How Beauty And Sexuality Are Conflated in Muslim Arab-American Culture


The topics revolving around beauty and sexuality are more conflate in Muslim Arab American cultures than in most other parts of the world. In this article, we will try to focus primarily on the concept of beauty and how it links to the topic of sexuality.

Everyone is aware of the existence of sex but it is rarely acknowledged in Muslim cultures. By conflating beauty and sexuality, one tends to create a misinterpretation in the minds of the readers. For a long time, the Muslim Arab-American culture has displaced sexuality for beauty and has grossly misunderstood the fine lines between the two.

The article will highlight the male MAA perspective, but it will primarily revolve around the female definition and female perspective. Moreover, the article doesn't cater to any specific age group and is inclusive of all ages of men and women. This is because our concept of beauty and sexuality doesn't change much as we transition from children to adults. This is saying that what we learn about these topics as children translates into what we believe as adults.



Some of the questions that need to be answered are as follows?

  1. What traits do MAA cultures consider beautiful?

  2. What beauty features are appreciated most by men and women in the culture?

  3. Does their definition of beauty reflect on your appearance?

  4. How do they define beauty and in what terms?

  5. How do MAAs usually respond to phrases putting beauty and simplicity together?

  6. What is the relationship between beauty and virginity in MAA culture?

  7. What items come into mind when they think about sexuality?

  8. What do they feel about morning makeup rituals and what features do they highlight?

  9. What type of clothes and which body parts do MAA highlight when they go out to the beach or with their friends?



What does the research conclude?

The research makes the following claims regarding the above-mentioned questions. Most of these are based on interviews conducted with Muslim Arab Americans. This is not concrete evidence and does not constitute any facts. However, it gives us a clear picture of the perceptions MAA's holds.

  • For starters, the MAA's perception of beauty is different from their counterparts in Arab. To the former, it is an amalgamation of western and eastern ideals. There are no clear lines between the different ideals and it is judged according to each person. Beauty thus is a gradient of individual preferences that, over time, has been cultivated by these ideals.

  • Secondly, the contextualization of beauty in this culture paints a unique picture. It represents beauty as both an inherent set of quality and physical attributes. The results also acknowledge that although people acknowledge the new modern and inclusive metrics of beauty, they still consider the traditional definition and criteria to be relatively more relevant. 

  • Beauty is also considered as confidence. To different people, this meant either the ability to take care of oneself or one's family or the amount of genuineness one exhibits. 

  • Furthermore, a link between femininity and beauty was also assessed. It was found out that a female is considered beautiful if she is caring, kind, and loving. Some people also believed that a woman who took care of her body and tried to stay healthy was also beautiful. Furthermore, a wide range of people believe that taking responsibility is also part of beauty. This means that a woman who can take care of her children and raise them right is considered beautiful.



How to mitigate the conflicting views?

We now move to conflicts between the two concepts and how these can be mitigated, if at all. According to WHO, sexuality means sex, gender roles, and identities, sexual orientation, pleasure, intimacy, and reproduction. However, according to most Muslim Arab Americans, beauty lies in modesty. This modesty is thus translated into virginity. 

The Quran clearly states: "do not approach unlawful sexual intercourse"17:32. This is a clear indication that the preservation of virginity is mandatory for Muslims. The exception is only made in instances where the individual is married. 

However, the problem lies in the double standards exhibited by society. The idea of virginity is more applicable to women than to men. It is also linked to the individual and collective honor of the girl and her family. It also determines whether she can be categorized as a 'good' or 'bad girl'.

Compared to that, men are not judged based on the active or passive nature of their sexuality. This sexual dichotomy is further enhanced by the patriarchal structure of society. 

Moreover, virginity no longer applies to men because it is represented as hymen; a thin piece of tissue that only exists in women. Where many repressive cultures around the world, Muslim and non-Muslim both, hire doctors to analyze the female's hymen, MAA cultures make use of the relationship and the general history of the female to assess whether she had indulged in any sexual activity or not. 

The conflation is thus damaging to the MAA females because they are always seen through skeptical eyes. Moreover, the cultural emphasis on public modesty as a physical standard makes the lives of women miserable. This makes them resent their own culture and the men and women who impose this culture on them.

Another conflict exists between sexual desires within marriages. But this can not be properly analyzed because most people will simply deny having any sexual inclinations anyway. 

These ideas and concepts are deeply ingrained and internalized in the minds of people. However, that does not free the members of MAA cultures from any responsibility. There is a need to actively engage in conversations around these topics and these conflicts. Many researchers who try to reach conclusions feel hesitant to touch upon the topic. But they accept that once they delve into it, discussing and finding solutions becomes relatively easier.




Openness and Discussion is key to improving lives:

If Muslim Arab Americans want to improve the lives of their women and end this age-old curse of conflating beauty with sexuality, they need to indulge in openness and discussions. The solution to every great problem lies in discourse!