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Controversies related to Islam and Muslims

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Namus is an ethical category, a virtue, in Middle Eastern Muslim patriarchal character. It is a strongly gender-specific category of relations within a family described in terms of honor, attention, respect/respectability, and modesty. The term is often translated as "honor".

The notion of Namus is known in but not restricted to the Muslim world; it was known also in Armenia (see section "In arts") and Sicily.



From Arabic: el-Namus el-ekber الناموس الأكبر‎, "the one in possession of absolute virtues". According to the Islamic tradition, namus is the law or enlightenment bestowed unto Prophet Muhammad (and to Musa (Moses) before that) during his first revelation. The angel Jibrail, supposed to have delivered this law, is also sometimes referred to as Namus.


For a man and his family, namus, among other things, means sexual integrity of women in the family, their chastity in particular. On the other hand, the man has to provide for his family and to defend the namus of his house, his women in particular, against the threats (physical and verbal) to members of his extended family from the outer world.[1]

Namus of a man is determined by namus of all the women in his family (i.e., mother, wives, sisters, daughters). In some societies, e.g., in Pashtun tribes of Afganistan, namus goes beyond the basic family and is common for a plarina, a unit of the tribe that has common ancestral father.[2]

For an unmarried woman, the utmost importance is placed on virginity before marriage, and "proof of virginity" in the form of bloodstains on a bed sheet is required in some cultures to proudly demonstrate after the wedding night. Professor of sociology Dilek Cindoğlu writes: "The virginity of the women is not a personal matter, but a social phenomenon".[3]

In Islamic societies, for a woman, namus is in obedience, faithfulness, modesty (in behaviour and in dress), "appropriateness".

Violations of namus

The namus of a man is violated if, for example, his daughter is not dressed "appropriately" or if he tolerates an offense without reaction.[1][4][5]

"Failing to serve a meal on time", seeking a divorce, narrating a dream of infidelity, being raped can all be seen to damage namus.[6] Among Pashtuns an encroachment on a man's plot of land also signifies violation of his namus.[2]

Restoration of namus

A man is supposed to control the behavior of women in his family, and if he loses control of them (his wife, sisters or daughters), his namus is lost in the eyes of the community, and he has to clean his (and his family's) honor. In grave cases, particularly cases involving marriage, this is done by murder or forced suicide.

Such cases are especially visible in immigrant societies, when a girl faces the conflict between her choice of the culture of the new home society and the traditions of the old home.[7]

In the most conservative interpretations, if a woman is raped, she is not seen as a victim. Instead, it is considered that the namus of the whole family was violated, and to restore it, an honour killing of the raped woman may happen (estimated 5,000 victims yearly and on the rise worldwide[8]).

In other cases, the raped woman may, under social duress to restore namus, commit forced suicide.[9] In Pakistan acid is often thrown on the victim's face to disfigure them rather than them being murdered.[6]

In the British Bangladeshi immigrant culture the violation of namus can result in the murder of the male involved with the female family member.[10]

Namus around the world

Afghanistan,[11] Bangladesh, Great Britain, Brazil, Ecuador, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Pakistan, Morocco, Sweden, Turkey, and Uganda are countries in which "honor killings" occur amongst the Muslim population.[6]

Namus is still an active force in rural Islamic societies.

Between 1994–1996, 53 cases of honor killings of women in the rural southeastern and eastern regions of Turkey received wide media coverage. The actual crime rate is much higher.[12]

In 2002 international attention was drawn to the murder of Fadime Sahindal, of the Kurdish minority in Sweden, who violated namus by suing her father and brother for threats and then rejecting the marriage arranged for her.[13]


Sharaf[14] is the honor of the family, tribe or person which can increase if the path of moral behavior is followed or decrease if it is left. ‘ird is that honor which relates only to the women in family; it can only decrease. Sharaf is outweighed by 'ird.

To regain sharaf 'ird must be cleansed.

"A woman is like an olive tree. When its branch catches woodworm, it has to be chopped off so that society stays clean and pure."

Murder, marriage to the person that violated the woman's honor, or marriage to another man will all restore 'ird.

Opposition and support

Some Jordanian Islamic groups say that punishment of adulterous wives should be left to the state, while other say Islam advocates that male relatives should carry out the punishment. Yotam Feldner writes, "if honour killing originated in pre-Islamic Arab tribalism, it has long since been incorporated into Islamic society and thereby become common throughout the Muslim world, ..."[14] However, "‘Izzat Muhaysin, a psychiatrist at the Gaza Program for Mental Health, says that the culture of the society that perceives one who refrains from "washing shame with blood" as "a coward who is not worthy of living."[14] "Hundreds, if not thousands, of women are murdered by their families each year in the name of family 'honor'."[6]

Forces against honor killing

In many societies that had or have "honor killings" contrary social forces are also in action. Feminism and human rights workers seek to stop "honor killing". National law can be promoted ahead of the right of families to protect namus. Elements of namus are considered by some to be remnants of archaic patriarchal prejudice.

In Germany, if it is judged that the killing was an honor crime, the killer receives the maximum sentence of 25 years without parole.[4]

Fifty years before the murder of Fadime Şahindal, Abdullah Goran (1904-1962), the modern Kurdish poet, condemned "honour killing" in his poem, Berde-nfsLk “A Tomb-Stone”.[13]

In arts


Even the associated practice of virginity tests in cases of claimed sexual misconduct do not always protect women from femicide, since gossip and rumors may take precedence over forensic evidence, especially since the practice of virginity restoration has become widespread (for women with sufficient money).[16] In France and in Germany, where there is a large Muslim diaspora, Muslim women sometimes may resort to such cosmetic surgery.[4]

See also

Islamic law:


  1. ^ a b Werner Schiffauer, "Die Gewalt der Ehre. Erklärungen zu einem deutsch-türkischen Sexualkonflikt." ("The Force of the Honour"), Suhrkamp: Frankfurt am Main, 1983. ISBN 3-518-37394-3.
  2. ^ a b Pashtunwali Terminology.
  3. ^ Dilek Cindoglu, "Virginity tests and artificial virginity in modern Turkish medicine," pp. 215–228, in Women and sexuality in Muslim societies, P. Ýlkkaracan (Ed.), Women for Women’s Human Rights, Istanbul, 2000.
  4. ^ a b c Uli Pieper: Problemfelder und Konflikte von Kindern ausländischer Arbeitsmigranten in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, a sociological analysis.
  5. ^ Anatomie eines Ehrdelikts ("The Anatomy of Honour Crimes") , by Werner Schiffauer.
  6. ^ a b c d Hillary Mayell, Thousands of Women Killed for Family "Honor" National Geographic News February 12, 2002. retrieved 5-1-07
  7. ^ A Matter of Honor, Your Honor?, by Rhea Wessel, the first article in her series about the rights of Muslim women in Europe, particularly Turkish women in Germany.
  8. ^ "Ending Violence against Women and Girls", a UNFPA report.
  9. ^ "UN probes Turkey 'forced suicide'", a BBC article, May 24, 2006.
  10. ^ The honour code that drove a family to murder. Times Online. November 04, 2005. retrieved 6-1-07
  11. ^ Sawyer, D. (1999). (see "A feminist analysis of honor killings in rural Turkey". Culture of honor, culture of change. Department of Sociology, University of Toronto. 2001. Retrieved 2007-01-06.  ) Citation: Honor Killings. Aired on 20/20. NBC: Friday, January 22. Retrieved 2007-01-05
  12. ^ "Framing Honor Crimes in Turkey", A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 15.2 (2004) 119–151.
  13. ^ a b Shahrzad Mojab and Amir Hassanpour In Memory of Fadime Şahindal: Thoughts on the Struggle Against “Honour Killing” retrieved 5-1-07.
  14. ^ a b c All in the Family: How the perpetrators of Honour Killings get off lightly retrieved 2007-01-12
  15. ^ Namus at the Internet Movie Database
  16. ^ Imposition of virginity testing: a life-saver or a license to kill?, by Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, an article about sexual abuse in Palestinian society, a UNIFEM-funded study.

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