American Muslims try a middle way to find marriage partners

Events aims to find balance between traditional arranged marriage and western-style dating for single Muslim men and women in the United States.

People attend a Muslim speed-dating event at the Adria Hotel in Queens, New York on Sunday, October 17, 2010. 
Credit: Yana Paskova

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NEW YORK // Mohammed is 40 and professionally successful, but still single. He is seeking a Muslim wife but his construction business leaves him little time to socialise or attend mosque. He believes a bride from his native Pakistan would be unlikely to fit into life in the US or to be his intellectual equal.

So he found himself on Sunday afternoon at a matrimonial singles event with about 12 men and 17 women brought together by MillanUS, a company that provides introductions for young professionals and whose motto is "Muslims Marry Muslims".

"I've been busy and I didn't find the right girl," said Mohammed, a pseudonym because he, like most other singles at the event, did not want to give his real name. He would consider a Muslim convert as a wife but he did not want a woman from Pakistan for fear he would have to "babysit" her in the US.

These matrimonial events aim to find a balance between strict, arranged marriages in which the couple barely know each other and western-style dating, which many Muslims consider religiously inappropriate and immodest.

As a group, young American Muslims have achieved professional success and status but the cost of this often includes the lack of a close-knit community that in other countries would help them find a suitable spouse.

Tariq is 27 and works in Manhattan as a banker. "I work and socialise in a very different background to my family and where I'm the only person with my background," he said.

Family members are also encouraged to attend the matrimonial events. Last Sunday, they sat at tables to one side of a large ballroom beneath glittering chandeliers in a New York hotel. The singles sat at separate tables for men and women but then they were ushered to sit on chairs arranged in a large circle.

The men and women were shy and nervous. They were dressed smartly but casually. Some of the women wore flashing jewellery and a couple had headscarves. Non-alcoholic drinks and snacks were laid out to one side.

Farrah Mohsin, the 23-year-old unmarried daughter of Jamal Mohsin, who founded MillanUS, was the master of ceremonies. She encouraged the singles to drink because "you'll be doing a lot of talking!"

Each person gave his or her name, occupation, place of residence, country of origin and interests. Their jobs ranged from banking to nursing; they lived as far afield as California; they came from countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan; and they enjoyed activities ranging from reading to skydiving.

Miss Mohsin then threw out some questions, starting with: "Why do you want to get married?"

"It says in the Quran that when girls and boys mature, they should get married. Allah says so," said one woman. "Faith is a major factor," said another.

"There is a 50 per cent divorce rate in this country. Is marriage really 'till death do us part'?" asked Miss Mohsin.

"Some people get married for the wrong reasons and marriage is not for everyone," one man said.

The circle of singles then broke up to take refreshments before one-on-one talks, during which the men circulate, spending a few minutes talking to each of the women, who stayed seated.

"Is it speed dating?" says the website of MillanUS. "No, it emphasises Islamic marriages rather than relationship between Muslims."

Sameer, who works in marketing, was born in Pakistan and lives in San Francisco, said: "My parents still live in Pakistan. They are also trying to find a wife for me but times have changed and America is not as appealing to people from my country anymore.

"I didn't tell my parents that I came here. I would just tell them if I meet someone with potential. I don't want to raise their expectations and I am also too shy to tell them."

Mr Mohsin, a financial adviser, founded MillanUS four years ago after receiving many requests for introductions from fellow Muslim professionals. Millan in Urdu and Hindi means "get-together" and the company's introductions, which are also conducted online, have resulted in 26 marriages.

To attend an event or to join online, men must be aged between 23 and 43 and women between 20 and 40, be Muslim of any sect or ethnicity, and have a college degree from a US or overseas university. People who are divorced or widowed can participate.

Shahnaz, 22, looked glamorous in a blue shalwar kameez. After she finishes her bachelor's degree, she wants to study medicine and hopes to find a husband who will support her in her career. "I'd like to meet Mr Right, a proper soulmate," she said. "He would really understand Islam and my rights. There's no secret formula to marriage and both parties have to put in a lot of effort."

During the event, singles were encouraged to fill in cards with their names and contact information. "Don't ask anyone for their info, just give them your card," said Miss Mohsin.

At the end of the day, Sameer seemed a little disappointed. "To be honest, I expected a few more people," he said. "The chance of meeting someone you really like among 17 people is really low."

But he did give his card to two women. And many marriages have resulted from far less.