We are not the first group to face a “marriage crisis” in the melting pot of America.
By we, I mean Muslim Americans. By crisis, I mean the challenge faced by any smaller community within a larger one when attempting to find a mate. More specifically, the “crisis” within ethnic communities refers to either a rising rate of marriages across ethnic and religious groups, or an excess of eligible single women with fewer prospects within their own particular group.
For those who self-limit their choices to others of the same religious or ethnic background, the pool of candidates shrinks. Orthodox, practicing Muslims have another challenge on top of living in a land of slimmer pickings: Dating, in the American sense of the word, is off-limits. You’re not allowed to cavort with the opposite sex until it’s time to get married. But how exactly is that supposed to happen for generations of children less comfortable with the idea of arranged marriages than their parents may have been?
Long before there were niche dating websites or location-based hookup apps, there were meddling parents, friends, professional matchmakers and mere acquaintances setting up single people.
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Then came the Internet. Jewish singles found JDate. Mormons could visit LDSPlanet. Many sites like ChristianMingle cater to Christians, although it seems like you’re just as likely to find relationship-seeking Christians on generic sites like eHarmony.
Marriage-minded Muslims have their own matchmaking websites, but many American Muslims have found those culturally out of touch with their own values. They may seem too conservative, too regressive in gender expectations or too focused on physical appearance. Ghazala Irshad, a social media editor, wrote about this dilemma and new technological solutions on the horizon.
All the “rishta aunties” (yentas of a different faith) are complaining about older, educated, single Muslim women and the shortage of eligible men, she said. Irshad, a 30-year-old writer who has reported from around the world, could fit this crisis demographic in the eyes of these aunties. Most certainly, she does in the eyes of her grandmother.
The shortfall of eligible partners has launched all sorts of creative workarounds. Forget Silicon Valley; nothing spurs innovation like a mother needling her child to just get married already.
Irshad recently published a piece on BuzzFeed about a rise in location-based matchmaking apps for Muslims – like a tame version of Tinder, with a different endgame in mind: a walk down an aisle, not the walk of shame.
“If you’re a single Muslim in North America, you know the thirst is real,” she writes.
Irshad describes the efforts of enterprising Muslim millennials offering apps that widen social circles but stay within like-minded communities.
“This evens the playing field. It allows men and women to express interest, so girls don’t have to be passive and wait for a guy to come court them,” she said. Her own online dating profile describes how she’s climbed the highest mountain in Indochina, dodged bullets while reporting on the revolution in Egypt, celebrated Eid with Libyan rebels in Benghazi after Gadhafi was killed and taught English to orphans in Cambodia.
Currently, she’s traveling in Jordan and Lebanon, teaching photography to Palestinian, Syrian and Iraqi refugee girls as part of trauma counseling.
This is a woman who says she “hasn’t had anything going on” in the dating scene for years. Previously, prospective suitors have described her as “too alpha female, too well-traveled, too ambitious.”
Irshad, who is moving from Chicago to Boston, signed up with Bliss Marriage, but the app is so new that there isn’t anyone else within a 200-mile radius of her yet. She also joined Ishqr.com, a site and forthcoming app that doesn’t share photos until both parties express mutual interest in each other’s self-submitted profiles. There are also SalaamSwipe and Crescent apps in the works, both of which will allow the spousal search to go mobile.
Irshad didn’t expect her BuzzFeed Community self-published article to spread so far. She’s gotten messages from Muslims in Europe who related to the story, and she’s been interviewed by BBC World about the subject.
“I wanted to get the word out,” Irshad said. She wanted other Muslim Americans who might be interested to sign up. It never hurts to increase the pool of candidates.
It may even prompt her grandma, who collected Irshad’s biodata (basically a resume) to pass out to her own old-school network of possible suitors, to rethink her marketing strategy.
Aisha Sultan is a St. Louis-based journalist who studies parenting in the digital age. On Twitter: @AishaS.