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When is it OK to make assumptions about people?

October 26, 2010

If seventy percent of a population were blue-eyed, and you see one of them walking down the street, isn’t it a safe bet that he has blue eyes?

I was reading an old article in JO entitled “The Fake Muhajaba.” It is an insightful article written by a non-Muslim lady who tried to wear the hijab in order to shield herself from the harassment she faced in the streets of Amman. She speaks about her subsequent inner conflict, and how she eventually took it off. After I read that article, I was inspired to look up some stuff.

Now, here and here are some frightening stats regarding intercourse among teens in the US. I don’t know how accurate these are, and I’m no expert, but let’s assume that they are true.

“However, by the time they reach age 19, seven in 10 never-married teens have engaged in sexual intercourse.”

So basically, if you see an American who is 19+ years old walking down the street, there is a 70% percent chance he/she has had sex. I’m not passing judgement, saying that this is right or wrong or anything, I’m just stating cold numbers.

So now, all these facts stated, should it be really strange that foreigners are assumed to be promiscuous? But of course, it is not that simple for many reasons:

1- Not all foreigners are Americans.

2- Most of the Americans I see, which is admittedly not many, come to Jordan to learn and explore our culture, definitely not for sex.

3- Most people judge based on looks; there are a lot of Jordanians and Arabs who look like foreigners.

4- What is promiscuous, anyway?

So the whole issue is complicated, but what I’m trying to say is that this harassment (and the underlying assumption) is not completely unfounded. It is absolutely offensive and disrespectful any way you look at it, but it is not totally out of the blue. Like the proverb says: “There no smoke without a fire.”

And then, when are we allowed to make assumptions about others? Or maybe we just shouldn’t make assumptions, maybe we should realize that each and every person is unique, and that nobody is to be judged? I guess that is an ideal we should aspire to, but the natural way the human brain works is by categorizing; and an assumption such as the previous one could be simply the natural workings of the human mind. Funny how our upbringing might have shaped our minds into assuming and judging others. The cultural gap that exists between Jordan and the US has probably caused this; and it includes many issues other than the one on hand.

I don’t know if the complexities of the whole issue renders this simple idea useless, but I thought I’d vent it on this space and maybe receive some enlightening feedback, and I sincerely hope I haven’t offended anybody as I definitely do not intend to.

What I can say for sure is this: Do not judge. Do not judge the woman you’re stalking as she might not be a slut. But also do not judge the stalker as inherently evil, maybe you can find some space in your heart to at least forgive him and pray for him to become a better person?


From → Introspective

  1. Ehab, good thoughts. Natalia would be glad you are reading her article.

    You are absolutely right. As a foreigner who endures sexual harassment as part and parcel of my life in Jordan, I hate being assumed promiscuous here. But the stats are there, and at 19, I was not a person of faith and was living out what I was taught: “Everyone’s doing it, you’re strange if you’re not”. At 50, having lived a sexually moral life for 30 years, I wish I could have the benefit of the doubt. It isn’t just the unattached single young things that suffer harassment here, it is anyone female.

    Not being a virgin doesn’t necessarily mean being promiscuous, which I am sure is what you meant by defining the word.

    And a few years back, I decided to take the course of action of forgiveness as you mentioned. I do pray for the men who harass me, ask God to bless them with a repentant heart, to see what they are doing as a wrong (as in our faith, it makes them guilty of adultery to lust) give him eyes for his wife, or prepare a good wife for him. I know his views have been tainted by media, porn, and some cultural factors as well. If this is what he is taught, like I was, it may take some unteaching to change things. Or a renewal of faith.

    It doesn’t always keep me from getting mad at the perp, but it is a better way to live for all.

  2. Kinzi,

    I’m sorry to hear that but I’m glad you are forgiving people. The world is a better place because of people like you, keep it up. 🙂

    Indeed, us humans unfortunately have a tendency to label others, if only we could all wear signs that spoke about our personality, it would be much easier. 🙂

  3. Thanks for the good words, Ehab. I will try and make good words and actions my ‘signs’, although a label people could read from far would be helpful!

  4. everybody judge everybody – as soon as you are a tiny bit different. when i go to city mall and wear a skirt of convenable length (as the nuns of my school used to say) i feel the eyes on me, even with my 15months toddler with me. but the thing is i have always been “different”, so i have always been judged. when i said to some (not all) of the people i know i was moving to jordan – they were looking at me like i was crazy. after all, it is the middle east, lots of muslims, neighbour to israel. i told them to take a break and stop their bull***t – yes we are more liberal in the west (come on am from denmark where your stats are probably worse lol), but don’t think that we don’t judge the others (in between “ourselves”) we don’t need any arab to tell us who’s a slut, a drug addict or whatever. everybody is the same – difference here is that if i tell somebody to “f” off they’ll probably try to assault me as well, in Europe i would just tell them! That’s the difference for me, I can’t defend myself. Sorry long comment!

  5. Judging is a part of human nature. It happens whether we like it or not but the key is to not act on it or to let it taint our thoughts.

    I think Hollywood has a huge role in how foreigners are viewed and the small number of people who play into those stereotypes who of course get categorized as the majority.

    Forgiveness is key, but we can’t forget.

    You know what they say about assuming 🙂

  6. Babs,

    In the end, I guess there is no point worrying about things you can’t control, but yeah, everybody judges everybody…


    Judging is in human nature, but I guess we can keep reminding ourselves that every person is unique, maybe after a while, it becomes ingrained in our subconscious

  7. Haitham Al-Sheeshany permalink

    Hello Ehab,
    Interesting read!
    I was a bit hesitant to post a comment but here goes 🙂

    U said that u r not passing any judgment regarding the whole issue, but I (I) think that wearing decent cloths is a solution. Now we can differ on the definition of “decent” but we have a guideline to follow that helps here 🙂
    I don`t wish to go into “faith” mantra but really, what r we w/o a creed to pursue? Muslim women need to cover themselves in a certain way. Now there is some heated discussion in regards to that but in my “book” I see that it`s correct for women to cover their heads/bodies.
    I know some r ready to jump on this stating that “we -women- have the right to chose” “we r disgraced when u imply that we r walking-meats” “it`s all bwt freedom” …
    Well, again, it`s all part of adhering to what u blv and sticking to it. In Christianity, Jewish, and Islam (which r a continuation sequence, let`s focus on that 4 a moment, shall we!) women practiced different “forms” of covering up, all depending on the era (time and place). Now in Islam, a woman shouldn`t show herself to men (not forgetting the exceptions mentioned in Qur`an), that doesn`t suit u? u r not convinced? U need a rationale? Times have changed! Well, too bad!
    As u, Ehab, it`s not my intention to offend anybody, nor am I a figurative authority in this, but that`s how I see it.

    U talked -initially- bwt making assumptions bwt ppl, I think it`s not right, whether based on looks, stereotypes, …etc.
    On the subject of the 2 reports u included; the numbers r frightening & alarming! Even with a margin of error statistics r shocking.

    – Median age @ 1st intercourse is 16.9 for boys / 17.4 for girls
    – 9% of 9-12 grade students r have been physically forced to have sex
    – 10% of females aged 18-24 have had sex b4 age 20
    – Of the 18.9 million new cases of STIs “sexually transmitted infections”, 9.1 million (48%) occur among 15-24-year-olds
    – Each year, almost 750,000women aged 15-24 become pregnant
    – 200,420 abortionsnamongst 15-19-year-olds “2006”

    I don`t say that b/c women wear flashy cloths it makes it ok to stare or even assault or whatever “like the story happened in Australia the other day when a Muslim defended his actions by “it was b/c of what she`s wearing!”
    but I see that it is 4 a woman`s sake to not wear revealing cloths, I think it encompasses “freedom” of wear :).

    On another note, how can a man allow his woman to go out like that, with religion aside even… that`s beyond “modest” me!
    يا إيهاب حتى الحيوانات/الطيور بتغار على الأنثى تاعتها – بالغريزة فما بالك بالبشر!


  8. Haitham,

    Indeed, the fault in this issue does not lie completely on one gender or another. Like you said, there has to be a certain code for dress for people (men and women), but they also should not stare.

    I was not saying it’s OK to make assumptions, I was saying it’s expected. Like I said, it’s still offensive and rude to harass others.

    Thanks for expressing your opinion. It’s a complicated issue, with lots of valid yet different viewpoints.

    • haitham permalink

      I agree.
      When I said “it`s not ok to make assumptions”, I didn`t mean that u r saying it IS, I was saying “also” that it is not :).


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