A Muslim Woman in the Pews

As a college student I often slipped into the refuge of the campus’s large Mission church for a few moments of quiet during the middle of the school day. After entering the sanctuary through the rear doors on one particular occasion, I saw a Muslim woman in hijab sitting in one of the distant pews near the front altar. “That’s great,” I thought to myself, “I am glad that people of all faiths feel welcome in the space.”  Although it was a Catholic university, it was not uncommon to encounter students of various faith traditions, especially Muslim students. Furthermore, the school’s location in California’s Silicon Valley meant that the communities around the school were rich with religious diversity.  Perhaps this was a local community member who slipped in the Mission on a mid-day walk.

As I walked further into the church, however, I realized that this was not a veiled Muslim woman, but rather a rosary-praying Catholic wearing a mantilla, a type of veiling worn by the women of my faith during the pre-Vatican II era when the institution required us to cover our heads. While my initial assumption about the faith of this woman made sense in context–veiled Muslim students heavily out-weighed the mantilla-wearing Catholic population at the university–I was embarrassed. My reaction suddenly seemed incredibly shallow.   Continue reading