You don't have to signal a social conscience by looking like a frump. Lace knickers won't hasten the holocaust, you can ban the bomb in a feather boa just as well as without, and a mild interest in the length of hemlines doesn't necessarily disqualify you from reading Das Kapital and agreeing with every word. --Elizabeth Bibesco

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Please Raise Your Hand If I'm Offending You

Yes, that's what I'm asking. And I do want to know.
There are a number of ways to look at this.

Is practicing tzniut for Lent offensive to Jews? Just Orthodox Jews? Just Orthodox Jewish women?
Is practicing tzniut for Lent offensive to Christians? Just Christians who follow Christian modesty rules? If so, which kinds? All of them?
Is wearing a hijab offensive to all Muslims? Muslim women?
Is wearing a hijab offensive to Christians?

Ways people besides me might look at this: (let me know if I've missed any)

1) Closer to the One True Truth
If you believe that yours is the one true truth (ie. that Islam and nothing else is right or that Orthodox Judaism and nothing else is right) then surely it is better for me to get one thing right than nothing right. This was a prominent belief in Senegal. *Sidy* or whomever believes that Islam is the one true truth. He wishes the whole world was Muslim. He would love it if I, personally, converted to Islam. One day, I show up wearing a hijab. *Sidy* grins. He knows I'm not Muslim, because maybe he saw me at the bar the other night or whatever, but he'll applaud me, saying it's better that I do one thing right than nothing.

2) Appropriating Someone's Culture
If you believe that tzniut (or Orthodox Judaism or hijab or Islam) is a cultural thing, then obviously, taking things from it when I don't fully understand it would be hugely offensive and also awkward for me. It'd be like the people walking around with the giant Chinese word for "joy" on their back. It may or may not be Chinese and it may or may not mean "joy" but the fact that I'm walking around without knowing that would be offensive to Chinese-speaking people and awkward for me (even though I don't know it).

3) Denying My Own Religion
If you believe a) that Christianity has a mandate to not follow tzniut rules or hijab or what-have-you or b) that one cannot use aspects of another faith to deepen one's own faith-- that this amounts to a denial of the faith, then I could see some Christians being offended at my claim to be Christian. Check out this little upheaval for more ideas.

4) Truth in Advertising
This would require that you believed 2 things: 1) that practicing modesty or headcovering or whatever advertises something besides modesty or headcovering (ie. that wearing a hijab advertises being a Muslim) and 2) that since it advertises this, it must be inherently wrong to practice this if you are also advertising behaviors that you believe inconsistent with it (ie. it is wrong to drink alcohol in a hijab whether or not one is Muslim).

5) Enriching My Spiritual Practice
I'm learning about other people's religions and deepening my own in the process. To me, it seems to provide me with an opportunity (as a nerdy, overly fashion-conscious, religious college student) to combine my nerdiness (the research) my fashion issues (the clothes) and my religion (the prayer) into one Lenten discipline.

6) What About Christian Modesty?
This would mean that because my Lenten discipline uses tzniut guidlines or because I wear a hijab (occasionally), I've turned up my nose at Christian modesty practices-- such as going by Plain or Mormon standards or something like that.

7) You Can't be a Lesbian and Religious! Especially Not Christian/Jewish/Muslim/Zoroastrian!
This means assuming that queer people can't be in XYZ religion. Then, you assume that my *being* Christian or using Jewish standards to define modesty or wearing a hijab is offensive to someone, somewhere because I'm queer and they don't let queer people in that club. With all of that, you're endorsing that they have a right to be offended by my sexual orientation, which is legitimizing homophobia.


Anonymous said...

I don't think "offending" is the right word exactly. I think the whole "going modest" for Lent is fine and dandy, but I DO think it crosses the line when you start to imitate other religions, like wearing a hijab and crossing yourself at the same time. Muslims are not Christians and it's offensive to belittle their religious tradition and clothing by incorporating it into your own practices for the sake of being modest. I know your not Catholic, but imagine if someone took the host who wanted to take it simply because they thought it looked good, but did not believe or follow the traditions. It's just disrespectful.

I also think your fb post about heterosexual couples is offensive. Yes, heterosexual couples are responsible for over-population and hereditary diseases, but that is just a side effect of the natural process of reproducing and creating young. I just think it's bias and unfair of you to point out these "faults" of heterosexuals when 1) you support gay rights and delegitimizing homosexuality, but are making the same type of jokes to heterosexuals 2) you know (because you are a smart human being) that without heterosexual couples, the population cannot repopulate. Be glad that there are heterosexual couples, Allie, because otherwise you would not exist either.

Allie said...

Well, thank you for commenting. This *was* the kind of perspective I was missing.

I found your first paragraph very informative.

If we're including crossing myself as "imitat[ing] other religions," I do need to add that I'm Episcopalian and Episcopalians do cross themselves.

If, however, you are just referring to the hijab, it's an interesting thought and I think says a lot about how head covering is looked at in Western society. (I'm assuming you're a Westerner-- correct me if I'm wrong.)

I'm not sure the hijab and the Host are comparable though, since the hijab existed long before Islam and is actually a cultural artifact, rather than an integral element of the faith. (It *has* become synonymous with it, more like stained-glass has become synonymous with fancy Christian churches.) I think the stained-glass metaphor might be more useful. Yes, you see stained glass and think "Christian," but few Christians would get offended to find a building respectfully using beautiful stained glass in it's windows.

As to your 2nd paragraph-- I don't think it's terribly appropriate to bring this up here, as it's not related at all. The appropriate forum to discuss that in would be via facebook. Feel free to message me about it. I will say 2 things--

1) It is a joke!!!!!!! How could I dislike straight people??? The keep having gay babies, don't they? (That was also a joke.)

2) Clearly, you don't know me well or you would know that I plan to have children and thus I too will join the ranks of people who are "responsible" for over-population and hereditary disease.

Anyway, please let's continue that part of this conversation on facebook. But I'd love to hear how you feel about my hijab-stained-glass comparison.

Anonymous said...

Hey Allie,

Okay, I'm sorry about bring the fb thing on here. I apologize :) I 100% know that you plan on raising children and that the post IS a joke.. I simply meant that I thought it was a bit rude. I mean, it's one of those things where it seems okay for you to say something rude (as a joke) because you are part of the minority. If I (I'm straight) posted something similar in nature about gays, I would consider it rude and inconsiderate. Either way, I'm sorry for bringing it up here :)

I know that all (most?) Christians cross themselves and I was referring to the hijab. Although the Catholic host may not be the best example because Catholics believe it is actually religious (according to wiki!) whereas the hijab is not, I also don't think stained glass is the best example. Even though the hijab existed before Islam, I think it represents Islam MUCH more than stained glass represents Christianity. Stained glass is seen everywhere and indicates elegance and the Renaissance period more so than Christianity (feel free to disagree). The hijab (specifically) is strictly seen as Muslim by our society.

Maybe another analogy could be a cross necklace. It's not sacred, but is highly/exclusively representative of the religion.

I LOVE your posts, so write more (and that's an order, haha!)

Allie said...

Ah, but people wear cross necklaces all the time who aren't Christian! And, depending on how they wear it, I (and maybe no one else, I don't know) might not interpret them as Christian.

For instance, if someone were wearing this, I wouldn't necessarily assume they were Christian. If they were wearing this one, I would assume they were Christian.

I'd imagine that my hijab-wearing comes across similarly. I don't wear an underscarf-- namely because I'm not trying to prevent all of my hair from showing, so I imagine people familiar with hijabs look at it and assume I'm not Muslim.

On the other hand, I don't imagine most of American society could tell the difference. And that may be where the problem lies...

For interesting thoughts on non-Muslims wearing hijab, check this out.

Clara said...

Allie, how would you feel about someone publicly sacrificing to an idol while wearing a cross? (Is that a good analogy to the crossing-oneself-while-wearing-a-hijab, Anonymous?)Or how do you think most Christians would feel? We're talking about general sensibilities, I think.

Allie said...

Interesting. Again, I think it would depend on what kind of cross. Do you really think most people would be upset about someone who wasn't Christian wearing a cross necklace like the one above on

And I would still love to hear a Muslim or Jewish perspective on this!!!

Clara said...

I think I might be upset, although the cross-as-vampire-stake seems like a different sign to me. My hypothetical assumes a traditional, faith-signaling cross.

Anonymous said...

To the anonymous poster re: the comic- Seriously. The comic is NOT an attack on heterosexuals - it is framed that way simply to point out that it is ridiculous to freak out about ANYBODY'S sexual activity. It is NOT, in any way, equivalent to the attacks on queer people that represent institutionalized hatred, discrimination, and the threat of violence. Check your heterosexual privilege.

About the hijab, though - from my understanding, Muslims do NOT believe that hijab/headscarves/modesty in general is something specific to Muslim women. If you look around the internet, books about Islam, etc., people asking "Can Christian/Jewish/Pastafarian/etc. women wear the hijab?" the Muslim in question very frequently actively encourages it. This is especially true in countries with Muslim majorities:

In fact, this Muslim school actively requires non-Muslim girls (which in England, includes Christians) to wear the hijab to school:

I also have no idea why hijab - which, by the way, refers not specifically to the presence of a headscarf but also the covering of women according to Islam - being worn by a Christian woman is ANY different than someone who isn't Jewish wearing tznius, and I'm very puzzled by the fact that you're drawing the line there. What is the difference between tznius and hijab that makes one an option for Christian women and another extremely offensive?

This is a really interesting conversation, by the way :-D

- Megan

KC said...

Megan: As I stated before, I know Allie wasn't posting this for any offensive reasons and that she wasn't attacking anyone. She simply asked (both here and on fb, refer to the title of the post) if her actions offended anyone. Since nobody was replying to her and I had legit comments/confusion about what she was doing, I brought them up. As I said, I in no way am advocating discriminatory remarks about gays. I simply meant that it is unfair to post something about another person's sexuality if you don't want the equivalent said about you and your sexuality. I wouldn’t post rude things about men just as I would expect the same respect in return. If you want respect, give respect.
All: Allie, I think you hit the nail on the head when you said the American (non-Muslim part anyway) will not differentiate between a hijab with an underscarf and one without. To most non-Muslims, a hijab represents Islam (feel free to disagree). Even though, like Megan pointed out, Muslims encourage others to wear the hijab, I don’t think it changes the Americans’ perception of the hijab and it remains strictly Muslim. I, of course, am not saying whether or not a Muslim would be offended by wearing a hijab while performing other religious rituals (crossing, tznius). I’M not personally offended; I can see though how it could be offensive.

Oh, and maybe I didn’t read the previous posts well enough, but I didn’t realize tznius is a Jewish tradition. I guess in light of everything I already said, I would have to say the same: it’s odd to follow a part of a religion while strictly conforming to another. It’s like wearing a Yarmulke and not being Jewish (I think this is similar to wearing a formal cross).
As far as the article from the Sun goes, I’m really shocked. Unless the school had (by far) a superior education system than the surrounding schools, I wouldn’t send my child there. I’m not religious, but unless my family/daughter was Muslim, I wouldn’t dress her in (what most people in our society consider) traditional Muslim clothing. Similarly, I wouldn’t buy her gaudy cross necklaces or fake menorahs—not as a way to shield her from other religions, but I wouldn’t want her to see sacred/religious objects as a joke and something to be taken lightly. Even though I’m not Christian, I find gaudy crosses tacky and rude to the practitioners of the faith.
I would be really interested on everyone’s take on the Sun though. I know you, Allie, are very religious. Would you send your daughter/son to a school that required a hijab? What about other “traditional” religious wear?

I'll post as KC to avoid confusion.

Clara said...

Megan: as your examples illustrate, meaning is all about context. In a country with a Muslim majority, or a closed environment where everyone can communicate (like a school), the hijab signals one thing. In America, it is assumed to signal Muslim faith. Tzniut is not so distinctive and so not as problematic, but maybe still somewhat problematic. Plain dress (bonnets, etc.) is more distinctive and therefore also more problematic.

As I said to Allie in a previous post (, I don't have a clear answer to this question. I just wanted to point out that wearing the symbol of another's religion (whether or not the religion has self-consciously designated it as a symbol) to some degree makes you a representative of that religion (again, regardless of your intentions), and that this is a huge & complicated responsibility. This responsibility transcends the idea of "offense." Would that it were as easy as finding a Muslim, or 10, or 100, to approve the practice. That's NOT my point.

Allie said...

@ KC-- I would have no problem sending my child to a school where the hijab was part of the uniform. I'm not a huge fan of private schools in general unless the surrounding schools are very bad, but that's another matter entirely. As far as I'm concerned, if the school deems it part of the uniform, it's part of the uniform. Scottish private schools often require the wearing of kilts by men as part of the school uniform and although that might not be what those men are culturally used to wearing, it's part of the uniform. As for other traditional religious wear, yes, I'd send my kids to a school where boys were required to wear a kippah. I actually love the logic behind the kippah and might welcome the chance for my son (or daughter!) to experience it.

@Clara-- dressing religiously in any way in public, it is important to think about how you want to be perceived. Generally speaking, I conduct myself well in public, I think. If you are suggesting, Clara, that I shouldn't "act gay" in public as an obviously religious person, I think that does a disservice to all religious queer people-- Muslim, Jewish, Christian and everyone else too! I am, however, trying to be intentional as to how I represent myself as a religious woman in public, and maybe that's all you're suggesting.

Anonymous said...

This is KC

@ Allie- Hmmmmm...that's interesting that you wouldn't have a problem with it (just as I expected!). The more I think about it, I wouldn't have a problem if I were in a Muslim country (I'm debating about what my reaction would be in a Muslim-dominated part of the US), because the hijab is seen as part of the culture, MAYBE not part of the religion (correct me if I'm wrong). However, I would have a problem with my child saying a prayer in school no matter where we were because that is clearly religious. All in all, I think it is context dependent: in an area where the hijab (or anything) is cultural, fine. If that same artifact is considered to be relious or have strong religious connotations in another area, then I think it crosses a boundary.

Based on your comment on the Scotts (and that you found these two to be related), I'm wondering if you think of relegion as ALWAYS being both religious and cultural. In otherwords, even though most Americans would find the hijab associated with Islam, you don't think the hijab is offensive because it's part of the culture, not religion. For instance, I wear "Indian" clothes even though I'm not Indian and I am not trying to reprensent our culture.

When Megan asked about where I drew the line, I got thinking about it and I guess I'm not sure. I thought of some other examples of people using religon/relgious things despite their own religion and I think I concluded that it has a lot to do about intention and culture:
1) A non-Christan saying "Amen to that" (not offensive)
2) An atheist saying grace before meal (offensive, because it seems like mocking).
3) An atheist saying "Bless you" (not offensive, because it's part of the cultural norm--although NOT saying it is okay too).
4) A person going as "multiple religions" for halloween and wearing the hijab, among other things (eh, I don't think so)
5) A person going as a terrorist, bank robber, ect and wearing a hijab (offensive. It's clear that the hijab is meant to evoke people into thinking the person is representing Muslim. I wonder how this would play out in a Muslim country, eliminating the fact that they don't celebrate Halloween. Would it be seen as non offensive because everyone wears a hijab anyway?)

I guess I'm conserned that you are perceived as mocking a religion and devaluing parts of their religion/culture. I know that you don't do "bad things" (I don't consider "acting gay" to be a bad thing, but I guess I see how the stares would be more prevelent because of the idea that religious people are not gay), but it may preceived as mocking.

I would be especially interested on everyone's idea about how Americans percieve the hijab and on how intention is perceived, regardless of the actual intention.


Allie said...

@KC-- No, I definitely don't think all religious things are cultural. I think the hijab-style headscarf is cultural and I think kilts are cultural-- hence the comparison.

I certainly think prayer is religious and not cultural and therefor I too would think that forcing kids to pray in a school (any school, even a religious one) would be offensive both towards the child's beliefs and towards everyone else who is praying and sincerely believes in it.

On the other hand, maybe my line of what is religious and not, say, cultural or educational, is father than most.

For instance, if a child (mine or anyone else's) was attending a religious private school (of my faith or another), I'd expect them to attend the religious education class that was offered. I would not expect them to participate in any rituals that might be involved if they did not believe in them.

(For example, most of the schools in Ireland are religious in one way or another. Religious education was offered in all grades in the school I attended. Children who weren't religious attended and learned a lot of things --like how crucifixion actually worked-- but didn't participate in the rituals that the class was often intended to prepare students for, such as Confirmation or First Communion.)

I would think that would be where I draw my line. And actually, I agree with all the lines you drew. Except the hijab one. In a future post I shall post all the links I have re: non-Muslims wearing the hijab to show why I think this way. It's really interesting actually that you and I can agree on all 5 of the above scenarios, but totally disagree on the hijab-thing. :)

Clara said...

Allie, I'm not at all concerned about homoeroticism + hijab, I'm concerned about Christian ritual + hijab.

Anonymous said...

Okay, but this argument is still really inconsistent. Tznius, especially in combination with a tichel, is very distinctive, particularly in communities with strong Orthodox Jewish presences. If what we're concerned about is accidentally misrepreseting another faith, then it seems irresponsible to ignore the fact that tznius is quite distinctive in its own right - as much as hijab is - and should thus be subject to the same responsibilities. I don't think you one have this both ways. - Megan

Allie said...

So you're offended on behalf of Christians that I would cross myself wearing a hijab? I'm going to assume then that you were offended a few weeks ago when I attended church in a hijab, yes?

Clara said...

Megan: the tichel is distinctive, I agree. But halakha only forbids a few mitzvot to Gentiles (tefillin and shabbat for sure, not sure about the other one or two); a Ben or Bat Noach is welcome to assume others -- including tznius. On the other hand, you still have the perception problem (people assuming you're a Jew when you're not). So I think the adoption of a tichel would have to be very carefully though out.

Allie: No, I was concerned on behalf of Muslims who might have thought they had an idolatrous Muslim in their midst. I see nothing offensive to Christianity about covering any which way. I personally love to see you in a hijab.

Allie said...

Well, then Clara, I don't think you need to worry. I've yet to find a Muslim it upsets. (Also, I doubt most Muslims seeing me in that would have thought I was Muslim, but that's neither here nor there.)

I think maybe it should be taken the way you suggested the tichel be taken, although maybe the tichel should be taken on with even more care.

Non-Muslims are certainly not forbidden to take on hijab and, in fact, it's encouraged. You do have the problem of being mistaken for a Muslim, so you need to think carefully and be very upfront when people ask-- because they do.

The tichel, as you said, is certainly not forbidden to non-Jews, although it's not terribly encouraged. I found one website that spoke of non-Jews practicing tzniut versus the dozens I found encouraging non-Muslims to practice hijab. And Jews tend to be much more insular-- they don't encourage conversion while Muslims certainly do.

All in all, I think my following tzniut probably offends more people than I do wearing a hijab.

Clara said...

I see where you're coming from, Allie. I don't think I've explained my thoughts very well and it doesn't look like I'll be able to, but that's fine. I appreciate that you are thinking about these things.

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