Ana, a Palestinian-American from New Jersey, has been looking for love for years.
She lists the typical gamut of desired qualities in a man: respectful, self-sufficient, and ready to share her love for books, cooking, and music. But there’s one non-negotiable requirement: he has to be Muslim.
Finding Muslims who match not only her taste but also her level of piety has been daunting, she says.
Moreover, dating is frowned upon by her parents, who uphold the marriage norms of Palestinian society. There, customs are often marked by pragmatism rather than romance. In many areas, parents or other relatives arrange – and sit in on – initial meetings between prospective couples, who typically decide whether to become engaged after only a few visits.
So Ana was thrilled to one day stumble upon HipsterShaadi.com, a new site catering to young Muslims “tired of all the ‘possibilities’ the aunties keep bringing up at every get-together,” according to its Facebook page.
The project was born when Sheereen Nourollahi, a 26-year-old Iranian-American, and Humaira Mubeen, a 24-year-old Pakistani-American, were discussing dating in an online forum for Muslim hipsters, or “Mipsterz.”
“We fill in that space that maybe our community or mosques don’t. We’re giving them a space to come, maybe not for marriage, but at least to test the waters,” says Ms. Mubeen, while stressing that the site’s features – such as access to profile photos only after a connection is made – offer an experience vastly different from Western-style dating site.
When they launched in late October, the site’s creators were hoping to reach out to “third-culture kids” exactly like Ana – singles in their 20s and 30s, who are often highly educated first-generation Americans and are struggling to balance multiple cultural identities.
Today, the site has 650 users, and growing. It’s recently gone global, and is now available in cities like Washington and London, as well as in the Middle East, in places like Egypt and the Palestinian territories.
Browsing usernames like KhanyeWest, Pakiswagger, and MakeChaiNotWar, Ana says she was optimistic about meeting “someone that was more of a ‘modern/Americanized’ Muslim.”
She immediately signed up and crafted a brutally honest profile meant to ward off men too conservative.
“Not looking for someone more religious than I am (I fast, don't pray yet),” she writes. “If you think a woman belongs in the kitchen and shouldn't work or get an education then I am not interested.”
Ana has refrained from telling her parents that she’s joined the site, fearing reprimand for dating. But “those taboos are going away rapidly,” says Hassan Shaikley, one of the site’s young programmers.
It serves a modern generation of Muslims who, he says, are still fully aware that “in the religion, marriage is encouraged – and marriage is said to embody half of the faith.”