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.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Counterterrorism officials worry a lot about what young American Muslims see online. The Islamic State, or ISIS, has inspired about 5,000 Westerners to travel to its territory in recent years.
LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
This next story explores what Muslims see online, but also offers a broader view of the Muslim community. Some young entrepreneurs have created a matchmaking service.
INSKEEP: It seeks to empower young Muslims by showing them they are not alone in a country where they are a minority. NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reports.
DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: So there's a term that a lot of Muslim millennials use to describe themselves - Mipster. That's M-I-P-S-T-E-R. And it's short for Muslim hipster. And I met one of them, Humaira Mubeen, at a trendy sushi restaurant in Northern Virginia.
HUMAIRA MUBEEN: I became a part of this community called Mipsters, and it was a bunch of proud Muslim Americans coming together, talking about a lot of issues. And one of the topics of discussion was always trying to get married.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Apparently, it's hard to find someone who is not only compatible but also shares this mix of Muslim and American values.
MUBEEN: And then we were talking about this for about a year. And a year into being a part of this community I jokingly said, like, why don't I make a website to connect all of you because you all seem really cool. So why don't we just connect with each other?
TEMPLE-RASTON: And then the emails started pouring in. People were asking where to sign up. Mubeen tried to explain that it was just a joke. But eventually, she felt compelled to build a website to help Muslims find each other. And it's called Ishqr.
MUBEEN: I'd say if Instagram and dating apps had a baby, it would be Ishqr. (Laughter).
TEMPLE-RASTON: Ishq is the Arabic word for love. And the R was added at the end, Mubeen says, to make it sound more hip. She pulls up the new app on her phone.
MUBEEN: So then when you sign up, it asks you for a lot of basic information - a nickname that you would like to share with users because your real name is kept secret.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Your religious preference Shia, Sunni, or one of the options to check is - and I'm quoting here - just Muslim yo. Then it asks why you've come to Ishqr.
HUMAIRA MUBEEN: Oh, I'm just here to make friends. I'm here to test the waters. Or some people are, like, no I'm just here to get married. (Laughter) Don't even talk to me if that's not what you want. If you don't want to get married in the next five months, let's not talk.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Now talking about marriage right upfront may sound a little pushy. But apparently it works. Tariq and Ummehaany Azam met on Ishqr. He's a medical resident. She's a test development professional. They said they would call me from their house, but it didn't work out quite as planned.
TARIQ AZAM: We're actually outside of a Starbucks Coffee in our car because the Internet at home wasn't working really well. So we didn't want to risk it. So this actually works out pretty well.
TEMPLE-RASTON: So I need to set the scene here. Tariq and Ummehaany Azam are talking to me through an iPhone app. They're just 10 inches apart, sharing the same set of earbuds. It gives you a peek at their relationship. I asked Ummehaany what led her to Ishqr.
UMMEHAANY AZAM: This kind of is the first website for the Muslim community in which the person looking to meet someone is creating their own profile and they're, you know, more involved in what goes into their profile and in, you know, talking about what they're looking for.
TEMPLE-RASTON: And that's important because on many Muslim online matchmaking sites parents play matchmaker, parents write the profile, parents find and approve potential suitors. And young people don't have much of a say. Tariq was on one of those more traditional sites for a couple of weeks.
T. AZAM: So I actually received a phone call from some girl's mother being, like, oh, you know, we saw your profile, we really like you. And I was just completely, like, shocked.
TEMPLE-RASTON: So shocked, he deleted his profile on that more traditional site the next day.
T. AZAM: That was way too much.
TEMPLE-RASTON: So in addition to keeping parents out of the picture, Ishqr is different from other dating sites in another way. Photos aren't posted. So this is really - and it sounds like a cliche - about someone's personality. Tariq found Ummehaany's profile and asked her to read his. Evidently, she liked what she saw. They were married this past May. The Ishqr website itself has been up a little over a year. And more than 6,000 people have signed up. The app went live on iTunes in October. Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.