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HARAM. The root h-r-m is among the most important Arabic roots in the vocabulary of Islamic practice. The root meaning is something like “forbidden” or “taboo” and evokes constraint, and often heightened sanctity as well. In legal thought an act deemed haram is one forbidden. Usually the term is coterminous with “proscribed” (mah, zur), but it is sometimes used to denote the negative side of the legal scale of value, incorporating both the proscribed and the “reprehensible” (makruh).

The most important ritual usage of the term is to refer to the area around the three holy cities of IslamMecca, Medina, and Jerusalem. Within the precincts of these cities, which are defined with considerable precision (Mecca having the largest haram, Jerusalem the smallest), certain restrictions apply that both reflect and define their sanctity. Hunting is forbidden, as is uprooting any tree or harvesting grain. Violence toward humans is proscribed, except for what is absolutely necessary to maintain order. Some have argued that even carrying weapons in the area was proscribed. Likewise, entry into the two Arabian harams is proscribed for nonMuslims. The sanctity of the place is protected, and it protects those who flee to it; even the grossest tyrants cannot be killed within its precincts.

The root also yields the word haram, the state of ritual purity of one going on the greater or lesser pilgrimage. While in this state, the pilgrim wears a particular sort of garment and is enjoined from cutting hair or nails, wearing perfume, or having sexual intercourse.

The best known usage of the root is in the words pertaining to restrictions on women’s access. The root is used to describe those family members who may associate across genders without restriction; these are called mahram and define the degrees of relation within which marriage is unacceptable: parents, siblings, fostersiblings, and the like. Because they are forbidden to marry, they are permitted to associate. Finally, h, grim (harem) refers to the part of the house in which women are protected from encounters with non-mahram males.

Lewis, James R. “Some Aspects of Sacred Space and Time in Islam.” Studies in Islam 19 (1982): 167-178.

Von Grunebaum, G. E. “Islam: Experience of the Holy and Concept of Man.” In Islam and Medieval Hellenism: Social and Cultural Perspectives, pp. 1-39. London, 1976.

Zarkashi, Muhammad ibn `Abd Allah al-. I`ldm al-sajid bi-ahkam almasajid. Edited by Abu al-Wafa Mustafa al-Maraghi. Cairo, 1964.

A. KEVIN REINHART

Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/haram/
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  • writerPosted On: June 10, 2013
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