Picture this. An endless array of potential matches at the touch of a button. A simple swipe right or left holds the power to either accept or reject a potential match. Each swipe brings forth a set of carefully crafted profiles, complete with biographies, cheesy one-liners, photos and detailed descriptions of interests and intentions – a mirror into the perspective of the person behind a screen. If two users swipe right, you have the opportunity to talk via a chat function – it’s here where an opportunity to schedule a date offline and in the real world commences.
It’s undoubtedly true that many of us have experienced some aspect of love in the digital age – whether it be connecting with someone on social media or scrolling through a myriad of profiles on dating apps – the ubiquitous nature of online dating is undeniable.
I had my first taste of online dating in my early 20s. As a bright-eyed young Muslim professional working in the city, my experience with online dating was very tumultuous, to say the least. I met potential suitors from a wide range of backgrounds, with diverse interests and even more diverse preferences. I frequently felt like a real-life imagining of Goldilocks and the Three Bears – often finding that the porridges of suitors were either too hot or too cold and never “just right”. My desire to take marriage seriously meant I considered Muslim dating apps as a first preference. I was also conscious of the growing popularity of dating apps more broadly and knew it had the potential to connect me to a wide range of prospects across London.
A booming industry
As of 2023, the UK dating app industry generates approximately £11.7 billion. Research conducted by dating platform eHarmony indicates that if these trends continue, then the UK will reach an effective “tipping point” in 2035, with more than 50% of relationships predicted to originate from online dating apps or websites.
This is an interesting observation, particularly in light of my own frustration (and women within my friendship group) at the difficulty in finding a connection with someone in the “real world”. It is this exact frustration that leads women to searching for connections in the online world.
As far as dating apps are concerned, Tinder is by far the most popular dating app in the UK, with the app currently hosting over 10 million subscribers worldwide. Of this 10 million, the UK is the second-largest contributor to Tinder’s revenue. Quite interestingly, these trends of popularity are also mirrored in the Muslim online dating scene. Dating apps like Muzmatch (recently rebranded Muzz) has 7 million users worldwide and websites like SingleMuslims.com have approximately 2 million users (50% of this are UK users). Although these numbers may be exaggerated for marketing purposes, it can certainly be argued that technology has drastically transformed the way Muslim women find a marriage partner for life. Quite plainly, it’s a trend that is unlikely to cease any time soon.
Although the academic research into Muslim dating apps and their usage is rather scarce, there are notable pearls and perils to online dating which reflect important societal changes and trends for the future.
Eliminating the barriers to accessibility
In many ways, online dating apps and websites have eased the arduous process of introductions to potential suitors. They do this effectively by eliminating the various barriers to accessibility. These barriers include geographic restrictions (Muzz proclaims to have 8 million users from more than 190 countries) and criteria-based limitations during the selection process (which often come in the form of religious and/or cultural preferences). By removing the obstacles to accessibility of potential suitors, dating apps and websites often equip Muslims with the agency they need to choose the best matches for themselves based on commonality in lifestyle routines, religious practices and interests.
One Muslim female friend I spoke to, in her early twenties, confessed that online dating was a great forum for meeting new people and new matches. She stated: “As a Yemeni woman, I am keen to explore connections with other Muslim men from different backgrounds, particularly given the Yemeni community in the UK is quite small. Online dating apps certainly make the introductory process a lot easier.”
In many ways, Muslim dating apps have opened up greater avenues to meeting new suitors by giving access to a larger pool of prospects. They also naturally facilitate an easier introduction process – whereby your background, faith and preferences are made clear in your profile description. It also renders the obstacles associated with place-based dating obsolete.
Maintenance of cultural and religious identity
Online dating has allowed Muslim women to easily merge the two worlds of their religious and cultural values with the western idea of dating. In an interview with Humaira Mubeen, the founder of US online dating site Ishqr, she discussed how Muslim dating websites often serve to maintain cultural and religious norms during the dating phase, without the conventions of traditional processes belonging to earlier generations. In Mubeen’s view, these sites often provide a route for Muslims to marry in accordance with their faith and expand their network to meet other peers that are also navigating dating in a Western context.
Additionally, Muslim dating apps often tailor their services to the cultural and religious norms of Muslim respondents. On apps such as Muzz and Salams (formerly Minder), for example, you are able to select your levels of religious adherence, how many times you pray, whether you drink or abstain from alcohol and whether you would like to select a Mahram – a chaperone) to help facilitate and supervise discussions. This reflects a level of religious sensitivity that helps Muslims navigate the complexities of assessing a partner’s suitability from an Islamic perspective.
In a collection of personal essays titled Love, InshAllah, a number of Muslim women share their experiences of using the internet and online dating apps to find a potential spouse. Many depicted the ease in which they could express their specificity in their romantic selection. One particular woman, Molly Elian Carlson, described how a Muslim matrimonial site enabled her to detail her conditions for a husband: “Looking for a Spanish-speaking Muslim to marry, must not be divorced or already have a wife” (Maznavi & Mattu, 2012).
Deception and behavioural disinhibition
In stark contrast to the above points, the lack of a proper vetting process can mean some harmful levels of deception occur on Muslim online dating apps including dishonesty about one’s marital or financial status for personal gain. The issues around trustworthiness, particularly in light of major catfishing disasters reflect the danger lurking in the online dating world.
A Muslim colleague in her early 30s expressed dismay at the difficulty of online dating, due to people’s ability to lie without accountability. She shared a frustrating experience with a Muslim man she matched with on Hinge, who after three weeks of no communication, returned to declare that he had a family emergency despite being online and active on the app.
It’s worth noting that some Muslim dating apps such as Muzz try to address some of these pitfalls by implementing a selfie verification process. However, this does not tackle the behavioural deceptiveness that can often occur once a person verifies their picture. Poor behaviour on dating apps can be explained through the online disinhibition effect – the idea that a person will act out online more so than they would do in-person due to feeling safer behind a screen. Tackling this challenge is difficult in the digital age, particularly as initial conversations take place virtually.
A culture of disposability
Arguably one of the most impactful consequences of online dating is its tendency to encourage a culture of disposability, commonly referred to as the “shopping mentality”. This is exhibited by an impatience and dismissal that accompanies an endless stream of swipes, like scrolling through items on a shopping list, users can easily shop for a potential suitor.
Consequently, these apps provide a surface-level understanding of someone, in which looks and presentation are hyper-focused on. This often leads to poor behaviour, such as sudden and gradual ghosting, in which a user abruptly ceases contact with another person, or gradually reduces their contact and response rates over a period of time.
One young Muslim woman I spoke to in her early 20s revealed one experience in which a man she was speaking to over the course of a few weeks abruptly stopped all communication and did not respond to her after they had agreed to meet up. Despite already having agreed a date and time to meet, she felt both disrespected and puzzled by his lack of clear communication, and by the fact that he did not follow up on the day they proposed to meet with any confirmation. It was in her view, an effective “no show”.
Arguably, one could claim that this behaviour also takes place in the real world however the powerful shield provided by the virtual world, reflected by the online disinhibition effect referenced above, makes this behaviour all the more ubiquitous online.
Swiping Right to Mr Right – Is it Wrong?
Overall, much can be debated about the perceived benefits and consequences of finding love in the digital age. Although the experience of Muslim women included in this article is testament to both the difficulties and ease with which the virtual world facilitates romantic connections, it also reveals the nuances of navigating online relationships.
With advancements in technology and the development of the metaverse, we will undoubtedly see a catapult effect in the online dating world – years from now, we may see the detailed creation of avatars that date in immersive virtual environments. We may even see the potential eradication of in-person meet-ups entirely! Ultimately these changes remain to be seen, but the journey to finding Mr Right will remain an interesting one, no doubt.
Najat is a business development manager at an international law firm and a part-time writer. She graduated with an LLB (Bachelor of Laws) degree from SOAS, University of London and previously worked as a paralegal for a trade association before transitioning to a business services role in the city. Her interests pertain to the socio-cultural issues impacting Muslim women in the UK and the importance of media representation in advancing diverse and inclusive narratives. IG: @Najat_Writes