Happy beautiful rainy day everyone! Well at least in my corner of the world I can sit and write this in my cozy robe while listening to the rain pouring outside
The title of this piece, to a more seasoned Muslim/ah might seem like a pretty basic question. What is a mahram? But I am coming to find more and more that many women don’t have much of an idea at all about who actually counts as a mahram, and even then what a mahram should be seeing of them.
Here in Algeria, for example, I don’t think the concept of mahram even exists. If a man is family, or family-in-law, no matter how far removed, he can see whatever. And often times he has unlimited access to the house without so much as knocking or announcing himself.
For me, who is pretty strict about who I will let see me without a hijab on, this is pretty problematic.
I have also come to find that there seems to be an attitude here of “hijab is something you wear out-of-doors, if you are in a building it’s fine.” I remember going to a wedding recently with my mother in law (which really needs a whole post dedicated to just that…), and wanting to wear a simple dress and headscarf. But my mother in law convinced me to let her dress me up Algerian style, as it would be a closed, all women’s section.
So I got dressed up, covered up everything with my abaya and scarf, and headed out. As soon as we got there we were ushered into a hall full of women. Feeling decently secure, I went with my mother in law to the changing room where we both shed our abayas and revealed the beautiful gowns underneath.
Within five minutes of me sitting down at my table and pastries being served, the male chef meanders out of the kitchen door that was directly facing me. Thank God I had kept a shawl with me—I have learned not to trust any “all women’s” spaces—and I quickly held it up in front of me like a screen.
After he left I secured it around my head and shoulders, but after a little while the female servers convinced me that he was gone now and it was ok to take it off.
So, like a fool, I did. Cue the camera. Every time the music would start up, a woman with a video camera and one taking photos would begin to roam around the room. Not to mention the 600 selfies taking place every minute. So, though everyone tried to assure me that the video and photos would only be watched by the females of the family, I wrapped up every time they came around.
Cameras turned off, I once again began to feel a bit more secure, and let my shawl drape around my shoulders. Some of my husband’s father’s family came around and wanted to take pictures with us, so I stood up, leaving the shawl on. And of course I was told: take the khimar off!!
So I did. And instead of a two second photo op, it turned into more like a ten minute photo shoot with the family. And halfway through who walked in the front doors? A whole troop of 20 something year old men carrying boxes, etc. to set up some of the other décor. And of course when they marched in, I was the thing directly in their line of sight.
I ducked out of the photos as quickly as I could, grabbed my shawl and ran back to the changing room on the brink of tears, calling my husband to come get me and take me home.
Anyhow, lesson learned, no matter how much pressure is put on me by any single person in this country, I will not take my hijab off outside of my own room ever again.
But the point I am trying to get at here, is that everybody seemed to think that because we were in a “women only” room, that the men and cameras that came in and out didn’t quite count or something.
So I want to set the record straight for everyone that is wondering, or just doesn’t know who your actual mahrams are. There aren’t that many, and Surah al-Noor, verse 31 lays them all out for us.
“And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what [must ordinarily] appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess, or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments.” Quran 24:31
So, in our day and age the people who are considered mahram, or forbidden to ever marry you, and in front of whom you do not have to wear a hijab, boil down to two categories: mahrams by blood and mahrams by marriage.
Mahrams by blood are your father, including your grandfather, etc., and your sons, including your grandsons, etc.. This category also includes your brother and any nephews you may have from brothers or sisters. Uncles from both the mother’s and father’s side can also be included in this list, though not mentioned in the verse, because of their status as being nearly like your own parents.
Mahrams related by breastfeeding can also be a part of this category.
Mahrams by marriage include only those in the direct line of your husband, i.e. his father, grandfather, etc. and his sons, grandsons, etc.
This means not his brothers, not his uncles, not his cousins. Not even your own cousins are mahram because you are permitted to marry them!
Besides this you can uncover in front of women and small children (though these days I don’t know what child doesn’t have a sense of the shame of sex anymore!).
I won’t go into the slaves and servants without physical needs part, because firstly, I don’t have a lot of knowledge on that, and secondly, I don’t think this is something widely practised in 2016, so not really something I am concerned about.
So there you have it, the relatively short list of people whom you don’t have to observe hijab in front of. Though you do not have to wear a hijab in front of them, Islam does encourage modesty in all aspects of life, so for me personally, even with mahrams I find that “the more the merrier” where clothes are concerned. For females I may lighten it up a bit, but the only person that I should be going all out with the makeup and the hair and the dressing up is my lovely husband!
But that is a post for a different day.
So what do you think? For those of you that were unclear on who a mahram was before, did this help to clarify? Or was there something that is different from what you thought you knew?
Let me know =)