Muslim Marriage Matchmaking Goes Digital

A new generation of religious Muslims is skipping dating apps in favor of online platforms for marriage

Hina Husain
12 min readFeb 22, 2023
(Image source: Jody Mak and Michael Donohoe for Rest of World)

“You wanna see what kind of Muslim you really are? Watch what happens when Allah tests you, and Allah will test us with different things. For some people, when they’re looking to get married, they’re being tested.”

Baba Ali speaks about marriage with the passion of an imam, but the humor of a stand-up comedian. He’s the founder of Los Angeles-based Half Our Deen — a private matrimony website for Muslims — which he established in 2011 after witnessing how young Muslims were struggling to find compatible spouses.

Baba Ali rose to prominence in 2008 as one of YouTube’s biggest Muslim video bloggers. A stand-up comedy world tour followed, and Ali said he was approached for marriage advice after every show.

“Doing 400 shows all around the world, Muslim brothers and sisters would come up to me after the shows and want to talk about marriage. And I realized that this is still an issue the Muslim community hasn’t fixed. We don’t address it; there’s no Muslim matrimonial service at masjids [mosques]. We have Islamic school, we have Quran study, we have tajwid [learning proper pronunciation of Quranic words]. But we have nothing for single people looking to get married. Good luck.”

Baba Ali is not alone. Imam Ahmad Deeb, the Director of Religious Affairs at the Islamic Centre of Greater Toledo in Ohio, echoes a similar sentiment on what he sees as the crisis of marriage in Muslim communities and mosques’ inability to address it. He said to me, “Literally almost every single week someone is asking me ‘Imam, can you help me get married?’ Many of those young men and women are very accomplished. They’re successful, they’re religiously committed, but they’re struggling to find someone and get married.”

As Imam Deeb sees it, mosques are scrambling to find innovative ways to address the needs of their young congregants — who came of age in the Internet Era — to find suitable spouses as many of the older, more traditional avenues are being abandoned.

“Unfortunately, we’ve stigmatized tried and tested methods,” Imam Deeb laments. “People joke about the rishta [matchmaking] aunty. I’m not South Asian but I know that term because it’s so popular. As a Syrian we have something similar. Your mom goes to other aunties and searches for the best spouse for you. Ideally your mom really knows you and knows exactly what you want. Now, we make fun of these rishta aunties. We’ve gotten to the point now where we are unable to get creative…to help people get married.”

Yasmeena Menon is one such rishta aunty. Based in Toronto, she is the founder of the matchmaking site Muslim Matrimonial, which she runs with her husband. When she immigrated to Canada from India, Yasmeena found employment in the financial sector. But after establishing roots and building trust within Canada’s South Asian Muslim community, she decided to exit the corporate world and set up her own Muslim matchmaking venture. Initially she only took on a handful of clients. But as word spread and her matchmaking business grew, Yasmeena expanded her services across social media platforms, YouTube, and messaging apps where her clients could post profiles for themselves or their adult children.

Over time, her clients wanted more personalized attention to help them secure a spouse, which pushed Yasmeena to hire and train “marriage consultants.” Today, Yasmeena employs 40 marriage consultants who work one-on-one with their clients to find the best matches possible from Muslim Matrimonial’s pool of nearly 5,000 users.

(Source: Muslim Matchmaking by Veil)

One reason why young Muslims and their parents may be more drawn to services like Muslim Matrimonial is because they feel their local mosques have not prioritized helping Muslims meet compatible companions. According to the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, less than 30 percent of all adult mosque attendees in the U.S. are between the ages of 18 to 34, even though they make up 54 percent of the adult Muslim population. In Canada, less than half (48 percent) of the Muslim population attends mosque at least once a week, and only 22 percent report doing so for socializing and education purposes.

“The majority of young Muslims who want to get married are not coming into the mosque,” Imam Deeb explains. “It could be for multiple reasons: they’re not connecting with the leadership; most mosques’ organizational structures are extremely dysfunctional; the priorities of mosques are incredibly sporadic, chaotic, unstructured, and many times not even rooted in Muslim priorities. For example, according to Islam, helping people get married is what we call a fard kifayah, meaning communal obligation.”

Imam Deeb makes a distinction between immigrant Muslim mosques and Black Muslim mosques. He says Black American mosques are generally led by the imams, who decide the mosques’ priorities and lead with a team around them. In predominantly immigrant mosques, however, imams often serve as employees to lead prayers and give Friday sermons, so the mosque’s priorities are not shaped by an established religious leader.

Mosques’ priorities, Deeb says, “are informed by a board that is loosely democratically chosen, most of whom have no expertise in Islam or leading Muslim institutions. Board members can be engineers and physicians — the people who built the mosque. The fact that mosques are not dealing with the issue of marriage is because they don’t recognize that it’s a communal obligation. Most mosques have no idea what to do. They are seeing a culture that is rapidly changing every few years. We have dating apps now, like Tinder, which is about getting sex quickly. This is what people who are on these apps are telling me.”

Dating apps like Tinder didn’t exist in 2001 when Baba Ali of Half Our Deen turned to the internet after his two-year marriage ended in divorce. He discovered that few online services catered to the diverse range of religious practices within Muslim communities, so he set out to build his own. Several failed attempts to launch a site ensued, and the website cycled through different versions before Ali settled on the name Half Our Deen. In Arabic, “deen” means religion, and the site takes its name from the Islamic principle that marriage fulfills 50 percent of one’s religious duties in life.

I asked Ali why someone would use Half Our Deen over more well-known sites and apps, such as Minder or Muzmatch — two dating apps targeted at tech-savvy single Muslims. “Dating apps are copied over from non-Muslim sites,” Ali says. “We just changed one letter and went from Tinder to Minder.”

(Source: Half Our Deen)

The perceived non-Muslim nature of these dating apps is why Majid — an Indian immigrant living in Vancouver, Canada — turned to Half Our Deen when he wanted to get married. “I had associated Muzmatch and Minder as the Muslim versions of Tinder,” Majid told me over email. “Apps inspired by something haram[forbidden in Islam] were not my cup of tea. These apps explicitly call themselves ‘dating’ apps whereas I was looking for something exclusive for marriage. I never installed any of these apps.”

Negative connotations associated with the word “dating” in Muslim circles is something familiar to Annisa Rochadiat, an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies at California State University, Stanislaus. Her research explores how Muslims — particularly Muslim women — use online dating and social media platforms for matchmaking purposes.

“When I launched my study of Muslim women’s use of dating sites, I encountered this difficulty because I didn’t realize how stigmatized the word ‘dating’ is,” Professor Rochadiat explains. “So when I was recruiting participants I didn’t really get any hits because recruiting people for using Muslim dating apps is almost like a contradiction. I had to scale back and reformulate my recruitment ad to say ‘Muslim matchmaking’ because I felt that was more neutral as it didn’t have that dating connotation.”

Rochadiat found that Muslim women often feel limited by traditional modes of seeking marriage — through the community, family, or the mosque — because of their communal nature where their marriage becomes many people’s concern. They felt a lack of privacy and agency over selecting their partners, and were more comfortable turning to online spaces where they could easily access “extractive information” — personal details on an individual — to filter out potential matches for themselves.

Services like Half Our Deen also allow users to self-report their level of religiosity and quantify their practices, including their observance of halal food restrictions and how often they pray. In offline settings this can be a lengthy process involving self-disclosure and back and forth conversations with a potential match.

“If you’re particularly observant of religious practices, you might have to get a third party involved because you have to do it in a public setting,” Professor Rochadiat elaborates. “That offers limitations too on the types of questions you can ask. The same goes for family meetings, so some information might be filtered out, which with online platforms is readily available. You can privately know more about an individual without any awkwardness. This is very new, something that technology provides for those seeking romantic relationships. Muslim women especially felt that technology allowed them to initiate contact without feeling brazen, which in an offline setting would feel unusual because it’s normally the men or the brothers…who would come forward and initiate contact.”

Professor Rochadiat also discovered that a large percentage of Muslim women who use online dating systems are converts to Islam. “This is related to extractive information,” she says. “So if someone contacts you, they already know you’re a convert which, in an offline setting, someone may not be able to tell. Muslim converts feel, more than born Muslims, the limitations of meeting someone offline.”

Tory, a white convert to Islam from Michigan, confirms Rochadiat’s findings. “Being a convert, I didn’t have an aunty network of people who were going to find me a spouse. By going to online networks, I could control the process and see how it goes. I could be more anonymous; I didn’t have to make this big announcement to my community that I was looking for a spouse.”

Tory wanted prospective matches to know about her love of road biking, so she posted a picture of herself in full bike gear on her Half Our Deen profile.

“I felt I could represent myself a little bit more,” she says. “It would help weed out people that would be naysayers. I never have to meet them or justify my life decisions, and on the flip side I could do that with the gentlemen too and read the things that they wrote.”

Single and divorced Muslim women in their 30s and 40s are another sizeable demographic using online matchmaking systems. Professor Rochadiat explains why they are turning to online sites: “When we look at dating apps in general, not just in Muslim communities, there are terms called the ‘dating market’ and people who belong to ‘thin markets’ which are because of limited social capital in the offline world. It includes people from sexual minorities, like LGBTQ people who are older [and] divorcees. So technology allows access for these individuals to seek out other people.” Muslim converts also fall in the category of “thin markets” because they do not have familial networks or social ties that typically facilitate marriages for other North American Muslims.

I asked Professor Rochadiat if she shares Imam Deeb’s opinion that a marriage crisis looms in Muslim communities across North America today. She thinks on it and replies, “There is some truism in what the Imam said, but more research would need to be conducted in terms of the percentages of people who are married or not.”

“I think we should be wary of using the language of crisis,” says Justine Howe, associate professor and chair of Religious Studies at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. Her research focuses on Muslims in the United States. In her view, people use the language of crisis to talk about deeper worries about the place of Muslims in American society and tensions around assimilation. In Imam Deeb’s case, his real concern is about the place of the mosque and if it will remain the spiritual locus or center of authority in North American Muslim communities. Since younger Muslims have replaced traditional processes of finding a spouse with new technologies, some like Imam Deeb worry that such innovations are harbingers of even greater disruptions to Muslim life.

“There are now a wide range of Muslim authorities who weigh in on the context of marriage in the U.S.,” Professor Howe explains. “You have imams who are performing marriage counselling for couples before they get married, so they see the office of the imam as more of a pastoral role to congregants. But you also have a wide range of different scholars in both Canada and the U.S. who are offering guidance about how to get married. And these are not necessarily new initiatives.”

“So this question around who should be guiding couples to marriage is a live debate, and like everything in the landscape of U.S. Muslim communities, it’s all very diffuse and happening at the local level. So you might have in certain places or mosques that they really have robust programs to help with these questions, but in other local spaces you might not have as much or there might be a mismatch between the kind of guidance that’s being given and what the young adults actually are seeking.”

Historically, the mosque is just one place where North American Muslims have turned for guidance to find their spouses, but Professor Howe explains that there have always been a wide range of ways of going about matchmaking.

“The Muslim Students Association (of the U.S. and Canada) had marriage ads in local chapters, but also in Islamic Horizons and other publications going back to the 70s. Parents would post ads for their kids, which suggests that the usual channels of finding Muslim spouses perhaps weren’t working in the way they intended, so people turned to the 1980s version of the classifieds. ISNA (Islamic Society of North America) would hold various events and matchmaking conferences, and there would be workshops and seminars about finding a spouse.”

With this history in mind, it seems the move towards online platforms to find marriage and companionship — even in Muslim communities — is an organic evolution in step with the culture at large.

“I think this language of crisis of marriage is often because marriage is inflected in other, broader kinds of questions within Muslim communities — debates about race, gender, class; for converts the case of authenticity, and questions about the centrality of religious identity over other forms of identity,” Professor Howe says, offering a different take on the anxieties expressed about marriage by Imam Deeb and Baba Ali. “Marriage crisis — whether in Muslim communities or broader American society — these are anxieties about reproduction, the future of the community and what it should ideally look like. Some of the consternations that I have observed are about how marriage has been pushed back later, so as Muslim women are increasingly becoming more educated over the last few decades, taking on professional careers, much of the anxiety over marriage is ‘how do we get elite members of our community married?’”

For Muslim women in particular, turning to online spaces is a way to mitigate many of the challenges of seeking suitable companions as mosques may not offer the inclusive environments many women are seeking. Mosques often have a separate area for women, segregated from the rest of the congregation and hidden from view. Some mosques may not even offer such a space for women, or bar them from praying there altogether.

“One of the things I’ve noticed, which is really interesting, is groups of Muslim women forming halaqas [circles] offering online courses because they feel the masjid is a very masculine and male-oriented space,” Professor Rochadiat says of an emerging trend she’s witnessing.

With the right tools and leadership, community building can be done online. Mosques, along with other places of worship, are increasingly holding live streamed events, and people are becoming more comfortable adapting technology for religious purposes, which includes seeking romantic partners.

“The online world is kind of like a third space,” Professor Rochadiat concludes. “While it reflects much of the offline world, there are also some dynamics which are unique to online platforms because of certain characteristics of online communication. So we’re going to see more variation in terms of engagement as people find alternative ways to participate in religious life and experiences.”

The concerns of young, observant Muslims around the use of technology and how it affects their religious practices speaks to a broader trend about adapting to our changing world without losing one’s identity. For now, online platforms are helping young Muslims navigate the tricky terrain of religious observance with contemporary life. And in significant numbers, observant Millennial and Gen Z Muslims are turning to matrimonial apps to help them fulfill their religious obligation to marry.

Originally published on The Revealer