Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Islamic Hijabs, Nun's Habits and the Hijab Paradox

Muslims and their apologists often attempt to compare the Islamic observance of hijab with the wearing of  the religious habit by Catholic nuns. This comparison is fundamentally flawed and is one of many fallacious tu quoque arguments utilized in defense of Islam. But before we delve into the specifics,  it is important to clarify what an Islamic "hijab" actually is. Many people seem to confuse the hijab, an item of clothing, with the observance of hijab:

Hijab Definition

The majority of female Muslims worldwide, following the Islamic requirement of observing Hijab, wear some form of Islamic dress. This ranges anywhere from wearing a simple head covering, to the burqa (a form of "full hijab"), which covers almost all exposed skin.
Full hijab can consist of the following elements:
*Jilbāb; this refers to any long and loose-fitting coat or garment worn by a women.
*Khimar; a scarf or wrap, often referred to simply as 'hijab', used to cover the head and neck.
*Niqāb; a piece of cloth which veils the face.
Some Muslim jurists regard the wearing of a niqab as wajib (mandatory), while others believe it is mustahab (favored by Allah).


The comparison made between the hijab and habit has many faults, including: 

  • It is a logical fallacy known as a false equivalence. Unlike the compulsory observance of Hijab for practicing Muslim women, practicing Christian women are not required to wear a nun's habit. Naturally, only nuns are.  
  • By becoming nuns, this tiny percentage of Christian women are choosing with their own freewill to wear the habit. On the other hand, Muslim women are compelled by their religion to observe some form of hijab.
  • If she ever were to remove her head covering, unlike Muslim women (even in America), a nun does not run the risk of being intimidated, ostracized or honor killed by her co-religionists.
  • If you will use possibly the most religious women among Christians in this comparison, you will have to do likewise for Muslim women, i.e. those who wear the full hijab. Full hijab is a lot more restrictive than a nun's habit, covering everything but the eyes (in some cases, even the eyes are not spared).
  • Just like a priest or monk, a nun has the choice to not wear the habit. She can always leave and still remain an observant Christian. Conversely, a Muslim women cannot “burn” her hijab (remove all head or facial coverings) and remain an observant Muslim.
  • Quoting Bible passages to claim Christian women have to cover their heads is pointless. Religious texts can be interpreted in an infinite amount of ways. What matters is how mainstream Christianity and Islam view the issue.

The Hijab Paradox

Almost all apologists will at the least concede that the mild form of hijab (the head covering alone) is compulsory. But If you were to use any of the above and challenge a Muslims assertion that the hijab and habit are the same thing, no doubt, they would deny that the hijab is a requirement at all.

This is something that I like to refer to as the “hijab paradox”. Muslim apologists swear blind that the hijab is "only cultural" when critics point out that it is oppressive to women, but then claim it is a religious obligation when non-Muslim governments attempt to ban it. Apparently they want to have one's cake and  (possibly very literally)  eat it too.

Yes, we've all seen overweight Muslimahs protesting that "hijab is their choice", but try telling that to Muhammad and Allah or to women in Muslim countries who are routinely flogged or fined for choosing not to wear it.