Late last year, Dr Larycia Hawkins, the then associate professor of political science at Wheaton College, was placed on administrative leave by the evangelical Christian liberal arts college for wearing a headscarf throughout the period of Advent.
Although Hawkins claims to have done so in a bid to better understand the plight of Muslim women living in the United States, many conservative Muslim women still considered Hawkins’ adoption of the hijab (habit) to be ḥarām (problematic). As Muslim journalist Amarra Ghani explained in a think piece published by Slate, “Hawkins may be attacked, looked at differently, stopped at the airport – but at the end of it all, she will be able to leave her experiment. We, as Muslim women, don’t have that same luxury [the ability to leave our experiment].”
If the Facebook post Hawkins made on Ash Wednesday is anything to go by, however, it would seem that such criticisms did little to weaken her resolve.
“Lent is a time when we, as Christians, strive to strengthen our relationship with God. We do this by repenting of, and atoning for our sins, and practicing asceticism,” she wrote. “As such, the ‘vice’ I have decided to abstain from this year is Lent itself. Instead, I will be observing the month of Ramaḍān. Please join me in the ongoing fight against Islamophobia by doing the same.”
Needless to say, Hawkins’ plans for the paschal season prompted a significant amount of backlash, with many Muslims and Christians accusing her of “cultural appropriation” and “apostasy” respectively. Despite having successfully addressed similar concerns in the past by ignoring them, in an attempt to “clear the air”, Hawkins finally broke her silence.
“What I actually meant was, converting to Islam, whilst remaining nominally Christian, might prove conducive to initiating a productive interfaith dialogue,” Hawkins told The Hoc Post. “Besides, it’s the similarities that are important, not the differences. Both Lent and Ramaḍān are devoted to ṣawm (fasting), zakāt (almsgiving), and ṣalāt (prayer), and in 2026, both will commence on the 18th of February. So not only do we worship the same Allāh, but we also celebrate the same holiday.”
When asked to comment on the theological implications of Hawkins’ recent remarks, Dr Philip Graham Ryken, the current President of Wheaton College, declined to do so “on the record”, as it would be “inappropriate.” Ryken did, however, go on to say that while faith may be “fluid” for Dr Hawkins, he believes that Christianity and Islam are “immiscible, like chrism and holy water.”
Not one to be so easily deterred, last night Hawkins issued the following statement online:
On the first Sunday of Lent, I underwent a hymenoplasty, and thereby became a born-again virgin. On the second and third Sundays [of Lent], I had my clitoral hood and glans clitoris surgically removed. On Laetare and Palm Sunday, I had my labia minora and majora excised. And on Easter Sunday, I had the edges of my vulva sewn together. As per tradition, an untrained medical professional performed all six of the operations using unsterilised instruments, and without anaesthetic or antiseptic.
Interestingly, the same Muslim women who had previously lambasted Hawkins for “co-opting” the hijab are now applauding the professor for her courage of conviction. The response from many Muslims, especially those in academia, has been so overwhelmingly positive in fact that Nazma Khan and Ahlul Bayt have called for the 27th of March to be recognised as World Clitoridectomy Day.
Unsurprisingly, however, Hawkins has not been without her detractors. In what can only be described as a grotesque display of internalised Islamophobia and cultural colonialism, self-hating Muslims Asra Nomani and Hala Arafa dismissed Hawkins’ noble gesture as “disturbingly misguided”, and excoriated her for promoting “an idea that leads to the confinement, subordination, and subjugation of women’s sexuality and bodily autonomy.”
Reza Aslan, an eminent theologian and historian, has also roundly condemned Hawkins’ honouring of the “seventh pillar” of Islam – but for entirely different reasons. As Aslan sees it, while Dr Hawkins’ show of ‘embodied solidarity’ is obviously well intentioned, culture and religion, ritual and doctrine, infibulation and Islam, are self-evidently mutually exclusive.
“While Dr Hawkins’ show of ‘embodied solidarity’ is obviously well intentioned, culture and religion, ritual and doctrine, infibulation and Islam, are self-evidently mutually exclusive. They are – to borrow the late Stephen Jay Gould’s phrase – non-overlapping majesteria. As such, Hawkins’ conflation of the two is beyond facile,” he said.
“Now, is it possible for certain sūras to be interpreted in a way that would justify female genital purification? Absolutely. But The Qur’an doesn’t explicitly prescribe any such procedure, so it simply cannot be used to justify it. And even if it did, it wouldn’t.”