A civil servant, an international lawyer, and an entrepreneur walk into a café. All three of these individuals are attractive young Muslim women from London. The only joke is the state of their love lives.
Like many other successful Muslim women in the West, they're single, struggling to find a man to marry, and increasingly treated as failures by their communities as they creep closer to 30.
"Muslim men are a disappointment," says Amira, the lawyer. "They're not as accomplished and there tend to be fewer men of the same academic level and career success. I've yet to meet someone from my community who has been better than me."
This may seem like an arrogant statement to make, but it's a sentiment shared by many. Muslim men, these women claim, want a submissive wife—one who will not compete with them and make them feel emasculated.
"We've evolved into this new genre of women that our communities haven't adapted to," says Noura, the civil servant.
Those belonging to this genre are mostly Oxbridge or Ivy League–educated (or both), independent (too independent for arranged marriages), financially stable, and well-traveled, but also religious. The delicate balance they've cultivated between their Muslim and Western identities is a source of personal pride, but in reality they're pariahs—far too outspoken for their ethnic side and too prude and traditional for the West.
They're minorities within a minority, shunned by most of the men in their own communities "who fall under two categories: losers who want their moms to find them a wife, or idiots who spend their time sleeping with white women before marrying someone from a village in the mother country," says Ayesha, the entrepreneur. "A few years ago I fell in love with a guy I thought was perfect for me. He ended up marrying his cousin from back home. Now, most of the decent Muslim guys I meet are either married or still in the closet. It's hopeless."
Arranged marriages are archaic and offensive to these women. Matrimonial websites such as singlemuslim.com or shaadi.com are seen as a last resort, or, more commonly, a sign of utter desperation.
"I don't want a husband for the sake of being married. I want someone I can connect with and then marry," says Noura, understandably.
Dating is increasingly regarded as the one viable solution, but these women are amateurs. Despite their successes in education and work, their love life isn't quite as developed. They're virgins, abstaining from the world of dating and boyfriends in their teenage years and early 20s, shunning "inappropriate relations" with men so as to avoid any scandal or gossip that would tarnish their reputation. They've kept life halal.
"I would date, to a degree," says Amira. "It is the chance to exercise agency and autonomy and choice, but only within the religious boundaries of abstinence and modesty."
Unfortunately, finding compatible men to date is still an issue. Segregation is customary, particularly among Muslims of Asian heritage, limiting the amount of interaction between the two sexes.
Lucky, then, that two entrepreneurs in the US are releasing their own Muslim-centric versions of Tinder. One imaginatively titled Minder, the other Salaam Swipe. However, instead of happy-hour drinks and a one-night-stand, the focus here is marriage.
"No one asks, 'Where are the good Muslim women?'" says Haroon Mokhtarzada, who is launching Minder at the end of March in the US, before bringing it to the UK in the summer. "The app has been developed with the point of view of the women—they are the ones who are faced with the problem."
Like Tinder, users can swipe right if they like the look of someone and can start talking if they're a match. Unlike Tinder, both apps allow users to filter results according to race, ethnicity, and level of religiosity.
"While there are traditional means to find someone within the community, those processes seem dated, out of touch, and foreign to our everyday way of doing things," says Canada-based Khalil Jessa, who is launching Salaam Swipe this year. "Why can't we meet Muslims serendipitously, just like we meet everyone else in our lives?"
The girls think these apps are a good idea, but are still a little reluctant.
"I tried Hinge, which seemed like a less slutty version of Tinder, but the guys who were most compatible were all Jewish," says Ayesha. "It's still going to take Muslim men a couple more generations before they realize that we want love, not money."
Names of the women have been changed.
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