Shame, Nudity & Purdah
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Shame and Respect

The woman who chatters loudly, is too bright and perky, flits her glances or is not modest in walk and dress is Be-Sharm, shameless. A young girl who covers her head when her father enters the room is pleasingly modest or bashful. She has Izzat, respect for her father.

The younger women, the unmarried and new brides all show respect to the older women by deferring to them in conversation. Older women transmit the male dictates, are usually guardians of tradition and can be tyrants in their households. When a woman visitor comes, the younger ones push on with their sewing or whatever without interrupting their mother's conversation. It is rare for a son-in-law to visit his mother-in-law but when he does he must be treated with reserve and diffidence as he is head of her daughter's family. Young women must talk in lowered tones to elder relatives and, except for greetings which they should initiate, only respond and then positively to conversation and instructions. Their heads should be somewhat bowed and their hands covering their mouth. They should observe eye-purdah, that is avoid eye-contact.

In many parts of islam marriages are still arranged. Even the shame of a "love marriage" is covered up as an arranged one. The bride is expected to be modest and demure. She sits quietly with her head bent and may not come "out of her shell" for weeks or months-not perhaps until she has had her first baby. It is rare for an unmarried girl to go to a wedding as some of the remarks may be too risque' for her. If they can afford it the bride and groom will have separate bedrooms again for the sake of the modesty of the younger girls in the household. The bride is not addressed by her first name, even by her husband. She is the daughter (bint) of so and so. When her first son is born she becomes mother (umm) of so and so and this name stays with her until she dies.


Nakedness is generally considered ugly and the chaste wife sneaks under the bed covers. The Qur'an tells muslims: "0 ye Children of Adam! We have bestowed clothing upon you to cover your shame..." (7:26) "Let not Satan seduce you in the same manner as he got your parents out of the Garden, stripping them of their raiment, to expose their shame."(7:27)

In hadith 134 (Sahih Muslim) the Messenger said: "A man should not see the private parts of another man, and a woman should not see the private parts of another woman." It is also forbidden for both men and women to see the private parts of the opposite sex. The husband can expose his equipment before his wife and vice versa at the time of sexual intercourse but it is not desirable to see it. It is, however, allowable in case of extreme necessity for example medical examination and treatment. Yet in many cases a husband has not allowed his wife on her death bed to receive treatment from a male doctor.

Hadith 135 (Sahih Muslim) relates how the Children of Israel lost their modesty and indulged in moral depravity by bathing nakedly in front of each other. Only Moses took his bath alone. However, on one occasion he left his clothes on a rock and the rock moved so that Moses had to chase after it. By the time that Moses had caught up with his clothes and chastised the rock by striking it, everyone had had a chance of viewing his equipment. This cleared up a bone of contention: some had thought that Moses was modest because he had a scrotal hernia.


The chador and burkah are not common to the whole of islam but muslim fundamentalists would have it that way. The Prophet said that there should be no shapeliness in the woman's dress and "it is not lawful, past puberty, to show more than the face and hand below the wrist." Many fundamentalist girls are veiling their face as a sign of Taqwah, Allah-consciousness.

The only time a man covers his face is during his wedding when a veil of flowers protects him from the "evil eye".

The seclusion of women in the home and under long clothing leads to their social nothingness. How strictly a muslim woman observes purdah depends upon her economic status. Poor women have to work in the fields, fetch water, collect firewood and look after animals.

It is a poor reflection on a religion if its system of morals cannot regulate behaviour without segregation of the sexes. Men and women can have social intercourse without sexual intercourse. Punishment of misbehaviour in the present or Hereafter is not as moral as learning to treat other human beings as worthwhile individuals who merit respect. Humanism is far more ethical than religious fundamentalism.