Irenic Thoughts

Irenic. The word means peaceful. This web log (or blog) exists to create an ongoing, and hopefully peaceful, series of comments on the life of King of Peace Episcopal Church. This is not a closed community. You are highly encouraged to comment on any post or to send your own posts.


Freedom of Oppression or Religious Expression?

The Washington Post and Newsweek have had the panelists at their On Faith forum discussing the Burqa in America after President Obama said,
It is important for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit, for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear.
His statement was in response to French President But Sarkozy supporting attempts to bar Muslim women from wearing veils such as the burqa. Sarkozy said,
The burqa is not a religious sign. It is a sign of subservience, a sign of debasement. It will not be welcome on the territory of the French Republic.
Chuck Colson sided with Obama writing,
If it is something that their faith requires them to do for whatever reason—in this case, I assume its modesty—then the state should respect that. At the same time, the question could be raised whether a Christian could be allowed to wear a cross or other symbols of his faith in a public school.
Bishop N.T. Wright of Durham, England wrote,
Many Muslim women say the burqa is a mode of welcome privacy, in contrast to the frantic self-advertisement of many western women. Obviously I can't comment on that. But Sarkozy's position is the classic secularist French one; not much to do with evaluation of the burqa, mostly to do with secularism's desire to push religion off the map. Whether from a faith perspective or a postmodern perspective, this is regrettable.
The forum also featured input from Hadia Mubarak (picture below at left), an American woman of Jordanian heritage who is a doctoral student at Georgetown University's Islamic Studies department. She wrote of seeing women veiled when traveling in Saudi Arabia saw women veiled very differently from the fashionable head scarves of Jordan. She wrote in part,
Hadia MubarakIt took me several days to come to terms with my own feelings of disdain and discomfort towards the government-sanctioned niqab (face veil) in Saudi Arabia. Notwithstanding my own stereotypes of the face veil, many of them unsubstantiated, I realized that what upset me most about the government-ordained niqab in Saudi Arabia was that it stripped women of their agency to decide what to wear and how to wear it. There is an important difference between women who choose to wear the hijab or the niqab in countries that give women the freedom to dress however they please and between those women who live in countries that give them no choice in the matter. One often finds that the former derive a sense of empowerment and spiritual contentment from their decision to don the hijab. Driven by their own convictions and living in societies that afford them the freedom to dress according to their own religious beliefs, these women often feel empowered and content by their decision to cover their hair and body in public. This has been my own experience and the experiences of scores of friends.
Her full reflection is online here: Freedom is Never Out of Fashion. All of the panelists responses and comments on them are online here: The Burqa in America.

Last week, I wrote about Drawing a Line Where Children Are Concerned when it comes to religious freedom. This time, I come down on the side of freedom of religious expression. Decisions on dress will be different for Mennonites and Amish than for Muslims, but the central idea is the same—let people practice their religion in peace when these choices do not infringe on the freedoms of others.

While I understand the modesty of the head scarf, I find the loss of personhood behind a burqa unconscionable, and yet if I do not support that choice, what religious choices of mine might one day be in question?

I happen to agree with Sarkozy that the burqa looks like a sign of subservience. But, I don't have to agree with anothers' religious choices to want them to have that freedom. This is a political decision, not a religious one. My faith tells me that Christianity is right and other faiths are only right in the ways in which they coincide with what Christianity teaches. But that is a religious judgment and I am writing here of a political one. The political judgment is that the government should treat all religions equally.

I will say that I am concerned that we might err on the side of giving room for some women in America to be forced under a veil by the pressure of family and community rather than by their own choice. That is not the freedom I mean. But I feel that erring on the side of religious freedom is a principle that not only has made our nation great, but has afforded me the opportunity to live most fully into my faith in Jesus Christ as a matter of personal choice rather than cohersion.

That's my take. What do you think?

The Rev. Frank Logue, Pastor



Post a Comment

<< Home