In my recent blogs I have introduced the possibility that ‘shame’ needs to be addressed by the gospel and particularly when we answer the question, ‘Why did Jesus have to die?’ I’ve done little more than introduce a few ideas. Perhaps this blog, and probably the next, will give some sense of the power ‘shame’ as it affects people in different parts of our world, including the UK. Today, I have focussed on a Wikipedia article. The details are in the references at the bottom of this blog.

Nāmūs [1]

Nāmūs is the Arabic word (Greek “νόμος”) for “’virtue’, it is now more popularly used in a strong gender-specific context of relations within a family described in terms of honour, attention, respect/respectability, and modesty. The concept of Nāmūs in respect to sexual integrity of family members is an ancient, exclusively cultural concept which predates Islam, Judaism and Christianity.”[2]

A man’s, or a family’s, nāmūs may be violated in a number of ways but most commonly through a failure of modesty or a failure of obedience by a woman member of the family. The woman’s actions or state of being shame the family and action has to be taken to restore nāmūs.

“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 nāmūs is lost in the eyes of the community and he has to cleanse his (and his family’s) honour. This is often done by abortion, murder or forced suicide.”[3]

“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.”[4]

“In cases of rape, the woman is not seen as a victim. Instead, it is considered that the nāmūs of the whole family has been violated, and to restore it, an honour killing of the raped woman may happen (estimated 5,000 victims yearly and on the rise worldwide[5]). The raped woman may also commit forced suicide.[6] In Pakistan, acid is often thrown on the victim’s face to disfigure her as an alternative to murder.[7]

“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 honour was restored”. Her body was found in an irrigation canal. Mithu was kidnapped, beaten and left to die, but survived.”[8]

“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.”[9]

“In 2005, 22-year-old Faten Habash, a Christian from West Bank, dishonoured 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.”[10]

“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.”[11],[12]

Perhaps instances from the UK will drive home the significance of this issue. … In December 2004 the Crown Prosecution Service in the UK organised a conference “to address the problem of ‘honour killings’. In 2004 alone, 12 people were prosecuted for honour killings in the British Asian community; 117 women … disappeared in the [previous] decade. In West Yorkshire, a young Asian woman disappeared, presumed murdered, simply because a romantic song was dedicated to her on a local Asian radio station.”[13]

In all of these examples the perceived need of the family is to restore honour (nāmūs). They have been shamed and that single fact is enough in their eyes to overcome all other ties. Honour (nāmūs) must be restored. In these circumstances, shame is a very powerful motivator. Has the cross something pertinent enough to say. Does the cross really address shame and its power?


[1] “Namus.” Wikipedia:The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. 3rd November 2013. Web. 14th November 2013.

[2] ibid.

[3] ibid.

[4] ibid; and see 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.

[5] ibid; and see, “Ending Violence against Women and Girls“, a UNFPA report.

[6] ibid; and see,”UN probes Turkey ‘forced suicide’“, a BBC article, May 24, 2006.

[7] ibid; and see, Hillary Mayell, “Thousands of Women Killed for Family “Honor”” National Geographic News February 12, 2002. retrieved 5-1-07

[8] ibid; and see, Brown, DeNeen L.; Lakshmi, Rama; Post, Washington (October 5, 2003). “Mom gave long-distance order for honor killing, police say”. The Boston Globe.

[9] ibid; and see, Shahrzad Mojab and Amir Hassanpour In Memory of Fadime Şahindal: Thoughts on the Struggle Against “Honour Killing” retrieved 5-1-07.

[10] ibid; and see, Guerin, Orla (May 7, 2005). “Killed for the family’s honour”. BBC News.

[11] “The moment a teenage girl was stoned to death for loving the wrong boy”. Daily Mail (London). May 3, 2007.

[12] “AIUK: Iraq: ‘Honour Killing’ of teenage girl condemned as abhorrent”. 2007-05-02. Retrieved 2012-09-09.

[13] David McIlroy; “ Honour and Shame;” Volume 14 No. 2, Cambridge Papers, The Jubilee Centre, Cambridge, June 2005. Web. 18th November 2013.



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