Rid yourself of the stereotypes…

OKAY, its time to rid yourself of the extremely false stereotypes that…

1) Everyone in the middle East is “dark and swarthy”

2) Everyone in the Middle East is Semitic,

3) Looks like Haifa Wehbeh... almond shaped, dark brown eyes, dark hair (usually curly), olive toned skin, narrow, angular face.

The reality is that the Middle East is a darn huge area encompassing…last I checked (depending on the source used)  from Egypt down to Yemen and Oman, up to Kuwait and Iraq up to Iran, over to Turkey and back down again. That encompasses a huge area with what…like 15 different countries… give or take depending on what the Atlas you use says is the Middle East.

This means 15 different cultures, ethnic backgrounds and often languages and religions!

I’m letting this be known based on a few comments Ive received over the past few posts…particularly about whether the women on the Saudi magazine covers were actually from the Middle east.  The Middle East is host to a huge range of ethnicities which have intermixed for thousands of years! Yes certain “looks” predominate depending on the area your in, but one should never assume that “look” is universal to the area or the country.

For example…Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and Jordan all use their dialectal version of Arabic as their national language but this does not mean that ethnically they are all semitic. Arabic is considered, like Hebrew and Aramaic to be a Semitic language and generally when one thinks of “Semitic peoples” one thinks of someone who looks like say a Bedouin or at least maybe like Haifa Wehbeh. LOL. But just because a person speaks Arabic as their first language and is from a Middle Eastern country does NOT mean they are actually Semitic in ethnicity.

Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine have been at the center of trade routes, wars and everything else for the past couple thousand years if not more so the regions people are extremely ethnically mixed between the original inhabitants and later groups that came through the area.  Hence its not uncommon to find Syrians and Lebanese (as an example) who have pinkish skin tones, Blue and green eyes, blond, red or light brown hair and apple cheeks and a round facial shape.

For example…these Syrians…They speak Arabic and probably consider themselves Arab but they don’t look like your “stereotypical Semitic types” do they?

What about Egyptians?

What about Gulf Arabs? When I was in Saudi I saw many Saudi’s and GCC locals with non-stereotypical skin-tones and facial features…Yes, I did indeed see many  who looked as through they could be pure-blooded Bedouin Semitic types  with all the stereotypical features-black curly hair, dark olive skin tone, narrow long nose, narrow angular face, dark almond eyes.. Like this Jordanian woman… (Jordan has many Bedouin tribes)

Yet I saw just as many who did not fit this stereotype and their looks belied ancestors who were most likely not semitic…Considering the fact that much of the Gulf region itself has been well intermixed via marriage to other ethnic/cultural groups, slavery and trade for thousands of years, particularly the coastal regions!

Like these Omanis who are a prime example… Their looks are all over the map showing varied origins..

Many Saudi’s have a mother or grandmother or great great great grandmother who is Iraqi, Persian, Turkish, Egyptian or Syrian.  Many GCC locals have ancestors who 100-200 years ago moved to the GCC from Turkey, Iran, Baloochistan, India, Indonesia, Somali, Kenya and other countries, they stayed, they intermarried…This is also the case for pretty much the entire region.

What about Turkey and Iran? Most people assume that all Iranians are Persian and have a stereotypical Persian look of olive skin, black hair, dark eyes, angular face  and a prominent nose but this is not always the case. Persians are actually Indo-European and in certain areas of the country which have seen less invasions and inter-mixing its not uncommon to find Persians with blonde and red hair, fair skin and green or blue eyes (Like the far, far north of the country and in the Zagros mountain areas)! And hat about all the other ethncities and cultural groups in the country along with the intermixing which is a result of intermarriage, moving, wars, trade, slavery and everything else. Its as common to find extremely fair Iranians as it is to find those with stereotypical features and those who are much darker skinned with African ancestry in the southern regions of the country.

Such as these girls from Northern Iran…

Samira Makhmalbaf with her “stereotypical” features…

Or these “bandari” Iranians… Mixed Persian, African, Arab and more!

…And what about those in Turkey? Although the Turks are a relatively newer group to the region…due to the Ottoman Empire ,Turkey absorbed many, many individuals from Africa, Central Asia, Russia, Eastern Europe and the rest of the Middle East  which means just like the other countries of the region. Turks are also extremely ethnically mixed too.

Such as these women who look more Eastern European than “stereotypically” Turkish…yet they are Turkish.

Basically all i’m trying to say is, its time to move beyond the stereotypes…its IMPOSSIBLE to stereotype an ENTIRE region, and a region which is one of the most (if not the most)  ethnically, culturally, linguistically and religiously diverse places in the world.  The Middle East and its people are FAR from being homogeneous – just because one is from the Middle East does not mean they automatically MUST fit a “stereotype”…in my life I have met many, many, many Turks, Jordanians, Saudi’s, Bahrainis, Iranians, Syrians, Lebanese…need I go on…who do not look like your stereotypical whatevers…

So please, enough with the assumptions and stereotypes…because frankly…they are just myths with no basis in reality!

11 thoughts on “Rid yourself of the stereotypes…

  1. Asalaamu Alaikum

    lol this is so true. So many times we have seen white people at the mosque and assumed they were converts (like me) or visitors and turns out they were from the Sham region (Palestine, Syria etc) and also from Iraq. All the other Iraqis that we had seen up to that point at the mosque had been olive skinned so it was a bit of a shock to see such white iraqis. My neighbour is Iraqi and her kids look like every other kid here on my street except mine of course which are half malay and stick out like a sore thumb. Her kids never have to deal with any slurs at all but mine do. Another thing too is that the white arabs can easily snap up jobs compared to the darker arabs or the brown muslims from Asia. Not that that is what you were mentioning but its just been my observation.

  2. Good point. I think a lot of converts realize this when people ask them if they’re such-and-such Middle Eastern identity when they’re far from it…. I’m veryyyyy pale with blue eyes, and sometimes even actual Middle Easterners and Persians will ask me if I’m Iranian, Turkish, etc.

  3. Oops, I also wanted to add that my husband’s afghan grandparents on both sides had blonde hair and blue eyes. A SIL of mine, who is pashtun, have green eyes and is as pale as me too. I remember before though being amazed at this and the redheads in National Geo pics of middle eastern places, lol

  4. I have never seen so many red heads in one place as I have seen in Jeddah! Lots of blondes in Northern Syria and Tripoli, Lebanon area. One of the reasons I am myself so offended by the stereotype Muslim/Arab in political cartoons and such.

  5. I think the confusion may also stem from the tendency of Western media to show the the stereotypical “swarthy” image in stark contrast to the Middle Eastern media’s proclivity for highlighting the fairest skin tones/eyes/features. And while light eyes, hair and skin is found all over the Middle East, skin whitening creams and make-up, contact lenses and blond hair dye are used liberally by many women in and out of the public eye.

    • ah very very very true. I think 1 reason why western world/media/whatever has always done the Middle easterners = dark and swarthy comes obv from Imperialism and racism…they wanted the western world to see them…Arabs, Turks, Iranians as “strange dark people”…NOT like us…us “civilized white people”…and this in turn has affected them…cuz yes…like in Saudi I saw a WHOLE AISLE in every single grocery store and pharmacy devoted solely to whiteners…there were even deo’s with whiteners for ur underarms and feet whiteners!!!! Its insane…
      So the western worlds prejudice against them has in turn made them want to be “white like westerners”…

      I donno thou how common that is in non-Gulf countries as most Lebanese, Palestinians, Syrians, Turks, etc do have quintessentially “white” features…but I do know in Iran, some women who have darker skin do put on a lot of powder which makes their skin look whiter…though it looks silly and very obvious…

      Anyway this could open up a can of worms…which wasnt necessarily my intent…I just wanted to let people know that Middle easterns can not be pidgeon holed into any 1 look, culture, language or religion…they are quite diverse and it should be recognized as such. Allahu alim.

      But, Anabe…great points!

  6. Salam alaikom,
    Yeah… thanks for the post. My husband’s family is Arab but my husband does not fit that stereotypical look, so non-Arabs and Arabs alike have given him (and me, wth) such a hard time about it. Some people have been quite rude and insulting about it. I think it’s so stupid that I’ve had to defend my husband’s background… Arabs more so than non-Arabs (the non-Arabs just tend to say they had pictured him differently.)

  7. First of all you should get some knowledge about whoTurks are and how they generally look like. Then your misunderstanding will solve itself. These 2 girls shown here are Turks and they physically look like Turks. Their skin colour correspond to the usual and original skin colour of Turks which is fair skin. Secondly their facial physical looks are in accordance with most Turks (eyes, nose, cheeks). The problem is some guys take armenians, arabs, persians etc. for Turks which is wrong. Turkish citizenship does not make this foreign people Turks.

    • You quite obvuiosly did NOT read my post. I was explaining how not everyone in the Middle East is dar and swarth OR an Arab. Obviously if YOU had actually READ my post in its entirety you would have SEEN that I was mentioning how unlike many people falsely think, not everyone IN the Middle East is Arab, but that the middle east is actually very ethnically, culturally, religiously and linguistically diverse and to show it. Please be BEFORE you post a comment READ the post first!!!

  8. But then you can go the other way too: some Arabs with a legit olive skin tone who fit the “stereotype” given above are not considered Arabs, by other Arabs (who are generally lighter-skinned). So it goes both ways really.

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