Should the Wheaton College Professor have been suspended for wearing a hijab?

Published: October 27, 2016

The school dismissed Hawkins; she consulted a lawyer, and received an undisclosed settlement. PHOTO: THE NEW YORK TIMES

Whether in Islamic theocracies or places with visible minority Muslim populations, from China to the United Kingdom, the hijab twists conservatives and liberals in their support or opposition to dress normally associated with fundamental religion. We see bullies “rip off” hijabs; one such incident recently took place in New York City. On the other extreme, groups like the Taliban declare, “wear hijab or be disfigured.” And they carry out such threats. Nushin Arbabzadah summed up this contrast in The New York Times:

“Women may want to express ‘solidarity’ with Muslim women by covering up. But Muslim women don’t need to cover up. This act of solidarity perpetuates a version of Islam that says it’s OK to poison little girls who dare to feel the sunlight on their heads.”

And at The Washington Post Asra Nomani and Hala Arafa wrote:

“ …these well-intentioned Americans… argue that a woman’s honour lies in her ‘chastity’ and (are) unwittingly pushing a platform to put a hijab on every woman.”

So what about these women that express such “solidarity”? Consider Larycia Hawkins, a professor at Wheaton, a college in New York for evangelical Christians, who wore a hijab during Advent. The result, as reported by The New York Times:

“Jesse Jackson had compared Hawkins with Rosa Parks, while Franklin Graham, an evangelist and Billy Graham’s son, declared, ‘Shame on her!’ Students protested, fasted and tweeted. Donors, parents and alumni were in an uproar.”

The school dismissed Hawkins; she consulted a lawyer, and received an undisclosed settlement. This hijab morality play recurs often, as when FIDE (Fédération Internationale des Échecs or the World Chess Federation) let Iran host the Women’s Chess Championship this February, 2017, and the Iranian authorities mandated hijab. As The New York Times reported:

“Nazi Paikidze-Barnes, a United States women’s chess champion, has said that she will boycott next year’s world championship in Iran because religious law would require her to wear a hijab….‘I think it’s unacceptable to host a Women’s World Championship in a place where women do not have basic fundamental rights and are treated as second-class citizens,’ she wrote.”

She earned kudos from humanitarians like former World Chess Champion Gary Kasparov, but not from Saeed Kamali Dehghan at The Guardian, and Azadeh Moaveni at The New York Times, who wrote:

“While mandatory hijab certainly matters, it is for Iranian women to determine what level of priority to accord it.”

Why does Ms Moaveni deny the fact many Iranian women resist hijab? She ignored activist Masih Alinejad and her campaign My Stealthy Freedom (آزادی یواشکی زنان در ایران ), as well this, Iranian women call on Western tourists to violate hijab law to fight against oppression, at The Independent.

On a personal level, I’m a Persian American with three daughters. We live in Edmonds, Washington, where our children have Muslim classmates from Iran, Egypt, and Afghanistan, but only one hijabi in an elementary school of about 300 students. According to my observations, and my daughters’, beyond responding to friendly greetings, this girl rarely speaks to anyone. I volunteer in the school and have tutored her older brother, Idris, who wears Western clothes. I wonder about his little sister’s “choice.” Would she feel more comfortable if others wore “hijab?” Or would she find the act patronising? Does she wonder why her brother can assimilate and not her?

The idea that my daughters have a choice, in many ways, is as absurd as the idea that Idris’s little sister does. Parents make that choice. But in America adult women also have this right. Women in Iran and Saudi Arabia do not. Women in the West are rarely, if ever, poisoned, disfigured by acid, caned, or imprisoned for wearing religious clothes, and in the rare cases they are victimised they are protected by the State; the guilty parties prosecuted according to law (as seen in the case in New York). In places like Iran and Saudi Arabia, discrimination is enforced by the state. The culture follows.

As long as this dichotomy exists, Professor Hawkins’ “solidarity” aligns with an ideology that oppresses women. We should support Ms Hawkins’ right to wear hijab, but not the anti-progressive symbolism of her gesture.

Clarification: The Blogs desk was contacted by Wheaton College that issued a clarification regarding Dr Hawkins. According to Wheaton College, Dr Hawkins had not been dismissed, she was placed on paid administrative leave in order to provide time to explore the theological implications of her public statements regarding Christianity and Islam. This administrative leave was in no way connected to her commitment to wear a hijab during Advent. Dr Hawkins and the college later mutually agreed to part ways.

Caleb Powell

Caleb Powell

The writer is a Polish/Persian American and worked overseas for eight years, in East Asia, the Middle East, and South America. He now lives in the Pacific Northwest with his family. He Tweets @sonofmizrahi (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Sameen

    When it comes to conversations on Hijab, it is disappointing to see that women who wear it by choice are completely excluded from it. Altough I agree with your premise to quite an extent that everyone should be free to wear whatever they want in both middle east and the west, I find it offensive that in narratives like yours everyone who wears the hijab, is a shy, oppressed individual who put no thought in their wearing of the hijab and probably had no choice in the matter. You might want to talk to people who have chosen to wear the hijab to broaden your scope and understanding of why not everyone who wears the hijab needs to be ‘saved’ or assimilated.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Nicely argued……and I agree with your ending.
    In my view the hijab is but a piece of cloth ( a scarf in the western sense ) but when associated with religion and that too Islam, it becomes controversial….can one really blame the world at large for the perception it has formed about the religion ?
    The good professor’s heart was in the right place but her head was not thinking right.Recommend

  • Bairooni Haath

    The problem with the Muslim religion is that the so called choice is not really a choice, it is an expectation imposed by family, community and the religion. If you see the support for ISIS, a big chunk was from Muslims who grew up in the western countries. Even after being born and raised in the west and in many cases belonging to well of families who gave them all the advantages in life, they have remained outcasts in society and not able to assimilate in the mainstream. Because they don’t fit into society they are attracted to the sermons of right wing preachers who denigrate western society and exhort Jihad. This gives these individuals a sense of belonging and a purpose in life which they never had. When you immigrate to a country from India, Pakistan, Iran or wherever, at some point you are expected to shed all your baggage, particularly if it is something as controversial as a Hijb which makes everybody around you uncomfortable.Recommend

  • curious2

    Wheaton is a fundamental Christian college – in my mind that needs to be taken in deciding whether dress code for teacher/students is appropriate. Nobody would criticize a Mosque/Madrassas for implementing dress code (covering hair, taking off shoes etc) similar analogy maybe appropriate here.Recommend

  • Gary L. Walters

    It is not about being “anti-progressive” as suggested in the last sentence. It’s about not supporting sexist behavior. Progressives don’t remotely own morality.Recommend

  • Ray Smith

    As 99% of the over 600 emails in my database–mostly media stories and blogs- on the Hawkins case mistakenly cite, Professor Hawkins was not suspended for wearing a hijab nor did the College at any time take issue with her right to her gesture. It was her Facebook posting that Muslims and Christians worship the same God that was incendiary to constituents and alumni and interpreted as violating the Statement of Faith which as an employee she signed in affirmation annually..Recommend

  • MJ

    For every woman that is forced to wear a hijaab I know at least 5 that do it out of their own choice.Recommend

  • HZR

    One does not understand why these people go to broad liberal minded societies and bring int her dichotomies to mix relgion with freedom If wearing the hibaj was important to her she should stay in her country or move to countries that practice and welcome it,There are 54 beautiful islamic countries where she could have gone for her moral,religious and personal sanctification.Recommend

  • Azam Gill

    A very well written and strongly argued case.Recommend

  • Keyboard Soldier

    By choice argument would work if Shariah were to be modified to include the clause that would state

    “Hijab is completely optional in Islam”

    The “fact” that is it is NOT and is “mandatory” for all Muslim women to cover their bodies completely as per the instructions of Quran.

    This “wear-by-choice” crowd has a weak stance, hence majority of the non-Muslims don’t buy this argument.

    The day “Parda” is removed from the Islamic texts, the world would have ZERO issues with the entire thing.

    Hijabs/Burkahs are imposed on to Muslim women from the very beginning as soon as they hit puberty by their mothers, fathers, brothers and they get their instructions from the book or the local mosque mullah.Recommend

  • Ravi Blr

    Only when Islamic clergy declare that hijab is not a religious requirement, will the world accept women who wear hijab as personal choice.Recommend

  • Samzz

    funny…she is covering her head but exposing the shoulder…thats not hijabRecommend

  • siesmann

    She is not Muslim.You should appreciate her gesture of support Recommend

  • Kashif Chaudhry

    Yet another man explaining to women why a certain aspect of their clothing is not progressive enough for him. Let me know when you are willing to discuss this issue with me. I see you blocked me on all social media after my offer for dialogue on Islam and new atheism. Recommend