries why they use it is for the purpose of the respect they have for their husbands and for their elders.

M: They’re supposed to cover their heads.

A: They cover their heads and themselves in fact. Head is a part of that.

B: For husbands and elders.

A: In fact, if you go to the very rural India, it is not only covering the head, they cover their face, too, especially amongst elders. And, if men are there, even at home, if men are there, they will cover their face.

B: Yes, I’ve seen the black veil—though rarely—even in Turkey.

A: Right. Now, in the Middle East, not only covering the head, they cover their face, too. Especially, when they are moving around in public, they cover their face, too. And that’s the veil. They use that too, especially when they are moving around
in public.

B: And how does that affect the head covering of Christians, do you think? Do you think it is a mistake to have head coverings today?

M: It’s not. But in Corinthians, that was not by Jesus, it was by Paul. That makes a difference. But, it’s just that Paul recommended it.

B: Oh, but he recommended it because of the culture.

M: Yes, he said if a woman should cover her head, but he did not make it as a law. So, some take it seriously; some do not.

B: So, I think I understand what you are saying. Jesus stands up for women, and, because of the gospel, the niddah is not necessary for Christian women. But Paul leaves the head covering as part of his ministry to the culture, although Jesus does not seem to emphasize that. That’s what you’re saying?

M: Yes. I feel, as a Christian woman, I am free in Christ.

B: Free in Christ.

M: Because, in the Bible, Jesus did not differentiate between men and women, as such.

A: Because the Christian husband gives a lot of freedom. [All laughing.]

B: Do you feel, as a Christian woman, you can either wear the head covering or not wear the head covering?

M: Now, as a Christian, it is a personal conviction. I personally feel that I should cover. B: You do?

M: Because, when I came to the United States, it was very difficult for me to sit in the church without my head covering.

B: Is that because you were always accustomed to it?

M: Basically, it comes from our own culture, because, in my part of India, we always cover. Even a small girl, we cover her head and sit for prayer. If she is covering her head, we know she’s ready for prayer. So, we are brought up like that. You know? So, it’s not just culture; culture has meaning. My church religiously follows 1 Corinthians 11. So, it took much time for me to be comfortable sitting in the church without covering my head.

B: When you came to America?

M: Like, if I’m sitting in a church, it took me a few months to sit in the church without covering my head. If you go to my part of India, you will see most of the women covering.

A: Even, if you go to these Indian churches here, they will sit with their heads covered.

B: Really?

A: Yes.

M: That is because, though there is not a law as such, just because Paul said it.

A: They follow that very strictly, and it also is a blend of their own culture. So, it fits in very well.

B: In the Middle East, you always worshipped with your head covered?

M: Yes. With the time passing, it has become cultural. But it is not only cultural, because the Bible is not only culturally based. Now, it is in modern culture. First Corinthians 11 reflects the whole world. Slowly some part of the world took it seriously. So, that is why it became a part of many cultures. But it is more than culture, because it is what Paul says.

B: I see what you mean. So, neither in India, nor in the Middle East, did you ever cover your head for niddah—or any Christian woman?

A: No, nobody does that.

B: Not for niddah.

A and M: No.

A: Nobody even knows about this practice.

M: But for prayer. For prayer’s sake only, I will cover my head.

B: Just for prayer?

A: Just for prayer. Especially the young girls in our circles. They are usually trained up right from their childhood. Okay, you go to church, cover your head. Okay, it’s time to pray, let’s cover our head.

M: I’m talking about my father. My father would not recommend me to go to church without covering my head.

B: Now, what would he think if he knew how we worshipped over here? Would he think we were less devout?

M: No, he wouldn’t.

B: Would he be okay with you no longer covering your head?

M: He would be uncomfortable with the ladies sitting in the church without covering their heads.

B: And how about him not wearing a tie? Would that make a

M: Tie has no meaning. A Christian man should not be covering his head.

A: No cap, nothing.

B: So, if I wear my hat in church . . . ?

M: You would have to remove it.

A: That would be some sort of . . .

M: Disrespect. If you go to a church like that, you have to remove your cap.

B: Do I? I don’t think we have any guy in church who wears a hat, but sometimes guys will wear their baseball caps. Some of the students.

M: No, in America most of the people are not even aware of this sensitivity.

A: But I have seen in most of my classes, when I go, and, when the professor usually prays, the guys who are wearing their caps or hats, they immediately remove it.

B: Do they?

A: Yes.

B: I do that. I always take my hat off when I pray.

M: So, some meaning is there. This is your automatic reflexes which you have gotten from your family?

B: Well, in the old days, if you were a boy in a fundamentalist conservative church, like the one I grew up in, and kept your hat on, they’d take your hat off you and hand it to you.

M: That’s what I’m talking about. That is what is in my part of India. It’s like an automatic reflex. When you enter the church, you cover your head.

B: Now, the Jews have prayer shawls. And, when they’re going to pray, they put the prayer shawl over their head. They’re like the exact opposite. Men cover their heads when they pray. I remember when our son was small. We were at my wife’s parents’ home. And we went to the table and he had his little baseball cap on. So, her mom said, “If you’re a Christian man, you have to take your hat off at the table.” And it wasn’t until years later that we figured out that, in the part of Spain where her grandfather and grandmother were from, the Muslim men would wear their hats when they ate. So, the Christians would always make sure that they took their hats off. Just like in the Didache in the early church, the Jews would fast on Mondays and Thursdays, so, the Christians would make sure they fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays just to avoid being mistaken for devout Jews.

M: The Bible and Qur’an have it in there. But slowly some people believed it so religiously; some believed it in a different way. So, then came the culture.

B: And the culture has it all confused?

A: Yes.

M: Yes. Culture has made everything confused. But the most important thing is, as a Christian, by grace we are saved; by grace we are freed. And we are not bound by law anymore.

B: So, you are saying that your freedom in Christ determines what practice in your faith you adopt. One can choose to cover one’s head or not to cover one’s head in worship and prayer. The key is one’s love and respect for God, not simply enslavement to a law. That makes sense for us all. Your freedom in Christ determines how you wish to show your respect to God. Your responsive love determines your practice.