Aunties in Denial

Say salam to Abeer Khala”, a 1.5 year old came and said salam to me.  At the time it was only my third time meeting this cute (but still random) kid and I had known his mother for hardly a month, yet I became a khala.  (Khala: title given to your mother’s sister in the Urdu language)

How do you become a khala?

1)   Mother’s sister(s)

2)   In the South Asian culture, your mother’s female cousins are also known to be ‘khalas’

3)   In my book my children also call my close long lasting friends khalas as well.

 For that 1.5 year old kid I didn’t fall into any of those categories.  So why call me khala?

 I’m noticing this growing phenomenon of girls my age (ahem late 20s) referring to themselves and their friends/acquaintances as khalas to their children.  I find this  extremely annoying.

 Khala is a major title, growing up we would always hear that your khala is like your mother.  I used to think this is just another one of those Desi notions that probably stemmed from Hindu traditions.


 This notion actually has Islamic roots, our beloved Prophet (PBUH) gave maternal aunts a high status.

“A man came to Allah’s Prophet (Peace be upon Him) and said: ‘O Prophet! I have committed a major sin. Do you think that I can atone for it?’

He asked: “Do you have a mother living?”

The man answered in the negative.

The Prophet (Peace be upon Him) asked the man: “Do you have a maternal aunt living?”

The man answered in the positive. Allah’s Prophet (Peace be upon Him) said to him: “Be good and kind to her.” (Tirmidhi 1904)

 “The sister of the mother has a status similar to the mother.” (Bukhari #2552)

 After learning that I realized that our Khalas should be given great honor and respect.  Hence the reason why I think to toss around the word ‘Khala” for any other average jo-lie, seems almost degrading to the title.

I think the reason why we end up resorting to khala is because we have a problem with the word Aunty.

Our generation of folks growing up here have given ‘aunties’ and ‘uncles’ this comical yet negative connotation.

We think Aunties just like to sit around gossip, watch dramas (or create them) and drink chai.  Well, I try to avoid gossip, and I love my Pakistani dramas BUT I don’t drink chai.  I guess I’m a semi-aunty, but nonetheless still an a-u-n-t-y.

Even if I didn’t do any of those things, I’m a married woman with children and their friends will and should refer to me as aunty.  I don’t take offense to that and neither should any other person.

I would not want my child calling an acquaintance ‘khala’ for no reason.  It may just be a title but to me that word means a lot.

If my close friend’s children refer to me as khala then I take it as an obligation to try to live up to it.  To make it a point to ask about their well being, their new hobbies and to acknowledge big milestones in their lives.  I wouldn’t do that for just any kid.

Granted, some of my “aunties” have over time become more than aunties (but less than Khalas).  I still refer to them as aunties but would treat them with love and more respect simply due to the nature of my relationship with them.

Aunty is not a bad word nor does it mean you’re the ‘old’ ‘nosy’ and ‘annoying’ lady from the community whose going around causing havoc.

There are a number of cool aunties out there and I plan on being one of them insha’Allah, or I just might be a typical  aunty in denial

5 thoughts on “Aunties in Denial

  1. Salam saman 🙂 my mom, sister and I follow your blog pretty regularly. But I was wondering, why is there a difference between the word khala and the word aunty? Is there something inherently religious about the Urdu word khala? Why is that when the quranic language is Arabic?

  2. You really hit the nail on the head. I feel awkward having my daughter call my friends aunties but Khala is too personal for anyone.

  3. Abeer,
    I can really relate to this post! I do not yet have kids and I feel awkward when mothers will have their children call me “aunty.” I think the main reason I dislike the word is that it makes me feel old. I actually prefer kids to call me khalla because it makes me feel younger for some reason 😀 But I agree, I would not want to be called khalla by just anybody.

    This post has made me realize the importance of my mother’s sisters. I should give them all a call soon inshaAllah 🙂

    Mariam 🙂

  4. Hahaha loved it Abeer! So very true, even though I’ve grown up calling my 4 khala’s “Auntie”, I still feel like khala makes a distinction. I only have one sister and would want my kids to only call HER khala. And not liking being called an auntie is ridiculous. Like my cousins want my kids to call them “baji” because they’re 18-20 and too cool to be aunties. I’m like face it, you’re an auntie whether u like it or not! And besides there are many young folks these days who watch dramas and drink chai and gossip. Lol

  5. I think the reason people may use the word “Khala” with their kids is because of the way the word “sister” is used in our communities- when addressing a random lady whom we don’t know very well, hence becoming a “Khala” to their kids- kind of giving it an Islamic touch than just aunty.

    I agree with Mariam, I hate being called aunty, although I’m well worthy of it. When kids can me aunty, I just ask them to call me by my name.

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