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Religious habits in Kurdistan: Part II.

Byline: Richard Brownlow

In Part 1 of this Article (The Kurdish Globe, #174, September 4, 2008) we discussed the various ohabitso and religious clothing of Roman Catholic nuns in comparison with the normal everyday clothing of women who are living in the Middle East.

For example, the 2 ladies (shown in Image 1) are not osisterso or orabbanio from a Christian religious order, or organization. Rather, she (and the lady with her) are just shopping in the city.

In Italy and western Europe, in North America and especially in South America and Mexico, Roman Catholics in the street would stop, greet her as oSistero, and attempt to help her with her packages, assuming that she was a onuno and that she would appreciate the assistance. They would also feel that GodAEs blessings would come to them if they assisted a onuno in the street.

In French, she would be addressed as oMa Soeuro, meaning oMy Sistero, and in fact, the first Sisters to work in Iraq were from a French order, and this was the requested manner of addressing them. To this day, oMa Soeuro is an accepted method of addressing the nuns in Iraq and in Kurdistan. In Spanish, she would be called oLa Hermanao or oHermanao, which means oThe Sistero, or oSistero.

In late August 2008, I visited a Roman Catholic church with the name of St. JosephAEs in Ainkawa, a growing Christian enclave on the border with main city of Erbil, Kurdistan. At the convent (i.e., the nunnery) of the Sacred Heart, within the church complex in Ainkawa, I interviewed a few of the osisterso who were living at the Convent, in order to understand the current ohabitso and colors of the clothing worn by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart. These ohabitso are grey (or, gray) instead of the standard black color for Roman Catholic religious orders. During our conversation, they advised me that the osisterso in Kurdistan were called oRabbanio in the Kurdish language and also in Arabic. They also advised me that their daily clothing, or ohabitso (that is, black head scarf, white liner under the head scarf and a grey material for the ohabito) was now considered the standard religious clothing for the Sisters of the Sacred Heart as a community.

In 1980, the entire community of Sisters voted to revise the nature and type of ohabito that was customary for the order. Although there were many reasons for this change, the main reasons involved the difficulty of maintaining the black fabric and the reserved attitude of the congregations to the oall black color schemeo that the Sisters of the Sacred Heart were wearing at the time. Since the main focus of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart is to introduce and demonstrate the oloving kindnesso of Jesus (i.e., Issa, in Arabic and Yah-Hoshua in Hebrew), the Sisters wanted to ensure that the congregations around the world were not negatively affected by the black color of the ohabitso. The Community voted to change from oall blacko material to a grey/gray color since they were working with the public congregation on a daily basis.

Accordingly, since 1980, the Sisters of the Sacred Heart have served the parishioners, and the Catholic congregations at large, dressed in grey colors, or gray ohabitso.

However, this trend (that is, moving away from the oall-blacko clothing) is not confined to religious orders, but it is also occurring within the local populations of Kurdistan and Iraq.

The women in Kurdistan are now showing traces of color in their daily dress, to offset the traditional black dress. These colors and additions to the traditional dress codes are changing with the younger Kurds in the main cities, but changing more slowly in the traditional countryside. In Image 2, the mother has a subdued dark blue and light blue fabric as a head scarf and the daughter has a red head scarf but also, she wears a bright red jacket.

Additionally, as you can see in Image 3, one woman is dressed in the traditional all-black clothing and the other is displaying a beautiful blue blouse with white trim.

However, when investigating historical documents, it should not be too difficult to understand why the founder of a religious order, in medieval France, identified a specific method of clothing for women of that order in Europe:

Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph

Founded at Le Puy, in Velay, France, by the Rev. Jean-Paul Mdaille of the Society of Jesus (b. at Carcassonne, 29 January, 1618; d. at Auch, 15 May, 1689). He encouraged a few of his most fervent penitents to consecrate themselves to the service of God, and addressed himself to the Bishop of Le Puy, the Right Rev. Henri de Maupas, a friend and disciple of the great St. Vincent de Paul. He also prescribed as their religious dress a black habit and veil, a black cincture on which a large rosary is worn, a band of white linen across the forehead, and a white linen coif fastened under the chin.

This description (a band of white linen across the forehead, and a white linen coif fastened under the chin) would fit almost any onuno or aesistero in the western world, and also (with the exception of wearing, or not wearing, the rosary) this description would fit any woman on the street in Kurdistan or in Iraq, or Iran, or anywhere in the Middle East (as shown in Image 4): i.e., oa black habit and veil, and of white linen across the foreheado

In order to understand, you should try to remember the life and times of Jesus, also known as Issa in the Arabic world and Yah-Hoshua ben Yusef in the Jewish world, and his mother, Mary, also known as Miriam bet Yoachim. There was another woman involved in the early church movement, i.e., Mary Magdalene, also known as Miriam of Magdala. These two women, more than any other women of the time, were known as oholyo women.

From the beginning of the oChristiano religion in Judah (Southern Israel) and Galil of the Gentiles (also known as Galilee), they were thought to be dressed in traditional Middle Eastern, Semitic, tribal clothing, much like the clothing of women today in the Middle East.

Their clothing was also depicted in the same manner in paintings and descriptions within the emerging church, and later during the Renaissance.

Accordingly, the best image and the most desired dress code, for women within the Roman Catholic Church, was to imitate the clothing of these oholyo women, and to become oholyo women in the same appearance as the original oholyo women of the early church in Jerusalem.

As shown in Image 5, even as late as the 1440AEs, Giovanni di Paolo, produced this image of St. Catherine of Siena, complete with black ohabito and white mantle covering the head.

Then, in 1445, he produced the painting of Paradise (predella panel), depicting women of religious orders dressed in the same manner as women in the Middle East, while the non-religious men and women were shown in contemporary costumes.

Please see Image 6, Center left section and bottom right portion.

As a result, for 2,000 + years, the religious ohabitso of the Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church (and other Christian churches) have retained and reinforced the traditional tribal clothing of the Middle Eastern Semitic culture and the conservative tribal clothing of the women in the entire Middle East, including Kurdistan. In fact, this special and distinctive religious ohabito is very similar, if not identical, with the current day clothing of the traditional Kurdish people who maintain the traditional cultural values.

However, most Roman Catholics appear to believe that the ohabito was initiated, developed and maintained as a completely unique and special ohabito of dress, required and mandated by the Church ONLY for religious women within the Church, as a special privilege. Additionally, no other Roman Catholic from the laity (i.e., the general congregation) was authorized to wear the ohabito.

It seems reasonable to assume that there are two possible interpretations of this situation: (1) the statement (shown above) was believed in faith by Roman Catholics and other Christians, without any cultural background or historical information, or (2) they remained completely unaware of the Semitic origins of the Christian Churches, and the origin of the religious ohabitso of today, derived from the everyday clothing of the entire Middle East and North Africa. It is hoped that this article assists in demonstrating this interesting connection between ohabitso and clothing.

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Publication:The Kurdish Globe (Erbil, Iraq)
Date:Sep 14, 2008
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