Who’s Behind Online Dating, and Why Does it Matter?
Online dating has become increasingly popular among Muslims and non-Muslims. Nowadays, there are not only matchmaking sites but a number of pages and blogs that review dating sites. Many of the discussions on Muslim matchmaking sites revolve around their appropriateness and effectiveness in comparison to “traditional” methods. Yet, these discussions oftentimes overlook or ignore the gender discourses that are endorsed not only through the sites themselves, but through the media coverage, theological analyses and opinion pieces that comment on their content.
Muslim dating sites present themselves as a “halal” option that allows young Muslims to have a broader set of possibilities and new ways to meet people who share interests and levels of religiosity. Some of the names even appeal to a religious type of “mission”: for example, muzmatch.com.
Despite the “legitimacy” challenges related to whether or not they are “halal” sites, “Islamic” marriage has become a major online business that targets younger Muslims, and that endorses and reproduces particular ideas on gender and marriage that may not be so appealing to all Muslims.
MMW reviewed few Muslim matchmaking websites and found that dating sites tend to be gendered even in the way in which online profiles work: for example, essentializing women’s vs. men’s roles and expectations. Furthermore, these sites may lead participants to express particular gender biases through religious discourses that focus on things like clothing and eating habits. However, participants also bring their share of gender biases when it comes to define what the role of a wife or husband is (more often than not, women are the ones being targeted here).
There are also broader considerations on what these sites reflect. For example, we should ask who is behind the modern Muslim matchmaking industry? Online matchmaking proves to be a heavily male-dominated environment. For instance, Baba Ali founded halfourdeen.com; Shahzad Younas created muzmatch.com; Jamal Mohsin runs Millanus.com while also holding matchmaking events for Muslims in different locations; and Adeem Younis owns singlemuslim.com.
The lack of women seems to be unimportant for some of these men. When I conducted interviews with Baba Ali and Shahzad Younas, both seemed unaware of the lack of female leadership in the online matchmaking industry. While Younas asserts that there are many women “involved ‘on the ground’” (performing in-person matchmaking services), Baba Ali explains that what is more worrying for him is the fact that a number of Muslim matchmaking sites are owned by non-Muslims.
Nevertheless, it is important to ask, do the site owners’ gender and sexual biases influence the way these sites run? Do they endorse particular views on women? Does this deter female participation in the industry either as business owners or as singles looking for marriage?
Online matchmaking seems to work in layers for Baba Ali and Younas. At the surface we encounter the religious aspect. Being a “Muslim” dating site means catering only to Muslims, encouraging marriage only between Muslims, avoiding things like “winks” and “pokes,” inquiring about hijabs and beards, and providing participants the opportunity to find spouses with compatible levels of religiosity (whether that can be measured or not remains to be seen).
Then, we have the matchmaker experience. For Baba Ali, it is all about empowering Muslims to find an adequate match beyond the cultural and familial issues that may arise in other contexts. Younas explains that understanding people’s frustrations with online dating and “being of age of a lot of members” qualifies him as a matchmaker (although our research pointed that men in these sites tend to be way older than Younas, who is in his late 20s).
Ideas about gender form a strong component of matchmaking sites like halfourdeen.com and muzmatch.com. On the one hand, Baba Ali thinks that “some men are looking for a beautiful woman just like some women are looking for a successful man” (does this work the other way around?) Likewise, he considers that “men and women are built differently” and points out that men are looking for “someone to be intimate with” while women are looking for a “companion” (because women are less intimacy-inclined of course!)
One the other hand, Younas mentions that women and men share similar reasons for engaging in online dating. However, when it comes to the lack of women in the industry, he explains that men’s prevalence in online matchmaking has to do with the fact that “there just are larger portions of men than women with such expertise.” In Younas’ case, women’s feedback about the site may have been the most valuable contribution (so perhaps there is no need to even inquire why women may not be involved at the higher levels).
When it comes to issues of sexual orientation, the question does not even have to be asked. Halfourdeen.com only allows people to search for members of the opposite sex. Baba Ali explains that this has as a purpose to avoid backbiting; but this also reveals a very obvious assumption that “Islamic” matchmaking must be heterosexual to be “halal” and therefore “Islamic.”
Both Baba Ali and Younas appeal to a “righteous” Muslim audience that is looking to fulfill a religious obligation through marriage, but not without challenges. The individual empowerment that comes with Muslim matchmaking sites may appeal to a different generation of Muslims that challenge the boundaries of “appropriateness” when it comes to traditional gender roles. Younas even encourages sisters to be the ones giving the first step, and he says “don’t rely on the brothers to contact you […] make the efforts to contact relevant people.” Similarly, these sites present more opportunities to meet people from diverse background, something that was arguably unusual in traditional matchmaking.
But at the same time with an industry that is so heavily male-dominated gender roles may still be depicted as strongly traditional. This is not to say that, if there were more women, gender biases would necessarily be gone. However, when looking at how few of the founders of these sites approach issues of gender and sexuality, and at how the sites themselves portrait femininity and masculinity, one cannot help but wonder if matchmaking “technologies” are progressing: what is happening to gender relations? Are they changing? Or are they being simply “recycled” and applied to modern matchmaking?
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My name is Halima and I'm from Gauteng, South Africa and my husband (Arshad) is from Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa; we are both South African Indians.
He liked my profile on muzmatch on the 8th of April 2018 and on the 9th we started chatting and Alhamdulillah, today we are husband and wife.
About a month before I joined muzmatch I remember speaking to my mother in the kitchen as we cooked supper and she had full confidence that I'd be getting married soon.
I told her that I felt that maybe I'm just not meant to get married and be happy, taking into consideration that I personally felt like one could never find a decent man whose intention is to make Nikah in this day and age.
My Moulana had recommended that I join Nikah/Muslim match-making groups and muzmatch populated amongst my searches, so I downloaded the app and registered. After a while I had lost hope so I deleted the app from my phone but did not deactivate my profile.
It was a Monday morning, I had woken up to get ready for work,
I checked my phone and I had an email notification from muzmatch which read "Arshad likes you".
I was quite surprised; I looked at his profile and his biography was quite captivating but it seemed so surreal - this was too good to be true.
I used the link in his bio to view his Facebook profile, we had a mutual friend which was my cousin that also resides in Kwa-Zulu Natal, so I felt a bit more assured that this is definitely real considering that I had started to think that this could potentially be a catfish.
We started chatting that very morning and there was an instant click. It felt like we were long lost friends because of how well we understood each other and could complete each others sentences. We had the same interests and the same intention; we could speak for hours on end without running out of things to say.
We had realized that we are most definitely soulmates.
Within 2 weeks he called my parents to ask for my hand in marriage. In July 2018 (21st), I booked a flight to visit him and his mum for the day and after spending time together we knew that this was the right decision and that Allah SWT had created us for each other.
We then saw each other once again in August 2018 (25th - A surprise for my 21st birthday planned by him and my mum); and again in November 2018 when he flew up to attend my younger sister's wedding with his mum, younger sister and brother-in-law.
Slowly the long distance had become difficult, our younger sisters were both already married and settled and we started wondering when would we actually get married. In February this year he decided to relocate to Gauteng and found a temporary job.
His dad visited my parents and they decided to set a Nikah date, Alhamdulillah once the date was set everything fell into place by the will of Allah. He found a job as a PC Engineering lecturer and we were able to find our own place with our parents help and support.
Today I am happily married, living my dream with my husband and I have wonderful in-laws that love me as much as they love Arshad.
The most important quality I wanted in a husband was someone that could take my family as his own and Alhamdulillah I found that in Arshad.
We are now a huge happy family Alhamdulillah.
Jazak'Allah muzmatch! Arshad has found me due to the creation of this wonderful app (He always says that he found me, not the other way around).
I would advise everyone to put their trust and faith in Allah SWT, never give up hope that Allah SWT will send the one who is meant for you when the time is right - for Allah is the greatest of planners. May all the other individuals find their spouses through this app as well Insha'Allah.
Halima & Arshad
My name is Yasmeen and I found my husband, Taymoor, on muzmatch on the last day of last ramadan. We were both divorced.
The first time we talked on muzmatch was in June and we got married one month later in August 2018. I always wanted to send our story to inspire others who are searching for a good husband and wife.
We are both Egyptians, from Cairo, we even work & live very near to each others in New Cairo city. I am a digital marketing manager and Taymoor is an IT manager. I am 37 years old and he is 40.
I have a daughter who is 12 years old, and I was searching for a real Muslim man who would be a good husband and father. Finally I found Taymoor, who is a good man and a good Muslim, he is very kind.
I am telling my friends that I found someone who really looks like me from the inside. He was divorced and also has a kid, who is 5 years old. When we first chatted on muzmatch we spoke for over 6 hours, he was surprised much we got on, he even thought that this was a prank!
I couldn't believe that I finally found the man I was looking for. The first time we met, was after Eid al futr, in the House of Cocoa, as Taymoor knew that I loved chocolate. We talked about ourselves for over six hours, I did not want to leave and neither did he.
After we met I told my family and friends, and he did too. He and his family visited us and we got married in only two months, I never imagined that I would find my soulmate and marry him that fast.
I always wanted to find a man to trust and love, after being a single mom for years, I found out that my dream man was hard to find, but alhamdullah I found him on your app.
Alhamdullah, we are very happy together, my daughter lives with us and his son visits us on the weekends. You cannot imagine how much I am now recommending muzmatch to all my friends.
It didn't even take me long to find my husband. I used the app for almost one month or less.
I am so happy alhamdullah now that I married a real muslim I always wanted.
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My name is Sara and I just wanted to thank muzmatch and let you know that I finally got engaged on 24th December 2018 and found my Fiance - Ghazunfar on the App.
We are really happy Alhamdulilah and just wanted to thank you for creating a platform for Muslims to find a suitable match for marriage!
I believe it's a real blessing because initially we matched but we didn't talk as he hadn't read my messages and was not appearing online. After around 4 weeks, I unmatched however after some weeks I logged in and I came across his profile again. After some giving it some thought I decided to rematch and give it a try again.
The next day he replied to me and the is history. Its been a almost a year since we matched on Muzmatch and we have set the Nikkah date which will be 1st March 2019 in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.
Our families are very happy and we are looking forward to entering into the blessed union of marriage Insha'Allah. We just wanted to say keep up the good work, may Allah bless you and request that you keep us in prayers.
One last thing to everyone using the muzmatch App - please do not give up, there is someone out there for us all!
Get married, free, on muzmatch.