Before we move on to explore why different religions and cultures wear veils, I forgot to mention in Part 1 that the Dance of the Seven Veils became immensely popular after Oscar Wilde published his play Salome in 1891. Aubrey Beardsley’s illustrations only added to that popularity.
Many different people veil, both men and women. However, when people speak of veiling, they typically only think of women and only think of veiling in terms of religious reasons. Originally, veiling was a cultural phenomena that was a necessity due to the climate in the Fertile Crescent. People originally covered up to protect their head, face, and respiratory system from the Sun, heat, and dust associated with the Middle East. As time went on, this practice became a part of different societies’ cultures and was continued even when they migrated to areas where the climate was more hospitable. Even later in the history of veiling, the cultural practices of different people were backed up and supposedly “mandated” by religious texts. What was once a practical, utilitarian piece of clothing became transformed into a symbol for everything from religious piety and modesty to gender equality and sexual fetishes and conversely oppression.
Let’s start by looking at Islam. According to Ahlam Al-koor, my female guide from the Islamic Center of Charlotte and who has only worn the veil for the last ten years (http://barbedpentacle.com/2012/02/blessed-be-thy-feet-part-3-section-b-2-my-ironic-flight/), veiling is not mandatory in Islam (although all the women I observed in worship wore veils of some sort, and I was told to come veiled and well covered). Women who choose to veil do so because it’s a cultural throwback to early pre-Christian cultures when women covered their hair for modesty. Muslim women also “cover up in an effort to get men to threat them as equals–to focus on their brains and not their cleavage.”
While I do believe that at its core, the custom of veiling in Islam is more of a cultural practice than a religious one, there are many scriptures in the Quran that support veiling, known to a lot of Muslims as the custom of hijab. The two most often quoted are: “And tell the believing women to lower their gazes and be modest, and to display of their adornments only that which is apparent, and to draw their veils over their bosoms.” (Sura An-Nur 24:31); “O; Prophet! Tell thy wives and thy daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks close round them (when they go outside). That will be better, that so they may be recognized and not molested.” (Sura Al-Ahzab 33:59). The second scripture is the one that has been quoted to me most often when I’ve asked why Muslims veil. If it was good enough for Mohammed’s wives, then it’s good enough for me (or the women in my family), seems to be the sentiment.
If you will recall from the above mentioned blog entry about the mosque, there is a lot of style and forethought that goes into which veil a woman chooses to wear. Many of the veils are flashy and anything but modest in pattern or cloth. There are also many different styles of veils with varying degrees of facial coverage. The choice as to how much to cover up seems, for a lot of women, to depend on their cultural background.
Just the plain old hijab is the most basic form of the veil. This was the look I went for with my scarf.
These two styles were the most popular at the Islamic Center, with the scarves either matching or color coordinated with the ladies abayas.
These styles were more common with the older worshipers at the center.
Although to me personally, these two styles are the most alluring, none of the ladies at the Islamic Center wore niqabs or burquas.
There are some conservative sects of Judaism that require or encourage their female participants to “veil”. Veiling, in case you haven’t noticed, is a loose term that many people use to simply mean a head covering. This practice stems from the Old Testament verse in Numbers that says: Moses is “exceedingly humble, more than any man in the world” and that Jews should strive to be like him (12:3). Here again, I suspect that the practice was a cultural one first that was later justified by scripture. This principal of humility and modesty is called tzniut, and it dictates modest behavior and dress for both male and female Jews, especially during worship. Married Jewish women in Conservative and Reformed synagogues are often encouraged to cover their head in some manner, while married women in Haredi and Hassidic communities are often mandated to do so by their synagogues.
There are many different styles of head coverings employed by Jewish woman who follow the custom of tzniut. These range from everyday hats to elaborate scarves. The three most common form of head coverings employed are wigs (or hair falls), snoods (yes, think Gone With the Wind and Highland Games), or mitpachats/tichels–which are scarves. Some ladies will tie their scarves under their chins, but most tie them at the back of the neck or head in a knot, either tucking the scarf ends up or leaving them down.
Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered brings shame upon his head. But any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled brings shame upon her head, for it is one and the same thing as if she had had her head shaved. For if a woman does not have her head veiled, she may as well have her hair cut off. But if it is shameful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should wear a veil. A man, on the other hand, should not cover his head, because he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; nor was man created for woman, but woman for man; for this reason a woman should have a sign of authority on her head, because of the angels. Woman is not independent of man or man of woman in the Lord. For just as woman came from man, so man is born of woman; but all things are from God. Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head unveiled? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears his hair long it is a disgrace to him, whereas if a woman has long hair it is her glory, because long hair has been given (her) for a covering? But if anyone is inclined to be argumentative, we do not have such a custom, nor do the churches of God. 1 Corinthians 11: 4-16
There was a time in European and American culture, when etiquette dictated that a proper lady wear some sort of head covering outside of the house, and going back a little further, that a proper lady also wear some sort of head covering inside of the house. While in the 19th and 20th centuries it was seen as a mandate of etiquette and fashion, the practice stems from the above verses from Corinthians. This is also why until the early 20th century women typically wore long hair.
Today, there are many different Christian women who still take these verses to heart and cover their hair all the time or at least when they pray or attend church. If you say “Christian” and “veil” in the same sentence, most people will think of nuns first.
Why do nuns veil? The simple answer is because of these verses in Corinthians. However, their manner of veiling is due to the medieval fashions during the era when many orders were being formed. The most popular and modest feminine head covering at the time for married ladies was the wimple, and thus it was adopted. Being that it was a head covering worn by married women, the wimple further represented the nuns’ positions as brides of Christ (So, Jesus is a polygamist? Just something to ponder.).
Before Vatican II in the 1960′s, Catholic women wore prayer veils to Mass.
Some of these veils consisted of plain kerchiefs or hats, but some women wore prayer shawls that were reminiscent of mantillas–those lacy symbols of Spanish culture that perfectly blend fashion, sex appeal, and Catholic and Islamic influences.
A majority of Catholic women do not wear veils to Mass any more due to changing values and different edicts handed down from the Vatican. There are certain times, though, when you will see more veils than usual at Mass. These are first communions and during the Lenten season. Whether or not Catholic women veil is also contingent on the age of the parishioners and where they live. When I was in Spain, I periodically attended Mass, and all of the older women and some of the middle-aged women in the smaller towns covered their heads for Mass. Some chose lacy mantillas without the comb, but many opted for dark kerchiefs tied under their chins.
Other Christian women besides Catholics cover their heads for prayer. Mormons do so on occasion, but the most well-known in America are the Anabaptists, which include the Amish, Mennonites, Hutterites, and other groups. These ladies also follow the mandate of Corinthians, but leave their prayer veils and kapps on all the time because a true and pious Christian should understand that the opportunity for prayer occurs continually throughout the day.
Just as with other religious groups, these ladies wear a variety of styles of coverings, some based on personal choice, but most are based on their community’s choice. Most people are familiar with the thin prayer kapps, but some prayer kapps are made out of sturdier cloth or are more heart-shaped (like a buttocks basket). Other groups, like the Hutterites, wear a kerchief tied under their chins. Still others clip and pin small prayer veils to their hair. Many of the Anabaptists in my area wear the white prayer veils clipped to their hair.
The third and final part of “Piercing the Veil” will focus on the modern or not so modern trend (depending on how you look at it) of veiling in Paganism. It will appear before the Samhain season is over and the veil is back in place.
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