Honour (sharaf) refers to uprightness of character, integrity, glory even. It is joked that ‘he who has no family has no backbone’.
Piety brings honour. Hard work, wealth, success, generosity – all bring honour. Age brings honour. There is honour in having a hoary head. In traditional Bedouin society the tented area reflects the honour of its inhabitants. It is a point of honour to be hospitable.
The relationships between the sexes are governed by what the ‘group’ prizes. In their purity is invested the honour of all the lineage. The Semite culture of OT times reflects the tensions of a society operating along equivalent times. Premarital virginity in girls has not so much to do with sex per se, but is a sign of the successful seclusion of women by their male relatives. For Middle Easterners, the coloured bed linen doesn’t convey thoughts of intercourse but of honour and pride.
The theme of honour and its gain, retention and loss, forms a strong component of most Middle Eastern cultures.