Through a Different Lens


Many people have commented on this picture through a variety of lenses. While the story was originally broken on this blog, the Toronto Star, picked it up and published it with the caption: “At Valley Park Middle School, Muslim students participate in the Friday prayer service. Menstruating girls, at the very back, do not take part.” (Perhaps what isn’t visible is that there is also a barrier in the middle of the room, separating the boys in front from the girls, who pray behind them.)

Tasha Kheiridden of the National Post writes:

Is this the Middle Ages? Have I stumbled into a time warp, where “unclean” women must be prevented from “defiling” other persons? It’s bad enough that the girls at Valley Park have to enter the cafeteria from the back, while the boys enter from the front, but does the entire school have the right to know they are menstruating?

Kathy Shaidle clarifies:

Yes, the country is Canada and the year is 2011.

The Star’s own columnist, Heather Mallick, is furious:

School is for study. So why are they tolerating this violation of the Education Act, which bans religious services during school hours? The board spokesman referred the Star to its “duty to accommodate” and Dombrowsky’s people served up what I can only call a jargon pie.

And Mark Steyn has his own fun:

I forget which brand of tampon used to advertise itself with the pitch “Now with new [whatever]you can go horse-riding, water-skiing, ballet dancing, whatever you want to do,” but perhaps they can just add the tag: “But not participate in Friday prayers at an Ontario public school.”

So among other reactions, we have commentary from those who are angry that schools are providing space for religious services, some are grumbly that boys and girls are treated differently, and others are galled that menstruating girls are visibly marginalised by their peers (yes, ick!)

Interestingly, a commenter on one thread (I forget where, there were so many) asked readers why they were so upset, since most of us support single-sex bathrooms. The obtuse inability to differentiate between the intimacy of washrooms and seating in public assemblies only indicates that this decades-old gender war has caused people to lose what little sense they were born with.

So, what’s the deal? How should Christians approach this topic? Well, it’s veritably moot to point out that Bibles are not welcome in schools, Scripture no longer has a bearing on academic study, and generic prayers before class were tossed out years ago with hardly a whimper of protest. Christianity as a source of ethics is passé in the public square, so what’s left?

  • Christianity respects the difference between men and women. Our approach is called “complementarity,” which means that men and women aren’t interchangeable, but are fundamentally equal. While sin adds tension to their relations in a variety of ways, grace allows them to work together in a fashion that honours the anthropoligical truth about their essence;
  • This truth allows societies to draw certain parameters which safeguard modesty and purity, while respecting human freedom in its proper sense;
  • Jewish law contained divine decrees (chukkim) which were strictly spiritual (and thus neither rational nor ethical) in nature. These include the ritual purifications prescribed for women after menstruation or childbirth, which are based on the sublime realities surrounding the creative potential of women. While rites of purification can easily be misunderstood as an indication of uncleanliness, they should be understood more as special blessings in recognition of the woman’s maternal gifts;
  • Jewish law, while based on a reverence for God, had subsequently created overwhelming burdens that became obsolete by God’s own Incarnation in their midst. One parable stands out:

A woman suffering hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the tassel on his cloak. She said to herself, “If only I can touch his cloak, I shall be cured. Jesus turned around and saw her, and said, “Courage, daughter! Your faith has saved you.” And from that hour the woman was cured (Matthew 9:20-22).

According to Jewish law, the woman was ritually unclean — through no fault of her own, and thus an “untouchable.” Perhaps his disciples, after grasping what had happened, thought, “If this man were a prophet, he would know that she is unclean” (just as his dinner companions remarked among themselves when a public sinner washed his feet).The point is that the Jewish people at the time of Our Lord’s coming easily categorised people as ritually impure and unfit to interact with polite society, and yet the early Church knew well enough that such thinking was no longer appropriate.

In “the fullness of time,” which was aligned with his sojourn with us, Jesus curtailed these laws — the very laws to which his own immaculate mother had submitted, and yet he left a more perfect paradigm by which to understand male-female relationships: Mutual submission of bridegroom and bride, a relationship which reflects Trinitarian love, and each offering total oblation for the other when necessary. Deeply challenging, but worth the daily effort!

This brings us to the Christian response to this picture. We cannot help but be saddened to see that there are religions that still categorise any members of their lay faithful as “untouchable,” literally or figuratively. This is a chance to look further at Islamic texts, on which this behavour is based:

  • Men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other (Quran 4:34);
  • Narrated Abu Said Al-Khudri: The Prophet said, “Isn’t the witness of a women equal to half that of a man?” The women said “yes.” He said “This is because of the deficiency of the women’s mind” (Bukhari 3:48:826);
  • Narrated ‘Aisha: The things which annul the prayers were mentioned before me. They said, “Prayer is annulled by a dog, a donkey and a woman [if they pass in front of the praying people]” (Bukhari 1:9:490);
  • “A menstruating woman is not allowed to recite the Qur’an” (Abu Dawud, vol. 1 footnote 113);
  • “They question thee [O Muhammad] concerning menstruation. Say: It is an illness, so let women alone at such times and go not in unto them till they are cleansed. And when they have purified themselves, then go in unto them as Allah hath enjoined upon you. Truly Allah loveth those who turn unto Him, and loveth those who have a care for cleanness” (Quran 2:222);
  • “Allah said, ‘It is My obligation to make Eve bleed once every month as she made this tree bleed. I must also make Eve stupid, although I created her intelligent.’ Because Allah afflicted Eve, all of the women of this world menstruate and are stupid (Al-Tabari 1:280);
  • Narrated ‘Abdullah bin ‘Umar: I heard the Prophet saying. “Evil omen is in three things: The horse, the woman and the house” (Bukhari 4:52:110);
  • Narrated Usama bin Zaid: The Prophet said, “After me I have not left any affliction more harmful to men than women” (Bukhari 7:62:33).

There is so much more, but I think you get the picture. Thus, regardless of the fact that Islamic laws concerning ritual impurity are derived from the Jewish laws that preceded them, as Christians we patently reject the notion that

  1. women’s prayers are any less efficacious than those of men, or
  2. external elements can nullify anyone’s prayer.

For this, we refer to the specific teaching of Our Lord:He summoned the crowd and said to them, ‘Hear and understand. It is not what enters one’s mouth that defiles that person; but what comes out of the mouth is what defiles one’ ” (Matthew 15:10-11). Likewise, it’s not what walks past a man or where he is seated in the congregation that determines whether God is pleased with his prayer.

Now we fully respect the decision of a group to segregate its members for a particular reason. The Old Testament says:

And the land shall mourn, every family apart: The family of the house of David apart, and their wives apart; the family of the house of Nathan apart, and their wives apart. The family of the house of Levi apart, and their wives apart; the family of the Shimeites apart, and their wives apart. All the remaining families-every family apart, and their wives apart” (Zechariah 12:12-14).

The Eastern Orthodox deliberately continue this tradition, but make sure that the men and women are side by side, so that neither is nearer to the altar (which could be easily misconstrued). 

So ultimately, the only lens that will make sense of this deplorable situation is the Christian lens, and in that light we can see that the very dignity and honour that Our Lord came to offer women is lost when a society doesn’t understand complimentarity. Only a complimentarity understanding of men and women will allow them to be equal and yet remain distinct.

The most ironic element, though, is the righteous anger of those who took such issue with this situation in the first place. While they easily intuited from the picture both the inequality between boys and girls and the indignity attached to broadcasting one of the most private details of a woman’s life, what they will not admit is that they have imbibed an essential element of the Gospel without recognising it. Indeed, two millennia of firm Christian witness have cast their hue over the landscape of their world, so that they expect women to be treated as fully equal to men with a rightful honour before God. That was fundamental to Our Lord’s mission — and even though his name may not be mentioned in these secular halls, that part of his message has permeated Western civilisation and formed a critical part of its very foundation. Let’s be sure not to squander it in a benighted effort at diversity.


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  • goral

    Let’s try yet a different lens. Indeed it is sad and pathetic that the women are subjected to such psychological abuse. Culturally, they have been conditioned to this and seem to take it in stride.

    The “Christian West” on the other hand has found many other ways to abuse women and in so many instances with their very approval.
    There is the endless downward spiral of pornography.
    There are sports activities such as dancing and wrestling and various other displays that would make Salome blush.
    Not too long ago we were subjected to the vagina dialogues. The girls have PINK emblazoned on their rears. There are so many ways that we consider acceptable for women to act and yet these all diminish the dignity of women, certainly no less than having them sit in the back.

    • Genevieve Kineke

      That’s the exact problem, goral. There is no “Christian West.” It doesn’t exist — although the Muslims think that it does. There is not a single Christian nation on the planet whose legal structures reflect a “confessional state,” Ireland and Spain being the most recent to throw off the final vestiges of faith.

      To the Muslims, the immediate choice appears to be burkha or bikini (which in their mind reflects the larger choice: true faith vs. infidel). Our challenge is to show that Christianity is a personal path to the One True God, no matter what those around you exhibit in the name of morality. Authentic freedom, true human dignity and sexual complementarity combine to reject both bikini and burkha, opting instead for real modesty and chastity. That’s where our witness becomes crucial in this present age.

  • I agree with you, Genevieve. Although we do not have to prove anything to Islam. They are to be converted and liberated from an oppressive religious regime. I am not talking about conversion by force. The force eventually will have to be used by someone to terminate the violent behavior of this VII Century heresy but first we have to finish with Modernism, the other false option. The options burkha or bikini reflect the devil’s usual larger false option of Modernism or Islam.

    Our problem is of a different kind. As Christians we know the end of the modern world is already in progress. Several of its limbs have died: 1929 saw the death of Modern Capitalism, 1945 saw the death of Fascism, 1991 saw the death of Communism. What is left is a mix of the three “capital management options” that is now a carcass but has some appearance of being alive although is fatally wounded.

    For us the question is: what are we going to do when Modernism dies? What are we going to do when the Protestants realize that the German Reformation is what gave birth to the French Revolution and all her ugly daughters of disobedience: Socialism, Fascism, and Communism?

    We have to propose a new civilization and that has to be the civilization of Mary. The Roman Bona Dea went to the ash heap of history but it was replaced by Mary who reigned over Christendom through the Middle Ages. Modernism replaced it with the “Goddess Liberty” who we see leading the French troops in that famous Delacroix painting. To some extent we have her image still standing in the New York Harbor. I have nothing against true liberty but I am not too keen on that goddess that looks so similar to Lilith. I do not want a false copy of the Virgin Mary, I want the real thing. Never deified but in its perfect humanity ready to serve her children with unfailing love.

    The Civilization of Life–that we are building already–will take over when the STD’s, crime, corruption, war, and starvation finally finish with the last liberal hippies. This world shall pass with all its ugly glory and its victimizing of women. Its blatant using of women shall be no more because the nurturing nature of Mary will finally put women where God meant them to be: at the absolute center of civilization where she Our Lady is.

    Then there will be no burkha, bikini, N.O.W., abortion, breast cancer, pornography, killing pill… none of that degrading stuff. But our Queen, our Gebirah, our Blessed Mother will make us into a family again.

    Do you think I am dreaming? Just wait and see.

    • Genevieve Kineke

      You are not dreaming, Carlos. You have the supernatural vision that is so hard to sustain in a confused, material world. I don’t disagree with any of your analysis, and cannot stress how right you are about Our Lady.

      I’m in the process of setting up a blog to remind us that she’s the answer: “And a great sign appeared in heaven: A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Revelation 12:1). Interestingly, that “moon beneath her feet” can accurately be interpreted as the Muslim crescent (as well as other things, I’m sure). She is our hope and our “morning star” in this battle, but women still have their vocation to live: which is to model her virtues, especially modesty.

  • I was always puzzled by that apparent double meaning of the “moon under her feet.” The early Fathers saw in it a symbol of the Church harking back to Genesis. Christ being the great luminary and the Church being the lesser, reflecting imperfectly the light of Christ. So Mary is presented with the sun and stars crowning her head, Christ and the Twelve.

    But then there is the moon at her feet. Well, children belong at their mother’s feet. That is their place. That seems to indicate the Church under Mary’s motherly gaze. But… then we have the moon-god of the Ismaelites. There is a reference to their crescent-shaped golden amulets in the Story of Gideon capturing and killing Zebah and Zalmunna in Judges chapter 8.

    The crescent moon god is the god of the ancient Arabs. There are some remarkable connections between Our Blessed Mother and Islam, the best known is her choice of Fatima, name of the favorite daughter of Mohammed and also of a princess who converted to Christianity for love of a Christian prince during the Reconquest. It was on Fatima day that a man named Mehmet Ali Agca shot John Paul II.

    Remarkably that incident reunited in the front pages of the newspapers of whole world the names of Mohammed’s family: Mehmet (Turkish for “Mohammed,”) Ali (Mohammed’s son,) and Fatima (Mohammed’s favorite daughter.)

    In my personal and very non-scholarly opinion Fatima is a major prophetic event meant to mark the beginning of the battle of the last days. We are approaching the 100th anniversary of Fatima that will also coincide with the 500th anniversary of the Luther’s posting of the theses in Wittenberg.

    Fatima seems to me a sign that Mary will bring Protestants, Muslims, (and Jews?) into the fold. If that comes to pass then the false moon-god will be vanquished and all the children of Mary will be reunited at her feet.

    Then the two meanings of that mysterious moon at the feet of Mary will melt into one.