Can lookism infect a “veiled” society?

Journalist Farahnaz Zahidi , a sub-editor at The Express Tribune in Karachi, has asserted that  lookism is an issue in Pakistan. I suggested  in my last blog that —contrary to some assertions—few people in Pakistan would be familiar enough with female faces for lookism to be a problem in that country. (Unfairly, lookism swirls primarily around female faces, tho male faces—and bodies of both genders—come into play sometimes.)

To make my case, I stated that there were plenty of Muslims in Pakistan and many of them had to be veiled a good percent of the time. I’ve found out subsequently that the estimated population of Muslims in Pakistan is 169,800,000.  The majority of Muslims in Pakistan are Sunnis (Sunni 76%, Shi’a 20%). Interestingly, the Shi’a Muslim population in Pakistan is the second largest in the world after Iran’s.

Facts about veils and lookism. 

Since writing my blog, I’ve  contacted a friend who knows a lot about Islam and “veils.”  According to Sandra Woffington who’s written a wonderful novel called Unveiling, the Qur’an does not specifically state  women must cover their faces. It states that women only need to be modest.

Some countries interpret “modesty” strictly; others, such as Egypt, interpret it less strictly, believing that uncovered faces and bodies don’t necessarily attract unwanted male attention.  By the way we’re not talking extremes here, i.e. what comedian Will Ferrell calls “genetic celebrities.” Clearly, there are occasional people in Ferrell’s Hollywood who “turn” heads and drive some people to distraction.

To avoid talking about extremes and understand the nuances of veil wearing I’m quoting here some of what my “consultant” told me about veil wearing. She lived in Saudi Arabia for many years.

Sandra Woffington’s novel.

  •  “In countries where girls are guided to wear veils, they usually receive them around puberty, but little girls run around with beautiful shining faces, braids, etc. all the time.
  • Veils are worn any place men congregate .
  • Businesses try to segregate women so they can take off the veils. In fact, a businessman in Saudi Arabia opened a new mall, which had an entire “women’s only floor,” so that the women could shop without veils.
  • If schools are girls only, then veils are not needed.
In summary, women should remain veiled before men, especially those not of the family. When I was invited to homes, the eldest man decided if the women would be unveiled or not. I was not a problem, but my husband was (for the females of the family). Generally, at social events in a house, women did not veil, as guests were on the approved list.”
The rule of ‘being veiled in front of unknown men’ has always posed unique problems. For example,
  • In Saudi Arabia, females need to see female doctors if there is any hope of a close inspection and examination… Foreign female doctors are brought in, or families fly to London or elsewhere for medical care.
  • Saudi Arabia also  had ‘female entrances’ to banks, with female tellers ,when I lived there, as it would not be proper to co-mingle in public. However, the marketplaces are full of men and women both veiled and not.
  • Egypt is very modern——women may have no veils but have their hair covered (hijab) but be wearing jeans. The Qur’an  says there is ‘no compulsion’ in religion–meaning women should choose for themselves, which is certainly not ISIL’s way to be sure. I have many a Muslim friend. When one friend made the Hajj, she came back to the USA and decided to begin wearing hijab (hair covering), where she’d never worn it before.

    Having learned a bit about the role of veils (in at least Saudi Arabia), I must conclude that in fact many people in some Muslim cultures have the opportunity to observe many women with attractive faces. And this means that they may observe—even practice—bias in favor of good looking women (“lookers”). This bias is called “looksim,” and —I stand corrected—it altogether possible that it exists in Pakistan, especially in big cities such as Karachi.

    For what it’s worth, I’ve included a picture of journalist Zahidi.  She writes about a range of issues including women, Islam, human rights, and peacebuilding. I’ll let you judge from her picture whether she is a “looker” herself, to use the term she used in her article.

 Bust shot of woman with hijab from Pakistan

         Farahnaz Zahidi


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  1. HeldenKline says:

    Faranaz…definitely a looker! 🙂 Heard that nose jobs are popular in the Arab world…and that the repair of Arab nose jobs by American plastic surgeons are also big business.

  2. Likewise, I’ve heard eye jobs are popular in parts of Asia. They’re even done by “sidewalk surgeons.” Their “redo”rate by other surgeons may be common, too, tho eyelids are much simpler than noses.

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