*This is a guest blog from Megan Geiger. Megan is a graduate student in the University of Florida's religion department. She focuses on Pentecostalism, changes in social discourses among Pentecostals, immigration and Pentecostalism, Latin American holiness movements, American religious history, and the role of women in Christian fundamentalism. She is an active member of the United Pentecostal Church, International and recently took part in Islam on Campus UF's "wear hijab for a day" program. This is her story from the day:
My first thought was, “This is definitely harder than doing my hair.” The scarf was finally secured against my head thanks to the multiple straight pins keeping it in place (and the corresponding pinpricks in my fingers and scalp). After watching several YouTube tutorials that claimed to demonstrate “Easy Hijab Styles for Beginners,” I had managed to fashion the bright pink scarf into a series of somewhat-graceful folds across the crown of my head and under my neck. In my opinion, it looked pretty convincing, although I was sure it would take a practiced Hijabi only seconds to realize that I was completely unused to the veil.
In fact, covering my hair is almost a redundancy; being Pentecostal I’ve left my hair uncut for my entire life so that it could serve as a covering for me, as recommended by scripture in 1 Corinthians 11. On this particular day, however, I had chosen to adopt a style of covering that was not my own.
Now, usually a fundamentalist Christian choosing to wear the head covering of a Muslim woman would probably be considered a gross act of cultural insensitivity, but don’t worry; I was invited. A Muslim students’ group on my university campus was hosting Hijab Day, during which non-hijabis were asked to wear the veil during the day and meet to discuss their experiences afterwards. Given my interest in religion and modesty, it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.
That said, I felt some trepidation as I adjusted my scarf one final time and left my house that morning. The religious landscape that I inhabit on a daily basis has been notoriously hostile to Muslims—members of my own church community have expressed horror at my involvement in Muslim activities on campus, and Gainesville itself (home of the 2012 Qur’an burning scandal) is no stranger to militant Islamophobia. Hijab day seemed to me to be a unique opportunity to point out that Muslims and Pentecostals have a lot in common when it comes to modesty and covering; however, I also expected a lot of negative responses from my fellow Christians. I snapped a picture for Instagram, added ‘#modesty’ to it, and braced myself. I was prepared to be criticized for my decision. I wasn’t prepared for the critiques I would bring upon myself.
As I went through my day on a busy college campus, the recurring question that came to me was “Does that person think I’m Muslim?” The question both had to do with my respectful desire to wear hijab “the right way,” and my hesitation at abandoning my own religious identity for a day. I questioned whether in putting on the hijab I was electing to set aside my own agenda as an evangelical Christian, and what that meant in terms of my mission to save souls…what if veiling myself cost me an opportunity to share the gospel? What if I was damaging my authority as a Christian by temporarily presenting myself as a Muslim? This tension came to light during one surreal moment in my day in which I actually taught a Bible study to another UF student, all while wearing an overtly Muslim symbol of modesty. I explained why I was doing it and the study went on without a hitch, but as I listened to myself discuss Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross as eternal payment for our sins, I wondered if my headgear was somehow marring the message. Or was it the other way around?
I was not the only one to have these thoughts. One Pentecostal Instagram user went as far as to say that to don the veil, even for a day, even with the best intentions at heart, was to give place to the demonic influences of Islam—in terms of spiritual warfare, this was the equivalent of flying a white flag over the Pentagon. My insecurities deepened.
To my surprise, that was the only negative comment about my participation in Hijab Day that I received. Instead, I was flooded with a wave of affirmation and support from other Pentecostal women, who praised the elegance of hijab, the value of interreligious understanding, and the practice of modesty in any form. A couple of my Pentecostal friends went so far as to join me in covering—the veiled selfie one friend sent me was accompanied by the fervent declaration “Modesty is beautiful!” It was clear that I had sold my own people short—these women leapt at the opportunity to bridge the gap between our two religious cultures. There were plenty of “likes” from Pentecostal men as well, even from several ministers. I was shocked. And I was a bit ashamed that I was shocked.
As I sat in the Hijab Day discussion and listened to a panel of young Muslim women talk about their unique reasons for veiling and their individual journeys of faith, I thought deeply about my own. Being Pentecostal has a lot to do with living in the borders of things—we’re a people of first century doctrine and twenty-first century technologies, old-fashioned dress standards and newfangled beauty standards, living “in the world but not of the world.” That also means we live in the tensions between culture and politics, tolerance and literal interpretations of scripture, the soon-coming apocalypse and the need to coexist with our neighbors in the coming week. For some the hijab is a reminder that there are people whose faith contradicts our own. For some it’s a place of connection, a hole in the fence between Islam and Christianity where ideas can be exchanged.
I won’t have the opportunity to wear hijab every day (for which my scalp is grateful). Still, my one day with the veil showed me that I am not the only member of my faith who is ready, even anxious, to talk about the things we have in common with Muslims. There is space for exchange. In our covering, we may find a haven for connection.
Let’s start talking.