Nuns

The ISD Editorial Board reports on the various types of head coverings that are represented in various religions while advocating for those who wear head coverings. 

The ritual of head covering has been practiced by women of different cultures and religions from the beginning of time. While today some women cover their hair as a fashion statement or as a result of illness or medical treatment, many do so for religious purposes.

The practice of people wearing head covers and veils for religious purposes is an integral part of all three monotheistic religions: Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

Even though different faiths may have their followers wear head coverings for different reasons, all should be equally accepted and respected, especially the women in these religions who tend to face the most scrutiny for wearing a head covering.

Christianity

The wearing of chapel veils was part of the early Christian tradition. This tradition then continued into the early Catholic church.

In today's culture, many Christian women still wear head coverings as a symbol of modesty. There are no specific head covering guidelines, but there are trends

Christian women tend to cover their hair in a way that is both comfortable and flattering. Veils, caps, scarves and snoods are among the most popular choices.

A common theme distinct to Christian women's head coverings is they do not see a prohibition in covering one's hair and see covering the head as sufficient. Many Christians will only practice head covering while attending church or other religious events. 

Even the first lady of the United States, Melania Trump, wore a veil to the Vatican when she met the pope in 2017. 

The most common example of Christian women wearing head coverings are some of the groups of nuns or religious sisters in the Roman Catholic Church. Coifs or veils are part of the habit worn by some orders of nuns or religious sisters. 

Beyond the coifs of a nun’s habit, another religious head covering within Christianity is the veil, which can come in different sizes and shapes. Some are elaborate and cover the entire head, while others are pinned to the hair.

The Amish community also participates in this tradition.

Amish see scriptural justification for women wearing head coverings. They base this practice in a number of Biblical passages, in particular from the book of 1 Corinthians

Amish women cover their heads with a simple white or black organdy head bonnet. The style, shape and color of the cap varies by community.

Amish women pin their long hair up underneath their prayer coverings, which they remove in the evening.

Prayer coverings have come to be a symbolic marker of Amish society, along with other "Plain people." Prayer coverings vary both among the Amish and other Plain groups such as Mennonites and Hutterites.

Though the different Christian groups wear head coverings for different reasons, they all come from the same idea of modesty and deserve the same respect.

Hijab

Muslim women are just one group of women who wear head coverings for religious reasons.

Islam

Muslim women cover much of their bodies, including their head and hair, and only display these parts of their bodies to males in their families. The head covering serves as a reminder for deterring flattery or sexual attraction. Just like Christian women, it is a way for women to present modesty.

The general practice among Muslim women is to wear head coverings that also cover their hair, leaving only their faces showing, though different Muslim women from different areas wear a variety of head coverings depending on their understanding of the Quran and their culture. 

“What Muslim women, globally from my perspective, have learned very acutely and very personally, is that it does not work to dictate what women wear,” said Hebah Farrag, the assistant director of research of the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture, in an article she wrote. “Whether asking a woman to put on the veil or forcing her to take it off, the result is the same – an assault on her religious freedom. The lesson of the hijab is to embrace diversity.”

The most common head covering worn by Muslim women in the United States is the hijab.

The word hijab describes the act of covering up generally but is often used to describe the headscarves worn by Muslim women. The type most commonly worn in the West covers the head and neck but leaves the face and lower body clear.

The niqab is a veil for the face that leaves the area around the eyes clear. However, it may be worn with a separate eye veil. It is worn with an accompanying headscarf.

This type of covering conceals the entire body, head, neck and face but has openings for the eyes.

The half niqab is created with a headscarf and a facial veil, which allows the eyes and part of the forehead to be seen.

The burka is the most concealing of all Islamic veils. It is a one-piece veil that covers the face and body, often leaving just a mesh screen to see through.

The chador, worn by many Iranian women when outside the house, is a full-body cloak. It is often accompanied by a smaller headscarf underneath.

These are just some of the many different types of head coverings worn within Islam, but there are many more and they can mean a variety of different things depending on who is wearing them and why they are wearing them.

Islam has the widest range of different head coverings worn for religious reasons, but they share the same idea of promoting modesty similar to Christianity and Judaism and deserve the same respect.

Tichel

Jewish women are just one group of women who wear head coverings for religious reasons.

Judaism

The practice of head covering within Judaism is part of a modesty-related dress and behavior standard known as tzniut. The guiding principle is that neither men nor women should dress in a provocative manner overly emphasizing their physical attributes. 

For Orthodox Jews, once a woman is married, she should only show her hair to her husband in private. Many women in the ultra-Orthodox Hasidic community shave their heads.

For those women who do shave their heads, or even for women who don’t, they wear a sheitel, which is a wig worn by Jewish women to cover the head.

Many wigs worn by Jewish women come with kosher certification to ensure the hair does not come from rituals that would be considered idolatrous by the faith.

A different head covering within Judaism is the tichel, which are scarves worn either over a wig or a woman’s own hair.

Just like Islam and Christianity, Jewish women wear head coverings based on their understanding of their religious text and it mostly leads to an idea of modesty. But whatever it means to the woman who is wearing a head covering is the most important part of wearing it and no woman should be shamed for choosing to wear a head covering.

All women, no matter their religion, should be free to express their religious beliefs, including choosing whether to wear head coverings, free from discrimination and prejudice.

This means a Christian woman who chooses to cover her head due to her understanding of the Bible deserves just as much respect and solidarity as a Muslim woman who chooses to cover her head due to her understanding of the Quran.

All people are equal under the law in the United States and they all have freedom of religion; it is time society understands different faiths can coexist and these faiths are more similar than they are different and the women who follow these religions need to be respected for their beliefs.

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