Historically, the honor-modesty system was circum-Mediterranean, with important features of it extending well beyond the Mediterranean’s shores. Ethnographers often describe it as having two complementary axes: one emphasizing hostility and performative bravado toward outsider men and the other emphasizing protection and seclusion of insider women.
The geographic distribution of Islam does not coincide with that of the honor-modesty system, which antedated it throughout MENA. As the fastest growing world religion, it has spread into large areas of sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, though in India it gives way to Hinduism and Buddhism, which not only map out very different spiritual quests but provide different systems
of caring for the mind and body. Thus the honor-modesty system clearly can thrive without Islam, and Islam can thrive in societies that do not so strongly embrace the honor-modesty system. It is their conjunction in MENA that gives the region much of its cultural—and psychological—character.