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Nāmūs is the Arabic word (Greek "νόμος") of a concept of an ethical category, a virtue, in Middle Eastern patriarchal character. Literally translated as "virtue", it is now more popularly used in a strong gender-specific context of relations within a family described in terms of honor, attention, respect/respectability, and modesty.

The concept of namus in respect to sexual integrity of family members is an ancient, exclusively cultural concept which predates Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.[citation needed]


The Arabic word "nāmūs" (ناموس) may mean "law", "custom" or "honor", the Ancient Greek word "nómos" (νόμος) means "law, custom".[1]


For a man and his family, namus may, on the one hand, mean sexual integrity of women in the immediate 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.[2]

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 Afghanistan, namus goes beyond the basic family and is common for a plarina, a unit of the tribe that has a common ancestral father.[3]

For an unmarried woman, the utmost importance is placed on virginity before marriage. There is a requirement in some cultures for "proof of virginity" (in the form of bloodstains on a bed sheet) to be proudly displayed after the wedding night. Professor of sociology Dilek Cindoğlu writes: "The virginity of the women is not a personal matter, but a social phenomenon".[4]

In the Middle East, for a woman, namus is rooted in obedience, faithfulness, modesty (in behaviour and in dress), "appropriateness".

Violations of namus[edit]

The namus of a man is violated if, for example, a daughter is born into the family instead of a son, or if an adult daughter is not dressed "appropriately", or if he tolerates an offense without reaction.[2][5][6]

Among Pashtuns an encroachment on a man's plot of land also signifies violation of his namus.[3]

Restoration of namus[edit]

According to those who adhere to this concept, a man is supposed to control the women in his family. If he loses control of them (his wife, sisters, daughters), his namus is lost in the eyes of the community and he has to cleanse his (and his family's) honor, this is often done by abortion, murder or forced suicide.

In the Western world, 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 cases of rape, the woman is not seen as a victim. Instead, it is considered that the namus of the whole family has been violated, and to restore it, an honor killing of the raped woman may happen (estimated 5,000 victims yearly and on the rise worldwide[8]). The raped woman may also commit forced suicide;[9] in Pakistan, acid is often thrown on the victim's face to disfigure her as an alternative to murder.[10]

In British Bangladeshi immigrant culture and in Anatolian Turkish culture the violation of namus can result in the murder of the male involved with the female family member.[11]

Meanwhile, in cases of namus loss due to the arrival of a female child into the family, infanticide or sex-selective abortion may occur.[12]

Namus around the world[edit]

Afghanistan[13] is among the countries in which "honor killings" occur amongst the holders of Muslim and many other cultures and religions.[10]

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights gathered reports from several countries and considering only the countries that submitted reports it was shown that honor killings have occurred in Bangladesh, Great Britain, Brazil, Ecuador, Egypt, India, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Pakistan, Morocco, Sweden, Turkey, United States, Canada and Uganda.[14]

Namus is still an active cultural force in rural societies.

In 2000 Jaswinder Kaur Sidhu (nicknamed Jassi), a Canadian Punjabi who married rickshaw driver Sukhwinder Singh Sidhu (nicknamed Mithu) against her family's wishes, was brutally murdered in India following orders from her mother and uncle in Canada so that "the family honor was restored". Her body was found in an irrigation canal. Mithu was kidnapped, beaten and left to die, but survived.[15]

In 2002 international attention was drawn to the murder of Fadime Şahindal, of the Kurdish minority in Sweden, who violated namus by suing her father and brother for threats made against her and then rejecting the marriage arranged for her.[16]

In 2005, 22-year-old Faten Habash, a Christian from West Bank, was said to have dishonored her family by falling for a young Muslim man, Samer. Following their thwarted attempts to elope to Jordan, she suffered her relatives' wrath after rejecting the options of either marrying her cousin or becoming a nun in Rome, she had spent a period of time in hospital recovering from a broken pelvis and various other injuries caused by an earlier beating by her father and other family members. Still fearing her family after her release from hospital, she approached a powerful Bedouin tribe, which took her under its care, her father then wept and gave his word that he would not harm her. She returned to him, only to be bludgeoned to death with an iron bar days later.[17]

In 2007, 17-year-old Du'a Khalil Aswad of the Yazidi faith was stoned to death in Iraq for having a relationship with a Sunni Muslim. A video of the brutal incident was released on the Internet. According to the crowd she had "shamed herself and her family" for failing to return home one night and there were suspicions of her converting to Islam to marry her boyfriend, who was in hiding in fear of his own safety.[18][19]


Sharaf 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.[20]

To regain sharaf, 'ird must be cleansed.

Tarrad Fayiz, a Jordanian tribal leader, explains: "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."[20]

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

Support and opposition[edit]

Some Jordanian Islamic groups say that punishment of adulterous wives should be left to the state, while others say Islam advocates that male relatives should carry out the punishment. Yotam Feldner writes, "if honor killing originated in pre-Islamic Arab tribalism, it has long since been incorporated into Islamic society and thereby become common throughout the Muslim world".[20] However, "'Izzat Muhaysin, a psychiatrist at the Gaza Program for Mental Health, [...] says that the culture of the society perceives one who refrains from 'washing shame with blood' as 'a coward who is not worthy of living.'[20]

Hundreds, if not thousands, of women are murdered by their families each year in the name of family 'honor'.[10]

Forces against honor killing[edit]

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.[citation needed] National law can be promoted ahead of the right of families to protect namus.[citation needed]

Fifty years before the murder of Fadime Şahindal, Abdullah Goran (1904–1962), the modern Kurdish poet, condemned honour killing in his poem "Berde-nûsêk" ("A Tomb-Stone").[16]

In arts[edit]

The 1925 Armenian silent film Namus[21] tells the ill fate of two lovers, who were betrothed by their families to each other since childhood, but because of violations of namus, the girl was married by her father to another person. In 2006 it was restored, digitized and dubbed in French.


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).[22] In France and in Germany, where there is a large Middle Eastern Muslim diaspora, the women sometimes may resort to such cosmetic surgery.[5]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Nişanyan, Sevan (2010). "Namus" in Sözlerin Soyağacı: Çağdaş Türkçenin Etimolojik Sözlüğü (A Family Tree of Words: A Contemporary Etymological Dictionary of Turkish) (in Turkish). Istanbul: Adam Yayınları. ISBN 978-975-289-636-9. 
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ a b Pashtunwali Terminology.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ a b Uli Pieper: Problemfelder und Konflikte von Kindern ausländischer Arbeitsmigranten in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, a sociological analysis.
  6. ^ Anatomie eines Ehrdelikts ("The Anatomy of Honour Crimes"), by Werner Schiffauer.
  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. ^ a b c Hillary Mayell, Thousands of Women Killed for Family "Honor" National Geographic News February 12, 2002. retrieved 5-1-07
  11. ^ The honour code that drove a family to murder. Times Online. November 04, 2005. retrieved 6-1-07
  12. ^ "1999-2000 Annual Report Issue" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-02-24. Retrieved 2012-09-09. 
  13. ^ Sawyer, D. (1999). (see Aysan Sev'er, Aysan Sev'er (2001). "Culture of honor, culture of change: A Feminist Analysis of Honor Killings in Rural Turkey". Department of Sociology, University of Toronto. Archived from the original on 2007-01-02. Retrieved 2007-01-06. ) Citation: Honor Killings. Aired on 20/20. NBC: Friday, January 22. Retrieved 2007-01-05
  14. ^ "Thousands of Women Killed for Family "Honor"". National Geographic News. Feb 12, 2002. Retrieved 2013-08-06. 
  15. ^ Brown, DeNeen L.; Lakshmi, Rama; Post, Washington (October 5, 2003). "Mom gave long-distance order for honor killing, police say". The Boston Globe. 
  16. ^ a b Shahrzad Mojab and Amir Hassanpour In Memory of Fadime Şahindal: Thoughts on the Struggle Against “Honour Killing” retrieved 5-1-07.
  17. ^ Guerin, Orla (May 7, 2005). "Killed for the family's honour". BBC News. 
  18. ^ "The moment a teenage girl was stoned to death for loving the wrong boy". Daily Mail. London. May 3, 2007. 
  19. ^ "AIUK : Iraq: 'Honour Killing' of teenage girl condemned as abhorrent". 2007-05-02. Archived from the original on 2008-06-06. Retrieved 2012-09-09. 
  20. ^ a b c d "'Honor' Murders: Why the Perps Get off Easy" by Yotam Feldner for Middle East Quarterly, Dec 2000. Retrieved 2012-01-10.
  21. ^ Namus on IMDb
  22. ^ 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.

External links[edit]