Image via WikipediaThis blog makes no bones about exposing the massive and very frequent violations of the religious freedom of Christians and other non-Muslims in so many majority Muslim nations. Yet, it is fair and fitting to slip in a positive note here and there.
I recently met a gracious young Muslim couple from Saudi Arabia. They were college students, studious, hard-working, and polite. They even graciously offered me a cup of their Arabian tea. We spoke about the cultural differences between them and America.
They spoke about their arranged marriage in which, as I understood it, neither had even seen the other prior to the engagement. She spoke about her satisfaction with the way her culture protected women and limited contact with males outside the family. Of course, modest dress was a given.
While I see no need to advocate the extremes of dress or the restriction of the public role of women, there are lessons to be learned here:
1. Women need protection--today, in America, exploitive males and emotionally naive women have joined to create a battlefield littered with emotional, psychological, and even physical casualties. One way to protect women is for families to pass on a strong commitment to saving sex for marriage and a strong stigmatization of and taboo against "shacking up." Our religious institutions must take the lead in incessantly and repeatedly proposing this new model in stark and explicit terms. Our religious institutions seem to be able to speak effortlessly and endlessly about donations. They should also speak incessantly about these more vital cultural matters.
2. Modest dress does not require the extremes of the traditional Islamic code. But the West does need longer skirts, less tight clothing, and higher necklines. It's a matter of dignity, of sending the message that it is my character and personality that count, not the accidents of my physique being put in public view for all on the street to see.
The Christian model of equal rights for women, of saving sex for marriage, and of reasonable standards of modesty is, in my view, superior to the Muslim model--yet, our Muslim friends can serve to remind us of the urgent social work that our religious institutions need to do.