I am wearing hijab for Lent.
Many personal, moral, and spiritual considerations led me to the decision to wear the headscarf as I follow my Lord on this holy journey. During Lent, Jesus leads us through the depths of human suffering into an awakening of compassion – co-suffering – as we confront and reflect on our own entanglement in the matrix of violence we have built since the foundation of the world. When we take up our crosses and follow Jesus through the wilderness of human fear and selfishness in all their devastating consequences, we walk amongst those who suffer from our violence as well as those whose violence we are suffering. The twin needs of giving and receiving forgiveness are illuminated along the way as we awaken in sensitivity to the needs and pains of others.
In heeding Jesus’s call to walk with those experiencing misunderstanding, cruelty and violence, I will don hijab for the Lenten season in solidarity with my Muslim sisters and brothers in this nation and throughout the world. Muslims, of course, are not the only recipients of bigotry at the hands of our nation, but my history and my vocation, along with role models in interfaith peacemaking, inspire me to “embody solidarity,” in the words of Dr. Larycia Hawkins, in this particular manner.
Jesus, after all, is Embodied Solidarity. While human communities carved out their identities through scapegoats and exclusions, saying “We are us because we are not them,” the Fully Human One went to the margins, and was cast out himself, to bring the outcasts into the fullness of life, and to show that life is not full without the ones we cast out. Humanity was created to reflect and magnify the full, all-embracing Love in which we were made, and to discover and live into the fullness of who we are not by excluding others, but by recognizing the particular expression of Love in each person and reflecting Love back.
Our nation as a whole has not done a good job recognizing and reflecting Love back to the Muslim ummah in the United States and around the world. And so during Lent, as we are somberly reminded to reflect upon human sin – human violence – I am thinking of US imperialism and war in the Middle East and the hatred and misunderstanding faced by Muslims here at home. While recent developments like the travel ban for seven predominantly Muslim countries have garnered widespread attention, drone bombings and night raids and weapons proliferation from our nation have faded from our discourse. Even when we manage to talk about the ongoing War on Terror, numbers and statistics can’t begin to tell the story of lives stolen, bodies mangled, livelihoods destroyed, children living in constant fear. We hear only about the blowback, but fail to define it as such. People who have already been dehumanized, who have lost everything, might find identity (or merely the ability to survive) by joining militant groups that seek material and spiritual salvation in violence. ISIS is a product of our violence. But we don’t tell that story, and so “Islamic terrorism” is thought to develop in a vacuum out of sheer hatred and a demonic understanding of the divine. Muslims in this country, often while praying for loved ones in horrific circumstances abroad, must endure being seen through that twisted lens of hatred, misunderstanding, and fear.
Although I converted to Islam at 16 and lived for years as a Muslim before reaffirming my Christian faith, I rarely wore hijab when I wasn’t praying, and was not easily identified as a Muslim by strangers. I prayed and continued to pray for my Muslim friends whose religious identity was more easily recognized in the aftermath of 9/11, when hate and fear naturally peaked after our nation was attacked. While some progress has been made in interfaith dialogue and understanding, 15 years of war have also hardened some hearts and solidified some prejudices. My dearest Muslim friends now live far away from me, and while I can imagine, I do not know the day-to-day experiences of the Muslims in my community. While I cannot fully know from the inside, wearing hijab for 40 days will help me understand, to a degree, some of the experiences – positive and negative – of my Muslim sisters and brothers so that I can more fully dedicate my prayers, writings and actions to understanding and peacemaking.
I am a little nervous about how my community might react; whether strangers will give harsh looks or say angry words. But honestly, I am also expecting a wonderful opportunity to see the compassion and open-heartedness of my neighbors. Especially today, on Ash Wednesday, while I wear the scarf around my face with ashes on my forehead, I am expecting curiosity to open opportunities for me to talk about my faith journey, the wonderful Muslims I know who have made me who I am, and connections between Islam and Christianity as well as the differences between them. I am hoping that the faith journey that has led me here will lead me to others seeking and striving for peace, and that opportunities to build dialogue and understanding will arise from my encounters with those whose journeys will intersect with mine.
I hope, for example, to be able to tell people about how my love for Islam is an integral part of my Christian faith. Through Islam I learned the discipline of regular prayer which structures days, unites believers in all places and circumstances, and puts troubles into the perspective of eternity. I felt the hunger in my belly that comes from fasting and am better able to empathize with those who go without food without choice. I was part of a community that valued modesty not only in appearance, but in character; graciousness, humility, and humor made up the contours of daily living. These values brought me closer to the God I love and worship, and I carry them with me today.
I also expect questions about the role of women in Islam, and the opportunity to answer with the fact that my Muslim friends are among the most brilliant, amazing women I know. In high school they were study-buddies and science partners who helped me appreciate the value of education. I continue to be inspired by them as they raise their families, hold careers and play essential roles in their communities. I hope to have the opportunity to talk about how Islam can be interpreted as a boon to women’s rights and education as well as why it may be misinterpreted or abused, like any faith.
But I most look forward to opportunities to dialogue about the nature of the One God worshipped, however differently, by Christians and Muslims alike. I hope to talk to Muslims as well as Christians about our mutual love for Jesus and how our different understandings of him enhance our fuller understanding of the God who is ultimately beyond comprehension.
As I follow Jesus in his way of compassion, I also follow the words from the Holy Qur’an that read, “O mankind, indeed we created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you.” We are made to be in relationship and righteousness, which I interpret as Love, because I know God as Love. Following the way of the cross in hijab, I hope to come to deeper love for my Muslim sisters and brothers, as well as all humanity.
Editor’s Note: Muslims have also shown solidarity with Christians during the Holy Season of Lent. See my previous article: My Journey Through The Wilderness with #Muslims4Lent.
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