Why Do Women Have to Cover Their Hair in Judaism, Christianity and Islam?

By Vexen Crabtree 2013 Feb 07

Jewish stories of angels (or giants) grabbing hold on women by their hair and the laws of St Paul in the New Testament make it clear that women have to cover their hair according to Rabbinical lore and Christian scripture and tradition (Genesis 6:1-2,4 and 1 Corinthians 11:3-10,13-15). In Islam, the Qur'an contains one set of verses that imply that women have to cover their hair, and one Hadith strictly enforces complete coverings except for the faces and hands (Qur'an 24:30-31 and Hadith 4092). Yet however important social morality is, these laws seem pointless. If people are moral, such rules have no purpose. If people are immoral, such rules make no difference. It seems that despite the occasional attempt to give these laws supernatural meaning, they remain outdated and primitive human traditions, encoded into the scriptures of male-dominated religions for their own purposes rather than for divine ones.


1. Genesis 6 and 1 Corinthians 11:3-10, 13-15 (Judaism, Christianity)

The Flood

These verses in Genesis form part of the introduction to the story of The Flood, where God drowns all nearly living beings on Earth (Genesis chapters 6, 7 and 8). See: Noah, the Ark and the Flood, from the Bible Book of Genesis.

1 Corinthians 11:4-10 (KJV)

4 Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head.
5 But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head.
7 For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. 8 For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man.
9 Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man. 10 For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels."

1 Corinthians 11:13-15

13 Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered?
14 Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?
15 But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.

Genesis 6:1-2,4 mentions how the "Sons of God" fall for beautiful human daughters, and "took them wives of all which they chose" [KJV]. Verse 4 is actually a repeat of verses 1 and 2, but, only mentions giants and not the mysterious "Sons of God". It was Hebrew tradition to call angels "Sons of God", and, there was another tradition that these angels took hold of lovely women by their hair, hence "the Rabbis ... accordingly warned women to cover their heads in public, so that the angels might not get possession of them"1. Many have noticed St Paul's reference to this myth when he commands that women keep their hair covered (their 'crowning glory') in 1 Corinthians 11:10,15.

According to the custom of those days a veil on the head was a token of respect to superiors; hence for a woman to lay aside her veil was to affect authority over the man. The shaving of the head was a disgraceful punishment inflicted on women of bad repute; it not only deprived them of a great beauty, but also of the badge of virtue and honor.

"The Woman's Bible"
Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1898)2

Some Christians argue that women do not have to cover their hair, as it can be read that the "covering" of St Paul is the hair, and, that when he says "every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head" it means that women with shaved heads are a disgrace. However, as we have seen, there was clear Rabbinical instruction, from those who understood the Hebrew much better than we do, that Genesis 6 means women do have to cover their hair. Only in this context does St Paul's phrase "because of the angels" make sense.

2. Islam

Muslim women are frequently stereotyped as being subject to extreme dress codes because of their religion, however, most such rules are borne of tradition rather than scripture. The verses in the Qur'an and Hadiths that address dress codes are mostly not very specific. There are two comments that are relevant to women covering their hair.

30 Say to the believers, that they cast down their eyes and guard their private parts; that is purer for them. God is aware of the things they work.
31And say to the believing women, that they cast down their eyes and guard their private parts, and reveal not their adornment save such as is outward; and let them cast their veils over their bosoms, and not reveal their adornment save to their husbands, or their fathers, or their husbands' fathers, or their sons, or their husbands' sons, or their brothers, or their brothers' sons, or their sisters' sons, or their women, or what their right hands own, or such men as attend them, not having sexual desire, or children who have not yet attained knowledge of women's private parts; nor let them stamp their feet, so that their hidden ornament may be known. And turn all together to God, O you believers; haply so you will prosper.

Qur'an 24:30-31

And from the Hadiths:

Aisha said: "Asthma', daughter of Abu Bakr, entered upon the Apostle of Allah (may peace be upon him) wearing thin clothes. The Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) turned his attention from her. He said: O Asthma', when a woman reaches the age of menstruation, it does not suit her that she displays her parts of the body except this and this, and he pointed to her face and hands."

Hadith 4092, Sunan Abu Dawud vol.3, book 27, chapter 1535

The first comments from the Qur'an say merely that beauty must be covered up. Therefore, if a woman's hair is beautiful, it must be covered. And the infamous Hadith 4092 states that Muhammad taught (not God, and not part of the recital of the Qur'an), that the hair has to be covered along with everything else except face and hands. So, there is argument that if you disregard Hadith 4092 as Muhammad's personal opinion, and truly believe that woman's hair is not beautiful, then, you do not believe that it has to be covered. But it is clear that for most people, most the time, it does have to be covered.

3. Religious Clothing Laws As Superstition

As a result of religious rules and dogmas on clothing, jewellery, accessories and hair there are some conflicts between traditionalists and the non-religious. It is a civil secularism is a battle between superstition and common sense, especially given the mythological and illogical nature of most of those inhibitions. There are no rational theological reasons why the creator of the universe would care about how we fashion animal skins and products of the loom, and how we choose to drape them on our bodies. Morality is an important social value. But with good morals, you remove the requirement for clothing rules. Conversely if society lacks morals, clothing rules are irrelevant. The reason, therefore, that there are such strict dogmas in some religions/religious cultures, derives from flawed non-divine Human sources.

The above paragraph is taken from "Religious Clothing and Symbols in Secular Democracies" by Vexen Crabtree (2011). The rest of that page's contents are:

Read / Write Comments

By Vexen Crabtree 2013 Feb 07
http://www.humanreligions.info/women_why_cover_hair.html
Parent page: The Bane of Monotheism: Against Single-God Religions

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References: (What's this?)

Book Cover

Book Cover

The Koran. Translation by N. J. Dawood. Penguin Classics edition published by Penguin Group Ltd, London, UK. First published 1956, quotes taken from 1999 edition.

The Bible (NIV). The NIV is the best translation for accuracy whilst maintaining readability. Multiple authors, a compendium of multiple previously published books. I prefer to take quotes from the NIV but where I quote the Bible en masse I must quote from the KJV because it is not copyrighted, whilst the NIV is. [Book Review]

Stanton, Elizabeth C.. (1815-1902)
(1898) The Woman's Bible. Amazon's Kindle digital edition. Produced by Carrie Lorenz and John B. Hare. Public Domain.

Footnotes

  1. Stanton (1898) p106, 345. "This legend will be found fully treated in a German pamphlet, "Die Paulinische Angelologie und Daemonologie." Otto Everling, Gottingen, 1881." -- from book contributer L.S.^
  2. Stanton (1898) p344.^

© 2014 Vexen Crabtree. All rights reserved.

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