Thursday, March 01, 2007

Muslim Men: a Study of Racism and the Perception of Beauty

The Qur'an says: "O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of God is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things)" (Qur'an 49: 13). But, the question is, do we practise what we preach?

My friend and I recently decided to do a sociological experiment of sorts on the attitude of Muslim men towards female beauty. Let me begin by saying that this was a highly unethical way to obtain this type of information, and if I was really a researcher, I would probably be fired if I tried to pass this as real research - just something to keep in mind.

Our method: we went onto a Muslim matrimonial website and registered as two women interested in finding spouses. One of us registered as a 22-year old blonde, green-eyed convert to Islam. The other registered as a 22-year old Pakistani girl. The two profiles were almost identical, just to make sure that we could judge the responses of men based on the race of each woman, as opposed to some other quality. Both the convert and the Pakistani were religious, the same age, looking for the same type of spouse, etc. Neither profile included a picture. Our hypothesis was that the convert would get more "proposals" than the Pakistani, simply due to the fact that she is the eurocentric ideal of beauty. (Plus, the men didn't have to convert her before marrying her!)

Our findings: Lo and behold, we were right. Over the course of a few weeks, the convert got over one hundred emails from interested males (some of whom were very scary and strange). The young Pakistani woman on the other hand, started out quite slowly with around 30 emails in the same period of time. Although we expected a higher number for Alice, we didn't realize she would get more than double what Samreen got. It was a bit unnerving.

Discussion: It is evident that these Muslim men were more interested in the blonde woman than the Asian one. What is it about the blonde and blue-eyed beauty that makes men oggle? Even without a picture of the female convert to rely on, she still got the overwhelmingly higher amount of "requests" than her darker-skinned companion (who, by the way, made sure to say she was "fair-skinned" on her profile). Could it possibly be that white women are simply prettier? Or is it something deeper? Could it be that people are so enamoured with western ideas of everything, not only beauty, and therefore program themselves to desire all that is Western and more "civilized"? Or is it perhaps because people are so easily indoctrinated by media, that they adopt the media's definition of what beauty means? It's a puzzle to me that has yet to be put together.

Again, I will reiterate the unethical nature of this study. It is definitely not a representative sample of Muslim men. It will comfort you to know that none of the emails were replied to, and no rejections were given out, so no feelings were hurt. (And it was pretty clear that some of the men had form emails that they just sent out to anything breathing, as long as it was female.)

All that being said, the whole notion that one woman in our study was preferred over the other simply because of her imagined physical appearance goes against the core beliefs of Islam. Muslims looking for spouses should judge them not upon appearance, but upon character and intellect. Appearance should still be a major factor in choosing a spouse, but not to the extent to which we found in our study! It is disappointing, to say the least.

What do you make of all this?

24 comments:

Khalidah said...

Salaam Asmaa,

I'd be interested in continuing this study with you using several other matrimonial websites and a great number of ethnic origins. I think your study is very interesting and valid for insight into problems of racism and prejudice in our community.

MT said...

It would also be interesting to do a study that reverses the role. What are women guilty of ?

Yusuf said...

Assalamualaikum...

Aa they say the perfect wife is blonde hair, blue eyes and a nice curve. Hehe.

On a more serious note, this study holds no merit. There are numerous methodological errors. There are lots of variables you’ve presumably ignored such as what part of the world the proposals were coming from, age group, seriousness of the requests, intent (i.e. green card, citizenship etc.). Furthermore, who suggested that blue eyed blondes are more beautiful than pakistani/Indian women? Again, you would need to study what part of the world these 'proposals' were coming from.

I would like to believe that contrary to the opinion of most women, most brothers do not necessarily demand beauty in an ideal wife. I hope this study doesn’t lead you to believe that most brothers only look for beauty in an ideal wife.

maaz said...

yo. da muslim men. and ALL men have been brainwashed due to too much tv, commercials and bill boards. the beauty we seek has been defined by the media. they control us.

now. what a guy's gotta do, is realize this, and do the EXACT opposite. listen to Muhammad Ali in this clip (the part he takes about miss universe and such):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oetrfh_uKbQ

Ayman said...

AA Asmaa, nice idea however, I think there is another reason why the blonde got more emails. Muslim men assume that "converts" are more easy to get, as they will not have to deal with parents. Also, players will assume that they have more room with converts. Sad but unfortunately, many think that way. Here's an idea:
The asian girl should be a hindu convert and let's see how many emails she will get :)

Asma said...

I agree with the observations made by Yusuf and Ayman.

It may be the case that some men truly seek that 'ideal beauty' in a wife. Every person has a right to his or her preferences when choosing a spouse. Their real concern should be what they'll get after they've made their choice. Ali or Umar RA (I can't remember which) said that we can't really know people unless we live with them, eat with them, or travel with them. Many people who are married say that you can't really know your spouse till after you're married. Regardless of his preferences, the intelligent man who wants a lasting marriage will look for the important character-related stuff first.

On a different note, ideal beauty is just one of many criteria people mis-prioritize. We also choose our spouses, sometimes wrongfully (but not always), on the basis of money, social status, race or ethnicity, and language.

Asmaa said...

Khalidah & Tariq, further research that's actually valid would help, yes. I agree with Tariq in that it's a two-way street. Women aren't free of the guilt of superficiality in judging appearances.

Maaz, that's what I was trying to uncover - why is it that we allow ourselves to be "controlled"?

Yusuf, Asma, and Ayman, I completely agree! The study isn't valid or generalizable. I'm a Sociology major, I can point out at least 20 reasons why this study isn't valid :) I just meant for it to be food for thought. That's why it's on Randomly Placed and NOT in "Sociology Today," hehe.

I was aiming to draw upon the fact that many people do value light skin over dark. This is a fact not only true to South Asians. Quite the contrary, it's a widespread issue all over the world. For example, in Egypt if you get tanned, people will tell you "you were so beautiful before!" etc.

Why is whiteness seen as beauty?

M&M said...

quite an interesting "study" .. and i agree with mt up there try it with men too. just out of curiosity (though I know this is faarrrr from being valid), it would be interesting.

"in Egypt if you get tanned, people will tell you "you were so beautiful before!" etc.

Why is whiteness seen as beauty? "
same goes for all south asians for that matter. its become soo instilled in our society as u mentioned that anything otherwise isnt acceptable.

choosing an identity. said...

i dunno, i find white chicks to be a little pale. sometimes its a little scary.

shajara said...

Assalamu aleikum,

In additions to the salient points already mentioned...

Whiteness is only seen as beauty in places where it's rare. It's the whole covet-what-you-don't-have paradigm, which is why white people want to be tanned, "dark" people want to be fair, African people want soft hair and Caucasians want "volume".

It's also the fantasy thing. Caucasian is the "exotic" of the Eastern world, the same way some people at this end can't seem to get enough of belly-dancing almond-eyed Shehrezades and Lailas.

So just by virtue of being Alice, your "convert" was more intriguing, since Samreen would come accross as the "girl next door," or even the cousin down the lane ;)

If you repeated the experiment with "Matt" and "Imran," you might be surprised to get similar results.

I do agree that, for some people "blonde" and "green eyes" may conjure up an image of beauty, but that's just because of the unfamiliarity; you know that old misconception, "all you [insert race here] look alike" - well, if you're not used to being around green-eyed blondes, your first thought will go to all these beautiful people you see on TV, and in ads etc.

I have to admit that I found your "study" (what guts!) pretty cool though (but I'd still have to admonish you on the dishonesty) :) Only, those emails would have scared me.

accomplice said...

asmaa, please edit out the names. thanks. :)

line said...

yea yea, try imran vs. matt!!!! this is SO exciting!!!!!!!!

Anis Malik said...

Assalamo Alaikum

Wow... a very intellectually charged post...

in any case, i have some issues:

#1: Who is a Muslim? What characteristics define a Muslim? Is someone who has never heard of the said ayah, placed on the same footing as someone who has actually instilled the principle behind the ayah in his life and actions...

when i lived in khaleej, in my experience with the locals, I found that the hardcore Salafis were more racist than the ikhwanis. So are they both equally Muslim, i am pretty sure the hardcore Salafis would strongly disagree... (btw this only applies to khaleeji arabs)

#2: Allah SWT says in the ayah, that He ranks people according to taqwa... now the fictional profile that you provided for both fictional sisters gives us an impression that both of them would rank equally in terms of taqwa... so why should brothers be at fault for going for the blonde rather than the pakistani one... your comparison doesn't hold...

maybe if the blonde one didn't pray as often as the Pakistani one, then you might have a case...

#3: it's strange for a Sociologist to leave out the cultural context... if the website is oriented towards serving a North American clientele... I wouldn't be surprised...

to get a better understanding of this i would recommend Malcolm X's biography... he goes into detail how the society brainwashed him to look down upon himself and his womenfolk...

#4: yes i did read your disclaimer, it doesn't matter... the shocking impression that someone gets of your little survey: this is what a person would remember not the disclaimer...

Lastly, i find it extremely disturbing that you put up these ads with the intention to deliberately spurn genuine proposals, thereby playing on decent brothers' good intentions to find a spouse - that are not fictional but GENUINE...

Veiled Muslimah said...

assalam alaykum

hahah good going asma. It's always interesting readng your blog. :P

Faraz said...

OMG what site is this?? I need to get in contact with Alice!!!

(I imagine I'll regret this sarcastic comment at some point in my life.)

pages said...

anis malik:

i seriously doubt any brothers were hurt in this activity.

sohnii said...

Salaam,

I find this study of ur's very intresting but as u urself pointed out this study can't be taken as a fact of all muslim men,

but on the other hand it is a fact that muslim guys will choose to look at the blonde before the fair-skinned,dark hair and eyed gal.
there is too much of western media influence and the idea of beauty is now changing slowly,

and in some parts of the muslim world it is considered somehow, in a weird way, to have a blonde wife , a higher status... you get more respect, so called, etc. etc.

considering the family background I have in Pakistan, there is no higher status to achieve with a blond wife, a wife of same origin is prefered over the blonde europena muslimah ...

at last I'd like to say again,
nice study u have done ...:)

Asmaa said...

Interesting comments everyone :)

Anis, thanks for your comment. I think I should have written what pages said "no males where hurt in this study"...kind of reminds me of the "no animals were hurt in the testing of this product."

Anyways, your points are mostly valid though I'm not sure why you're so upset. Pardon me, but I don't define any of the "proposals" as being "genuine." You can't GENUINELY ask someone to marry you only by looking at their profile on a marriage site. There is something fundamentally wrong with that. Plus, both the girls got several overlapping messages - the same guy just emailing every girl he happens upon and asking for her hand. Sorry if I don't define that as being genuine.

About your second point, of course the comparison holds! The whole point was that even though they were similar in every way, men still chose the white girl. This whole post was about the concept of beauty and attractive physical appearances, not about taqwa or anything else...

lotsa pages said...

what we need is an iman-o-meter!!

Travelling Stranger said...

I prefer the darker-skinned. But then again, I'm white and almost blond. Opposites attract I guess.

But we can't judge from this it's only based on the people who actually use these sites.

(That's probably been mentioned in an earlier comment but I didn't read through it)

Anonymous said...

Assalamu alaikum Asmaa,

Is this what you were referring to when you told me to check out your blog? Oh my, sometimes I wonder about you... Khair inshallah, an interesting study nonetheless. When fights such as these: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1xqUbxr1Fbg break out over girls, then I'll be worried, but for now... you keep doing what you do sport:P

Take care my Eggyptian' friend who's Pakistani at heart, you gotta love hockey! fr:)

Anis Malik said...

Salaam...

My point: Brothers are responding to these solicitations for correspondence unknowingly that the people on the other side have different intentions... which is to survey their social attitudes without their consent...

this is like being ambushed... and you're not even letting them know afterwards that they are actually on candid camera...

to say that no one was hurt... this type of morality is based on utilitarian principles... (i suggest that you let them know about your real intentions... then we will see... who remains unscathed...)

Our morality is different... it is not the outcome that defines our morality but the content of the action itself...

-----------------------

BTW... how about if I turn the tables...

two brothers put up their profiles: one's a mechanic and a the other one's a DOCTAH!!!! (not PhD)... alhamdulillah, both of them make halal cash... and both give an impression that they are at an equal level of taqwa...

i am pretty sure no one will be surprised who will get the majority of correspondence requests...

but then again, it would be a gross generalization...

-----------------

continuing this theme about obsession with "white beauty"... i recommend this post by Br. Umar Lee: clicky

Voyageur said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Voyageur said...

Im confuzzled!
Pakistan has a LOT of green/hazel/grey eyed blondes. Why would men just seek one over a brown skinned?
If you were to visit the northern areas of Pakistan, you'll surely find natural beauty there!
(refers to the comment: you covet what you don't have}
Maybe you should make them both from Pakistan, and see the response. If you are a pakistani, you'd choose the brown skin one. Guaranteed. (talk about reverse racism)