Arab Men and Jealousy

One of the strangest things I have heard in New Zealand is the belief that practicing Muslim women should not wear pretty and vibrant colours because they attract unnecessary attention from the opposite sex.

When I first heard it I instantly knew that it was a very extreme point of view. I grew up in Malaysia where it is common for modestly dressed Muslim women to wear all sorts of colours and nobody would make a big deal out of it. Though I always try to see the logic behind other people’s views, I don’t think this is something that must be enforced on Muslim women and especially to those who live in the West. It’s a totally different situation in Saudi Arabia where women are expected to wear black because it attracts the least attention. If a woman were to wear blue in a sea of women who wear black clearly it would put her in a less than desired situation. But Islam doesn't prohibit women from wearing colours. Even Aisha (r.a.) was not restricted to the colour black as she was reported to have worn a shade of yellow while being in the state of ihram

In a quest to understand a man's perspective about this I texted a Saudi friend of mine who prefers to be known as Guacamole* on my blog. Anyway I asked what he thought of Muslim women who wear colourful clothes and hijab (God forbid *faints*). Now, the reason why I asked him is because to me he is a pretty open-minded Saudi. He was born in a Western country, grew up in Saudi Arabia and now studies in New Zealand. He said that by wearing black a woman is portraying herself as a religious conservative and a woman who chooses to wear colours is not necessarily less conservative when it comes to her values. When asked about what he thinks of Muslim girls who are stylish he said,

“Well I’ll be honest. I personally don’t like it when a girl is too stylish that it makes her stand out and [create] unwanted attention. Part of this is [because] I’d feel a bit jealous of my wife. Also, like sometimes I see some Arab and Asian girls, and it’s not like they’re [dressed] to go to Uni but as if they are going to a wedding… there is an attire for every place and time.”

He then clarified the fact that it’s different for every guy and revealed that some men are at the opposite end of the spectrum and want to show off their wives in bikinis. So I threw another question at him and asked, “But isn’t it a Muslim man’s responsibility to lower his gaze instead of choosing to look at women?”

“Well they should but I’d probably want to beat them up for doing so [looking at my wife].”

Two words.

Jameel... jameel! (“Interesting... interesting!” in Arabic)

FYI, they're not my friends.
Just a funny picture I found from Expat and the City ~ Kuwait 
I didn’t know that a man could get jealous by other men looking at his wife and I’m not even talking about staring or leering. Jealousy is a very interesting aspect of love and relationships so I decided to uncover a little bit more and asked a few other Arab guys who are friends of mine – Iskandar* (Emirati), Fahad (Saudi) and Zeid (Saudi) - about what would make them jealous when it comes to their women. Just like Guacamole*, they’re all in their early 20s and they represent the progressive Muslim Arab male youth of today as modern, educated and ambitious young men **.  

Let’s start with the Saudi guys first.

Fahad explained his point of view and said, “I would say they are the same things that make a woman jealous of her man. Don’t compliment other guys in front of him… he wants to be your everything! Maybe even talking to another guy [can be a problem]. A guy’s jealousy pretty much has to do with another guy whereas girls are jealous about everything. Girls think with their emotions, guys think with logic. If you spend time with girls he wouldn’t even complain but if a guy spends time with his guy friends she will go psycho. Women, no offence, also know how to use their emotions. Just a tear from a girl could break a strong man.”

Zeid raised the issues of priority and exclusivity. “There isn’t just one answer to this question because it differs from one person to another. But personally, I would be jealous if another guy was a priority in my girl’s life other than myself… I would hate it if a guy would try and be too friendly with her or tries to touch her or hug her. I don’t think this applies here but in the Middle East it does. I absolutely hate it if guys were to stare [at her]… I would like to think that I belong to my girl and she belongs to me.”

Spot anything interesting? Both of them basically said that a man wants to be his woman’s everything. Not just as her only man, but her everything. In other words, anything or anyone could stand in as competition. He wants to be her numero uno priority. This is true because I know a guy who will get upset if his girlfriend  doesn’t pick up his call even when she’s in a lecture. Some men can also become jealous of their wives’ career.

Iskandar* the Emirati said, “Well it differs from guy to guy but flirting with other guys, not talking, but flirting. And being much more successful in the workforce, this could be because no man wants to be a failure to his family, and if he can’t support them or be a role model then he might think he failed as a man… again, men differ but we’re easy to please.”

I then questioned if they would mind their wife being stylish while she is modestly dressed and all three of them said that they don’t have a problem with it. Fahad even said that he wouldn’t be with someone if she wasn’t stylish because “looks is a big thing” to him. For Iskandar*, being stylish and self-respectful at the same time is a great thing. Although this was just a casual survey of my friends I learned a couple of new things about guys, especially Arab guys. At the same time, I'm not making any generalisations about Arab men because these guys are different individuals who are entitled to their own opinions and preferences. Men, in general, become jealous in ways that are acceptable in their society, regardless of what religion they believe in. It's an innate instinct. Some don’t mind other men looking at their beautiful girlfriends or wives and even encourage their women to dress up nicely and look attractive when they are in the public eye. It contributes to their image in society as only the most successful can win over a beautiful woman. Think survival of the fittest. But for many, when it comes to physical touching, especially with sexual intention it is a great, big no-no that will guarantee a man with a black eye. Then again, I have read that a man's jealousy wanes the older he gets or the longer he has been married.

Are Middle Eastern or Muslim men more prone to jealousy than other men?

Yes, I think so but not really compared to Mediterranean men such as the Italians and Greeks. According to Pepperminty, 'jealousy is deeply wounded into our cultural constructions of love'. The guys I've mentioned in this post are Arabs but that doesn't mean they're all the same. There are slight cultural differences between Middle Eastern countries but I believe it all comes down to their individual personalities, family upbringing and understanding of Islam. Truth be told, I think the real reason behind jealousy is male insecurity, their need to have control and be the protector. There's nothing wrong with gheerah (jealousy and protectiveness) but in some sad cases it’s just plain male ego because the thought of someone entering their 'territory' is just inconceivable. Jealousy can be about ownership and exclusivity as Zeid explained, and pride, but some take it too far and that's when honour killings happen. Humans have animal instincts but that doesn’t mean we should act on them. I've also wondered, could it be some of the fatwas that sound so absurd and were wrongly justified with hadiths were actually created due to men's insecurities? Just a thought, that's all.

'Don’t wear attractive colours because men will be enticed. Don’t speak in front of men because your voice could seduce them. If women want to make their non-mahram colleagues as their mahram they should breastfeed them.'

Seriously, how do some of these men even become sheikhs?! 

I understand that many Muslim women are happy and comfortable to wear subdued colours, cover their face or not speak to non-mahram men and I respect that. But it's one thing to willingly make these choices and another to feel like you have to make these choices. Besides, I don't think there’s a specific colour or dress that can hide a woman’s beauty because women are just special like that. But who knows! I could be wrong because who else would know men better than men themselves?  

Articles about jealousy by Pepperminty: Jealousy and Control & Jealousy, Monogamy and Power

* not their actual names
** no men were harmed during this inquisition


Fafa Lane said…
well i can say most arab easily get jealous, 1 best example is my fiance. in the beginning of our relationship, i used to b close with mycourse-mates guys n girls, but 1 guy was really close,i can say i treated him special than other guys(course mates) . it's bcoz he was 2 years younger than me ( same age with my sister) n his name is farooq ( my only bro's name is farukh , so it sounds da same) so i treat him like a bro. but my bf(now my fiance) get jealous about it n i didnt undastand why. maybe its bcoz of our culture,malaysian are like western(not in everything) most of us can do what ever we want s long we dont cross da line.but eventually i learned from his point of view n let him see from my point of view. allahamdulillah i changed bcoz now da only men in my life are my father, my bro n my fiance. so i should respect n understand their needs :D

Qusay said…
Shahirah, this is a very open ended question :) and the answer would never be simple, as it differs from region to region and country to country.

Part of the jealousy comes from the religious preachers and society (including women) on their definition of how and what a "good girl/woman" should dress like. And how a man who loves and cares for a woman should act like.

I wish I could give a better answer :)

But a big part of it is society norms, which is why most Saudi women, dress in colorful clothing/hijabs when out of Saudi, yet would not wear colorful attire in Saudi, even though it is worn by other mulsim ladies in Saudi who are from other countries.
Stephanie said…
yes it's called gheerah. some find it flattering that their man goes insane thinking about another man even contemplating having their wife. obviously there is a fine line between being protective and being a complete controlling psycho.

As for the clothing, yes that's purely cultural and also individualistic. My arab Palestinian husband has never had a problem with the clothes and colors I wear.
Mona Zenhom said…
Lol @ no men were hurt.... Arab men are definitely the jealous type, but Egyptians are colorful people.
Shahirah Elaiza said…
IamSilla: Thanks for sharing! Yup, in Malaysia interacting with men isn't a big deal for women. But sometimes I feel Malay men aren't very protective so my Arab friends may seem overprotective and jealous when in actual fact it's just normal for them.

Qusay: No, not an easy question to answer! lol But thanks for clarifying that it is mainly about culture and social norms. And you're right, it is how people define the characteristics of a "good girl". However, I feel Muslims don't place as much emphasis on Muslim men and that's a huge mistake that leads non-Muslims to believe we have double standards.

Stephanie: LOL, yeah gheerah is good so that the man doesn't become a 'dayuth'/'dayus' but some men do take it toooo far. I know a Malay guy who would lock his wife up in their bedroom when he goes to work during the day. That's pure insanity right there.

And yes, other Arabs such as Palestinians and Jordanians are not as stringent about colours and clothes.

Love and Sugar: Oh you're so cute. Yes they are fascinating creatures to study lol.

Mona Z: Lol, yes Masriya's are indeed colourful people!
Sara said…
Loved your post. It is sad to see how narrow minded men can be when it comes to religion. Islam doesn't forbid women to wear colors at all.
ᖇᗩE said…
Great post!

For me, the quality of an individual does not rely on his race, it is how he was raised. Singling out or classifying men by race or religion has never been and will never be the smartest method to define men. We all have jealous, possessive men or anything of that sort in our countries, don't we?
Anonymous said…
Salaam Alaikum!

Unfortunately Saudi Arabia doenst always base the sunnah or quran as a reference when enforcing laws. No where in islam does it state that women must wear all black. Nor does it state that a woman cannot drive. Both of these laws are enforced by the saudi govt with no hadiths or quran to back it up.
As for women wearing bright colors yes they shouldnt wear flashy outfits or colors that will attract unwanted attention. Instead women should wear neutral colors such as brown, green, blue and stay away from colors such as yellow, red, pink etc. We must remember that hijab is an outer garment we wear when we are outside are homes or around non-marams. The purpose of the hijab is not to attract attention or be fashionable but to be modest. What you wear under your hijab (which also means a cloak worn with it, which could be an abayah etc) can be colorful. Wearing colorful outfits in an all women setting is fine, its only when one is outside ones home that we should remember the purpose of hijab and that is pleasing allah, not people. Now, of course we should always wear clothing that is clean and in good condition (no holes, stains etc).
As for arabs getting jealous, i do feel a lot of arabs are hot tempered and often times get jealous when they themselves are doing the same thing (ex. a man looks at his wife yet the husband has no problem flirting with another woman.. in these situations the husband is a hypocrite. The same applies to women wearing hijab. Men are quick to point fingers and get angry if their wives wrist shows by accident yet have no problem wearing clothing that is unislamic (shorts above the knee, tight shirts to show off their mucles, no beard if they can grow one etc).
So to sum it all up, being fashionable is great but should be done in a setting with all women. Hijab (which doesnt just cover ones head but ones full body aka a cloak or abayah) should be modest and not bright colored so as to attract unwanted attention since the purpose of hijab is to hide ones beauty and tone it down. At the end of the day we wear hijab/abyah or cloak while we are outside the house. Once we are home or with friends of the same sex we can show off our brightly colored outfits and compare fashion!
Anonymous said…
Hai Shahirah!
as i can see in my country, a women with long black hijab usually get more attention, because it was unusual here. I don't know much about arab men, and thanks for this posting that makes me know more about it. umm, i just don't know what i can do, if my boyfriend or husband protect my relation with partner & friend... :D
nice share shahira! :)
Hai Shahirah!
as i can see in my country, a women with long black hijab usually get more attention, because it was unusual here. I don't know much about arab men, and thanks for this posting that makes me know more about it. umm, i just don't know what i can do, if my boyfriend or husband protect my relation with partner & friend... :D
nice share shahira! :)
Fafa Lane said…
u got dat right shahirah! n i prefer a guy who is over protective it makes me feel more secure
zahra said…
this is really interesting and this discussion has come up quite a bit as i work closely with saudis and my husband is also khaliji.

for my husband's behaviour, he does stick up if he thinks someone is staring or paying too much attention and i know he would do that for all the women in his family, his 3 beautiful sisters, his mother and myself, any muslim sisters for that matter. and i found that it is out of respect and his responsibility rather than jealousy. so the attention and staring would not make him jealous just peeved off really lol if i were to start responding inappropriately to a man's attention then that would ofcourse be a different story. basically the things he isn't comfortable with are the same things i'm not comfortable with so that jealousy really hasn't sprung up at all. so i guess i find he has more of a protective nature rather than a jealous one.

as for attire, he doesn't care what colours or styles women use, if it's modest, it's modest. and i've heard that simple opinion with most men. although i have to admit the saudis i know do have a particular eye for style and what they like and dislike (cuts, colours and patterns!) lol sometimes they can't help admire a womans attire ofcourse. but i've never heard comments about it in relation to the womans intentions or imply they are immodest in any way. in general, i think they do recognise the difference between between fashionably modest and a woman who is wearing something screaming for a attention accompanied with an attitude to suggest it.
*Farah Pop* said…
...loverly post :) soo true..some men can be so narrow minded and jealous...double standards spring to mind...xoxo
RS said…
this is a very well thought of and well written article. Love it!

I've heard that shananigan before. The whole, u can't wear colours thing and I find it ridiculous!
Unsettled Soul said…
These comments are so interesting.
b.p. said…
Very interesting points of view. I totally agree that colors aren't prohibited, but then again, it's not like I know best. Thanks for the great read!
Anonymous said…
All men in the world are jealous :) and want to be everything to their women...the only thing is,that I think some men show it more openly than others.
Nice and so well written post...I really enjoyed it.
Kisses my dear!
Shahirah Elaiza said…
Sara H., it's sad how people have taken something so innocent and simple like colours and turn it into something negative. If a woman wants to wear certain colours in effort to be more subdued, that's fine cos it's her personal choice. But I don't know what I would do if I didn't have the choice to pick the colour of my outfit or hijab (outside the context of being in public in Saudi Arabia).

Bitten by an Arab Bug: No, it's not fair to judge the quality of an individual before getting to know them. In this case however, I'm writing from more of a general perspective than anything else. Men will be men no matter where you go lol.

Anon: Interesting input, thank you! Always good to hear a woman's point of view. I wanted to know what some men thought of it in order to put the two together and make some sense of all these "rulings" in Islam since men are usually the ones who enforce them, right?

I'm no expert and I don't claim to practice Islam the best way I can. However, I do believe women should have the choice to wear whatever colour that makes them feel comfortable and happy. Personally, when I'm being fashionable I'm not doing it to please others but as a means of self-expression. As a young Muslim woman of the 21st century that is important to me. Who knows, I could very well grow out of this phase in the next 10 years or so.

The definition of modest is not the same for everyone, everywhere. In most countries, wearing hijab and loose clothing is considered very modest regardless of what colours you choose to wear.

And yes, double standards do occur and that sends the wrong message about Islam. We are always blaming the media for portraying Islam negatively but the truth is there is an ugly side.. not to Islam but to Muslims.

nengFLORA: Yes it's the same in many countries =) A woman clad in black does attract more attention but that's usually not her intention. People can stare at niqabis all they want but they're not actually staring in a sexual way.

zahra: Thank you for sharing that. If a man is being protective because he feels it is his responsibility then I think that is commendable. Your husband is not only protective of you but also of the women in his family... that shows he has the right intention =)As you said, modesty is not just the clothes one wears but also the attitude that goes along with it.

*Farah Pop*: Tell me about it! Double standards make me so mad too. Modesty isn't just for Muslim women but also Muslim men.

RS: It is ridiculous when it's being enforced on people who don't feel the same way but I think it's fine for people who can accept it. I say that because I believe women have the right to choose what to wear especially what colours they want to wear.

Unsettled Soul: Indeed ;)

.hopeful.: Yes, hun. Allahu3alam =)

Jasmina: Hello my dear =) Human beings are jealous creatures. It's normal. But some take it too far because they have a different understanding about 'jealousy', 'protectiveness', 'pride' and 'honour'.
Anonymous said…
This is really interesting, men are cute in a way though. Ahah. But one thing for sure i think the law enforcement on women to wear black maybe because they're afraid if women dress up that falls into tabarruj. May Allah protects us from this.
The statement of the law might look harsh and unfair but we actually learning something. Obviously we dont have to wear black all the time right. But when i look at arab women,i want that feeling where u dont have to think too much on what u're wearing,shop wisely on clothes. They inspires me to think off all the things i own,God will definitely asks about it. We never know the way we dress are pleasing God all the time. At the same time the law is helping the women too. Set our intention to please God,not to please ourselves. InsyaAllah we'll get away from tabarruj. Nice article! Looking forward for more :)
Shahirah Elaiza said…
Anon, this is the first time I've heard of the concept of tabarruj. Thanks for dropping by and sharing! =)
BuLaN said…
Glad that by 30s I met someone who is guiding me to the right “hijab” Alhamdulillah. It’s so much fun to “dress up” for him only. Farewell to tight clothes and short scarves.
Anonymous said…
Salam alaykoum,

I live in the west and I am not Arab. I am Chinese by origin and my husband is Arab, however,I am Muslim.
I respect and understand "love" and the need to "have control". But to control how one feels and acts is unrealistic.
I've recently met a woman from Lebanon and she was very upset that the very pretty receptionist at the dentist's office greeted her husband in a very kind manner. (This is in Canada).
I asked her why it should bother her so much as this woman was doing her job to greet everyone. As a business owner, one would have to greet and meet and be kind in order to get and improve business.
If you have trust in any relationship, you should not be insecure about anything.
Marriage is not a "prison". One cannot control another. You can only express your opinions in a diplomatic manner but you cannot stop their thoughts.
If your mate has the idea to cheat, she/he will do so whether you know it or not. If you imprison this person you love, you may have them physically, but you cannot imprison their heart.
As my husband once said to me....
"it is not whether you love your mate, but it is HOW you love them that keeps them in your bed and prevents them from leaving.
If you are not IN THEIR HEARTS, you have nothing.
I just found your blog and I love it. :D
Anonymous said…
I Just broke up with my bf over his jealous rages. It's so sad :(
Anonymous said…
I am an American who just happen came across this website. You have made some valid points and very interesting article. I liked it very much. I can honestly say jealousy does not pertain to one race, but to others as well. I remember my ex boyfriend who was Italian and Mexican would be jealous of me because I would want to spend quality time with my brother. At that time, he had just came to California for a visit from Indiana. So it wasn't like I can drive an hour and visit with my brother. He was on the East Coast basicially. I just ignored my ex boyfriend and told him to get over himself. Then later we broke up, and married someone truly special.
Kid said…
Your article is very well written and interesting. I am a Malay Muslim myself, and my fiance is a Palestinian. And yes, we had an issue over jealousy and control. As I come from independent family, which is a total opposite from where he comes from. In his family, a girl is depending mostly to brothers and father. And in my family, no one bother what I do (most of it) as long as I keep myself safe and not crossing my Islamic doctrines. I had a quite hard time to adjust myself to his lifestyle and demand, but everything he wants is just for my own protection. So i dont mind at all.

In terms of clothing, there is no problem at all. I wear hijab at all time. And all he wants is i wear modest clothing.

We are both well educated and ambitious. he does not mind i work, but he had said once that he prefers i be a stay at home mother. Which i will consider later.

In all, having a jealousy man in ur life is nothing wrong because what they want is for our own good. But over jealousy is hard to tolerate. Especially if the wife (gf/fiance) is a lady with a career.