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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).
the women’s quarters in a wealthy Muslim household; also, in a figurative sense, its inhabitants—the wives and concubines of the master of the house. Large harems of rulers, the wealthy, and dignitaries in Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, and other countries were guarded by eunuchs. Men (other than husbands and sons) were barred from the harems. Beginning in the 1920’s the harem virtually disappeared as a result of the ban on multiple marriages (for example, in Turkey in 1926), the introduction of equal social rights for women, economic and cultural progress, and the growth of the democratic movement, including the women’s movement.