Recently a professor of political science at Wheaton College created a bit of a media firestorm, publicizing her decision to “show solidarity with Muslim women” by wearing a hijab through the Christian season of Advent. The firestorm actually was prompted by the defense of her actions offered on her Facebook page, not by the actions themselves. Wheaton College, a leading evangelical Christian college, felt forced to take actions to suspend her from her position, based on some of her public statements. Now, as a result, the college has been pilloried by some in the media as “religiously intolerant” and “anti-Muslim bigots.”
Ms. Hawkins is not a theologian, but as a Christian with a Ph.D. serving at a Christian institution of higher learning, it’s a fair assumption that she is an informed believer. Together with all professors at Wheaton, she signs annually a statement of faith to which she binds her convictions. The College, serious about standing for its beliefs, expects all its employees to uphold this doctrinal statement. Herein lies the issue.
Were the statements of Ms. Hawkins egregious enough to warrant her being suspended from her duties for six months? Was Wheaton College right in taking the action it did? Here are four points to consider:
First, Ms. Hawkins initial Christian instincts are to be applauded. In obedience to the commands of Jesus, she is seeking to love her neighbors by showing solidarity with them in a time of tension where they may be facing unjust persecution simply for being Muslims. Of course, no one would know her stand of solidarity unless she publicly broadcast it somehow, for women wear headscarves for multiple reasons. Hence, she took to Facebook to publicize and explain her actions. I must confess, when I first heard of her decision to stand in solidarity with Muslim women in America (who rarely experience outright persecution or discrimination, even in this climate of terror-spawned fear and anger), I immediately wondered why she was not moved even more to seek to show solidarity with Christian and Yazidi women in Iraq and Syria, who all too regularly face rape, slavery, torture, dislocation, even murder. That would seem to be a no-brainer. But of course, in this country, Ms. Hawkins is free to express solidarity with whomsoever she chooses.
The second point is that Ms. Hawkins chose to justify her “human solidarity” with Muslim women on the basis that “we are [all] formed of the same primordial clay.” While this can be supported from the OT (“dust you are and to dust you shall return” – Gen 3:19, hearkening back to 2:7), it is a sub-Christian view of human nature much more in keeping with the Qur’an than the Bible. The Qur’an declares that we share commonality as humans because Allah “…created man from an extract of clay” (23:12) and then breathed His spirit into him (38:72). We are to treat one another with respect because we are living creations of Allah. But the biblical teaching is much more profound. Not only are we “aerated clay” as human beings, but our natures are marked by the imago dei – according to Genesis 1:26-27, human beings have been created in the image of God. Our special dignity, above that of the rest of the created order, is due to the fact that we reflect the likeness of God to the rest of the world in ways nothing else does. Hence we are to treat fellow human beings as those bearing the image of God. Even though Islam rejects this teaching (because nothing in the creation is like God in the least), Christians, such as Ms. Hawkins, should nonetheless base our solidarity with the rest of the human race on the more substantive basis that we are all created in the image of God, even if marred by the Fall, and so worthy of special honor and dignity.
Third, Ms. Hawkins argued that her solidarity with her “Muslim sisters” was based on religious as well as natural truths. Using the premises that Muslims, like Christians, “…are people of the book,” and that “…we worship the same God” (invoking the authority of none other than Pope Francis), the professor justified her “embodied solidarity” with American Muslim women. Here, apparently is where she parted company with the theological convictions of Wheaton College. While the Qur’an speaks of Jews and Christians as “the people of the Book” (i.e., the Bible) and then adds Muslims to that category by insisting that the Qur’an contains the same revelatory material as the Bible, most Christians would reject that categorization. Since the Qur’an emphatically denies most of the doctrines upon which the Christian faith is built (the Trinity, the Incarnation, the atoning death and subsequent resurrection of Jesus Christ, salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone, the indwelling Holy Spirit, fallen human nature, to name a few), Christians who believe the Bible rightly put the Qur’an in the category of false revelation. If Christians are people of the Book, Muslims cannot be. If Muslims are people of the Book (the Qur’an), then Bible-believing Christians cannot be. Further, the assertion that “we worship the same God” is highly contested within evangelical circles. It is true that the Qur’an makes this claim in 29:46, where Allah directs Muhammad to declare to the “people of the Book”: “Our Allah and your Allah is One, and unto Him we surrender.” Yet can it be said in a meaningful way that revelations which differ on the essential nature of God, on the possibility of God entering this world in human form, on the question of fallen human nature and God’s solution to the human predicament, on the person and work of Jesus Christ, and on the vision of God’s goal for redeemed humanity, nevertheless point to the same God? Ms. Hawkins apparently thinks so. Wheaton College apparently does not. I must say in defense of Wheaton, if you look at their 12 paragraph Statement of Faith (which is standard evangelical theology, and which Ms. Hawkins signed), Islamic orthodoxy would reject 11 of those twelve paragraphs, accepting (perhaps) only the final statement on the fate of the saved and the damned. The facile statement that “we worship the same God” fails to wrestle with the facts that Christians and Muslims define God in irreconcilable ways and that our definitions of God inevitably lead us to worship in vastly different ways as well.
Lastly, Ms. Hawkins shares that before donning her solidarity hijab, she sought the “advice and blessing” of CAIR (Council on American Islamic Relations) on “…whether a non-Muslim wearing the hijab was haram (forbidden), patronizing, or otherwise offensive to Muslims.” Unfortunately, CAIR is a Muslim-supremacist advocacy group whose foundational roots go back to the Muslim Brotherhood and its daughter terror organization Hamas. The US Department of Justice named it an unindicted co-conspirator in the terror-funding trial against the Holy Land Foundation, which was actively soliciting funds for Hamas in this country. The United Arab Emirates has also placed CAIR on its own list of banned terrorist organizations. Ms. Hawkin’s appeal to them for advice and blessing is ill-advised. The fact that they “…welcomed the gesture” does not necessarily mean they see her efforts the way she sees them – as an act of solidarity. I would venture a guess that most Muslims, if they see a Christian woman wearing a hijab, interpret it as her recognizing, either willingly or by compulsion, the supremacy of Islam, and so covering herself in compliance with Shariah law. This is not a message that Ms. Hawkins would want to convey, I am sure, but unfortunately what we intend by our actions and what other people interpret them to mean are often not one and the same.
Perhaps in the end this little dust-up created by a well-meant but poorly-defended endeavor will accomplish some good, if it leads to serious theological clarifications as well as to caring for our neighbors regardless of their religious convictions. One can always hope.