Mobile apps are helping Western-raised Muslims date like everyone else.
Forget the traditional arranged marriages. Muslim-Americans are going mobile in their quest to find love.
Dating while Muslim has evolved quite a bit from the days of horse-and-pony-type shows that paraded women before prospective bridegrooms. While Muslim dating websites filled that space for some time, many Muslims in the West are increasingly turned off by the old-country values that permeate the sites. Bio-data requesting fair complexions verses “wheatish” complexions, salary and career expectations and emphasis on green card holders have been met with derision by Western Muslims who see sites, such as the ubiquitous shaadi.com, as a meat market for those searching for a free ticket from the mother country to the promised land.
The breakout success of Western matchmaking apps, such as Tinder (owned by The Daily Beast’s parent company, IAC), however, have inspired a new wave of innovations among marriage-minded Muslims who are trying to find their soul mates without having to troll the Internet. The mobile “halal dating” app Minder—think Muslim Tinder rather than a Pakistani auntie chaperoning with a bat—launched its website around Valentine’s Day and has already received almost 2,000 requests for approval. The app will be released to the public within two weeks and will be available on all platforms, starting with iOS.
Its appeal, says founder Haroon Mokhtarzada, lies in its accessibility, its exclusivity, as well as its no rejection model. “This new generation really appreciates the convenience of being able to meet people on their phones rather than having to go sit in front of a computer scrolling through public profiles,” he said. “It’s not like the old-school models where you have to do a search in parameters, then reach out and hope they respond and feel rejected when they don’t.”
Just like on Tinder, users can see the face and brief profile of another user and can choose to either swipe left if they’re not interested or swipe right if interested. If both people swipe right, a chat room opens up, allowing for conversation.
Minder is not alone in its seeking to attract mobile love among Muslims. Ishqr is a Muslim dating site that does not allow users to see the faces of the profiles they are interested in before swiping on. Its goal is to remove the superficial and connect people based on personality. Crescent is on Instagram and will launch an app for iOS and Android phones soon. And Salaam Swipe, created by Canadian-Muslim Khalil Jessa, plans to launch this year. Jessa said the Muslim community is a huge untapped market, particularly in the mobile space.
“There’s something about the privacy and convenience of being able to look through profiles while you’re in line at the bank,” Jessa said. “The whole swiping technique also sort of creates the dopamine feeling that you can get when you meet someone on the street instead of seeing 100 profiles at once. In a way, that swipe can mimic real life when two people attract each other’s attention.”
The Muslim market is still untested when it comes to monetizing these apps and hard to measure. The U.S. Census Bureau doesn’t track religious affiliation but estimates of the number of Muslims in the United States vary between 2 million and 7 million people. But the global market for mobile apps is booming. According to a new market report by Transparency Market Research, the global mobile apps market should reach $54.89 billion by 2020 from $16.07 billion in 2013. Given that potential, and the fact that almost 1 in 4 people on Earth are Muslim, it makes sense for Muslim innovators to try to carve a niche out for themselves early in the game, even if the profits aren’t immediate.
Even groups that seek more real world interaction are looking to get into the apps space. Sobia Nasir, who founded Muslim matchmaking concierge service Single Muslim Intros (SMI) with her brother Ali Nasir, said their platform organizes events for singles to meet through organized mixers and individualized lunch and dinner dates that are completely set up through a concierge service. Wingmen and wingwomen circulate throughout the events to give advice and make sure conversations are running smoothly. It’s the anti-Tinder in every way, she says, catering only to professional Muslims over 21 that are specifically looking for marriage.
But given the importance of mobile apps as a global phenomenon, SMI is launching its own mobile app next month, which will allow members to view each other’s profiles, then swipe and connect online if there is mutual interest. The app can also be used to help members find SMI events in different cities to meet local singles.
“This really is a labor of love for me right now,” she said. “We founded this because we understand the pain and struggles our peers are going through. Right now, it’s more of a service to the community and we’re not for profit. We’re funding it completely. Events are affordable and in some cases, we’ve done free events. We plan to make the app free as well.”
Jessa and Mokhtarzada are also self-funding their endeavors. Still, they believe it’s worth it in order to tap into this niche market. Down the road, if demand rises, they see potential to add premium paid upgrades and advertising which could prove profitable. After all, Tinder was a startup in 2012 and is now estimated to be valued at $500 million.
Despite the advantages of mobile apps, there are still negative connotations associated with using Tinder mobile app features as a model for Muslim matchmaking apps. For many, Tinder comparisons bring on images of seedy hookups and one-night stands.
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Mokhtarzada said Minder’s model does mirror the Tinder brand in functionality but that there are significant differences. For instance, the app is geared toward marriage-minded Muslim individuals who are in an actual position to settle down. Hijabi hookups are not on the menu, although Mokhtarzada said his company wouldn’t police consenting adults. But he will be selective with users. Each Minder profile is submitted for approval by the team and only candidates who are educated with careers will make the cut. Young college students seeking a coffee date need not apply. And Muslims that hail from abroad are not high up on the desirability scale.
“This is aimed for people that get the culture and are generally Western-raised with dual identities. We’re not looking to promote those that have too much of a foreign bent to them. And while I’m sure they’ll be complaints, I would kindly redirect them to other sites. Finding a partner for Western Muslims is a huge problem and this app seeks to address that market,” he said.
Its exclusivity may appear elitist, but it’s appreciated by many Western-raised Muslims who are struggling to meet the one. “It is a real problem for Muslims today,” said Sarah, a 24-year-old Pakistani-Canadian. “Those of us that are North American Muslims have created a culture all of our own that is a fusion between the West and the country our parents are from. But even within that, there should be standards. If I’m educated, it’s fair to want to meet people that are educated as well and doing something with their lives.”
Salma, a 28-year-old Yemeni-American raised in a conservative household in Brooklyn, agrees. “My parents and I have a very different understanding of what I need in a partner,” she said. “It’s not enough for the person to be Yemeni or of a certain family. There has to be a meeting of minds. But growing up, we are often segregated from the opposite sex, making it hard to even get to know guys from the community that could potentially be a match.”
It was that segregation that inspired Jessa to create Salaam Swipe. “While we are encouraged or want to find a partner within our community, many of us were hidden away from those people for most of our lives. That’s a segregation that doesn’t adhere to the lifestyles we lead in every other aspect of our lives, so when it comes time to find a partner, many Western Muslims just go outside the community,” he said.
Jessa added that Salaam Swipe aims to introduce Western Muslims to each other but that it can be used for more than simply dating. Individuals that just move to a new city seeking friends could use the app to meet people. And, unlike Minder, the app is open to everyone.
“I don’t believe in policing anyone,” he said. “If you are on, it’s because you are looking for people of your own faith and culture. As long as there is nothing inappropriate, it’s not for me to decide that your lifestyle or qualifications don’t adhere to my interpretation of what makes a person suitable to another. I want everyone to find their own place on the app.”