The Marriage Project: Building a Renewed Matrimonial System
Article by Rami Mahmoud Elsawah
Islamic matrimonial services….
Friends who can’t even get married themselves…
The average Muslim waits two to three years to get married from the time he or she begins searching, according to a friend of mine in the matrimonial business. I did not believe him until two years ago, when I began actively searching for a spouse myself. I thought the process would be easy as pie. After all, I can cook very well, am kind to my mother, religiously conservative, and have been told I have good character. Yet now, single and frustrated, I have come to take aim at the disdainful state of the social networks available for Muslims to get married. You would think after all, that the cooking factor alone would have had the sisters lining up out the door with applications in hand.
Now, don’t misunderstand me. I have met some very nice sisters along my path towards marriage; though unfortunately ethnicity, her ‘education’, lifestyle compatibility, (i.e. the usual culprits of delayed marriage) played a factor. I know many brothers in similar situations. With almost seven million Muslims in America, should not at least a few dozen candidates out there fit like a glove? The problem is where are they hiding, and how do you find them? I believe a better system exists out there which we as a Muslim community can integrate and adapt.
An Introduction to the Problem: “Auntie Network” Defects
Let me introduce you to a few scenarios from the Auntie scene:
a) He’s a man; she’s a woman, perfect match!
b) “Brother, I have a good religious sister for you.”
“Okay, umm…does she wear hijab”?
“Well…I don’t know”.
c) “Sister, I have a religious brother for you”
“Okay, please you tell me a little about him.”
“Well, he’s 35, born and raised in a country you’ve only visited a few times in your life, speaks broken English, and needs a visa.”
The first place a Muslim turns to when looking for a spouse are a set narrow enclaves of families and friends which are unskilled and give the average Muslim only a handful of candidates to choose from. These micro-independent networks — aka “the auntie networks’ — are riddled with manufacturers’ defects, all of which are well known and need not be named here. Generally, in a macro view, the problem sums up to two issues:
1) Few choices – Considering the fact that approximately seven million Muslims live in America, even being introduced to 10 candidates is barely scratching the surface of possibilities.
2) Poor matching criteria – Really, enough said.
A Bigger Network with Bigger Issues: The Online Matrimonial Service
Online Matrimonial services attempt to remedy the first issue of few choices within the micro-independent networks by widening the scope to national and even international candidates. Yet bypassing the human networks leaves the candidate with impersonal and cold matching criteria — and many times ridiculous. Here are some examples:
Zawaj.com: Gender / Age / Height / Country. (That helps much!)
Muslima.com: **Horoscope Sign** / Education / Occupation / Country / Ethnicity / Physical (Age, height, Appearance, etc).
Icmarriage.com: Education / Occupation / Country / Ethnicity / Physical (Age, body type, etc) / Head Scarf? / Practicing pillars of Islam? / Marital Status / Have children? / Want children?
Now, I ask two questions:
1) Where are the Religious Criteria? ICmarriage is the only one that even mentions religious criteria at all, yet all profess to be MUSLIM matrimonial services. I don’t know about you, but wearing a head scarf and practicing the five pillars is the absolute, positive, and any other word you can mention, minimum religious criteria.
2) Are Her and My Software Compatible? None of the online matrimonial services address personality issues which are essential for a lasting marriage. Emotional stability, sexual desire, personality agreeableness; why are not any of these aspects addressed?
Behold Progress! But Sadly not from the Muslims:
What makes a person really have a good marriage?
What is important to him or her?
Why are so many young Muslims single?
Why does practically every Muslim in America have at least one friend that is divorced?
“In 2000, backed by over 35 years of clinical and empirical research, Dr. Warren transformed the way singles are introduced online when he launched eHarmony – the first relationship service on the Web to use a scientific approach to match highly compatible singles.”
I decided to do some research into eHarmony. The service was created for one purpose, to lower the divorce rate in America. How, you ask? By matching people according to factors that contribute to healthy marriage. I checked it out and give a comparison to Muslim matrimonial sites. Needless to say we don’t even come close.
“At eHarmony our patented Compatibility Matching System ® narrows the field from millions of candidates to a highly select group of singles with whom you share deep levels of compatibility. Where other sites match on a picture and a paragraph, eHarmony matches you based on compatibility in the most important areas of life – like values, character, intellect, sense of humor, spiritual beliefs, passion, and up to 24 other dimensions.”
You would be hard pressed to tell an auntie that intimacy in marriage is a five out of seven in importance to you, or that being around someone who is unable to keep their cool is three out of five; but these are just two of the 436 questions used to rate you on Agreeableness, Openness, Emotional Stability, Conscientiousness, & Extraversion. It is quite impressive; check out a little sample of my ten page personality profile:
Your approach toward your obligations is:
Words that describe you:
Spontaneous, Natural, Intuitive, Somewhat Disorganized, Perceptive, Unpredictable At Times
“A General Description of How You Interact with Others
When there’s a job to be done, like most people you want to know what the goal is and when it’s to be completed. For you, that’s a start. Next you want to know what the plan is to get to the goal. So you lay out a plan, or at least the major points of a plan: “Organize the kitchen sometime this spring” or “Get the project at work done as soon as possible.” You don’t need an in-depth specification of every little detail; in fact you prefer not to work that way. You lay out your goals, develop a general plan, and then you get things done. “
Negative Reactions Others May Have Toward You
“People may have problems with your style for two reasons. First, you don’t always follow the rules or go along with detailed plans, whether at work or at home. Those who need the details to stay on task just don’t quite understand how you are going to get it all done. Second, while you get things done – the way you veer off course at times and use your creativity may leave others wondering what went on. Some people find all this creativity and thinking “out-of-the-box” at odds with their desire to follow a clear course. And this causes not only some confusion it may also spark some anger toward you at times. Even you would likely admit that living and working with you takes someone who is able to let you do your thing at times. If someone is really tied to a rigid approach to how things should get done, there is clearly the potential for some conflict with you. “
Believer it or not, this was only a small sample of the entire description for conscientiousness. In the end, I was matched to two Muslim sisters whose personality traits seemed to fit quite nicely with mine. As a Muslim though, we have other criteria which are essential to an Islamic marriage i.e., things such as dress, prayer, staying at home, relationship with Allah, etc.
I suggest going online and taking the questionnaire. Having a ten-page personality profile for marriage is great to have and keep for reference. Share it with potential spouses or with your current spouse. Even just answering the questionnaire gave me some insight into what degree I consider certain factors important.
What our next step should be:
Needless to say, the Muslim matrimonial systems, whether personal or online, need drastic reform.
Firstly, we need to refine our criteria based upon deep levels of compatibility in order to create more and better lasting marriages insha Allah. Secondly, once people begin to see how successful and happy these relationships can be insha Allah, we can build on that success and further expand our networks to increase the likelihood of finding a candidate. Thirdly, friends, family & aunties need to sit down and evaluate each candidate on a deeper level. For once, try for meaningful matches based upon real personality, religion, lifestyle compatibility, not X & Y chromosomes.
Perhaps a Muslim with a flair for business and a heart of sincerity could set up an eHarmony style matrimonial service to give Muslims the extra ability to match on religious requirements needed (wears hijab, prays, etc.) and at the same time, match you based on how your personalities fit towards marriage.
Conversely, perhaps if enough Muslims write to eHarmony and ask for the few extra religious search criteria for Muslims, we can save ourselves the effort of re-inventing the wheel and build off of their foundation. Insha Allah, I will be the first to do so.
Your comments, more than anything, will insha Allah help us as a community to at least get this issue out in the open and on the forefront of needs to be addressed. Imams need to take place in this discussion. Some voices like Yaser Birjas have been very vocal on a national level on this topic, but all imams deal with marital issues on a day to day basis. Now it’s time for all of us as brothers and sister to join in the discussion.
According to Dr. Muhammad Sadiq, Muslim families have problem with the following issues: anger management & impotence (men), anxiety disorder (women & children), and depression & paranoia (men & women). Evaluating core traits such as Emotional Temperament, Social Style, Cognitive Mood and Physicality like eHarmony does, might be able to help us get rid of so many of the marital issues facing Muslims today.