Could you easily identify the faith based head coverings you see around you today? Would you know a Tichel from a Turban? This was the starting point for mother turned writer Medeia Cohan who struggled to find a book for her young son that explained the different ways people cover their head to show love for their God.
Hats of Faith is a brightly coloured board book covering five faiths and nine different types of head covering. Its genius is in its simplicity – each page is dominated by a brightly coloured picture. Text is kept simple and pronunciation phonetic. Amongst others we are introduced to a Sikh man in a turban, a Jewish woman in a Tichel and a young boy in a kippah.
The simple construction of the book makes it easy to underestimate the amount of research that went into its creation. It took over a year to narrow down which head coverings to include, and in her quest for absolute accuracy Medeia travelled the world to meet faith leaders, costume curators, anthropology and religious studies professors.
‘It’s a great responsibility to talk about something as delicate as faith and there is an awful lot of misinformation out there,’ she explains. The research was painstaking ‘I now know why the book didn’t exist previously’ she laughs, ‘our research included speaking with the curators at the Smithsonian and the African museum in Washington. We also consulted with theology professors, religious leaders and faith members, and ordered every book on faith for children out there’
As well as Jewish and Sikh faiths the book features Christian, Rastafarian and Islamic examples but there were many coverings that just couldn’t make the final cut. Medeia picks up ‘The African head wrap was a tricky one. I really wanted to include it but within every African country and within that – every African tribe – there are different reasons for wearing one and different names for it. I really wanted to be sure that what I was putting out was accurate and factual.’
Furthermore first drafts of the book included lots more information, but the publisher suggested explanations be taken out. Medeia was initially devastated. ‘I had thought it was really important we explain and rationalize head coverings. But actually when we took the text out it highlighted that head coverings are a SHARED custom across all faiths. What the text had done was actually emphasize the DIFFERENCES between faiths.
The book was published in August and Medeia has been busy promoting it – touring her home country of America and getting involved in Interfaith week here last month (an awareness raising and celebration of the different faiths in Scotland) She is also taking part in workshop based events for families in conjunction with the Scottish Book Trust.
Reaction to the book has largely been positive with many parents sharing pictures on social media of their children reading it but not everyone approves – ‘we have had some haters’ she says, with people not keen to engage in discussion about different faiths or practices. The other issue that has caused debate has been the books title. ‘We have taken a fair amount of flack for calling head coverings ‘hats’ but the book aims to take the scary and unknown aspect out of head coverings for young readers who are more familiar with ‘hats’.’
Originally from Massachusetts Medeia came to London 12 years ago to study and moved her family to Scotland earlier this year, enjoying the slower pace of life here. She is keenly aware of differences in UK and American classrooms. ‘We do live in a more diverse setting in Scotland being physically closer to Europe and the rest of the world. When I do school workshops here and I ask if you have seen an African head wrap or a hijab the answers are much more frequently positive – yes my mum wears one. Whereas doing that in America – even in a diverse classroom – no-one knows any of the head coverings in the book. America is very different culturally.’
‘I come from a very liberal family,’ she continues, ‘and find when I go back home to the States these days the Trump bandwagon is very hard to stomach. I think a book like this is really needed in America and it is the right moment for it – I want our future to be an inclusive one.’
Medeia has big hopes for this little book. ‘I want it to encourage tolerance and help prepare young people for the culturally diverse world we live in today. Its a starting point for discussion on interfaith diversity.’ Lesson plans are being created and and will be available from the hats of faith website (colouring sheets are already available) and more books may follow. She is keen to tackle festivals of faith next.
Moreover, the amount of knowledge accumulated for this project wont go to waste ‘I could do a PHD on head coverings now she chuckles, it is quite ridiculous for a 12 page book. Winston Churchill once said that ‘if I had more time I would have written a shorter letter.’ I now realize how hard that is – it was no mean feat to create this book but I am proud that we have done it!’
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