Taboo Intersections

Taboos have always aroused my curiosity. I've always been interested in how they are formed and how people deal with them. I've always believed that studying the taboos of a society can reveal much about it. Knowing what is forbidden can say much more about a nation than knowing what is allowed. Studying the process of how things become taboo can crack the moral code of a nation and vividly illustrate how it reasons.

Taboos in general, and especially in this part of the world, usually belong to one of three major categories; political, religious, and social. Anyone who has lived long enough in the Middle East will have noticed that. Illegal, sin, and shame are the titles of these restricted areas. What I would love to bring to your attention is where these three taboos intersect. This will help us understand how taboos often combine to create the standards, legally and socially, for this part of the world.

For example, let's compare women who do not wear the hijab to men who smoke cigarettes. Both are sins in Islam but smoking is more socially acceptable than revealing a woman's hair. Not wearing a hijab is illegal in countries where a man can legally smoke cigarettes.

Sinfulness alone does not explain why social taboos develop into illegal behavior, otherwise smoking would also be forbidden. It is the social factor that adds extra restrictions on these activities. It is more shameful for a woman to show her hair in public than a man to smoke in public. The development occurs because not wearing a hijab exists on the intersection between the taboos of sin and shame.

Another very good example is performing prayer and fasting during Ramadan. Both are 'pillars' of Islam and both are required by God of each and every Muslim. According to the teaching of Islam, prayer is more important than fasting. However, not praying is much more acceptable than not fasting during Ramadan. Eating publically before sunset during Ramadan can land you a few days in prison. At the same time, not praying your whole life will not subject you to any legal accountability. It is only with the help of social shame that not fasting is more unacceptable than not praying.

There are many examples of these intersections. What matters the most for us here is how society uses religion to justify creating taboos out of socially unacceptable behavior. Ultimately there will be people who are willing to ride this wave and place these taboos into legislation. Taboos that are adopted into law are rarely reconsidered.

I'm not a secular person and I do not support the idea of a religious state. This article is not in favor of either of those perspectives. What I'm trying to say is that even though some taboos appear to be religious, or have rational justification for being illegal, they are still influenced by human judgment.

For that reason, rationality dictates that no taboo should be accepted as a given and every generation should have the right to question its legitimacy.

© Kuwait Times

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