What This Christian Pastor Learned Wearing a Hijab
By Rev. Janet Edwards, Ph.D.
Yes, I am one of those bleeding-heart progressive Christians completely tipped over by the rise of Donald Trump to the Presidency of the United States. Of course, I vowed to sign myself up if Trump were to require Muslims in America to register with the government. Martin Niemoeller’s warning concerning who would speak up for me encouraged me in this.
But, of course, Trump and friends did not begin with that. They began with the travel ban, perhaps expecting that we wouldn’t care so much about foreigners. Still, they did start somewhere, threatening to move incrementally to Muslim registration, expecting, I think, that we would tire in our vigilance or be distracted by other things.
Frustrated in my zeal to gum up a Muslim registry, I looked around for other ways to stand with Muslims made vulnerable by Trump with the full powers of the executive branch. For one thing, I began to attend the weekly open house at a local Ahmadiyya Muslim Community mosque for anyone interested in getting to know them. I could have joined the men but I chose to visit with the women.
The other thing I did was purchase online the black tube and large scarf that are the traditional parts of the Muslim hijab, the head covering worn by some Muslim women. It struck me that this might be a way to show solidarity by doing something so recognizably Muslim.
I received the hijab in early December but, after trying it on, I stuffed it out of the way. I confess, it scared me. I felt stabbed with fear when I looked at myself in the mirror with it on. Wearing it in public terrified me.
The hijab sat on my shelf. But I did talk with friends about the possibility of wearing it. I posted my idea of wearing it in solidarity with Muslims on Face Book for feedback. One of the comments hit home: what did Muslims, themselves, think of this gesture? Did they want this sign of support or, perhaps, not? It was a good question.
So, one Tuesday evening, with the women at the Al-Nur Mosque, I remembered all this and asked them what their thought. They were uniformly enthusiastic. I woke one morning shortly after that with the idea of wearing it on Ash Wednesday, just for that day. The next week, I took my hijab with me to the mosque and they showed me how to put it on. That was the eve of Ash Wednesday.
I planned–as I understood to be the practice of Muslim women–to wear the hijab outside of our home. Early every weekday morning, I exercise at a nearby fitness club with a neighbor. On Ash Wednesday, I donned my hijab and set out with her to do a mile on the ellipse, lift weights and stretch. I didn’t exert myself as much as usual because I didn’t want my head to get sweaty. I was really self-conscious. But no one else seemed to care.
And that was how it went all day. When I did errands around lunch at a local Mexican place– then going to the bank, the cleaners and the grocery store–I actually felt I was treated with more respect than usual. Men held doors for me and people in cars seemed more willing to let me out into traffic. This heightened courtesy was not what I expected.
When I asked friends why they thought I seemed to be treated with more respect, their answer was swift: my face was just too, obviously, “Presbyterian,” they said. I admit, my face is as white, Anglo-Saxon as they come. Maybe.
The thing is, the women at the mosque reported the same thing. They said they have never experienced any trouble. Rather, they sense true respect from strangers around them. They are Pakistani, as the roots of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community are there, so they are people of color. Their practice is to wear a scarf, without the black tube common to the Middle East. They corroborated my experience.
I decided I would continue the witness every Wednesday in Lent to see if that initial impression continued. It did. No one seemed to really care.
I felt I needed to explain wearing it to the receptionist at the Christian healthcare center where I went for an annual check-up. I have known her for years and thought she might worry I had converted. She said she had not even noticed.
One Wednesday, I flew from Washington, DC, to San Francisco so, of course, I worried about security in the airport. Nothing unusual happened. The airline had given me priority status, allowing me to go through a faster line with the TSA. Maybe that put me with friendlier agents. There were no problems with anyone.
Wearing the hijab was such a non-event, that I even forgot one Wednesday and my neighbor asked me about it as we pulled into the fitness center parking lot at 7 am. I dropped her off and sped home to put it on, kicking myself all the way. But the same thing happened the next week when my husband and I packed up the car early to drive two days to visit family in Minneapolis for Easter weekend. When I finally remembered, there was no retrieving it.
What lessons did I learn here?
First, I learned that tiring in our vigilance and distraction by other things are legitimate concerns for me and perhaps for all of us Trump resisters. I am not proud of this.
Second, I ponder the way I seem to have wanted trouble. Let me pause with you to be grateful that I did not encounter any. I am grateful that the women at the Al-Nur Mosque also do not report any animus toward them on account of wearing their head scarves. I do not think they are just telling me this.
There is a very good chance that I move in a sheltered bubble. To test this and to sharpen my resistance, I have decided to continue to wear the hijab once a week, now on Fridays, the traditional day of Muslim communal prayer. When I have the chance, I will venture on these days to other neighborhoods to see if something else happens there.
I confess, I forgot this morning, again, when I went to exercise. But I didn’t kick myself. I simply put the hijab on the next time I went out. I am glad American people seem to get loving our neighbor, at least in this instance, so far. I remain skeptical about the President and his men.
Rev. Janet Edwards, Ph.D. is pastor, theologian and activist and is on the Board at Auburn Seminary and a contributor to Voices. Follow Auburn on