Down in the Depths of the Hammam

Hammam, Istanbul. By Pascal Meunier.

The hammam, or public bathhouse, has special social and symbolic significance in the Middle East. It is a stage on which cultural notions of cleanliness and dirt, purity and impurity, gender segregation, and male rites of passage are played out.

This month's show, "Hammam: Purity, Hygiene and Gender," is the first installment of The Body Series. In this episode we'll talk about what the seemingly mundane act of bathing can reveal about cultural values and anxieties. Here's a few of the questions we'll delve into:

What does it feel like when you enter a hammam? How are you supposed to behave? Does hammam etiquette differ for men and women? When do boys stop going to the women's hammam with their mothers and start going to the men's hammam with their fathers? Is the hammam a religious place? How do Muslims ritually cleanse themselves at the hammam?

"Hammam: Purity, Hygiene and Gender" comes out on November 29th. In the meantime, we'll be posting more about hammam culture — including short articles by our guests, Miri Shefer and Samir Ben-Layashi. So keep posted and let us know what you think! Do you have any burning questions about Middle Eastern bathhouses or ritual purification in Islam? Write them in the comments section below, on our Facebook page, or email us.

- Shoshi Shmuluvitz


Diwaniyya Contributor