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Wait, I thought that was a Muslim thing?!

On a bright, sunny morning in central Jerusalem, two friends and I approached a domed house of worship. A sign outside the door asked us to remove our shoes, so we slipped off our sandals and walked inside, where elaborate carpets covered the floors. A woman wearing a long floral skirt and a sweeping white headscarf bowed and prostrated in prayer, her forehead and lips touching the ground. These images and practices were ones I was used to encountering in Muslim communities, both in the United States and the Middle East. If it weren’t for the icons and crucifixes on the walls, I would have thought I was visiting a mosque. 

But this place was an Ethiopian Orthodox church, a Christian sanctuary. Many of its features—a shrouded altar for consecration, images of Mary and St. George, and twisting crosses that reminded me of Celtic ones—gave away its Christian affiliation. But other qualities, like the practices and attire of those who prayed there, to me were reminiscent of Islam. 

Americans—particularly those who grew up in the Roman Church—might have certain assumptions about what beliefs and practices are distinctly “Islamic.” Many of us strongly associate Arabic terms like sharia, jihad, and Allah, and customs such as women’s hair covering, with Islam. However, my time spent living in Jordan and touring Israel/Palestine has revealed that some of these stereotypically “Islamic” things are also quite Christian. These unexpected points of contact between Christianity and Islam may help Christians appreciate our own diverse religious heritage, and develop a better understanding of a people and a religion that often seem utterly ‘other’.

(See related photos at the end of the article.)

Headscarves in the Holy Land

Many Americans have never seen a Catholic woman covering her hair during Mass, but the practice was mandated by the Church until the mid 1960s. Today, few women still come to Mass with a thin lace veil over their hair.

But in the Middle East, like in Christian communities around the world, this practice is often maintained. Rural Christian women in Jordan dress remarkably similarly to their Muslim counterparts. When I visited churches in rural Anjara or at Jesus’ baptismal site along the Jordan River, I saw Christian women who, outside of a Christian setting, I would have guessed were Muslims. Some Christian women not only attend Mass wearing long dresses and thick scarfs, but they don this garb in daily life. For hundreds of years, all Christians dressed in tribal clothing just like their neighbors. (You can see images here.) Headscarves, like the one worn by the Virgin Mary, have been a practical and cultural staple in this region for thousands of years. The practice does not take Islam as its source but is rather a common practice of the Middle East, where Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all emerged.

In Catholic churches in urban Amman, some women also wear a thin veil during Mass. At the Melkite parish, which maintains the Greek rite despite its communion with Rome, every woman puts on a veil before receiving the Eucharist. This practice is similar to that of Muslim women; regardless of whether they wear a hijab in public, they always cover their head before praying at home or in a mosque. By choosing to wear a headscarf, whether at Mass or all the time, a woman is signaling her reverence and humility before God. She is saying, “I acknowledge the specialness of this moment, when I am in God’s presence.”

During my visit to Jerusalem, I noticed that it wasn’t just the local Muslim, Christian, and Jewish women who covered their heads during prayer. Christian pilgrims from around the world wore headscarves when they entered the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Christianity’s holiest site, and the Russian Orthodox church of Mary Magdalene. As they walked the stone streets of Jerusalem’s Old City, European women with bare arms and legs kept scarves tied under their chins—because in the Holy Land, every spot is holy. The prevalence of the headscarf in other Christian contexts prompts us to ask, “Why do we make such a big deal about when Muslim women wear it?” and “Why have we abandoned this practice?”

Arabic, The Language of Many

Arabic, with its swirling script and deep syllables, is the official liturgical and scriptural language of Islam. The five obligatory prayers must be completed in Arabic (regardless of one’s vernacular) and the Qur’an—which records the revelations of God to the prophet Muhammad—is composed in Arabic.

Unfortunately, in post-9/11 America, particular Arabic terms—and the Arabic language as a whole—have developed a negative connotation. We wonder whether Muslims’ Allah is something other than the Judeo-Christian God, we condemn jihad, and we fear shariacreeping” into our social and political life. For many it is a language of scary sounds and a frightening religion.

Thus, it may surprise Americans that Arabic is not only the language of Islam. It is also used in everyday life by over 200 million Arabs, which include Christians, Jews, and other socio-religious groups. For centuries—even before the advent of Islam in the seventh century—Christians have used Arabic to express and live out their faith. It even makes use (and embraces) Arabic words that many Christian Americans may have assumed are exclusively Islamic. (Click here to listen to a recitation of the Gospel of Luke in Arabic.)

Allah

The word, Allah, which refers to the supreme being, is a compound of the Arabic words al (“the”) and ilah (“god”). The definitive nature of Allah connotes just what capital-G “God” signals in English: there may be many “gods/ilahs” but there is only one supreme God/Allah, worthy of worship.

According to Kenneth Thomas, “Arabs used the word Allah for the supreme being before the time of Muhammad.” That means that Christians and Jews living in Arabia used the word before Islam came into being. Though their biblical texts were composed in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Syriac, the faith was communicated to the masses orally, in Arabic. Since the eighth century, when the text of Bible was first translated into Arabic, Allah has been the term of choice to translate elohim or theos, the Hebrew and Greek terms for “God.”

The word is still used among Christians today in Mass or other liturgical settings, the Bible, and daily life. Silver necklaces reading “Allah mahibba, or “God is love,” hang on the necks of Christian women. Like their Muslim neighbors, Christians often exclaim “Alhamdulilah,” or “praise God” upon hearing good news. When I sing the Agnus Dei in Mass, I say Ya hamil Allah (“Lamb of God”), along with the rest of the Arabic-speaking congregation.

But some wonder if Christians and Muslims should use the same term for God when some of our beliefs about God differ. Christians believe in God’s Trinitarian nature, while Muslims assert that “God did not beget a son” (Qur’an 23:91). Some, particularly those who would like to sow division between Christians and Muslims, would even claim that these differences in theology are so great that we believe in completely different Gods altogether. Respected scholars, like former Vatican official Fr. Thomas Michel, disagree. He writes:

For fourteen centuries Arabic-speaking Christians, Muslims, and Jews have called God “Allah,” a common witness that in spite of our difficulties our God is one and the same.… It is the firm conviction of Christians today, and has been through the centuries, that the God of Muslims and Christians in one, and hence we must oppose any attempts to give the impression that we worship different Gods by the use of different names for the one and the same God.  

Muslims, too, insist that they believe in the same God as Christians and Jews. The Qur’an explains that Muslims worship in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Qur’an 2:133). Our differences in doctrine, believers and scholars agree, should not be a reason to use different names for God.

Jihad

Images of suicide bombers in Iraq or turban-clad Taliban in Afghanistan might be what come to mind when many Americans hear the word, jihad. But this Arabic term means more than “holy war;” in fact, Christians sometimes use the term as well.

John Esposito, a Georgetown University professor and scholar of Islam, summarizes the concept succinctly:

Jihad, “to strive or struggle” in the way of God, is sometimes referred to as the sixth pillar of Islam, though it has no such official status. In its most general meaning, it refers to the obligation incumbent on all Muslims, as individuals and as a community, to exert themselves to realize God’s will, to lead virtuous lives, and to extend the Islamic community through preaching, education, and so on… A related meaning is the struggle for or defense of Islam, holy war. Despite the fact that jihad is not supposed to include aggressive warfare, this has occurred, exemplified by early extremists…and contemporary groups.” (Esposito, Islam: The Straight Path)

In his comprehensive article, “Jihad: Holy or Unholy,” Esposito explains that the Prophet Muhammad contrasted “the two broad meanings of jihad, non-violent and violent.” Upon returning from battle, he said, “We return from the lesser jihad to the greater jihad.” The greater jihad is the more difficult and more important struggle against one’s ego, selfishness, greed, and evil.

The “greater jihad,” the inner struggle for holiness, is one that Christians also take up. The verb is used throughout the New Testament and Christian men are sometimes given Jihad as a first name.

Properly understood and executed, the “lesser jihad” of taking up arms, can be compared to Christianity’s theory of just war. Suheib Webb, a well-known American imam and convert to Islam, explains that Muslims are only allowed to use violence if their human rights, or those of others, are being violated. Islamic law states that jihad is only just and valid if violence is used proportionally and as a last resort, and if innocent civilians are not targeted.

When we realize that many contemporary “jihadist” fighters in Syria and Afghanistan are in fact trampling over both meanings of jihad, we can see that the Islamic concept of struggle isn’t too different from Christian concepts about self-betterment, social justice, and just war.

Sharia

In recent years, pundits at Fox News and elsewhere have stirred up fears about sharia, distorting Americans’ understanding about this Arabic term. Ignoring (sometimes intentionally) the more nuanced meaning of this Islamic concept, they claim that Muslims want to overturn the Constitution and impose extreme laws on the American public.

Sharia literally means “path” or “way” and, according to Esposito, “refers to God’s will, laws, principles and values, found in the Qur’an and the traditions of the prophet Muhammad [Islam’s two sources of divine revelation].” Usually, sharia is used to connote the body of laws developed by early Islamic jurists to govern moral and social life. But to reduce sharia to these laws (which are often contested by Islamic scholars) is to miss the bigger point. These laws, like the 613 precepts of Judaism or Catholic Canon Law, are intended to help orient believers toward a holy life, and to direct them in building a society in which dignity, justice, peace, and freedom flourish. If these core principles—which resemble Christian and also secular American values—are not being served by the specific laws themselves, then they must be evaluated. Put simply, sharia is the Islamic guidebook for building what Catholics would call the “kingdom of God.”

Arabic-speaking Christians use the word sharia, too. I encountered it in Catholic Mass last fall at my local Arabic-speaking parish. Before the Liturgy of the Word, the priest recited the text of the day’s Collect prayer, which in English reads, “O God, who founded all the commands of your sacred Law upon love of you and of our neighbor,
grant that, by keeping your precepts,
we may merit to attain eternal life.” In the Arabic translation, sharia is used for capital-L “Law.” Of course, in Christianity the term does not connote specific Islamic precepts, but it does indicate the same, principal meaning: God’s vision for His creation. The Collect prayer speaks of a process, a journey toward God, and it echoes the plea of the Qur’an’s most recited verse, “Guide us on the straight path.”

When we better understand the concept of sharia in Islam, and see how it is used in Christian contexts, we are compelled to confront the current portrayal and use of the word in the American media.

Losing our labels

Learning about Middle Eastern Christianity challenges Westerners to set aside many of our assumptions about both Christianity and Islam. It encourages us to erase our labels and recognize the diversity that exists in our tradition. It inspires curiosity and humility when it reveals the similarities Christianity maintains with other religions.

And it may even ask us to take off our shoes, cover our heads, and try praying with words we didn’t think belonged to us.

Jordan Denari is a recent graduate of Georgetown University. She now lives in Amman, Jordan where she conducts research on Muslim-Christian relations and the media.

(Click the "i" icon to read captions which explain the photos below.)

A Christian husband and wife, both wearing traditional Jordanian head scarves, after a Mass celebrated by the Latin Patriarch near the site of Jesus' baptism in the Jordan River.An Ethiopian Orthodox woman praying in Jerusalem."In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit," rendered in Arabic by the author.Christian pilgrims visiting the site of Jesus' birth in Bethlehem.A basket of veils in a Melkite (Greek Catholic) church in Amman, where women cover their hair before receiving the Eucharist.A quotation of Pope Francis, translated into Arabic. The author visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
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Like the article andwas particularly interested in this interpretation of greater and lesser jihad. Battlling is a significant theme in Christian and Jewish literature and even revelation. Monks, siants, and holy people have all gone to the desert to engage in "jihad". Even Jesus' 40 day fast could be seen as his internal jihad. It is fully human to battle our lower impulses of ego, lust, etc.

Also all for diverse forms of piety! We have lost, in the west, and in some ways our liturgical celebrations useful and important forms of external piety that do help cultivating an internal attitude!

Q2:133 (God of Abraham, Isaac..) and Q 23: 91 "GOD did not beget son a son" and Q 5:72 (God is Christ the son of Mary), Q 5:73 (God is one of three in a Trinity)+Q4.169 (Christian god=Allah, and Jesus, and Mary = Collyridians sect)+Q4:157 (We have killed the Messiah, they did not kill him nor did crucify him); therefore, an amazing bunch of true and false sentences. I will take centuries to educate both Muslims and also Christians on the description name: Trinity.Do you know the difference between  individual anme, general name, relational name and description (the noble B.Russell invention of god's language: maths logic)

ps. Quran is right in Q 23:91 ! Trinity speaks about the relation:father-son and not God-Jesus from Nazareth; Nicene Creed statement "God from God" is a lie as a logical one but as a ...metaphor is an O.K  (Fathers of Nicea did not know 20th century theory of types of theblessed Bertrand Russell and meta-language/language of the noble, Alfred Tarski)

Q 4:157 is a Perfect Lie!

Concluding: the logico-theoligical product (of the article and Allah and his "product", Quran)= the Lie ( St.Aristotle's principle of non-contradiciton)

Such  an important post.  It has always amazed me how we have sacralized religous habits as if they depicted holiness in themselves. Whereas they are basically the way people dressed in olden times. Which in many parts of the world has never changed. There is one fundraiser for trad nones going around whos claim to fame is: "We still wear our habit." People get so caught up in slogans and even when told of the orginal meaning of apparel or a word in history resist having their biases overturned. Too many Christians, Jews and Muslims do not realize that Abraham is our common father. The Russ Limbaughs of the world make too much money spawning negativity for enlightenment to prevail with many. 

By choosing to wear a headscarf, a woman is signaling her reverence and humility before God. She is saying, “I acknowledge the specialness of this moment, when I am in God’s presence.”

I think the same holds in reverse for men: by choosing to bare their head, a man is signaling his reverence and humility before God. 

Why should a woman cover her head and a man bare his head? Doesn't it seem arbitrary?

 The prevalence of the headscarf in other Christian contexts prompts us to ask, “Why do we make such a big deal about when Muslim women wear it?” and “Why have we abandoned this practice?”

Maybe because one way to go against sexism is to abandon practices that set up  different rules for men and for women for arbitrary reasons.

Great article. My father 's father was from Aleppo Syria,a christian, going back to the early christians.Of course they spoke arabic,as did my father.We're catholic but my father felt at home in any christian church.One of the most profound memories I have is of my sisters' baptism in an orthodox church in Bklyn. It was our neighborhod church so that's why she was baptized there.I remember the feeling of pure joy in that room. The look on everyones face there was radiant with joy. I remember thinking to myself why are they so happy, why this look of pure joy? It's not because there's a new baby;my sister was 6 months old already and wearing a pink snow suit because it was cold outside .They're not  my relatives even.There were other mid east  christians there. I remember after she was baptized looking at each person there and seeing this look of radiant joy and wondering why? And suddenly in an instance I  knew why;  the look of radiant beaming silent  joy was on everyone's face because Jesus is present, I thought.His presence radiated on everyone's face.It was an experience of Jesus that has stayed with me.I was 4 at the time. That's what I felt at that baptismal font.                                                                                                                                                       Unfortunatly the anti muslim hatred  and paranoia is so pervasive in our culture today, that this article will have no impact on that. That many arab christians side with dictators today ,especially in Syria all because the dictator "Is good to christians" has given a green light for Americans to side or be indifferent to a brutal regime like Assad who is committing a holocaust right before our eyes. THAT is appalling.My father died before 9-11. I do know that back in the early sixties , the CIA tried to recruit him .He declined on grounds that he would not spy on his fellow egyptain, muslims.He was born in Egypt.Immigrated here as a result of the suez arab isareli war.When he returned to egypt in the mid sixties to visit  family he was arrested and acccused of being an Israeli spy. He was imprisoned for a few days but convinced the  government that he was not a spy and released. The christian arabs like him were privileged in Egypt as they were in Syria . He had empathy for muslims as oppressed by dictators  and yes  he saw them as fanatical but he saw zionists as equally fanatical.He saw Nasser as at least trying to better the conditons of the illiterate Egyptians. I don't know his views on the muslim brotherhood but i suspect he recognized that they were a legitimate response to oppression of majority muslim people by colonial and post colonial regimes.In the US he was part  of Dorothy'Day's movement. He thought she was the greatest and  was always quoting her.                                                                                                                                                             I always saw that the word Allah, means supreme;the THE,the all. Our word all, latin the; el,la, il, derives from that concept. A=A. God is God ,So of course Allah[the THE ,the all,The Being, the IS;Is ra el,The one who is ,I am,says the lord] means God.As in the one god who exists who IS; uncondtionally,underived;being from which all things derive. Unfortunatly  anti muslim propagandists by not translating Allah as God, are indoctinating us to see muslims as other.They're bearing false witness against their neighbor by implying that they are pagans[worshipping a false god;spirit].

Unfortunatly  anti muslim propagandists by not translating Allah as God, are indoctinating us to see muslims as other.

Conversely, in countries with Muslim majorities, anti Christian propagandists want to forbid Arabic language Christians from using the word "Allah". http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-01-25/malaysian-pm-razak-says-christians-must-heed-27allah27-ban/5218608

When in a majority position, there's a widespread reluctance on the part of believers to affirm the common points of their religion with other religions. On the contrary, when they are in a minority position, they are eager to point out those common points.

They're victims of the perceived  crusade against muslims that has resulted from 9-11. So that is their response.it's incorrect but they too have bought into the narrative of otherness fueled by the dominant West's war  on "Islamic exrtremists"; they read  that as islam.More fall out of our wars and our narrative about  our wars.We dominize ,they demonize.

Malaysiai s not the mid east. Arabic is as foreign to them as to us.So these ignoramusus have bought into the false narrative too. Considering that Malyasia has christians and muslims living there, if they would put aside the false  propaganda of otherness originating from the west's war agasinst "muslim extremists" they could see there's both praying to God.There's is shear ignorance, ours is deliberate falsification of reality;bearing false witness.

I do not think it is a good idea to romanticize head gear for women. If someone finds that spiritually fulfilling, I have no desire to get in the way of their good experience. But to impose it? No, no way.

I'm just old enough that I know it was a pain and a nuisance when we were required to wear things on our heads into church. The expedient of a Kleenex attached with a bobby pin was the level of foolishness this descended to. And why? "Because of the angels." 

St. Paul was a great saint and a great theologian. But the day he wrote that was not his finest moment. 

Let me also mention the women religious who were very relieved to not have to wear veils anymore when their religious dress was updated. Some communities continue to wear veils, and if that's their decision, fine. But for many women religious, the lifting of that requirement made them a lot more comfortable and no less faithful as witnesses or as full participants in the consecrated life.

 

Thank you for your insightful article. However, I do want to say a few things. Regarding Islamic archeitecture and practices, it should be noted that Muslims borrowed extensive from Byzantine archeicture and Eastern Christianity. Domes, for instance, were first used by Eastern Christians to construct their churches, and the practice of prostration existed in Eastern churches (and still do today) long before the arrival of Islam. Rather than arguing that our religion is reminiscent of Islam, it would have been more accurate to claim that Islam is reminiscent of Eastern Christianity. Another thing, I think, that would be beneficial to point is that linguistic/cultural Arabization is quite different from Islamization. Middle Eastern Christians are quite Arabized, there is no doubt about it. But regarding the practices of Melkite, Ethiopian, and other Eastern churches, I don't think it would be accurate to claim that they are "Islamized" given the ancient origins of these practices.

Of course Islam is reminiscent of Christianity. And Judaism. It came  after them. Christianity is mid eastern.Non  mid east christians were baptized by mid east christians .That they did not adapt subsequent arab invaders practices, does not make them more ancient in origin then the original mid east jewish/christians.

"I do not think it is a good idea to romanticize head gear for women."  I agree with you, Rita.  I remember the Kleenex and bobby pin head gear, too; and don't think it made us more reverent.  Of course then it was just the custom; we didn't think much about it.  Since those times it has acquired some baggage which would make me very reluctant to see broadscale revival (in our culture ) of women covering their heads as a religious practice.  Just Google "Christian veiling" and see if you are comfortable with what comes up.  Of course it is wrong to disrespect anyone, regardless of culture, who is following the custom of covering her head and finds meaning in it.  But that doesn't mean I am going to do likewise.

And regarding the women religious of my youth, I didn't know any of them who weren't glad to lose some of the yards of fabric when they got the chance.  I didn't truly appreciate what a burden it must have been until I reached middle age myself.  Think of wearing about 9 yards of fabric with a coif and wimple in the summer with no air conditioning.  And hot flashes.  No wonder some of them were a little short-tempered.

The invasion of Arabs in the levant led to conversions because many Christians were experiencing opression by the Romans and the Christian churches were in cahoots with them.Christianity  and Rome were one and the same; opressive and corrupt. So Islam offered a fresh,uncorrupted  approach to God. Their cultures had similarities  as Hebrew ,Arabic and Aramaic are too.Islam was considered by the Church as a Christian heresy orginally.Though Muslims recognized Jesus as a prophet, the Arian heresy  had it that Jesus was not truely man. The Muslims interpreted that to mean he was not truely God because God is one.Islam was misunderstood to be a Christian Arian heresy.Once many converted to Islam ,Muslims[a Christian heresy from Romes stand point] did not have to pay taxes to Muslim clerics/rulers  becoming the majority"heretical " sect. Many Christians and Jews  converted for that reason alone. Then Muslim rulers actually wanted to stem the tide of converts to Islam to have a supply of taxes from non Muslims.Christians and Jews were not persecuted as  they provided for a tax base for the emergent Muslim majority rule. Of course that made them second class citizens,in that respect.So I've gathered.

Thank you Katherine. What you say about the nuns' habits makes perfect sense, and however holy a woman is, her body goes through the same changes as every other woman's does. There's nothing romantic about it.

If you look at traditional Arab  garb of  men too, they are heaviily covered.The  hot  sun and the sand storms of the desert explains their origin, I guess. The veil and  head scarves and long flowing garments  can be keeping people cool ,rather then hot.I'll bet our word  for the material we call "muslin" comes from "muslim".The material itself may have come from there.

"St. Paul was a great saint and a great theologian. But the day he wrote that was not his finest moment."

Rita, He may not have written it. He certainly did not write the one where women have to be silent in church. Sensing Paul, if he did write about covering the hair, he would say if anyone contends he would not insist. 

I think nuns should be required to wear traditional nun's garb. When I lived in Mexico ,mid 60's, the nuns did not dress as nuns because they said, the secular government was anti chruch. They did not want to bring more persecution on them.Perhaps they would get no government funding if they admitted to being a catholic school.I don't know.  When the nuns knew that  state officials were coming  to inspect the school[given a secular name because of the governments repression of religion] the nuns would  remove the crosses from their necks and removed crucifix's from the classrooms.We, the students were told to call them miss,not sister[sor] while they were there. There was a chapel so I guess the inspectors just pretended they did not notice the chapel and  that this was a catholic school. But the government [at that time, I don't know how it is like there today] was anti church and the catholic schools had to deny publically that they were a religious school. Once on the  school bus we were stopped and detained for hours by the state officials. As a form of harassment.People in a secular society want and need I believe, visible signs that remind them of God. Nuns who stand apart in their dress is such a reminder to the world . Anyone can wear a crucifix, up close one recognizes a nun by the crucifix, But from a distance, the presence of nuns in traditonal stand apart garb is a presence and reminder of the church, of Christ in  the world. People need that .The church exists to be that, and that is part of a religiou's persons obligation,i think.I 'm not saying that they should have to endure being out in the hot sun totally uncomfortably covered, but ideally nuns should look like nuns ,not like lay people. The more that  visible signs of religion  are removed in a secular society, the more you can see people turn away from religion.Nuns go through a trial period, so i don't see why that is not sufficient time to discern if they want to live and look like tradtional stand apart reminders to the world of God, of religion..That is ,i think, part of the calling,or should be. It's not just about good works, Good works can be done by non believers and good works reach a limited group of people. A visible sign or reminder of God, can reach others not beneftting from the good works. Though i get that it sounds trite or superficial to be concerned with outer wear, In reality, it's not.  

Now that i think of it;perhaps not head coverings,if that is really uncomfortble but robes, like monks wear. Monks arn't complaining.Monks, nuns ,robes ;as a reminder to others  that we were created by God for God.That too is a "good work".

rose-ellen,

"Religious dress" is indeed an element of religious life, but has been interpreted variously. I am glad you can see there is an element of comfort and practicality that does enter in. There was one religious sister I knew who explained that none in her order could drive a car before the modified habit, because the head dress obscured peripheral vision. It was supposed to be an enclosure like a coffin. It was designed in an era when there was no such thing as an automobile, and women certainly were not driving. 

That said, I have never mistaken a nun yet. No matter what she is wearing.

I agree that it is fitting that nuns wear some kind of habit that should reflect their vows of celibacy and poverty, and their status as widows of Christ. It strikes me that, within those parameters, there's a lot of leeway for comfort, function, and cultural appropriateness. Mother Teresa's habit always struck me as very sensible.

On the other hand, I don't think that nuns who don't wear a habit are necessarily less holy or grace-filled than those who don't. 

I guess I'm influenced in these things by listening to too many of Raber's Amish relatives argue over the proper attire for women (colors, length of skirt, how much hair can show, color of the head covering, whether and when cap strings can be untied, when a full bonnet must be worn over the covering). At some point, the argument becomes less about maintaining identity in the community and more about some elder's personal power trip over the women in the ordnung without regard for the kind of work they're expected to do.

  

I have long felt that cultural differences and misunderstandings are a bigger hindrance to getting along with our neighbors than even race or religion. 

 

However, I cringe to think the author here would point out that "The" "God" of the Christian claims and exalts His son and "The" "God" of Islam denies having a son and then tries to say they are one and the same God.  That would mean we would have a God with a split personality --- which is scarier than anything I can think of.

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About the Author

Jordan Denari is a recent graduate of Georgetown University, where she studied Muslim-Christian relations. She is now conducting research in Amman, Jordan on a Fulbright grant.