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Quranic Terminology: Awra

Quranic Terminology: Awra

Published in March 23, 2017

Translated by: Ahmed Fathy

Firstly: the Quranic meaning of the term (Awra):

 First of all, the Arabic word ''Awra'' is derived from the root (A/A/R), which means ''disgrace'' or ''shame''; hence, the word ''Awra'' means one's times of privacy when he/she is alone (and possibly naked or semi-naked) and also refers to one's private parts that one does not like others to see and would feel ashamed or disgraced if seen by others. This includes the following items.

1- In relation to women, we read the following verse: "And tell the believing women to restrain their looks, and to guard their privates, and not display their beauty except what is apparent thereof, and to draw their coverings over their breasts, and not expose their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands' fathers, their sons, their husbands' sons, their brothers, their brothers' sons, their sisters' sons, their women, what their right hands possess, their male attendants who have no sexual desires, or children who are not yet aware of the nakedness of women...." (24:31). This means that when women are alone while sleeping or in the bathroom/shower may be in a state of Awra (naked or semi-naked), and no prying eyes of anyone are welcome, except for children who do not know yet the meaning of being ashamed of one's nakedness.

2- As for times of Awra, for adults of both genders, they include one's times of sleep, as one would not like others to see him/her asleep in one's bedchamber (and possibly semi-naked) so as not to feel exposed in a disgraceful manner: "O you who believe! Permission must be requested by your servants and those of you who have not reached puberty. On three occasions: before the Dawn Prayer, and at noon when you change your clothes, and after the Evening Prayer. These are three occasions of privacy for you. At other times, it is not wrong for you or them to intermingle with one another. God thus clarifies the revelations for you. God is Knowledgeable and Wise. When the children among you reach puberty, they must ask permission, as those before them asked permission. God thus clarifies His revelations for you. God is Knowledgeable and Wise." (24:58-59).  Hence, one's bedchamber is one's privacy and no one is to enter it without permission so as to avoid intrusion; yet, small children who sleep in their mother's bosom do not know about the meaning of permission, but older children are to be taught about it, as they learn that nakedness is a state that one should not be seen by others during it, and they must ask permission at the times specified in the previous verses, and when they grow into adulthood, they must ask permission to enter any houses all the times of the day: "O you who believe! Do not enter homes other than your own, until you have asked permission and greeted their occupants. That is better for you, that you may be aware. And if you find no one in them, do not enter them until you are given permission. And if it is said to you, "Turn back," then turn back. That is more proper for you. God is aware of what you do. There is no blame on you for entering uninhabited houses, in which are belongings of yours. God knows what you reveal and what you conceal." (24:27-29).

3- Hence, one's house is one's private place and shelter away from the prying eyes of people, and therefore, a house is deemed Awra, as no one likes strangers to expose or to roam into one's house without permission. This description of houses as Awra is found in the following verse about hypocrites in Yathreb avoiding participation in self-defense jihad: "...And a faction of them asked the Prophet to excuse them, saying, "Our homes are exposed/Awra," although they were not exposed/Awra. They only wanted to flee." (33:13).

4- We conclude then that the concept of Awra is relative regarding the human body; social norms, mores, and traditions play a major role in defining what are body parts who exposing might be shameful, and so do climate/weather conditions in a given location. For instance, in cold regions where it snows, people wear heavy clothes covering most of the body, and customs make this as the norm, and one may feel ashamed there if any body parts would be revealed and should be covered with clothes. In contrast, in tropical forests with the hot weather, there is no need for much clothes; some male and female members of tribes there cover only their genitals and never feel ashamed of revealing the rest of their bodies, and this means that Awra for them are genitals only, not any other body parts. In addition, animals feel no Awra at all and never think of it and wear no clothes at all; animals do not have the human sense of shamefulness at all.    


Secondly: Awra in Quranic sharia legislations of Islam:

1- In the Islamic sharia, there is no certain defined or designated body parts for both genders to be deemed as Awra; not just because of the relativity and changeability of one's climate, culture, norms, etc. but for another more important reason: the notion of Awra in the Quran is located within the lowest sphere of Quranic legislations, i.e., commands.   

2- The three spheres of Quranic sharia are (1) legislative commands controlled by (2) legislative rules which in their turn governed by (3) legislative purposes. For example: the command to fight is not a general one of aggression and injustice of killing others indiscriminately; rather, it is controlled by the legislative rule of fighting for God's sake (i.e., self-defense to stop persecution and/or aggression) not for the sake of Satan (i.e., to get money, power, lands, etc.) by attacking peaceful people who never harmed us. "And fight in the cause of God those who fight you, but do not commit aggression; God does not love the aggressors." (2:190). This legislative rule is governed by the legislative purpose of piety, absolute religious freedom and stopping compulsion in religion: "And fight them until there is no persecution, and worship becomes devoted to God alone. But if they cease, then let there be no hostility except against the oppressors. he sacred month for the sacred month; and sacrilege calls for retaliation. Whoever commits aggression against you, retaliate against him in the same measure as he has committed against you. And fear God in piety, and know that God is with the righteous." (2:193-194).

3- Likewise, we see the three spheres regarding the legislation of chastity and moral behavior (i.e., prohibition of fornication and sexual immorality). The Quranic legislative commands begin with prohibition of getting near fornication and things/acts leading to it, as all such deeds/items must be avoided as per the Quran: " not come near indecencies, whether outward or inward..." (6:151); "And do not come near fornication. It is immoral, and an evil way." (17:32); "And those who avoid major sins and indecencies; and if they become angry, they forgive." (42:37); "To God belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on earth. He will repay those who do evil according to their deeds, and recompense those who do good with the best. Those who avoid gross sins and indecencies-except for minor lapses-your Lord is of Vast Forgiveness. He knows you well, ever since He created you from the earth, and ever since you were embryos in your mothers' wombs. So do not acclaim your own virtue; He is fully aware of the righteous." (53:31-32). These legislative commands include chastity in women's clothes and restrain desirous looks of both genders: "Tell the believing men to restrain their looks, and to guard their privates. That is purer for them. God is cognizant of what they do. And tell the believing women to restrain their looks, and to guard their privates, and not display their beauty except what is apparent thereof, and to draw their coverings over their breasts, and not expose their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands' fathers, their sons, their husbands' sons, their brothers, their brothers' sons, their sisters' sons, their women, what their right hands possess, their male attendants who have no sexual desires, or children who are not yet aware of the nakedness of women. And they should not strike their feet to draw attention to their hidden beauty. And repent to God, all of you believers, so that you may succeed." (24:30-31). As for the legislative rule and the legislative purpose, they are mentioned in the last part of 24:31, as follows: "...And repent to God, all of you believers, so that you may succeed.". Hence, the legislative rule is repentance and the legislative purpose is to succeed in attainting piety, i.e., to be among the pious who are winners in Paradise: "...Whoever is swayed from the Fire, and admitted to Paradise, has won..." (3:185); "Such is Paradise which We will give as inheritance to those of Our servants who are devout." (19:63).       

4- Thus, the focus in the Quranic sharia is NOT on the sphere of legislative commands and prohibitions (in our case here, regarding Awra, chastity, clothes etc.), but on repentance as the sphere of legislative rules and the most importance sphere of all: the legislative purpose of piety. Accordingly, the Quran does NOT specify which body parts are Awra, because this is something relative and differ from one culture, era, and country to another, and also because this is linked to the lowest sphere of legislation: legislative commands/prohibitions, which are controlled and governed by both legislative rules and purposes. 


Thirdly: Awra in sharia of earthly, man-made religion of Sunnite fiqh scholars:

1- These scholars of the Middle-Ages overlooked and disregarded intentionally the spheres of the Quranic legislative rules and purposes and focused instead so emphatically and exclusively on the sphere of commands and prohibitions, and the committed the sin of magnifying them and adding to them. For instance, they assumed that the Quranic command to fight is general and absolute, and they fabricated a hadith, ascribed falsely to Muhammad, about this aggression (...I am commanded to fight all people everywhere to declare that there is no God except for Allah...). hence, such erroneous view was formulated and adopted to justify the aggression of the Arab conquests committed against peaceful non-aggressive people in Asia and Africa by the criminal caliphs (both the pre-Umayyad caliphs and the Umayyad ones), while forgetting that  the Quran prohibits any forms of aggression.    

2- Likewise, within the issue of chastity and morality, the ancient scholars focused solely on commands and prohibitions regarding dress codes of women and invented myths of hijab and niqab as extreme forms of masculine and patriarchal subjugation that have nothing to do at all with the Quran. Thus, the scholars' understanding of Awra is confined to the sexual side, in total disregards to the meanings of Awra in the Quran explained above. The obscurantist scholars invented the myth/notion that Awra to be covered always in male bodies is from the navel to the knees, whereas Awra that must be covered always in female bodies is all of the body except for the face and the hands! Some other extremists make the hands and faces as Awra and command women to be covered from tip to toe in niqab! Other extremists make female voice as an Awra, never to be heard in public! Such a myth was ridiculed (by us and by others) in 2011 parliamentary elections in Egypt, when Wahabi Salafists competing in the election urged women in niqab to vote for them, as if it is OK for Salafists that women in niqab could use their voices in public on that occasion and to remain silent otherwise!       

3- Earthly, man-made religions in general, and the Sunnite one in particular, always focus on superficialities and trivialities. For example, Sunnite prayers are mere movements without piety, and dress codes for both genders are of vital importance to them. They forget that the Quran repeats the fact that piety is the aim of all acts of worship and that Paradise is only for the pious. Yet, the countless books, volumes, and tomes of Sunnite fiqh rarely mention the word piety, whereas they have countless details of purification of the body, and never that of the soul, heart, and mind. The Sunnite scholars imagine and presuppose things never existing and never will exist and invent rules for them! Sadly, some Quranists still carry in their minds corrupt Sunnite notions; they forget about performing acts of worship in piety and in the fear of God and to adhere to piety all the times between an act of worship and the following one (prayers, Zakat, etc.) and focus instead on Sunnite fiqh invented details of ablution and showering (or taking a bath), forgetting that Quranic sharia laws are based on ease and facilitation.       

4- The Sunnite mentality lingering within some minds of new Quranists is exemplified in two messages we have received and we quote them partially here: (... You never mention Awra of women and men in terms of body parts not to be exposed, especially during prayers... Could a man pray in the nude or semi-naked when he is alone? ...). (... Can men pray in shorts or bathing suits? Why would  not a woman or a man pray in the nude if alone in their private chamber? God is Omnipresent and see nakedness when we shower, why then we cannot pray naked when alone? ...). Of course, such silly questions imagine situations that can never occur; who would pray in the nude?! This contradicts piety and is akin to mocking God. It is OK to pray in shorts and while wearing shoes, as piety is of vital importance above anything else in all acts of worship. Besides, people should wear their best in all houses of worship and in all places fit for prayers and prostration as per 7:31.     

5- We tend to think that when one's heart/mind is really filled with piety, especially during prayers and all acts of worship, there is no room for thinking about such nonsensical questions, which are the devils' ways to distract one from attaining piety during prayers and from fearing God. We must bear in mind how Satan hates human beings and is determined to corrupt them, as he said to God: "He said, "Because you have lured me, I will waylay them on Your straight path. Then I will come at them from before them, and from behind them, and from their right, and from their left; and you will not find most of them appreciative."" (7:16-17). 

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