As a self-branded “Social and Cultural Blogger” for MissMuslim, I’ve effectively made myself an unrelenting social commentator. Of the contemporary and historical social quandaries of the modern Muslim, marriage is one that never goes away. The gravity of marriage as a life choice is immense for Muslims. To put it into perspective, we believe marriage equates to completing half of our religious obligation.
Most of us desire romantic love and lifelong commitment, yet it seems rather elusive/unattainable to some. Muslims have moved away from the more regressive arranged marriages (at least I hope we have), but we have not quite caught up with non-Muslim courting practices. So, we are in this strange dating but not dating no-man’s-land.
In the UK, according to the Office of National Statistics (in 2015-2016), they found over 51% of people were single and unmarried or never married. The Muslim population, standing at over 2.71 million in the UK in 2011, is facing its own set of issues in relation to marriage. Despite our advances in education, occupations, and status, we as a diaspora are still holding onto religious values (rightly so).
As Muslims, we often grow up forming very specific criteria, requirements, and ideologies about marriage and our future partners. These are, of course, influenced by our individual cultures and geographical locations. However, fundamentally, most Muslims aim to seek partners within certain Muslim boundaries (physical, moral, and metaphorical), which limits their options.
A social phenomenon that has influenced and affected the whole dating world, Muslims being no exception, is online dating/meeting. MuzMatch is specifically designed to cater to Muslim singletons. It’s an app that enables single Muslims to connect and communicate for the purpose of marriage. MuzMatch is the front runner for accessibility to meeting marriage partners and its success speaks for itself.
Being somewhat of a self-confessed connoisseur of the dating world, I was thrilled at the prospect of interviewing the founder of MuzMatch, Shahzad Younas. I found an enthusiastic and ambitious Shahzad happy to answer all questions openly. A London city investment banker by trade, he has spent two years nurturing his business into the success it has become.
Shahzad not only found a gap in the Muslim online dating world, but he approached it with a contemporary social mission: “facilitating finding a marriage partner as easy as possible for Muslims.” Shahzad seems to be fulfilling this mission as he tells me they are up 30 people per day finding love/marriage, and 6,500 people already coupled up/married through his site. All this with no money spent on marketing or even huge investments.
His innovative app is very reminiscent of it’s non-Muslim counterpart Tinder. Of course, with fundamental Muslim differences, the primary one being the Halal label it wears with pride, but also privacy settings that allow users discretion, applied modesty rules which inhibit those infamous crude pics.
I have used the MuzMatch app and some of the stand out features for me have been the selfie verification. To those less familiar, basically, this is taking a selfie as part of the signing up process – to verify that the pictures you are using are, in fact, of you. This may not completely eliminate cat-fishing, but it sure is a huge step in the right direction. Location is my favorite for obvious reasons. I want to know that the person I am speaking with is in fact in the same country as me and not an international fraudster seeking fresh victims. And finally, the good old block button. Unlike other websites, once you block someone on MuzMatch, you never have to see their profile again and vice versa.
Shahzad Younas kindly answered questions for MissMuslim, many of which I am sure our readers will find insightful.
Please tell our readers about your journey and how you started MuzMatch.
Over four years ago, during my career in banking, I noticed that every Muslim I spoke to talked about the difficulty of finding a partner. Many were fed up of the “rishta aunty” process and found online websites to be expensive and awful in terms of quality and user experience. For something as central as this, it baffled me that the options were so poor. So, I decided to do something about it. I quit my job in 2014 and learned how to build apps. I launched V 1.0 of MuzMatch in April 2015 on both Apple and Android. Since then, we have grown organically to over 250,000 members, with well over 7,000 people finding their partner on MuzMatch.
What gaps in the single Muslim online sphere did you think MuzMatch/you could fill?
We felt that technology could really be leveraged in bringing Muslims together, making it easier for them to find someone compatible in a safe and secure environment. We have used a lot of the technology in a smartphone to really help in this process, with features such as selfie and phone number verification, behavior monitoring, and peer to peer member feedback – all with the intent of ensuring we do a great job in showing you high quality people who meet your own personal criteria. We found offline methods very expensive and inefficient – with matchmakers doing a very poor job of actually matching people based on any sort of real compatibility. Online offerings at the time were web-based and did a very poor job when it came to security and quality control. Most were very expensive and poor value for money. We wanted to shake this space up, and in three short years, we have made real progress.
What, in your opinion, are the social and cultural implications surrounding single Muslims meeting/dating?
Actions are by intentions. Our aim with MuzMatch is to serve those serious about finding someone for marriage. We are embracing modern trends and mediums with that goal in mind. No doubt we make it easier for Muslims to meet and “date” in that sense. It is in our entire community’s interest to ensure that people are getting married and staying married. Hence, we collectively need to provide the framework and support for those on their search. We should be welcoming of Muslims finding any means to fulfill an Islamic tradition. Similarly, we should provide advice and support to them to help them make an informed decision which is done in the correct and respectful manner. There need not be a “taboo” on this – instead, we should look at modern trends and help Muslims navigate this.
Has online dating shaken off all of its taboos and undesirable stereotypes?
Not yet – but we are getting there. Many of our success stories do ask us to keep their photos/story private as they do not want the wider community to “find out.” However, for many, the initial taboo is broken with the very fact that they download MuzMatch and try it. In the west, it is considered the norm in terms of the new ways in which people meet. For Muslim marriage, given the particular social difficulties we have on the ground, I have no doubt that we will move in the same direction.
Do you think online meeting/dating has completely replaced old-fashioned courting practices?
It is hard to define what the “old-fashioned courting” practices were for Muslims. Often, the old fashioned way was a short meeting between individuals/families and then for the wedding to be planned. Generally, there was limited interaction between the individuals prior to marriage. Online meeting/dating has empowered the individuals, themselves, to play a bigger role in actually finding someone who they feel is suitable for them. We see this working alongside families as the precursor to further family involvement – which we encourage. If this means that the individuals feel more confident about each other prior to marriage, and have the support and advice of their families too, then this can only be a positive step forward.
How did and do you feel about being compared to Tinder constantly?
Many journalists do lazily refer to us as a Muslim Tinder as that is the easiest way to describe at a top level what we are about. However, we feel it does us a disservice, given the more serious nature of our app. We are firmly focused on those seeking serious relationships, hence any connotation with a casual dating/hookup app is something we always seek to avoid.
You proudly wear the badge of Muslim and Halal as a business, how do you maintain Islamic credibility and sensibilities?
We ensure that our core intent and positioning of MuzMatch is maintained throughout all design/product decisions. Our core intent is helping Muslims find their partner in a safe and respectful environment. We walk the line of being respectful and accessible to our audience – well aware of the diverse religious opinions of our users. We categorically do not want to be a “Muslim Tinder” or a casual dating app for Muslims. That is something we do not want to be a part of, so anything that we feel would tip us into that category is something we avoid. We also plan to consult more with religious figures for their advice, support, and input, in terms of new requirements as well as our role in the community.
Have you attended any of the weddings of your app users, and do you feel part of their happiness?
Yes, alhamdulillah, we have been fortunate to have been invited to many weddings around the world. Seeing a couple get married via MuzMatch is something quite special. Knowing we played a positive role in that couple’s life and provided the means to bring them together – it is pretty mind blowing when you think about it. Many couples stay in touch, and a number of them are now starting a family alhamdulillah!
What is your advice to the single Muslims out there?
My biggest piece of advice is to stay positive and keep faith in Allah’s SWT plan. We know it is hard to find a partner – especially in today’s busy world where we all seem to be increasingly specific in terms of what it is we seek. Many let this search overwhelm them or get them down. Rejection is also something to navigate. Our advice is to know that Allah SWT has a plan for you – and you doing your part to bring you closer to what Allah SWT has set out for you. So, if something doesn’t work out, or it seems to be taking forever to find the ONE, then have patience that insha’Allah something good is coming for you. Use all means – let your family know you are searching, be clear about who you are and also what you want in a partner. Make sure your family know this. Speak to friends and try all offline and online avenues.
What does the future hold for MuzMatch?
We recently just graduated from the prestigious Y Combinator in San Francisco and, now that we have significant funding behind us, we are focused on really revolutionizing this search for Muslims around the world. We are growing our team as we push to really shake up this space and do things differently and really focus on bringing the community together with marriage in mind. As we grow, we want to further work on our matching algorithm to really understand you and your personal journey, and offer you even better matches, with similarly distinct and original offline events. Our ultimate goal is to be THE Global Muslim marriage app – one step at a time.