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HONOR. The notion of honor figures prominently in ensembles of ideas about respect and social status. As a comparative sociological concept, it denotes enhanced status and capacity for social relations. In more narrowly cultural terms, honor is a composite aspect of persons, social conduct, morality, and social metaphysics.

The grounds and expressions of honor are many and vary with what is important and problematic in personal interaction. Honor was first examined in tribal “codes” idealizing bravery, independence, generosity, selfcontrol, and abilities to control the course of interactions with others. Common grounds and symbolic vehicles of honor in these milieus are ownership (in some sense of controlling the use) of land and other productive resources, the independence and generosity this facilitates along with family and kinship solidarities, the control of women’s fertility, and personal characteristics of courage, wisdom, honesty, and self-possession. Although honor is sometimes represented as complementary to religion in tribal settings, piety is an essential part of honor in all its forms. For tribesmen, there is no honor apart from identity as a Muslim: the generous host, provident husband, and deferential wife and offspring are justified as God’s pleasure.

Islamic piety looms larger as a source of honor for others. For descendants of the Prophet, Sufi pirs and recognized “holy” families, honor may inhere primarily in religious identity. A composed demeanor, disinclination to conflict, and avoidance of degradation of others is the presumed style of religious people and sets a standard that others emulate.

Widespread distinctions between “face” or “point of honor” that can be manipulated in interaction, in contrast to honor as all that is sacred (sharaf, haram), have been productively united in two ways. One is by looking beyond talk about honor to the art of talking well and the way in which verbal performances demonstrate cultural mastery, particularly in poetic constructions. This more nuanced understanding of honor as expression has also opened up the realms of women’s claims to honor and expressions of it through verbal performances.

Another new perspective has come with uncovering how concepts of honor and shame are related to metaphysical notions of persons and behavior as balances of socialized reason (`aql) and animal appetites (nafs). Honor tips this balance in favor of reason-governed behavior, and shame toward behaviors denominated by emotion and appetites. These concepts are generalized from Islamic contexts as a sort of “folk” or ethnopsychology. For instance, hospitality (and material generosity generally) is ideally extended with humility and deference to show that egoism and ambition are subordinated to God’s pleasure. The host and the parent become symbolic intermediaries or conduits in their realms, much like pirs and religious teachers in theirs, each with particular and situationally appropriate honor. Thus honor also takes on associations with the “greater” (personal) and “lesser” (communal) jihdd or struggle for religion.

These concepts can link experiences without completely harmonizing them. Honor can come into conflict with religion when their symbolic expressions conflict, as for instance in the feud or in religious quietism. In this way, honor may be polarized with defining social relations in religious terms.

[See also Shame.]


Abu-Lughod, Lila. Veiled Sentiments: Honor and Poetry in a Bedouin Society.Berkeley, 1986. Along with Grima (below), a seminal work on women’s honor as verbal performance.

Caton, Steven. “The Poetic Construction of Self.” Anthropological Quarterly 58 (1985): 141-151. Fundamental work on honor as verbal performance.

Grima, Benedicte. The Performance of Emotion among Paxtun Women.Austin, 1992.

Jamous, Raymond. Honneur et baraka: Les structures sociales tradi

tionnelles dans leRif.Cambridge, 1981. Along with Meeker (below), provides the best discussion of continuities between tribal and religious settings of honor.

Meeker, Michael E. Literature and Violence inNorth Arabia.Cambridge, 1978.

Peristiany, J. G., ed. Honour and Shame: The Values of Mediterranean Society.Chicago, 1966. See the essays by Pierre Bourdieu, “The Sentiment of Honour in Kabyle Society,” and Ahmed Abou-Zeid, “Honour and Shame among the Bedouins of Egypt,” both classic accounts of tribalist honor.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/honor/

  • writerPosted On: June 23, 2013
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