Finding someone to spend your life with can be hard under any circumstances, but young observant Muslims will tell you that here in the U.S., it's doubly so. They have to navigate strict Islamic dating rules while interacting with the opposite gender in a Westernized world.
Now, a handful of young Muslims think that a new app called Ishqr provides a partial solution.
Humaira Mubeen is one of the many Muslim millennials who self-identifies as a "Mipster," or Muslim hipster. "I became part of this community called Mipsters. It was a bunch of proud Muslim Americans coming together talking about a lot of issues," says Mubeen. "One of the topics of discussion was always trying to get married."
Apparently, it's hard to find someone who is not only compatible, but also shares a mix of Muslim and American values. Mubeen says, "A year into being part of [the Mipster] community, I jokingly said, 'Why don't I make a website to connect all of you, because you all seem really cool?' "
Then the emails started pouring in with people asking where to sign up. Mubeen tried to explain that she had been joking, but eventually she felt compelled to build Ishqr, a website to help Muslims find each other. "If Instagram and dating apps had a baby, it would be Ishqr," says Mubeen.
Ishq is an Arabic word for love, and the "r" was added at the end, Mubeen says, to make it sound more hip. More than 6,000 people have signed up on the Ishqr website since it went up just over a year ago. The app went live on iTunes in October.
Mubeen explains that when you sign up, Ishqr asks you for some basic information: a username, your religious preference (Shia, Sunni and "Just Muslim, yo" are all options) and why you've decided to join. She says people sign up to make friends, test the waters and sometimes to get married.
Some users come in with the mentality that, "If you don't want to get married in the next five months, let's not talk." Talking about marriage right up front might sound a little pushy, but it can work.
Tariq and Ummehaany Azam met on Ishqr. He's a medical resident, and she's a test development professional. Ummehaany described what led her to Ishqr: "This is the first website for the Muslim community in which the person looking to meet someone is creating their own profile, and they are more involved in what goes into the profile and in talking about what they are looking for."
That's important, because on many Muslim online matchmaking sites, parents play matchmaker, and young people don't have much of a say. Tariq was on one of those more traditional sites for a couple of weeks. "I actually received a phone call from some girl's mother," he says, "being like, 'We saw your profile, we really like you.' And I was completely shocked. ... That was way too much." He deleted his profile the next day.
Besides keeping parents out of the picture, Ishqr is different from other dating sites in another way: Photos aren't posted. As cliche as it sounds, it really is about discovering someone's personality. When he joined Ishqr, Tariq found Ummehaany's profile and asked her to read his. Evidently she liked what she saw: The two married this past May.