A Veiled Message

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.


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14 Responses to A Veiled Message

  1. Ray Parry says:

    As someone who attended Wheaton College many years ago, I am distraught that a tenured professor at that school would have such a poor understanding of both Christianity and Islam. While it would be nice in the interest of P.C. and the ability to converse from a common starting point if everyone worshipped the same God, even a brief exposure to the sacred writings of both would show how diametrically opposed their respective concepts of God are. Just because Christians worship One God and Muslims worship One God doesn’t mean they are the same God. Ms. Hawkins could benefit from some basic instruction in comparative religions and stay away from public posturing.


  2. Dixon Onu says:

    It does not take being a theologian to know and live for Jesus. Even if we try to induldge Ms Hawkins’ action, based on her first and second premises, that is showing love to our neighbor and seeing everybody as a product of same stuff base on the fact that she may be a ‘baby christian’. We may not do so on her third reason: that christians and Muslims worship the same God. This is falling too far below the line. Apart from negating Jesus’ polarization theory of Matt. 12:30 that “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.” Ms Hawkins is showing spiritual color blindness. To say that we all are one is like saying there are no differences in colors. That white and black, blue and red are the same or that darkness and light are one and the same thing.
    There are better ways to show love to our neighbors and to sypathize with people, Jesus did but never condoned or compromised, for instance, the woman caught in adultery. Whom though he did not condemn but never encouraged.


  3. Pingback: A Veiled Message: Mateen Elaas weighs in on Wheaton - The Layman Online

  4. Betty J. Dutcher says:

    Mateen Elass has written a very informative blog and I look forward to reading more from him. God bless you, Mateen.


  5. Sissy Tubb says:

    I never tire of reading your thoughts on these kinds of issues. Thanks for the continued well thought out analysis.


  6. Onu Dixon says:

    Thank you my brother. As a mater of fact, Ms Hawkins needs to be taken back to foundation class to be taught the basics in christian faith so that she stops embarrassing the body of Christ. Unless she belongs to the group Paul classiefied as ever learning but never coming to understanding.


  7. Carolyn D. says:

    Very helpful explanation of where and how she went wrong. This taught me a lot.


  8. Carolyn D. says:

    A very helpful explanation of how and where she went wrong. I learned a lot. Thank you!


  9. Carolyn D. says:

    I’m wondering if there are any Christian groups/ministries here in OKC reaching out to the Muslim community. I have been friends with a very dear Turkish family here for around 8 years. I’ve had opportunities to engage in conversations with them about our differing faiths, but I wish there were other Christians that I could get support from! I often feel inadequate to the task! Can you direct me to any believers here with a burden for reaching Muslims? I’d be grateful.


  10. Jodie Gallo says:

    Dear Dr Elass,

    The paragraph that caught my attention here was the following:

    “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.”

    It seems to me you hit it on the nail in that we often forget that “God”, as we worship him, is “our definition of God”. If we worship our definition of God, then of course we worship different gods, and of course, since the god we worship is the god of our own definition, that god is not really “GOD”, but merely a mental construct, an idol made of human imagination. More sophisticated than the idols of old made by human hands, but an idol nonetheless.

    And so religious wars ensue. Roman Catholics have fought bitter wars with Protestants, and today Liberals and Conservatives accuse each other of apostasy, basically because our definitions of God are at variance.

    I think that is what happens when we ask the wrong question. The real question ought to be whether the GOD who reaches out to Christians in Jesus Christ is the same GOD who reaches out to Muslims and draws them to pray five time a day, to charity, to fasting, to declaring that there is but one God (and that Mohamed is His prophet), and so on.

    Are we at variance over our inevitably flawed responses to a same GOD, or are there different Gods out there?

    Because if GOD is the same, then that means a whole different thing than if there are multiple competing Gods out there, making us guess which one we need to worship (it used to drive the Greeks and Romans crazy).

    I for one think that God is One. There are no others (except maybe the Soccer gods). I would extend the courtesy of allowing them to worship Him as they see fit, as long as they would extend the same to me. And it seems most of them would. However, I also cannot deny that I am a disciple of Jesus Christ, not of Mohamed. And I would be happy to debate with any disciple of Mohamed why being a disciple of Jesus is a far better choice. I would not sentence him to death, or even the fires of Hell, if he disagreed. But I object to his fellow Muslims sentencing him to death if he did become a disciple of Jesus. This is an essential agreement Christianity must obtain from Islam if we are to ever live peaceably. Reaching out the right hand of fellowship first is a natural act coming from a disciple of Jesus. (But obviously not too smart if one is employed by Wheaton College).

    At that point, may the best Teacher win.

    Jodie Gallo
    Los Angeles, CA


    • mateenelass says:

      Jodie, thank you for your thoughts. Please call me Mateen.

      I fully agree with you that there is only one God. The problem with talking about the one true God is that no human being has any natural knowledge of who that God is, other than what can be gleaned by natural revelation (deductions from the created order). If we are to have any genuine knowledge of God’s nature, character and purposes, it will be only as a result of God’s personal self-disclosure to the human race, what we (and Jews and Muslims) call special revelation. If God indeed is One, and True, then it stands to reason that competing, contradictory claims concerning His nature, character and purposes could not all be true. None of them may be true, but all of them can not be true together. Thus, when Muslims and Christians make claims about the nature of God (based on what they believe God Himself has revealed through angels, prophets, or His only Son) which are logically incompatible, it is impossible to say that the one true God has inspired both declarations about Him. One may be true, or both may be false, but both cannot be true.

      I agree with you wholeheartedly that being a disciple of Jesus is a far better choice than that of being a disciple of Muhammad, but I would argue the reason for this is not because I prefer the teachings/approach of Jesus, but rather because the revelation which Jesus brings is true, while the revelation of Muhammad is faulty in so many significant ways. The way of Islam cannot lead to salvation, because God’s way of salvation is found in Jesus — as John says, “He who has the Son has life; he who has not the Son has not life” (1 Jn 5:12).


    • K. John says:

      Jesu’s G_d said: “Be still and know, that I am G_d. You two are both such good teachers! At this point, I have to choose the teacher I know over the teacher with the best credentials. Aramaic seems more germane to the big problems in today’s world than Portuguese, or, Spanish or Swahili for that matter.
      May the L_rd bless you keep you.


      • mateenelass says:

        You lost me — I don’t know what you are trying to say. The statement of God in Ps 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God,” is a warning to warring nations that to seek to oppose Him is to court doom. This is a good reminder for us all, but especially today for those seeking to impose Islam on the followers of the biblical God.


  11. Pingback: What do we mean by “the same God”? | Wholly Living

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