Thursday, February 14, 2008

Adventures in Muslim Dating

It’s Valentine’s Day and love is in the air – or at least online. It seems in recent years the number of internet dating sites has rapidly increased. With busy lifestyles people are finding it harder to meet others in person. It seems the online dating bug has bitten our Muslim brothers and sisters as well. Many Muslim dating sites have sprung up. But what are these sites? After all, they say dating is not allowed in Islam so how do these sites work? And most importantly, what are these sites telling Muslim women looking for love?

If you Google the phrase “Muslim dating site” you are presented with a multitude of results. There are sites for Muslims in general as well as ones for those from specific ethnic backgrounds. But not all are created equal. Therefore, I decided to take a sample to analyze and present what I see. Additionally, experiences with these sites will vary therefore I present just a sample of my experiences.

Many Muslim dating sites are in fact not for dating but rather for matrimony. This is most obvious. The majority of the most popular sites appear to encourage their clients to look for their marriage partner. This is obvious when they refer to their sites as ‘matrimonial sites.’ For example International Muslim Matrimonials, Matches Made in Heaven, Muslim Matrimonials, or Salaam Love which calls itself a matrimonial site.

On these sites it appears that dating alone is discouraged. If you're on these sites you better be serious about marriage and not just be checking the scene out. Some sites take a much more conservative approach (ISNA Matrimony - which requires a fee to join), while others take much more liberal approach, such as Naseeb. However, Naseeb does not promote itself as a dating or matrimonial site but rather as a social networking site. This is why they can afford to have much less strict parameters. Even the pictures they display on their site show a variety of images of Muslims, seeming very woman friendly and accepting of a variety of viewpoints with no expectations that one is a religious or even practicing Muslim.

As a woman, when you enter most sites you initially have to complete a form with all your basic information – age, height, body type, etc. Additionally, many ask if you wear the hijab. Naseeb, which is not technically a dating site but many use it to meet their “soul mate” as Naseeb categorizes it, even gives the option of having a hijabed icon if one doesn’t want to post an actual picture. Very cute. On one site, the “hijab” question becomes a “facial hair” question for men. Interesting. This site appears to be telling us that the hijab and beard are two important aspects of Islam, perhaps equal in importance, and something which would be of importance to potential partners. So ladies, is facial hair important? And does a beard signify a good Muslim boy? According to Qiran it does. Perhaps Qiran is telling us we should be taking a man's facial hair into account in our matrimonial searches and decisions.

But then things start to get interesting. A few sites, Qiran and Shaadi (this one is for South Asians but you can do a religion specific search), ask about ones complexion as well as the complexion you would like your prospective partner to be. Now those of us familiar with Eastern cultures, the ones from where the majority of Muslims come, will know how loaded this question can be. Complexion has been a vital aspect of beauty among many cultures. Women who are fair in complexion, regardless of features, are considered beautiful and desirable. With bleaching creams and products flying off shelves women feel pressure to be fair JUST so that they may attain that ideal partner. These sites obviously are pandering to this superficiality specific to the cultures from which many Muslims hail placing immense pressures of beauty ideals on Muslim women.

Qiran, as many other sites, asks of marital status. However, what is interesting of Qiran is that if you click “never married,” the next question, asking if you have children, becomes disabled. Qiran is telling you that if you have never been married you cannot have children. Or at least if you do, stay the hell away from us!

Additionally, in my searches, I could not find any Muslim lesbian dating services. There are Muslim dating sites; there are lesbian dating sites - but no Muslim lesbian dating sites. Although, many if not most in the Muslim community would deem lesbianism unIslamic or haram, thus making this finding unsurprising, I do wonder why the lesbian Muslim community has not organized a dating website. Perhaps fear of repercussions? What do single Muslim lesbians who are looking for love do?

Ok Duniya, but what is it like to use these sites? Well, this is going to be different for everyone. It will depend on your intentions. The conservative sites seem to have an expectation that women will be good Muslimahs looking for their protector and provider. The men similarly are looking for the good Muslimah wanting to take care of him and have his children. Since you are the type to never have dated and look down upon dating there is an expectation that the one you find on this site will be the only one.

Liberal sites such as Naseeb seem to allow you to determine your experience and expectations. They ask you to identify your type of religiousness (moderate, traditional, progressive, etc.) therefore leave the judging up to you, the user. Expectations from you are determined by those with whom you interact, not so much by the site. (But still not any room for lesbian love.)

The world of Muslim dating is becoming larger and larger. Although, the emphasis is still very much on finding your marriage partner, the opportunities to simply meet people are out there. Stereotypical messages about women can be found implicitly or explicitly on many sites and one has to tread carefully or risk being categorized, quantified, and simplified.