A common misconception is that Muslim women are the only ones who cover their hair. It may be true that Islam is the only religion in which most women follow its directives to cover the hair, but it is not the only religion to have such directives.
It is particularly interesting to look at the case of Christianity, since Christianity is the predominant religion in the West, and it is Westerners, including observant Christians, who are often the first to criticize Islam because of the hijab (modest dress, including headcovering).
Is Covering the Hair a Religious Commandment for Christian Women?
There can be only one answer to this: yes, it is! Simply open the Bible to the First Epistle to the Corinthians, chapter 11. Read verses 3-10.
But I would have you know that the head of every man is Christ and the head of the woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying with his head covered, disgraces his head. But every woman praying or prophesying with her head uncovered disgraces her head, for it is the same as if she were shaven. For if a woman is not covered, let her be shaven. But if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head. A man indeed ought not to cover his head, because he is the image and glory of God. But woman is the glory of man. For man was not created for woman, but woman for man. This is why the woman ought to have a sign of authority over her head, because of the angels.
The meaning of this passage is plain enough. We can make the following syllogisms:
- Praying with an uncovered head is a disgrace
- Having a shaved head is the same as praying with an uncovered head
- Therefore, having a shaved head is a disgrace
- If it is a disgrace for a woman to have a shaved head, she should cover her head
- It is a disgrace for a woman to have a shaved head - see syllogism 1
- Therefore, a woman should cover her head
In other words, the passage means what it says. Have you ever wondered why Catholic nuns dress like they're wearing hijab (Muslim hijabi women, have you ever been mistaken for a nun? I have, more than once). Have you ever wondered why Mary the mother of Jesus (peace be upon them both) is always depicted in Christian art with her hair covered? Did you know that until the 1960s, it was obligatory for Catholic women to cover their heads in church (then they "modernized" the service)?
There are some interesting points that can be made about the Christian directive.
1) The explicit purpose of the Christian woman's headcovering, as stated by Paul, is that it is a sign of man's authority over woman. The explicit purpose of Islamic hijab is modesty. Strange how so many Westerners think that the purpose of hijab is a symbol of male authority. Maybe they know that that's what it is in their own religion (Christianity) so they assume that Islam must be the same...!
2) The Christian woman is to cover her head whenever she is praying, whether it be at the church service or just personal prayer at home. This may mean that if she is not praying at home, she is uncovered around male guests who are not related to her; or if she is praying at home, that she is covered around her own husband and family. If any more proof were needed than Paul's own words that the Christian headcovering is not about modesty, this must certainly be it!
This puts hijab in a whole new perspective, doesn't it! To my non-hijabi Muslim sister who feels that hijab is a sign of oppression for the Muslim female, please do read the above and then read the Quran. Believe me, if Allah SWT meant for hijab to be a sign of male authority, the Quran would be as unambiguous about it as Paul is in the Bible. Isn't this difference the kind of thing that attracted you to Islam in the first place?
Do Any Christian Women Today Cover Their Heads?
It is true that most Christian women do not, and many don't take other teachings of the Bible (against pre-marital sex, adultery, etc) literally either. However, there do seem to be a growing number of Christian women out there who are committed to following the Bible as it is written. Below are some WebPages that I found that call for Christian women to cover their heads in accordance with the commandment of the Bible.