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].”
Jameel... jameel! (“Interesting... interesting!” in Arabic)
|FYI, they're not my friends. |
Just a funny picture I found from Expat and the City ~ Kuwait
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?