February 1st was World Hijab Day. For those of you who might not know, hijab is the head covering worn by some Muslim women. The idea was to invite women who do not hijab, both Muslim and women of other faiths, to wear the covering for one day to increase awareness and understanding. Many, perhaps most, were completely unaware of the day. I have to wonder if it accomplished its purpose, especially as it seemed to spark debate rather than understanding. In one particular debate broadcasted on NPR, an opponent to World Hijab Day asked a supporter of the initiative if she would be willing to wear a cross for a day in order to better understand Christians. The response was negative. She reasoned that hijab is a form of modesty not a religious symbol. The fact is that hijab is different things to different people. To some it is a symbol of their faith. Others are forced to wear the covering whether by the law of the country or societal pressure. Still others appreciate maintaining the modesty that hijab affords them. Regardless, what should our response be as followers of Jesus?
We do need to work at better understanding. I am not sure that would come by wearing a scarf for a day. After all, how does that help us understand the motivation of the wearer? For the same reason, I am not sure it would come by asking them to wear a cross. One suggestion was to visit other places of worship. That goes a long way towards increasing understanding in an overall generic sense. I think there is a better way. Friendship….plain and simple. No matter where you live there is someone you just don’t get. It may be they are of a different socioeconomic status. Maybe they wear strange clothes or speak a strange language. Maybe they practice a different religion. If we as Christians are to increase our understanding, we must intentionally seek someone out. Intentionally build a relationship. Intentionally open ourselves up to diversity realizing we do not have to debate or agree on everything. We do not have to wear hijab or give up hijab to understand. We do not have to wear a cross or give up a cross to understand. We do have to learn and engage. So rather than World Hijab Day, I propose we observe International Friendship Day. Did you know there was such a thing? It is August 4th this year. On that day spend time with someone different. If possible spend it with someone of another faith or ethnicity. If every one of us did that, can you imagine that how much more tolerance and dare I say awareness, appreciation, and understanding there would be?
This post first appeared on the Associated Baptist Press news blog.