Saturday, October 31, 2009

Hair Beliefs, Part III

Islamic beliefs about hair. Now we're talking sacred hair. It has been suggested the Muslim practice of taking special care with hair and nail clippings dates back to prehistoric animist beliefs that all parts of the physical body are considered to contain life's "soul-stuff".

One ritual that leads scholars to this conclusion occurs during the pilgrimage to Mecca, where Muslim men enter a sacred state by donning the white seamless garment known as Ihram. (Muslim women wear long white robes or something similar. For more information, I direct you to Wikipedia.) During Ihram, Muslims are not to shave, clip their nails, wear perfumes or deodorants. (They must also follow other prescriptives, such as no sex, smoking, swearing, etc. in order to enter a state of spiritual purity.) When the ceremony is complete, Muslim men shave their heads and cut their nails, taking the hair and clippings with them to bury in sacred soil.

In addition to hair rituals during Hajj, as a matter of personal hygiene, the Islamic Sunnah mandates the regular trimming of pubic hair and underarm hair.

Specifically with regard to Muslim women, hair is considered to be an alluring adornment, part of her aura, which in Arabic means: "The part of the body which is illegal to keep naked before others." While she can leave her head uncovered with her husband and children in the privacy of their home, in public the Muslim woman practices the modesty of Hijab. Actual manifestations of Hijab vary. Some women simply wear a head scarf, known as a Khimar. The Nigab is the name for both a head covering and veil. When a Muslim woman covers herself from head to foot, she is wearing either the Chador or Burga. Islamic arguments in defense of the practice maintain that:
1. Men are weak in sexual temptations; by wearing the Hijab, women help them be strong;
2. The Hijab empowers Muslim women to be intelligent and ambitious, rather than focused on physical beauty;
3. The Hijab reminds all Muslims of their god-centered lives.

Interestingly, the differences between the practices of Muslim men and Muslim women when it comes to head coverings parallels the instructions of Paul to Christians in the New Testament (see Hair Beliefs, Part I).

Hiding hair from view, in my estimation, operates like reverse psychology, giving it too much power. I revere my hair, too. In a very cool way, the animists had a point: after all, hair carries our DNA code. But that's not to say hair creates uncontrollable sexual urges, or vanity, or wasteful expense, or any of the other crimes of which it's accused. We're the ones who do that.