Recently I participated in a discussion with Dr. Matthew Klaemingk, assistant professor of Christian Ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary and author of Christian Hospitality and Muslim Immigration in an Age of Fear, about muslim headscarves. In his article, THE HEADSCARF: ISLAM’S GIFT TO WESTERN DEMOCRACY, he argues that headscarves are actually a gift to western democracy.
Islam is a global religion with over 1 billion members, often framed as dangerous and a religious threat to Christianity. Since 9/11, western dis-ease with the religion has grown climactically. However, Dr. Klaemingk argues that we should not view Muslims with several instant pre-conceptions, which we place on them, but instead we should approach them with hospitality.
Here are a few things I learned from my conversation with him:
The main form of headscarf worn by Muslim women is the one featured above—the hijab. Women wear these dominantly for a combination of two reasons, social and theological. Socially, it is first and foremost a statement of their faith, as well as a symbol of modesty. A popular western conception is that women wear hijabs or other headscarves because they are oppressed. This is on occasion is true but is generally a misconception. Women also wear these as a theological and empowering statement—”I belong to Allah, I don’t belong to you”.
And just possibly, the real reason hijabs make westerners weary is because they challenge our assumptions of beauty, modest, sexuality, and feminism.
Dr. Klaemingk also expanded on why westerners tend to villan-ize this religion. Beyond the general and false presumptions that Islam is a threat to Christianity and national security (I will expand on why), western countries, like many others, unconsciously prescribe to Scape-goat political theory. A prime example of this social and political phenomena is World War Two when Nazis used Jews as scape-goats for Germany’s national crisis.
This theory is driven by the idea that every country needs a common enemy in order to remain unified. Accordingly, the modern scape-goat for western countries is Islam—the more we strive for a binary between us and them, the more unified the us will be. The problem is that there really is no us and them.
This circles us back to why western presumptions of Islam are false. Islam is not a threat to Christianity because basic theology reminds us that if God is in control, then we should not fear. Christians also still hold a significant amount of power within the U.S. Dr. Klaemingk develops this concept further in his book, previously mentioned. Jointly, Muslims are not a threat to national security. Terrorists who use Islam as reasoning for their actions are a threat to national security but they are not, by definition, Muslims and do not in actuality embody the majority of domestic terrorism in the west. Hint: PETA and other social justice organizations statistically are most responsible for terrorism within the U.S.
The solution that Dr. Klaemingk proposes is instead of instantly framing Muslims upon sight, specifically women who are instantly identified as Muslim by their headscarves, with a million little or big conceptions of their beliefs, lifestyle, and difference from us, we should take it as an opportunity to be reminded of what we believe and thank God for their existence. When we see a Muslim woman at the store, we should stop and pray for them, thank God for them, and be reminded of our own faith. Muslim women do not have the ability, or rather don’t choose to, go about their day as religiously ambiguous. You know that everywhere they go they will be framed by their religion. Christians can easily choose to remain unidentified; so when we see a Muslim woman, maybe we should contemplate their boldness and faith, and consider our own.
Humanity is created in the image of God, so collectively we must all exist. When we encounter a form of “other”, a person who is so dynamically different from ourselves, we are presented with the ability to 1. recognize the glory of God within them, and 2. experience an aspect of humanity, God’s image, which we may not yet embody, and as a result further reflect the image of God within ourselves.
Imagine you have a Muslim family move in next door to you—if you live in the northwest then your initial inclination is likely introversion—but then they invite you over for dinner and bless you with incredible hospitality. Hospitality is an art, the bedrock of life, within Middle Eastern culture, and this story is true, a professor I know had this experience. He described it as an extremely introspective opportunity for him in which he realized his own lack of hospitality towards others. In that moment, he was able to frame that Muslim family in such a way that he glimpsed God’s image within them, an aspect he had not previously accessed.
Ultimately, I do not think hijabs or less symbolically, Islam, is the terror of the West. I think our own inability to recognize God’s image within each other is. The reason we may feel it is, is because with God abiding within our relationships there is beauty and glory; without Him, power, abuse, and rampant deception.