Blogger Khadija Ahmed explores the growing online Muslim matrimonial industry and how seeking a spouse on the internet is replacing more traditional forms of matchmaking.
How is it being a British Muslim looking for a spouse? Well let’s just say it can be a mixture of awkward family-orchestrated matchmaking pursuits, and a frustrating mission to find “the one” in a totally haram-free zone.
Not having the right family contacts or so called “rishta links” (in Asian terms) can be very challenging, and somewhat exasperating for Muslim Britons, and bumping into the love of your life by chance? Well, the chances are quite low.
Many young British Muslims resort to online endeavours which have become the latest alternative in the spouse-finding conquest.
But is it because all hope of finding someone in the real world has been lost? Or is it because we live in a world where we are more inclined towards convenience, where we get to be and choose the person who ticks almost all our boxes, or perhaps that online offers us the freedom that the community arguably lacks?
I met the mind behind Muzmatch, Shahzad Younas, the CEO and founder of one of the fastest growing online matrimonial apps in the world.
The app has become hugely popular with over 80,000 signups, 900 success stories and users from around 123 countries.
“We don’t really have scenarios where a girl and a guy would mix, the point of the app was essentially to make that a little bit easier for anyone that is thinking about marriage, here’s a place for them to actually go and find someone,” Shahzad said.
Online platforms expose people to a variety of ethnicities and backgrounds. The demographic has also shifted, which now includes divorcées who can get married through the app. This is definitely a major plus point as interracial marriages and re-marrying has always been a taboo amongst most Muslim communities.
However, people can have an online persona, the same way we tend to build an image on social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, where we get to be our wanted-selves in a controlled environment. It’s only when you actually talk to or meet the person in real life, you find out what they are actually about.
But online platforms such as Muzmatch have strict safety guidelines to ensure users feel comfortable and protected.
Some may argue that Islamic values are subjective, so how can they possibly be judged on a simple scale of “how practicing are you” or “how often do you pray?” To this Shahzad responded that the basis of Muzmatch is to help any Muslim who wants to get married or anybody who wants to marry a Muslim.
Shahzad said: “We don’t care how religious you are or how much of a ‘Muslim’ you would say you are, within the app we allow you to somehow express it and show some initial compatibility, I know plenty of girls who have said, if someone doesn’t pray at all, I’m not interested.”
Therefore, the scales provide a simple foundation on which one can decide whether the person shares the same religious values.
Shahzad agrees with me that the problem in general with modern society is that we seem to have endless options for everything, and you could argue that the internet doesn’t help that because when you have too many choices and things are too readily available, it can become a problem as you never settle for someone because you think that “oh what if there’s someone better”.
But by the same token, he argues that marriage is such an imperative aspect of a Muslim’s life that you want to be sure before you get into it.
Alif and Ain
Although common, many are embarrassed of signing up in fear of being labelled “desperate” or simply paranoid about being noticed by someone they know.
Alif and Ain is a new online marriage platform that provides a completely anonymous service with human matchmakers!
I spoke to the co-founder of the brilliant idea, Aaminah, whose name begins with the letter ‘Alif’ in Arabic, and met Omar, whose name begins with the letter ‘Ain’ in Arabic met on Instagram and shortly got married.
“We looked at all the other Muslim matrimonial sites, we went to events, and there was something that wasn’t right. The marketing wasn’t great, people felt embarrassed and awkward.
“People had doubts and serious reservations about joining an online service. We wanted to do something new, innovative, to get people married and have an online environment in which people felt comfortable.
“Thus, Alif and Ain was born,” Omar said.
There are three stages to how Alif and Ain work. After creating a profile you will be sent the profile of a potential spouse, which includes their personality details etc chosen for you by human match makers.
This will not include their name, photo or video at this stage.
Then if you both like each other’s anonymous profile, you can request to see each-other’s video and photos. This request will only be accepted if you both show a mutual interest in each other.
Omar says the human match-making aspect gives it a more personal touch. “A robot doesn’t have a heart, or feelings, or gut instincts,” he explains.
The feature video tells you so much more about someone than a photo, which may just be a lucky shot, often ending in awkward catfish scenarios.
“How much can a thumbnail sized image really tell you about someone? Very little- The video, which only has to be between 10 – 30 seconds, gives you more of someone’s personality, their demeanour, characteristic, tone of voice etc, it’s bridging the gap between online and reality,” Omar added.
Alif and Ain aims to change the perspective that the internet is only for those who fail to find a match in the real world, and say there is no reason why it can’t be your first port of call when you’re looking to get married.
Some prefer the more traditional online websites such as Pure Matrimony, which has reached 1,500 success stories since its inception in 2010.
I spoke to Arfa Saira Iqbal, Head of Pure Matrimony, who says the big advantage with Pure Matrimony is that everyone you talk to is serious about their religion.
“You don’t need to waste time working out who is practising and who isn’t! We make people swear and testify by Allah they are telling the truth – and this in itself is a HUGE deterrent for those who want to mess around,” said Arfa.
Arfa advises users to be clear about what they are looking for, and not to let attraction persuade you to look past someone’s faults or shortcomings. She says you should always keep your family involved at all times for your own safety, and avoid speaking unnecessarily to people who clearly don’t fit your criteria.
“Finding the spouse is a proactive process – you have to actively be looking and not just sit there doing nothing, hoping the right person will fall out the sky,” Arfa added.
The online matrimonial industry has certainly offered Muslims in Britain a solution to the overwhelming challenge of finding a spouse. It has undoubtedly admitted a huge success, offering British Muslims a chance to take marriage matters in their own hands, rather than it being an affair which involves the whole family, not to mention the rishta aunties!
Some may even argue it makes it a lot easier for those whose family have a fixed criteria; you are able to alter your preferences accordingly. It all depends on what you’re after, there is an online platform tailored for every kind of Muslim!
But above all, if you are embarking on your spouse-finding mission, online or offline, be patient and remember this is real life. It’s not as simple as a pretty picture of a Muslim couple walking hand in hand peacefully through the gates of Paradise as they “complete half of each other’s deen” – it’s a lot more than that, and we sometimes forget that marriage is a lifelong commitment that requires a lot of thought, so make sure you know what your signing yourself up for…. literally!
Khadija Ahmed is a journalism graduate from the University of Roehampton. She is a freelance journalist and blogger.
You can follow her on Twitter @ksahmedd