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Finding Islamic Love Online

An Internet social network allows young Muslim-Americans to search for a soul mate without violating religious rules against dating.

Email icon  cag299@nyu.edu

Dating in America – expected. Premarital sex – accepted. But, in the Muslim community, both are taboo, leaving young people to grapple with the openness of popular culture and the Islamic boundaries that make it hard to find a mate.

Now, thanks to a website called Naseeb.com, Muslim-Americans have a way to look for a life partner—without violating religious prohibitions against dating.

“Naseeb has empowered young Muslims to find one another proactively, instead of passively waiting for marriage propositions,” said Monis Rahman, a Silicon Valley businessman who started the website in October of 2003. He said he initially created the network because he thought that young Muslim-Americans felt “alienated” after September 11th and he wanted to give them “a place to connect.”

Since its inception, membership in the online community has been growing steadily: According to Rahman, Naseeb has more than 300,000 users from more than 100 countries around the globe. About 60 percent of them are from the United States, followed by about 12 percent from the United Kingdom. Most of them are young adults.

Not everyone logs on to Naseeb simply to find a potential spouse: Many use the website to connect with old friends, extended family members, and other acquaintances. The site offers discussion groups, bulletin boards, event calendars, music downloading services, and other features. But the matchmaking aspect of Naseeb, which can include a fee, has been growing in popularity since the site began.

As on other “dating” websites, users post photos, personal profiles, religious affiliations (in this case, Sunni, Shia, etc.) and descriptions of what they’re looking for in a partner. But unlike subscribers to other services, Naseeb users typically get thoroughly acquainted with potential “soulmates” (as they’re called on the site) through extensive e-mails and instant messages before meeting in person.

When they do get together, it’s usually in the presence of extended family, friends, or members of their mosque. (Islamic law prohibits men and women from being alone together until after they are married.)

The word “naseeb” means destiny in Arabic. And, “I do think it was destiny,” says Muniba Mahoney, 21, of Briarcliff Manor, NY, who “met” her husband Ryan, a recent convert to Islam, online last March. The pair got married six months later.

Muniba joined Naseeb a few years ago after hearing about it from a friend. Initially, she used it to look for old acquaintances from high school and college. But this year, she decided to try to meet someone of the opposite sex. She checked out—and rejected—dozens potential suitors and was about to give up when she noticed Ryan’s profile.

Something about it attracted her, but at first, “I was really on the fence about whether or not to contact him,” she recalled. “I feel there’s a stigma about meeting people online.” Eventually, though, she communicated her interest to Ryan, and that led to a series of e-mails, online chats, and later on, phone conversations. Eventually, they arranged to meet at a public prayer meeting.

After their families gave the young couple their blessing, Muniba and Ryan tied the knot. “If we feel the same about each other, our families approve, and we’re at that stage of life, ‘Why not get married?’ Muniba said

According to William O. Beeman, Ph.D., an expert in Islamic society and culture at Brown University, in Providence, RI, websites like Naseeb are consistent with Islamic tradition. Meeting someone online is acceptable because there is no physical contact between the man and the woman. It is “an electronic extension of traditional practices,” Beeman said.

For many young Muslims, it’s a welcome new high-tech twist. Aahirah Amir, a 21-year-old Orthodox Muslim who lives in New York City, said she doesn’t believe in dating. So she joined Naseeb to connect with someone she might like. “It’s no big deal,” she said, waving her hands before admitting, “It’s a resource.”

Muniba and Ryan Mahoney got acquainted on Naseeb.com—and married less than a year later.

Photo courtesy of Ryan Mahoney