My apologies for the very long delay since I’ve posted anything. The reality is my blog must always take a back seat to school work and family. But, there’s a slight lull in paper writing, and I feel it’s important to make my very tiny contribution to cross-cultural understanding. To that end, I’m posting a summary of a paper I will be presenting at the Toronto School of Theology in May at a conference. More details to follow!
The idea for this paper came predominantly from the despicable proposal in France to ban the Muslim veil. This was followed up by a case here in Canada this spring where a Muslim woman is lodging a Human Rights complaint against the province of Quebec for ordering her to remove her niqab for a french class. I could write a whole post on what I think about these two events (maybe I will!) but let me just say this: in what way is it possibly liberating to tell a woman how she has to dress? How does one reconcile saying the veil is an oppressive item, used to control women, and then tell those women that they are not allowed to dress how they want to?! That it is against democratic ideals? Isn’t it against those democratic ideals to impose a dress code?!
In any case, here’s my paper outline.
What Mennonites Can Learn from Veiled Feminist Muslims
The Muslim veil has become a key symbol of Christianity’s encounter with Islam, and has usually been misunderstood as exclusively representative of oppressive Islamic theology. Given the tensions between Muslims and Christians throughout the world, it is essential that Christians actively work toward mutuality with our Muslim neighbours. Mennonites, perhaps more than most other Christian denominations, can relate to Muslims. Both communities identify themselves outside of the mainstream, and both have earned the term “radical.” This is most visibly represented in their attire, in that both Mennonites and Muslims have a tradition of covering their women.
In this paper, I propose that Christian women (Mennonites in particular) can learn a great deal from Muslim women on how to demonstrate their theologically based self-empowerment through their attire, without dismissing modesty or adopting legalistic and damaging mandates. In explaining this, I examine the feminist Muslim theology that insists upon being covered as a practice that is at once liberating and a sign of worship. I propose that this theology can significantly inform a feminist Christian perspective. It is important to remember that a history of oppressive theology is wrapped up in discussions of how Christian women “should” dress. It is precisely for this reason that feminist Muslim women, who are quite familiar with negative theology directed at themselves, can convey the possibility of seamlessly combining a self-empowering theology with a modest and particular one, as demonstrated through their attire.
In examining these issues, I consider the thoughts of Amina Wadud and Fatima Mernissi. I place their arguments within the context of feminist Christian theologians, such as Mary C. Grey and Linda Woodhead. James A. Reimer’s unpublished work on universal moral principles helps create the framework on which I structure this paper. I set these interpretations against the backdrop of more conventional interpretations, such as John Horsch’s Worldly Conformity in Dress, not to dismiss these earlier works, but to demonstrate how more progressive theologies can maintain what is most important in these concepts while embracing a more empowering theology.