For Muslims, Courtship Enabled by the Internet
Traditionally, single Muslim men and women have learned about prospective spouses through family connections. If a man noticed an eligible woman in a public setting -- at a workplace or a mosque, for example -- he would then try to arrange a chaperoned meeting, usually by contacting her parents. The Internet system gives single adults more independence and control in the courtship process, although parents still play an important role in approving an engagement.
Zawaj.com, based in Oakland, Calif., is one of the oldest of the Web sites. Its founder, Wael Abdelgawad, said 30,000 Muslims have signed up since he launched the service in 1998, and about 6,000 use the site on any given day.
Abdelgawad said about half of the site's members live in the United States, and a significant number are in Canada and Britain. But the site also has members in predominantly Muslim countries, including Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and other parts of the Middle East, he said.
Zawaj means "marriage" in Arabic. Another popular site is Naseeb.com, which was launched last year (naseeb means "fulfilling one's destiny" in Arabic).
The Internet conversations, by putting the emphasis on a love interest's personality and mind rather than on his or her looks, are very much in tune with Muslim culture, Abdelgawad added.
"It's not about falling in love; it's about meeting someone who is compatible and has the same goals in life and then getting married," he said. "Love grows, if you have things in common and you have the same goals in life. The whole concept of falling in love and the romantic whirlwind, it's a Western concept and it's a concept that doesn't necessarily exist in the Muslim world."
Hana Baba, a radio talk show host for the Sterling-based Islamic Broadcasting Network, said she and her future husband spent years talking to each other online about current events and theological issues before he finally asked if they could meet.
Despite the nontraditional way they met, her mother was excited about the match, Baba said.
"We got to see the whole inside of each other before the outside," she said. "It's really an acceptable alternative -- it's Internet dating Islamic-style. And the parents are okay with it, as long as you are not touching and doing stuff."
Sara Siddiqui, 28, of Crystal City said her mother, who lives in Pakistan, signed her up on muslimmatrimonial.com.
"My mom is actually the one who is screening [the men]; I'm too busy," said Siddiqui, an admissions adviser at Devry University. "In this country, everyone is so spread out, and we can't really date . . . so the sites are a big breakthrough because, for someone in my situation, it hasn't been easy to meet someone."
Using an online service is no guarantee of success, of course. Siddiqui had three words to describe her encounters so far: "Not too good."
Adults who work with Islamic youth also note that the Web sites do not address the problems faced by Muslim American teenagers, who are growing up in a country where movies, television and pop music -- as well as their peers at school -- constantly present an ideal of romantic fulfillment through dating. Baba said that dealing with the temptations of adolescence is the most frequent topic on her talk show for Muslim teenage girls.
Several girls who belong to Muslim youth groups in Northern Virginia said their faith is tested every spring during prom season. Conservative Muslims see the prom as a forbidden form of social interaction between the two sexes.
"Everybody's just talking about prom in class," said Mouna Kamoun, 17, a junior at Herndon High School and one of several girls who said they agonized over whether to attend their school's dance. "I mean, you are in high school; it's the topic. You want to do it. . . . But when it comes to it, your religion basically has to outweigh" desire.
Kamoun said she and her parents ultimately agreed that going to the Herndon High prom, which was being held this weekend, would violate the rules against physical intimacy. Besides, she said, her religion instructs women to clothe themselves almost completely, and "it's really hard to find a dress that would cover me. Everything's sleeveless or too short."
Looking ahead to marriage, several of the girls said they planned to rely on their families rather than the Internet to find a husband.
"So many people think it's an arranged marriage because parents have so much to do with it," said Afra Khan, 16, a sophomore at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County. "But it's not. . . . It's much more of two families coming together."
Wafa Unus, 17, a junior at Herndon High, agreed. "I don't think dating is essential for meeting someone," she said.
But she conceded that she occasionally struggles with boy issues. Like any teenager, she said, she has developed crushes. And because of her religion, she has had to suppress those feelings.
"A lot of Islam is patience," she said.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Should Houses of Worship Disclose All Their Finances to Members? (The Washington Post, Jun 6, 2004)
REVELATIONS (The Washington Post, Jun 6, 2004)
Nun Who Inspired Gibson Approved for Beatification (The Washington Post, Jun 5, 2004)
Manhattan's Mormon Temple: Sacred Space in a Bustling City (The Washington Post, Jun 5, 2004)
Grappling With the Morals On Display in Abu Ghraib (The Washington Post, May 29, 2004)
More Religion Stories