It was in London I saw it for the first time.
An ad what could only be described as a picture of a piece of steak adorned with Cupid’s wings.
Nothing wrong with that picture right? Wrong.
It had the words Halal meet next to the picture.
Geddit? Halal meet. Lord, have mercy. It was an advertisement for muzmatch.com, a “halal dating” site for Muslims.
Other honourable mentions I encountered on the tube from Muzmatch included a picture of a woman in hijab with the words “you had me at halal”, another with a take on Adele’s classic “halal from the other side” and my particular favourite, a picture of Lionel Richie lying down next to the words: “halal, is it me you’re looking for?”
You’ve got to give it to Muzmatch for their snazzy marketing. As I looked at these pictures, I'll admit, I did snort loudly but I soon noticed other passengers staring at the ad and then staring at me as if I was responsible for this madness. As a visible Muslim woman, I felt a weird sort of guilt by association. I wanted to declare my innocence with a bullhorn but I just sat there quietly and allowed people to secretly judge me with their eyes.
You’re probably thinking the words Muslim and dating app are a weird combination. But you are way off the mark my friend. Muslim dating sites are all the rage among well...Muslims.
One profile on the app earnestly declared he was "looking for a Khadija in a world full of Kardashians".
Over the last few years, many apps have emerged on the market. There was once shame about finding your partner online, now it’s become the norm. You can swipe your husband or wife into existence, you can meet up for coffee and get that friend to call you with an “emergency” if there's a code red (i.e. the prospective is a total dud) or you can even cut to the chase and introduce your new crush to your parents who will no doubt plan the wedding 20 minutes into the conversation. Many people have gotten married from these sites, conversely, many have sworn off relationships after using them. One user claimed to have seen his mum on one of the apps. Awks.
Before these apps became an option, the Muslim dating scene was less Sex and the City and more Austen era courtship.
A hand hold before marriage was and is still considered shocking and in many Muslim communities, even in the west, we had what we call a ‘door knock appeal’.
That is, a suitor and his or her parents would come to your home and check you out and if they like what they see, they’ll continue visiting until a marriage takes place. Before you judge - it worked for my sister, who is now happily married to her finance manager husband and has two kids.
There's also the “bio data” system, common within South Asian communities. It’s a resume, advertising skills and abilities, but for a spouse not a job. I’ve even heard of marriage WhatsApp groups, where family members meet and vet prospective suitors for their loved ones. If only Mark Zuckerberg knew he was also playing Cupid for Muslims.
Then there's the Muslim Bachelor syndrome. It's kinda like the TV show The Bachelor except it’s the PG version. There's always one guy in the community who attracts all the attention from the ladies because he has it all. All the girls flock to him because he’s the kind of guy who can recite poetry, speaks French and Mandarin, is a medical doctor and plays the pianoforte. Every mother wants him for their daughter. He also looks like Brad Pitt circa 1995. This is the guy who thrives off attention, keeps every girl at arm’s length but in the end, gets married within a month and you never hear from him again. I hate that guy.
But all that has changed with the Muslim dating apps - except for the Muslim Bachelor Syndrome. He's now getting all the right swipes and is being stalked fanatically on social media. The popularity of the apps has extended to the “real world” where apps are now hosting meet-ups for people to connect. That's the other thing, a lot of apps use generic terms like “connect” and “network” but everyone knows they’re synonyms for engagement and marriage contract.
These religiously and culturally marketed apps are making a mint too. In 2017, dating apps industry made over 800 million dollars. This includes Muslim dating apps. SingleMuslim.com is currently sitting at number eight in the top ten general dating platforms in the UK. The founder Adeem Younis claims the site has sparked over 100,000 marriages. Even if a fraction of that is true, it’s not bad for a short amount of time cleverly curating a profile and choosing a flattering filter. Then there's Minder - the Muslim Tinder. One profile on the app earnestly declared he was "looking for a Khadija in a world full of Kardashians". Wow, sign me up Kanye Khaled.
So next time you're sitting at home listening to Celine Dion’s cover of All By Myself for the umpteenth time, downing one halal aspartame drink after another, perhaps it’s worth a try to click online. It might not be the only thing you click with.