The Awrah (naked) truth

Call a woman “khatoon” or “Khanum” not something that tells her that she is any less of a person than the other half of the population

Language is a beautiful thing. 

It is amazing how many words you can find for one thing or entity in different languages. Development of language tells us that most terms come from another word or term in the same or a different language and with time and usage it evolves into a different meaning or connotation. Although some cultures eliminate certain words from their language for reasons such as a derogatory meaning, others keep using them. Similarly, some cultures choose to replace words from other languages in an effort to reclaim what they think they are losing or moving away from like, religion. A very simple example would be the word “Adaab,” meaning respect and politeness spoken along with a hand gesture as a secular greeting in Urdu language, which has now been replaced by “Assalam-o-allaikum,” an Arabic greeting only Mulsims use. So much so that non-Muslims living in Pakistan also use it; some out of routine and some, out of fear of identified as a non-Muslim.

Aurat/Awrah is one of those words that came from Arabic, which was also used in Farsi at some point. In Arabic, the term awrah or awrat means defectiveness, imperfection, blemish, weakness, genitalia, loins, private parts, pudendum flaw, defect, and fault. In Persian awrat derived from the Arabic awrah, had been used widely to mean "woman". Consulting Mohammad Moin's dictionary of Persian, awrah leads to two significations: nakedness and a young woman. However, Persian dictionaries identify similar meanings of the word mentioned above. In modern day Iran, using the word “awrah” to refer to women is uncommon and is considered to be derogatory and sexist. Instead, the words zan and xânom are used. Quran uses the word as privacy, vulnerable and nakedness among other meanings stated above.

In Pakistan and India where Urdu is spoken, the word “awrat” is used loosely as “a woman”. But all the attributes associated with the word define the woman in that culture. In South Asia, and in the Muslim world, a woman is equal to shame. Every man’s honor starts and ends between her legs. Her body is a walking shame bomb. Pregnancy, puberty and breasts are supposed to be concealed all the time like the world will end if you even talk about it. The woman is a sign of weakness, inferiority, lower intelligence and a punching bag of every insecurity man holds. From birthing a daughter to impotency of husband, from smoking a cigarette to questioning the authority and from using a tampon to marrying a person of her own liking; it’s all a woman’s fault.

Man and woman are conceived the same way and have evolved together, then why are they considered different? Science says, “Men are, in general, more muscular than women. Women are just over half as strong as men in their upper bodies, and about two-thirds as strong in their lower bodies. While the male metabolism burns calories faster, the female metabolism tends to convert more food to fat. The extra fat in their breasts, hips, buttocks, and as subcutaneous fat in the bottom layer of their skin giving a woman's skin its softer, plumper feel.

“Male and female bodies are well-designed for each gender's role in a primitive society. Women are built for carrying and birthing children, and must have wider hips and keep extra fat in store for the ordeal of pregnancy. Men, free from the requirements of childbirth, benefit from being as strong and lithe as possible, both in their search for food, and when in competition with other men.”

Now that we know why there are physical differences present between men and women, let’s look at the shame parts – I mean, the reproductive organs. I have news for you mighty men, all of you were conceived as a woman. Yes, that’s correct, life starts as a woman in a woman’s womb, contrary to the popular belief that the woman was carved out of your rib. Ouch!

Ever wondered why do men have nipples?  Science explains that for us too: “For the first several weeks a developing embryo follows a "female blueprint," from reproductive organs to nipples. Only after about 60 days does the hormone testosterone kicks in, changing the genetic activity of cells in the genitals and brain.” That’s why men are stuck with nipples and guess what a penis might be? Well I will leave it to your curiosity. 

So why must men be treated differently than women? In the usage of language, or most specifically curse words, for a person smoking a cigarette, drinking, staying out late at night or hanging out with other male friends, the linguistic attitude towards women is significantly different than men. Like Eric Jerome Dickey said “Slut (noun): A woman with the morals of a man.”

Why must women have to cover up and not men? Don’t women feel sexually ticklish looking at a handsome man? After all, Pakistani men are rated one of the sexiest men in the world. No edict was released for them to cover their pretty faces and those devilishly good looking beards. Why the discrimination and double standards?

I recently visited a Spartan race where the total participants were seven thousand, including male and females of all ages. The race was about 8.1 miles in length with 25 obstacles, and nearly half of the participants were women, doing exactly what the men were doing. It has been proven, now and again, that women are not what they have been portrayed by religion and society. You are not saving any honor by killing your wife, daughter or someone else’s daughter. The harder you throw a stone at her the stronger boost your ego gets, but it’s not because it saves your honor, it’s because you are losing control. The assumed power over women, the sense of controlling her is not to protect her rather it’s the sense of ownership that you feel. This does not make you a better or stronger man rather a less of a human being.

Religion is also full of stories, details and orders about women. From her sexuality to her unintelligence, from ways to controlling her, to possessing her in the man’s right hand. From haram to hoors, volumes and volumes of religious scriptures and details start with the woman and end with her except, Allah, who is always being referred to as we or he, never a she in Quran.  Our society and religion, both are obsessed with the woman and her body. Every discussion and news piece is somehow related to a woman. Be it Reham Khan, Ayyan Ali or a 19 year old who abandoned Islam – all of them have been sexually harassed at least once by none other than Muslim men claiming to belong to a peaceful and loving religion. Only one thing is common between all three: they are all women.

Now don’t get me wrong, not all men are sexual harassers or abusers and not all women are victims, either. The way this society is shaped, based on religious indoctrination and cultural taboos, women are equally to be blamed to raise these men and women the way they are and how they treat each other. This isn’t something new and it is not going to end today either. Until we start treating humans like humans and not discriminate against some of them because of their gender, we will remain an abusive society. So if you must, call a woman “khatoon” or “Khanum” not something that tells her that she is any less of a person than the other half of the population. A woman does not need your protection so don’t impose it on her. Rather, educate and train yourself and your sons.

Mae West said it for all of us: “Every man I meet wants to protect me. I can’t figure out what from.” 

Mona Hassan

Mona Hassan is HCMA (Humanist & Cultural Muslim Association) Communications Manager and Human Rights Activist; Author “Barely Legal”. Follow her on Twitter

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