London / DPA
Finding love is never easy, and it’s even harder to find someone who shares your values – especially for young British Muslims. But many are starting to take control with a do-it-yourself approach to arranged marriage.
Run-of-the-mill apps will display the name, age, photos and maybe the profession or music preferences of potential partners. Muzmatch, however, asks for slightly more specific details. Those who sign up for this Muslim dating app are asked around 25 questions, including how religious they are, how often they pray, how soon they would want to get married.
Founder Shahzad Younas was working as an investment banker in 2014 when he started to notice
dating apps like Tinder and Bumble taking off.
“But there was nothing for Muslims. Talking very generally, Muslims don’t really date – they just try to get married. And it’s hard to find another Muslim on these apps,” Younas told dpa.
That’s why he decided to set up his own app to help Muslims in their search for a spouse.
Users can also filter their search by ethnicity. “You might be a British Pakistani looking only for other Pakistanis, or only a Shia or Sunni Muslim. We’ve had quite a lot of people marrying internationally rather than just looking in their areas,” Younas says.
Around half of users are from Britain, about a third from North America, and the rest are from all over the world, with many in Germany and France.
Traditional elements of an arranged Muslim marriage are replicated throughout the app.
Profile pictures can be hidden until the user is comfortable sharing their photo, and to make sure everyone behaves themselves, users can even opt for a “Wali”, a third party that monitors their conversations.
“Because Muslims don’t date, you would usually have someone looking out for you or accompanying you when you meet a potential partner,” Younas says. “Islamically, if a girl is talking to a guy there should be a third person involved, and you can opt to have a chaperone in the app. It could be a brother or whoever they choose.”
Is this the modern equivalent of the Muslim marriage tradition? Sana Ikram, 24, who has been married to husband Hakam, also 24, for eight months, thinks so. “I feel like I did have an arranged marriage,” Sana says. “But I arranged it myself.”
To her, the marriage was no less arranged than with the traditional approach, “in the sense that we didn’t know each other and we met for the first time on the pretext of marriage.”
Her husband disagrees. “I fell in love before I got married – and I wanted to get married to someone I fell in love with,” Hakam says.
Neither of the two have a father figure in their lives, so they weren’t able to follow the traditional path, which sees the father of the family vet marriage offers and act as a chaperone.
Sana went to marriage events in her local area of Swindon, south-west England, and even when she ventured further afield and ended up at a mixer in north London’s Turnpike Lane, close to where Hakam’s father worked when he was a child, Sana says she never would have found him without the app.
Even for those who do have a traditional two-parent set-up, for the younger generation it’s preferable to find your own match, the couple agree.
“People don’t want to get married to people they don’t know anymore,” says Hakam.
“People used to send pictures in the post – just a picture and nothing else – this isn’t much different, except now you can actually find out more about someone.” But when it comes to sealing the deal, parental approval is still very important, Sana says.
As her mother raised her without her dad, she brought her grandmother and extended family to meet Hakam before committing.
During her two-year search, Sana only met one other suitor in person, and it was the man’s family that didn’t approve in that case.
“My mother made it very clear [to them] how independent I am, that I travel for work, that I don’t want to stay home – it seemed like they didn’t like that.”
British Muslims are still keen to find someone who shares their faith to settle down with, says Sana. we don’t have the same beliefs – the institution of marriage is a religious one.”