Why You Should Care About Not Losing Face in Morocco

Man covering his face with shame and sorrow | © omar alnahi / Pexels
Man covering his face with shame and sorrow | © omar alnahi / Pexels
Photo of Sarah Williams
1 February 2018

As in many cultures around the world, the concept of shame plays a major part in daily Moroccan life. There are many ways that a person can bring shame upon themselves and lose face, with some actions seen as strong enough to damage the reputation of entire families. Read on to learn more about losing face in Morocco.

The concept of hshuma

Hshuma is a Moroccan word that can be loosely translated to mean shame. It is more than just shame, however, as it involves an element of knowledge by others. Rather than personal feelings of guilt or regret for actions, hshuma is when someone is shamed in the eyes of others; this can then lead to loss of pride, honour, and dignity. A good reputation and honour are highly valued in Moroccan society. To lose face is a huge deal for Moroccans. Moroccans will also generally go out of their way to avoid causing others to lose face, and feel hshuma. This can lead to words and acts that aren’t completely sincere, but necessary to avoid social angst.

The implications of hshuma can be far reaching. A shamed individual may be ignored by their community and even their family if the shame is great. It can restrict employment opportunities and can have an impact on daily life, for example, shopkeepers and restaurant owners refuse to serve people, taxis will not transport people, and society in general acts like a person simply does not exist.

Shame can also affect family members, with close and sometimes even extended family members shunned by society because of the deeds of one individual.

Moroccan man looking tense | © Martin Hesketh / Flickr

Hshuma versus haram

Haram is an important Islamic concept that deals with acts that are forbidden in the eyes of God. Religious sins are plentiful and can cause people great personal anguish. Hshuma, on the other hand, is more of a social and cultural issue, dealing with sins in the eyes of people.

Hands covering a face | © frankieleon / Flickr

Gaining back reputation after shame

Causing somebody to lose face can invoke great anger. Traditionally, insults were avenged with often strong repercussions. Long-lasting feuds could arise because of causing somebody to look lower in the eyes of their family or peers. Losing face in Morocco is much more than simply feelings of embarrassment or discomfort that will generally gradually fade. Although not as common today, as in times gone by, hshuma may be assuaged by revenge.

If a person has actually done some wrongful deed that has been found out, great public displays of acts of good generally follow. This could be in the form of overly generous charitable donations, religious piety and regular visits to the mosque, voluntary work, subservience, and generally being excessively nice to everyone. It can take a long time to gain face again in Moroccan society, with some people never being able to fully cast off past stigmas.

Moroccan family enjoying a picnic | © Dimitry B. / Flickr

Impacts of shame related to women

Some acts seen as shameful in Moroccan society can be argued to prevent society from progressing and moving forward. For example, some men, especially in the older generations, see it as shameful for their wives to work. It is seen that a woman working could imply that the man is unable to financially take care of his family. Even though an extra income could mean all the difference to a family, not to mention that the woman may want the stimulation of being in the workplace, the fear of losing face in front of others can be strong enough to outweigh practical benefits of having two partners at work.

Morocco is a patriarchal society. Some men see shame in having a female superior at work. This can limit career progression for women. Although not as common as in the past, some fathers also see it as being shameful for their daughters to more educated than their sons, thus also limiting the potential opportunities available to women. Married women travelling alone can also cause loss of face for husbands.

Sexual relations, while unmarried, can cause great shame for women. Single mothers, therefore, and people who give birth outside of marriage, often feel a huge sense of shame and are treated unfairly by society. Often regardless of the circumstances, unmarried women can find themselves turned out by their families for fear of ruining the family’s reputation. This is especially harmful in rape cases. Women may resort to begging or prostitution in order to survive. Sadly, the shame is often passed onto the unborn child too. It is not uncommon for women to abandon illegitimate children, sometimes even in the hospital right after giving birth.

Lady covering her face with her hands | © SEVENHEADS / Pixabay

Other ways of bringing shame on oneself

There are many ways in which a person can lose face in Morocco. Some social norms are similar to in other cultures; it is seen as bad, for example, to mistreat and speak badly to parents and elders, to swear, curse, and display strong anger in public, to break the law, and to act offensively or aggressively.

Friendships between people of different genders are often frowned upon. The way in which a person dresses can cause society to judge them. Smoking is often seen as shameful, particularly by women. Many Moroccan men smoke, especially in cafes, but it is generally seen as better to smoke behind closed doors or in the company of friends than while walking the streets.

Ignoring a friend in difficulty is seen as shameful behaviour. If a person is unable to actually assistance, they may tell a series of white lies to avoid losing face and letting their friend down abruptly.

Smaller ways of shaming yourself, though without huge repercussions or long-lasting effects, include things like not removing your shoes to step on carpets in a house, noisily blowing your nose, especially while people are eating, and gossiping or talking badly about other people.

Smoking can be seen as shameful in Morocco | © Jan Krömer / Flickr

The concept of dignity and honour, and the public perception of a person, is so strong in Moroccan society that it can actually be shameful to simply talk about shame. While younger generations may feel shame less than their elders, the tight bonds between families and communities can project cultural expectations onto all. Shame really is a big deal in Moroccan society!

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