Isn’t it depressing that according to Nesrine Malik the so-called ideal Muslim man is blond and looks suspiciously white? Apparently, this beautiful mythical creature can be found in the popular Turkish soap opera, Noor, where he can be seen observing Islamic customs like a good Muslim son-in-law (*half-hearted sarcasm*). She writes:
[…] the male protagonists (Muhanned in Noor’s case, above right) are fair-skinned Muslim men with blue eyes who epitomise the model man as far as Arab women reared on western media images are concerned – a man in the mould of sensitive western heartthrobs, who still observes Ramadan.
[…] This vision of the ideal man can be found among women in the Muslim world who grew up on a diet of western media and chick flicks, but also to those reared in a conservative environment in the west. Of course, in real life this “Tom Cruise in a gallabiya (or insert other ethnic dress here)” – as my sister jokingly refers to him – rarely makes an appearance on your doorstep or anywhere else. So, instead, many women caught between cultural expectations and conditioning await the perfect halfway house: a liberal Muslim who is comfortable with all the trappings of a westernised lifestyle but is also abstemious and observant, striking a perfect Arabesque ballet pose between what your friends might think, and what your parents might prefer.
It’s difficult to speculate what the general Muslim women population would like in an ideal romantic partner. As for the preference for European features, she fails to mention that the quest for whiteness actually transcends Islam – or any religion for that matter. Furthermore, whitening cream industries are just as culpable as the media for preying on the insecurities of men and women (there’s a Fair and Handsome advert, in case you’re wondering).
I’d also like add that the idealised image of masculinity tends to be complicated by class: one working class woman’s ideal man is usually a middle-class woman’s average Joe. Using film actors and media consumption patterns as parameters, in Malaysia the tanned, sometimes skinny, average looking man would normally play the romantic hero in locally-made mainstream films and television dramas catered generally to the working-class Malay audience (see above left). For the Malay middle-class on the other hand, the ideal would roughly look a little like Hugh Jackman, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Gael Garcia Bernal, etc.
A comment by halgeel84 adds to this discussion the unwavering cultural preference for darker-skinned partners in predominantly Muslim Somalia:
Now, Nesrine, it can be argued the dreams and fantasies of men with blue eyes and blonde hair by women from societies were men do not often have these racialised features is an outcome of both colonial hangover as well as an effect of postcolonial/postdmodern globalisation of western image of beauty.
However, the whiteness crazy has not reached under the skin of all dark skinned societies. Thus, I do not think you will see many commercials for male skin bleaching creams, or marriage ads seeking men and women with fair skin, blond hair and blue eyes in Somali oriented media outlet. Yet, Somalis are primarily Sunni Muslims.