Muslim Tinder: Seeking love with a young Muslim hipster? There’s an app for that

For many Muslims who have grown up in the West, dating and getting married can be challenging. Determined to find love on their own terms, some Muslim Millennials are now turning their backs on family-sanctioned matchmaking, and turning to their smartphones instead.

A Muslim woman at an Eid celebration funfair in Burgess Park on August 8, 2013 in London, England. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

A Muslim woman at an Eid celebration funfair in Burgess Park on August 8, 2013 in London, England. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Humaira Mubeen has just returned from a trip to Pakistan to visit her father. But as the oldest daughter, it was no ordinary catch-up.

This is because Mubeen is single. Even though she was born and bred in the US, being an unmarried Muslim at her age is a worry for her parents.  

She's 25.

"My parents are very traditional still in that sense," she said over the phone from Washington DC, where she lives.

"I'm the oldest of six so they think that I should follow that traditional route to have them find someone for me."

Like most single Muslims, Mubeen is used to meeting potential suitors handpicked by her parents or relatives. In fact, her recent Pakistan trip involved yet another awkward matchmatching experience. 

"That's one of the reasons why I had to go back there," she said, laughing. "My dad lives there for half a year and he wanted to talk about the whole marriage process because I'm getting older. I'm 25 and I'm still not married."

A hybrid identity in the balance

Mubeen is one of many young, university-educated and 'Westernised' Muslims who are feeling immense pressure to get married.

But as a self-confessed 'Mipster' (a portmanteau for 'Muslim hipster'), she is determined to find love on her own terms, and to help others do the same.

In an online forum aptly called 'Mipsterz', Mubeen jokingly wrote that she would start a dating website where all her cool Mipster friends could connect. But when they thought she was serious and asked to sign up, Mubeen decided to take the plunge.

She teamed up with her friend Shereen Nourollahi (whom she met on Mipsterz), and enlisted the help of developers Hassan Shaikley and Sadique Ali to turn 'Hipster Shaadi' into a reality.

The site, which has since been renamed '', is a quirky, tongue-in-cheek take on conservative Muslim matrimonial websites, such as Shaadi or SingleMuslim. She is currently developing a mobile app for the site.

One of Ishqr's taglines read: "If you're a feminist looking for your bold, humble, feminist brother or a Rumi-and-granola-loving-Muslim, Ishqr is the place for you."

"It's more difficult for young Muslims in the West to find compatible like-minded, potential spouses because we hold this unique identity."
Mubeen said having both Muslim and Western identities is a new and unique phenomenon.

"In the US, the idea of creating a Muslim American identity or showing it is very new and it's becoming very common. And young Muslim Americans are trying to show that, 'Yes, we're proud Muslims but we're also very proud Americans and it is very possible to live with these two identities together.'

"We're also trying to balance between our Islamic and our Eastern values with our Western values and point of view."

Mubeen said balancing these two identities has led to a "marriage crisis".

"We've created our own unique narrative and hybrid identities and that is why there is a marriage crisis. Because it's more difficult for young Muslim Americans or Muslims in the West to find compatible like-minded, potential spouses because we hold this unique identity." 

A marriage crisis?

For Australian Zeynab Gamieldien, 24, Muslim singleness is the focus of her popular blog '', but she doesn't believe it's a 'Muslim issue' per se.

"It's not just a Muslim issue. Everybody seems to be facing that issue, that's why sites like RSVP, Tinder are popping up because a lot of people are finding it hard to meet someone. They don't know where to go about it, people are really busy."

Dating or spending time alone with someone from the opposite sex isn't allowed for observant Muslims - which makes it difficult for young singles to get to know each other, unless they happen to meet at university or in the workplace. And since Muslims make up only 2.2 per cent of the Australian population, the chances of finding a compatible partner who ticks all the right boxes can be quite slim.

"You have a generation of young Muslims growing up here, and I suppose some of the methods that people may have used from their parents' home country may not necessarily be appealing or applicable to Muslims growing up in a Western context," Gamieldien said. 

"So they would try and meet someone on their own."

University College London sociologist and researcher Dr Fauzia Ahmad said the breakdown in family relationship is one factor that has contributed to the so-called Muslim marriage crisis in the West. 

Parents who have migrated to Western countries no longer have the same extended family and community connections they once did in their home country, Dr Ahmad said, who researches Muslim marriages and relationships in Britain. With smaller social networks, parents aren't able to provide their children with suitable matrimonial partners.

"We're expected to find Muslim partners and then simultaneously, we're actually prevented from getting to know anyone of the opposite gender until there's a sudden burst or urgency to find a partner."
The  has also decreased the pool of suitable partners. 

"We're seeing an increasing number of young Muslims entering into higher education. And that is creating a need for suitably educated partners especially from a women's perspective."

Gender roles are also evolving within the Western Muslim community, which is creating further complications. 

"There's this disparity between expectations – between what women expect and between what men expect. There's an expectation on the part of men that women should be baby providers or in the domestic sphere. They have the ideal of the working wife, but their ideal doesn't match the reality."

Women with successful careers - the lawyers, the doctors, the CEOs - are usually overlooked.  

"I think it's incredibly hard. The marriage issue seems to be the biggest issue that is facing Muslims in terms of their personal lives."

Looking for Mr or Mrs Swipe Right

The growing difficulty in meeting like-minded Muslims has also led Canadian-born Khalil Jessa to develop '', a mobile dating app for Muslims. 

Like popular dating app Tinder, users swipe right on someone's profile if they're interested, and swipe left if they're not. The app will launch in the coming months.

"Growing up as a Muslim in North America, I think we face a very big irony when it comes to relationships and marriage than any other community," he said over the phone, from his home in Vancouver. "We're expected to find Muslim partners and then simultaneously, we're actually prevented from getting to know anyone of the opposite gender until there's a sudden burst or urgency to find a partner."

"But then, to find someone, we have to follow this culturally dictated process like sending biodata to our grandmothers, or having family-sanctioned meetings. And yet outside, in the rest of our lives, we can meet and hang out with anyone that we want."

He said these "culturally sanctioned processes" seemed artificial for many young Muslims in the West who are looking for love.

"So I think the crisis is that there's a frustration amongst young Muslims in the way that the process currently exists."

Salaam Swipe app

Jessa believes his app will give control back to young single Muslims.

"The solution that I'm providing, in a way, it's a middle ground. We're taking that process and putting it into a technological form, and taking it away from the hands of the aunties and uncles, and giving it to the people who are actually affected by this."

'' is another Tinder-style app in the works. Its Los Angeles-based founder, Hamid, 33, who didn't wish to use his surname, said mobile technology is an ideal alternative to traditional practices, particularly for single women. 

"A lot of the platforms out there start from places of restraint. For example, you'll filter things down from: Do they wear covering? Yes or no. Do you want someone with covering? Yes or no. What ethnicity are they?"

"When I was in my early 20s. I remember meeting with other Muslims – we were all brainstorming ideas like how can we make it halal to date."
Having exhausted their options, mobile apps can help single Muslims meet potential partners from outside of their local mosques and community.

"They get people to meet people outside of their cities where they have exhausted their options," Hamid said. "A lot of the times these communities are very tight knit. So if you're a woman, you've already met all the guys who could've had potential."

Former lawyer and author of 'Courting Samira', Amal Awad, 36, can recall the conundrums she and her university friends would have over the concept of dating.

"When I was in my early 20s. I remember meeting with other Muslims – we were all brainstorming ideas like how can we make it halal to date," she laughed.

"Muslims who are very observant of their faith would have difficulty meeting people because they are strict ideas and limitations with how you interact with the opposite sex."

The Sydneysider said she never dated in her twenties ("it just didn't happen"). Although she's now married, Awad said online technology would have been a great help during her quest for love.

"Using the internet has absolutely open doors that would have been completely closed to us before."

Crescent app

But is it 'halal'?

While convenient and an obvious by-product of modern technology, Dr Ahmad isn't convinced online dating is the answer. 

"The development of all these online dating services and apps are very symptomatic of the way Muslim marriage practices are now emulating Western forms of communication.

"Some people would rather not go to an event because they're afraid of the face to face rejection and so they hide behind the internet. The internet can be seen as a source of security and they can engage with somebody for period of weeks or months and not have to face them."

There's also no way of knowing for sure if a potential date is lying about their marital status, age and identity, she added, which is particularly dangerous for women. (She pointed out that it was common for men to use online dating sites to find second or third wives).

Dr Ahmad also believed online dating placed too much emphasis on specific criteria, for example, age, ethnicity and location.

"The increase in online services and apps have acted instead to make people even more criteria focused," she said. "We can't avoid it. It's there, it's convenient. They can fit it into their working lives. So I don't think we can go back from that now."

"There's an assumption that it will be like other apps out there that are used in a more nefarious way. The very fact that they're on a Muslim site already shows that they have a different intention in mind."
When asked if these Tinder-style apps could lead to a within the young Muslim community, Crescent's Hamid said that was certainly not his intention. 

"I don't want people to think that we're just developing this to corrupt anyone or lead anyone astray or do anything of that. This is for someone to meet someone of quality and to have a relationship with," he said.

Jessa, founder of Salaam Swipe, also insisted that using a Muslim dating app is a good indicator of one's commitment to their faith and cultural values.

"I think there's an assumption that it will be like other apps out there that are used in a more nefarious way," he said. "You know the very fact that they're on a Muslim site, already shows that they have a different intention in mind. So I don't think that's really a valid concern."

Columnist Awad said the range of opinions about Muslim online dating is representative of the community's diversity. There is no clear right or wrong and it depends on a person's personal convictions.

"They are people who will be absolutely open to an app like that, and there are others who will see it as something that is not appropriate," she said. "It's going to be like anything. There are going to be critics and there are going to be proponents. I think it comes down to the individual's choice. It just comes down to their religious viewpoints."

Relationships blogger Zeynab said parents are slowly adapting their expectations to suit the popularity and normalcy of online dating.

"Parents might think, well if it's not working the traditional way, then maybe they should experiment and branch out. So I think families are increasingly more accepting of different ways of meeting a partner because their interest is seeing their child get married. And so they will often adapt their expectations to see that happen."

Traditional matchmaking and parental involvement will always be on the agenda, said Jessa, but finding true love through technology is also here to stay.

"While there's always space for families and friends and your aunty to hook you up with someone, I think that online dating will become more and more, an avenue that Muslims will find one and another.

"A lot of those people are now, like me, in their 20s or 30s – Millennials. And this is what they're facing right now. And how do they deal with this? They deal with it how the way they deal with everything else: using technology to overcome their problems."

12 min read
Published 10 February 2015 at 10:31am
By Lin Taylor
Source: SBS