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Harem

HAREM

HAREM. The Arabic term harem means a forbidden and sacred space that describes inviolable sanctuaries like the holy cities of Mecca and Medina (haremeyn-i sharifeyn) and the Muslim household, which were off limits to outsiders who were non-Muslims in the former case and unrelated men in the latter. In the ordinary meaning of the word harem usually refers to the extended household and may or may not refer to a polygamous household. Ruling-class harems, however, were usually polygamous and contained several servants and slaves in addition to close relatives.

The institution of the imperial harem can be traced back to the ancient Near East. It became firmly established under the Abbasid caliphs of Baghdad (7501258) and became associated in the West with the Ottoman (13001923), Mamluk (12501517), Safavid (15011732), and Mughal (15261739) imperial and ruling-class households during the early modern period.

The notions of Muslim sexuality and harem life were exaggerated if not completely inaccurate in western artistic and literary representations. European artists like Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (La grande odalisque and The Turkish Bath), John Fredrick Lewis (Life in the Harem), Jean-Leon Gérôme (The Bath), and Anton Ignaz Melling (Interior of the Palace of Hatice Sultana and The Royal Harem) depicted the harem life in numerous paintings in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Ottoman images of harem life by indigenous artists like Levnî, Buharî, and Enderunî Fazil Bey, on the other hand, were more realistic and less obsessed with nudity and overt sexuality than the European artists. Sexuality and reproduction were only one aspect of harem life in the Muslim East. Some Ottoman sultans displayed an insatiable appetite for women, but even they had to follow the rigid rules of conduct associated with the imperial harem. The valide-sultan ('queen mother') set these rules and wielded great power as the head of the harem hierarchy. She chose the sexual partners for her sons and was in charge of training all the women. The chief black eunuch (kizlar ağasi) guarded the harem and worked closely with the valide-sultan. He was also in charge of all imperial religious and charitable foundations and became an important personality in harem politics. He represented the link between the imperial harem and the outside world. However, not all palace women remained completely confined to the harem. Some women graduated from their palace training and were manumitted and married to high dignitaries in the empire. They maintained their ties with the palace and played an important role in Ottoman politics. In the eighteenth century Ottoman princesses were able to move out of the Topkapi Palace harem and set up private mansions along the Bosphorus. Although not really independent of the sultan, they had large retinues and held enormous wealth as tax farmers and landowners.

Slavery and polygamy were the backbone of this institution, which received sanction in Islamic practice. The Koran allowed Muslim men to marry four legal wives and have an unlimited number of concubines. The prophet Mohammed himself had eleven legal wives and several concubines. Despite this Koranic injunction, only 2 to 3 percent of Muslim men practiced polygamy in the Ottoman Empire. However, concubinage was probably more widespread, at least in the cities, due to the ready availability of female slaves. Many households in Istanbul contained at least one female slave who performed household duties. Slaves had limited legal rights but could move to better positions once they converted to Islam and bore children. The Koran encouraged Muslim men to marry their slaves (Sura 24:30). Muslim men were permitted to marry non-Muslim women, including their concubines, while Muslim women could not marry anyone but free Muslim men. Moreover, Muslim women were forbidden from having more than one husband at the same time. The Koran considered the children of concubines legitimate and equal in rights to children born to free women. It also banned the prostitution of female slaves by their master and promoted their fair treatment and manumission. However, these proscriptions could not always be enforced.

The institution of the imperial harem as it developed in the Ottoman Empire was an abrogation of Islamic principles although it received religious sanction from the Hanafi 'ulema ('scholars'). The Koran encouraged the manumission of slaves and discouraged concubinage. The Ottoman sultans fully adopted this institution when the empire became centralized in the fifteenth century. The flow of male and female slaves increased with military victories in the Balkans. The sultan claimed one-fifth of the war booty, which included male and female slaves. The palace also purchased slaves from the slave market. A good proportion of the population of Istanbul was of servile background during the early modern period. The Ottomans incorporated many male slaves into the military system, while female slaves ended up in domestic households, with the youngest and most beautiful entering the royal household. These women received training in various skills and a salary depending on their rank within the harem.

Some of the women attracted the attention of the sultan and became his haseki, or favorite concubine (see Peirce). If a haseki bore the sultan a son, she moved up in the hierarchy and ultimately could become the valide-sultan if her son inherited the Ottoman throne. The Ottoman sultans adopted a "one concubine, one son" policy to avoid the concentration of power in the hands of one concubine and to prevent succession crises, which had become endemic to the empire. Supposedly the sultan stopped sleeping with a concubine once she bore him a son.

The haseki played an important role in ensuring succession for her son. Some favorites like Hürrem, Nurbanu, and Kösem, who became valide-sultans, wielded enormous power and prestige in the harem and even shaped the direction of Ottoman politics. They formed networks of power with their sons, daughters, and sons-in-law within and outside the palace. Sometimes, this led to intense rivalry and political tensions that could end up in the murder of the valide-sultan if her faction lost out. The valide-sultan s received the highest salary in the harem and amassed great fortunes. They set up numerous charitable foundations all over the empire that carried their name and imperial legacy. Because of the valide-sultan s' influence over the sultans and their active role in politics, they received bad reputations in Ottoman chronicles.

The Ottoman princesses, blood relatives of the dynasts, fared better and became repositories of Ottoman legitimacy and prestige. Many married grand viziers and high officials and set up their own households outside the Topkapi palace. Their husbands were required to give up their polygamous households before the marriage to an Ottoman princess could take place. They also had to provide a rich bride price and support the opulent lifestyle of their princess-wives. The Ottoman princesses lived in elaborate mansions and had their own female retinue made up of slaves. Lady Mary Montagu, the wife of the English ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, visited the young Fatma Sultan, the daughter of Ahmed III (17031730) in Edirne and was impressed by her charming hostess in 1717. She became a regular visitor to the harem of great ladies and tried to correct the distorted view of her compatriots in her letters to her friends and relatives in London. She commented about the status of Muslim women and the great prestige and freedom enjoyed by upper class Ottoman women. The western image of oppressed and confined Muslim women, however, gained more currency in the writings of Enlightenment philosophers and European travelers.

See also Ottoman Dynasty ; Ottoman Empire ; Sultan ; Topkapi Palace .

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Alderson, A. D. The Structure of the Ottoman Dynasty. Oxford, 1956.

Arberry, A. J. The Koran Interpreted. New York, 1973.

Montagu, Lady Mary. Letters from the Levant during the Embassy to Constantinople, 171618. New York, 1971.

Peirce, Leslie P. The Imperial Harem: Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire. Oxford and New York, 1993.

Penzer, N. M. The Harem. London. 1936.

Stevens, Mary Anne, ed. The Orientalists: Delacroix to Matisse. New York, 1984.

Uluçay, Çağatay. Harem II. Ankara, 1992.

Zarinebaf-Shahr, Fariba. "The Wealth of Ottoman Princesses during the Tulip Period." In The Great Ottoman-Turkish Civilization. Vol 2, edited by Kemal Çiçek. Ankara, 2000.

Fariba Zarinebaf

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harem

harem The arabic word harem derives its original spelling and meaning from the Egyptian word harim, meaning ‘women’. Originally, it was in the women's part of a Mohammedan dwelling-house that its inhabitants and the place were seen as sacred.

The harem can also be referred to as a seraglio (meaning, ‘the walled palace’), wherein the sultan's wives, children, divorced wives, concubines, slaves, and eunuchs might live. As Alain Grosrichard states in Structure du serail (1979):
The order of the seraglio is set with the despot in view and according to his needs, and most of all for sexual pleasure which begins with the privilege of sight.Though an isolated domain, harems in the nineteenth century became known to tradesmen and merchants who would wait outside the main gates for an invitation to show their wares to the women indoors.

The harem and the odalisque (a reclining female nude or semi-nude) have increasingly become North Africa's cultural icons, dominating visual perceptions in the European mind. Particularly influential in visually capturing such images in the nineteenth century were a group of French and British painters known as The Orientalists. Artists included Eugene Delacroix, Jean–Dominique Ingres, J– L. Gerome, and Frederick Leighton.

Anne Abichou

Bibliography

Alloula, M. (1987). The colonial harem, (trans. M. Godzich and and W. Godzich ). Manchester University Press, Manchester.
Badran, M. (1987). Harem years: the memoirs of an Egyptian feminist, (trans. Badran). Feminist Press, New York.

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Harem

HAREM

The women's section of a home.

In Arabic, the word haram refers to that which is forbidden, and harim, or harem, means the women's section of a home, which is forbidden to males who are not unrelated to the household. This prohibition is maintained in order to protect female kin and family honor. Veiling and the seclusion of women are part of an ancient Middle Eastern social pattern that predates Islam and originated in antiquity with the rise of classes, cities, and states. The wives of the prophet Muhammad were secluded, yet played important public roles during and after his life. In Muslim societies where sexual segregation is practiced, women may form their closest bonds in the harem. Women who are relatives, friends, or neighbors visit in the secluded section of each other's homes. The streets in the traditional Arab-Muslim city are generally the province of men.

It is within the social setting of the harem where important family-related decisions are made informally. For example, marriages may be arranged first among women before they are negotiated by male kin. Within the harem, it would be determined whether a young woman is interested in and consents to a suggested marriage before any public announcement would occur.

See also clothing; gender: gender and law; gender: gender and politics; hijab.


Bibliography

Ahmed, Leila. Women and Gender in Islam. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992.

Fluehr-Lobban, Carolyn. Islamic Society in Practice. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1994.

carolyn fluehr-lobban

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harem

harem (hâr´əm) [Arabic], term applied to women's apartments in a Muslim household. In the ancient Arab world women enjoyed a certain amount of freedom. However, with the advent of Islam, the veiling and seclusion of women into harems became more common. The most famous harem, that of the sultans of Turkey, dates from the 15th cent. and included the old and new palaces on Seraglio Point, Constantinople. It was abolished with the downfall (1909) of Abd al-Hamid II. The sultan's harem often contained several hundred women, all subject to the control of the sultan's mother and guarded by eunuchs. In India the harem is called a purdah or zenana; in Iran, andarun. Although the harem is rapidly disappearing in the 20th cent., there nevertheless are still some in existence in the more remote areas of the Muslim world.

See N. M. Penzer, The Harem (1937); D. Van Ess, Fatima and Her Sisters (1961).

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harem

harem the separate part of a Muslim household reserved for wives, concubines, and female servants; the women living there. In extended usage, the word also denotes the wives (or concubines) of a polygamous man, and thus a group of female animals sharing a single mate.

The word comes (in the mid 17th century) from Arabic ḥaram, ḥarīm, literally ‘prohibited, prohibited place’, and from this ‘sanctuary, women's quarters, women’.

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harem

har·em / ˈhe(ə)rəm; ˈhar-/ • n. 1. the separate part of a Muslim household reserved for wives, concubines, and female servants. 2. the wives (or concubines) of a polygamous man. ∎  a group of female animals sharing a single mate.

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harem

harem Women's quarters in a Muslim household. It contained a man's wives, concubines, and female servants. The most famous harems were those of the Turkish sultans in Istanbul, which often had several hundred women guarded by eunuchs.

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Harem

Harem

a family of wives or concubines, female relatives, and servants, 1781; the occupants of a harem collectively.

Examples: harem of dear friendships, 1855; a literary harem [library], 1872.

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harem

harem XVII. — Arab. ḥaram and ḥarīm (that which is) prohibited, (hence) sacred place, sanctuary, women's apartments, wives, women, f. ḥarama prohibit, make unlawful.

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Harem

Harem (ḥarīm): see ḤARAM.

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harem

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