Nigerian Catholics told to be modest
By Elizabeth Blunt
BBC correspondent in Lagos
Modesty is a big issue in Nigeria these days.
Universities are introducing dress codes for their students.
The country's Muslims in particular are going to greater lengths than ever to be seen to be dressing modestly. Muslim women newsreaders appear on television swathed in scarves. Schoolgirls in the north, who would previously just have worn a small cotton headscarf with their uniform, now go to school in waist-length hijab, in somewhat Indonesian style.
Now the Catholic Church has joined the debate.
In his latest circular letter to parishes, the Archbishop of Lagos, Cardinal Anthony Okogie, under the heading "nudity", calls on priests not to allow in church what he calls "fashions promoting lust and immorality". He says that any of the faithful wearing "clothes which reveal sensitive parts of the body such as the bust, chest, belly, or upper arms, transparent clothing or dresses with slits above the knees" should be "quietly asked to worship outside". As for boys, it says there should be no "jerry curls [long curly hair], tight jeans or earrings".
A Sunday morning visit to the Church of the Assumption, in the Ikoyi district of Lagos, showed the Archbishop's recommendations were being well observed. Apart from one boy in tight jeans, everyone was looking very modest. Most women said they liked to wear traditional Nigerian dress to church - a blouse, wraparound skirt and some form of head-dress.
Many Catholics come from south-east Nigeria, and Sunday best for Ibo women means a lacy white blouse, a wrapper of fine woven cloth and an elaborate head-tie of stiff brocade or taffeta.
Many young girls wore an updated version of Nigerian dress - a long skirt and a nicely tailored, matching blouse. The most devout covered their heads with black, lacy scarves. Some of the men were in loose, pyjama-style Nigerian suits, others in western clothes.
Everyone I spoke to had heard of the Archbishop's campaign for modest dressing, and said they were wholly in agreement. I heard outspoken condemnation of people who come to the house of God half-naked, diatribes against tight trousers, skimpy tops and "spaghetti straps".
Several women said they believed they should imitate the Holy Mother, Mary, and cover their heads, since she always appears in images with a veil. And several of the congregation raised the issue of wedding dresses and the current fashion for brides to wear strapless, low-cut, evening-dress style outfits. "It's very, very wrong," one woman told me. "Very, very wrong. Especially the ones showing the boobs - you don't do that in the presence of God."
In fact, the wedding dress problem may have been the start of this whole campaign.
I was told that in a particularly notorious case, the parish priest in one Lagos church had refused to let the bride into the church for her own wedding. He said he would wait for her all afternoon if he had to, but she would have to go home and put on more clothes.
The Veil in Christianity: A common misconception is that Muslim women are the only ones who cover their hair. It may be true that Islam is the only religion in which most women follow its directives to cover the hair, but it is not the only religion to have such directives. It is particularly interesting to look at the case of Christianity, since Christianity is the predominant religion in the West, and it is Westerners, including observant Christians, who are often the first to criticize Islam because of the hijab (modest dress, including headcovering).
Mary, the mother
of Jesus A nun
Do Any Christian Women Today Cover Their Heads? It is true that most Christian women do not, and many don't take other teachings of the Bible (against pre-marital sex, adultery, etc) literally either. However, there do seem to be a growing number of Christian women out there who are committed to following the Bible as it is written. Below are some webpages that I found that call for Christian women to cover their heads in accordance with the commandment of the Bible.
According to the Scriptures: Headcovering
Biblical Headcovering: The Scarf of Hidden Power
Headcoverings and the Christian Woman
Let Her Be Veiled
Nigerian Catholics told to be modest
No Such Custom?
She Maketh Herself Headcoverings
The Christian Veiling
The Headcoverings of Sisters
The Rites of Submission
The Significance of the Christian Woman's Veiling
Is Covering the Hair a Religious Commandment for Christian Women?
Women's Headcovering and the Glory of God