By Rhodri Davies
London, United Kingdom – Arzo Kazmi has been looking for a husband for some time. But eight years of matchmakers, mutual friends, and dating websites have been futile in finding that special someone.
“It feels like for ever,” says the 33-year-old financial adviser from Birmingham who is of Pakistani-Kashmiri heritage.
As most of her friends are secular and white, she says she rarely meets single Muslim men.
For the past four weeks, she has been using Muzmatch, a smartphone app for Muslims to meet potential marriage partners. But unlike well-established dating apps, such as Tinder and Hinge, Muzmatch specifically caters to Muslims searching for a spouse – giving young Muslims greater influence in finding the right mate.
“For me to meet a Muslim man, I need to do something different, so that’s what I’m doing,” she says of her aim to find someone who matches her professional achievements, as well as her Western – and Islamic – values.
Dating is often prohibited in Muslim families. Traditionally, family members are often directly involved in seeking and vetting possible partners – and the couple’s respective families often meet to approve the marriage.
Nilima Thakur*, a 25-year-old teacher living in southeast England, says she has grown frustrated with this set-up. She has been looking for a husband for about a year, on and off. Finding little success, she recently began using the matchmaking app and, like Kazmi, says it’s a way of taking more control.
“I’ve gone through family and that was just a disaster,” says Thakur, who was born in the UK and is of Bangladeshi descent. “I think it’s a very peculiar way to get to know someone.”
“Although my family have my best interests at heart, only I know what I’m really after,” Thakur adds, noting that she’s interested in a combination of Islamic principles and an engaging personality in her future partner.
Many young Muslims around the British Isles are brought up in traditional households, but without a wider community with a shared cultural heritage.
Sana Ikram, 24, was searching for two years for a husband in her southwestern hometown of Swindon.
“Networks only extend so far and that doesn’t always provide a result,” she says.
After attending marriage events, asking religious leaders and rishta aunties – prominent women in Pakistani communities who help find partners – Ikram started using the app and found a pool of people who were more “relatable” than those she’d been introduced to, she says. This means someone who is compatible with her Islamic faith and her complex mix of British and Pakistani cultures – and someone she would want to spend the rest of her life with.
This union of modern local values and Islamic principles is a shift by young Muslims in countries as disparate as the UK and the United Arab Emirates, the United States and Indonesia, according to the author of the books ‘Generation M: Young Muslims Changing the World’ and ‘Love in a Headscarf’, Shelina Janmohamed.
Janmohamed argues that internet access allows young Muslims to find like-minded individuals and those with shared identities, within or even across national borders, beyond the reach of more traditional methods of meeting a partner.
“Second, third, and even fourth-generation Muslims in the diaspora have grown up feeling very much part of the society they are in,” says Janmohamed. “If anything, they are asserting their faith more strongly, but in a way that will connect to the wider world around them.”
And while being religiously faithful, they want to drive their personal lives, not be a recipient of them, she explains.
While Ikram, who studied Egyptology and is looking for work in museums, wanted to fulfil her desires as a practising Muslim, she hoped the app would not provide singularly religious types.
Last January, she met 23-year-old business owner Hakim – of Pakistani and West Indian origin – using the app. They chatted on WhatsApp and met in person a month later. Iram told Hakim that if he was serious, then he would have to meet her mother. After several family meetings, Hakim formally proposed.