In the season finale of Aziz Ansari’s popular Netflix series, Master of None, the show’s main character, Dev, an American-born single played by Ansari, has a heart to heart with his Indian father about relationships. Dev is unsure about getting serious with his live-in girlfriend and holds a lackadaisical perspective that comes from years of dating flakes. Unlike his son, Dev’s dad had no choice but to select his wife from two arranged marriage presentations, so when Dev opens up about his ambivalence toward commitment, his immigrant father scolds him for his indecision.
Many young Muslims growing up in North America today share Dev’s uncertainty. We’re used to customizing everything from our Facebook feeds to the news we read to the possibility of “designer babies,” so it makes sense that we seek a partner who meets our romantic specifications. So where can modern Muslims find love? Religious spaces like mosques are typically gender segregated, and many Muslim millennials who grew up in North America find the idea of arranged marriage outdated. Instead of going the traditional route, they are taking the search into their own hands while respecting their parents’ beliefs and wishes.
Sonia*, a 25-year-old master’s student, sums it up like this: “I feel that because I have other aspects of my life in place—from work to finishing my master’s to training for a marathon—this aspect is something I should also take steps toward achieving. It’s the rest of my life, so why wouldn’t I want a say in it?” Twenty-one-year-old Rabia* agrees: “I want control over picking who I’m going to spend the rest of my life with.”
This love connection (or lack thereof) among Muslims is more common than you might think. The Muslim population is growing faster than any other religious group in the country (in 2011 it hit the one million mark), and for Muslims looking to partner up with others who meet their criteria, swiping right on the most popular dating apps is not an option.
It’s not like Nadia*, 21, can discuss her romantic frustrations with her parents as Dev did. “It’s basically an unspoken rule that you don’t tell your parents you’re dating unless you’re getting married,” she says, admitting that, ironically, she’s looking for someone she can bring home to meet her family.
Sonia understands Nadia’s frustration. “Being Pakistani, openly dating someone isn’t acceptable. My parents think ‘dating’ someone is a step toward settling down and marriage.” She has gone on dates set up by friends and family, but all of them have been unsuccessful. Recognizing the need for personal connection and understanding among young Muslims, the Islamic Society of North America holds matrimonial mixers.
Popular dating apps and sites such as Tinder and OkCupid don’t make it any easier. “Everyone in their 20s will tell you they’re not on Tinder to hook up, but really that’s what they want: fun with no strings attached,” Sonia says. “I think that was the hardest thing I learned. I actually want someone consistent and exclusive.”
A dating app called Muzmatch aims to change how young Muslims pursue love. With a membership that numbers more than 35,000 lonely hearts, the app mimics traditional Muslim chaperone-accompanied matchmaking by allowing women to include guardians in their conversations with potential matches, and claims to be for single Muslims seeking marriage. Launched by 31-year-old Shahzad Younas, a former investment banker this love connection problem is more common in Canada than you think. the Muslim population is growing faster than any other religious group in the country.
At Morgan Stanley, the app came to fruition this past spring after Younas became fed up with his own dating experience. “I wanted something that was radically different than what was out there while borrowing some of the good ideas and concepts of western dating apps,” he says. Part of the app’s differentiation was speaking to the diversity within Muslim communities. Members can filter their search down to Islamic dressing (hijab or no hijab) and how often the person prays.
Muzmatch is not the only player in the Muslim dating-app game. Minder is an alternative to platforms like Tinder, where “swiping” for casual dates is not the end goal, marriage is. Its tag line is “the place for awesome Muslims to meet” and it imitates a lot of features found on the popular dating apps. Salaam Swipe was also launched recently by Canadian entrepreneur Khalil Jessa and allows users to filter matches based on their political beliefs.
But having an abundance of online dating options doesn’t necessarily make the process of finding someone you can spend your life with easier. “We are conducting the entire process of finding someone with a tick-box mentality. This is happening more and more,” says Younas. “We have become overly specific on ensuring an individual has X, Y or Z or earns a certain amount, as opposed to seeing how suitable the person is with respect to personality and life goals and ambitions.”
According to Psychology Today, people have the tendency to fill in the information gaps with flattering details when looking for mates online, while making themselves appear as desirable as possible, even if that means exaggerating their positive traits.
Adeela*, 22, has tried Minder and Tinder in her quest for “an open-minded brown guy who adheres to the same moral standards,” which, to her, means a guy who does not drink or do drugs, and of whom her parents would approve. But things went south when, on separate occasions, her online dates turned out to be completely different from their profiles (one already had a girlfriend and the other got drunk and popped Xanax).
“I was appalled at how well [one of the guys] played off the innocent boy act when he was actually a fuqboi [a.k.a. womanizer] in disguise,” she says. “Finally, after a couple hours, I got out of there by acting as if I had a strict curfew and had to get home.”
Which goes to show that no matter what type of newfangled, love-luring app or site comes down the pipeline, nothing is foolproof. We still must question who it is exactly that is texting or messaging us because, more often than not, one’s online presentation is enhanced—some go so far as to fictionalize their personalities to get dates. Those who remain 100 per cent honest about who they are when using dating tools are few and far between.
Since most pools of friends are no longer in the habit of matchmaking (a lost art), many singles from all backgrounds are left with stories of many, many awkward coffee meetings. But for those of us who continue to search for a proper soulmate—regardless of preference—one thing is for certain: Bad dates know no religious bounds.
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