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Finding a life mate, Muslim-style

Courtesy of Half Our Deen, a Muslim matchmaking site.

Finding a life companion can sometimes be easy, like when you meet someone at work, at school, or at an event. But more often than not, it’s hard – especially when you come from a conservative culture where arranged marriages and parent involvement in choosing a spouse are common. Sixty-three percent of Muslims in America are first generation immigrants, and come with strong value sets that are not very compatible with the American dating scene. 

So for the South Asian, Arab, and other Muslim communities all over the country and here in the Bay, one solution that mixes the traditional and American worlds of courtship is something called a matrimonial event. Often sent by their parents, singles meet, talk, play games, all in the same room at the same time with the hopes of meeting that special person. I went to a recent one in Santa Clara to see how it works and if anyone got lucky. A note: some of the names in this story are not real, for privacy reasons.

It’s a Saturday afternoon, and about 80 young men and women, sharply dressed, fill a room decorated with purple decor, red roses, and scented candles. They’ve come from all around the country, and love is in the air. Maybe.

Baba Ali is a comedian and the founder of this event, called Half Our Deen, a name taken from the Islamic principle that when you marry, you have fulfilled 50 percent of your religious duties in life. Ali was inspired to start the matchmaking company – and website with the same name – based on his own experience searching for a wife 11 years ago. “I did the unthinkable. I went online,” he admits.

That online search brought back 17 compatible candidates. So which one is the one? To figure that out, he formulated a way to sift through them. “I’m gonna email everybody a list of questions that don’t have right or wrong answers. Of the seventeen, sixteen answered one way, one answered another. She is now my wife of 11 years and I still feel like a newlywed today.”

The people in the room are hoping for similar luck. I go up to one cheery young lady we will call Samira. Like many here, family played a role in her coming.  “My dad forwarded me the event, so I had no choice,” Samira laughs. 

This event doesn’t have any parents present, setting it apart from the majority of other Muslim singles events where moms and dads are invited and sit on the sidelines keeping a close eye on the action. Samira is in her late 20s and a singles event regular. She’s been to three of them in the last five years. 

“I went to one as the Muslim convention in Chicago, and I’ve been to one in San Ramon, and I didn’t feel like I belonged,” says Samira. This time, she is hopeful, but cautious. She likes the informal setting. “Obviously we don’t have bars to go out and meet Muslim guys, and I like that this is more organized because the people here are only here to get married, and not just have a good time.”

At her table, there are three other women and four men – an uncommon sight at most Muslim gatherings where the sexes sit separately. They start with an ice breaker. There’s a piece of paper on the table that has 10 questions on it. Each person answers them.

At one table a man answers the question: “the last thing I read was...an article about the pope controversy, a textbook because I’m doing my M.P.H., Steve Jobs’ biography.”

As I roam the tables, I realize the questions are indeed serving their purpose. The conversation is flowing. Laughs, and a warm buzz of intimacy build in the room.

Then I notice one lady standing alone in the back. We’ll call her Mariam. She looks around the room, skeptically. “Honestly, I feel odd. I don’t like being in a group setting and having to express myself – it just seems weird to me.”

I ask Samira if she had found a promising beau. “Not so far,” she says. “I’m looking for someone like me: American, born and raised here. If I wanted someone from back home – Pakistan, Middle East – I could find them, but I feel like I want someone like me – and that’s maybe less than half of the people here.”

Three hours in, it seems to me, this is a good way to meet people, but not necessarily to find “the one.” Then, I see this man fidgeting nervously in a corner. He’s a recent immigrant. We’ll call him Tamer. I walk over to him.

Tamer says, “I’ve actually found a very nice match, but I don’t know if the other side would like to date or, I don’t know.” He is a nervous wreck. Sweating and cheeks flushed. Someone has touched his heart.

I ask him what’s next. “You put your preference, and if she put the same preference then you meet and date.”

“What made you pick her?” I ask. Tamer responds, “Chemistry. And education, and everything, you know.” Tamer tells me he’s going to “take it to the next level.” 

And off he walks slowly toward her, hoping she feels the same way about him – proof that even a matchmaker can’t save you from the uncertainty of love.

According to Ali Ardekani of Half Our Deen, that event resulted in twenty matches.

How did you find the special one? Or where are you looking? Share your love story on our feedback line at (415) 264 – 7106.

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Hana Baba is host of Crosscurrents, KALW's weeknight newsmagazine that broadcasts on KALW Public Radio in the San Francisco Bay Area.