September 8, 2012

Muslims turn to ... speed dating

The process is a little different with Islamic customs, as mothers might hover nearby.

By ANNYS SHIN The Washington Post

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

Muslims line up for the recent speed-dating session at the annual Washington convention of the Islamic Society of North America, where one speed-dater said her favorite question was, “What is your favorite vegetable?”

Washington Post photo by Bill O’Leary

Another problem is that women outnumber men, Husain said, including at the banquet.

Observant Muslims must also contend with one major constraint that many non-Muslims in America don't face: a prohibition on premarital relations between men and women.

That means no dating in the conventional sense "to protect the dignity and modesty of each," Husain said. No time spent together unchaperoned. No cohabitating. No serial monogamy. And absolutely no hookups. If a man or woman finds someone they are interested in, the next step is to meet the parents.

"Muslims value the process of getting married not so much on the individual level, but as a process between two families," Husain said. "That way you can place a person in the context of several relationships."

For the families of Asma Ashraf, 28, and Jaweed Mohammed, 31, it was a whirlwind romance. The couple met at an ISNA matrimonial banquet in Chicago in 2010. Mohammed said he spotted her in the foyer beforehand. When he didn't encounter her during the three-minute sessions, he had a volunteer introduce them during the social hour. "From there, the families took over," Ashraf said. They were married 45 days later.

Even though Ashraf hails from Chicago, which has a sizable Muslim community, she said it was hard to meet the same number of potential suitors in the regular course of life. While the interactions at the banquet can feel a bit forced, Ashraf said, they spare the participants even more awkwardness. "It's 'yes' or 'no,' and there's no hard feelings," she said.

The couple were in Washington to speak at that night's banquet. As they sat on a small stage, about 400 men and women wishing to copy their success sat before them, waiting for the three-minute rotations to begin. Outside, the moderator, a woman named Nida in a white blazer, was giving her volunteers their marching orders.

Kadir and Rocky were among the last to go in. "Pray for us!" Rocky's sister said to her friends as she trailed behind her brother. "Time to go find a sister!"

A short while later, a volunteer waded into the throng of stragglers outside the ballroom, his hands clasped. "Brothers and sisters," he beseeched them, "if you are here for the matrimonial, please go in."

Then the doors closed.

Organizers had left pieces of paper with suggested questions on some of the tables. Occasionally, attendees tried to mix it up. One woman said that her favorite question of the night was, "What is your favorite vegetable?"

After dinner, the social hour began. For the last half-hour, the ballroom doors were left open. People filtered in and out, but the majority stayed to mingle.

They stayed so long that the organizers eventually had to turn off all the lights to get them to leave.

Before the room went dark, Rocky the neurosurgeon emerged to pray. He said he had fun meeting people, but to his sister's chagrin, he did not write down anyone's number or email address.

Kadir, the Tampa insurance salesman, was not keen on anyone he met. He said he preferred to encounter potential mates in a more organic way, such as at a party or a wedding.

"It feels real artificial," Kadir said.

Raza, the engineer from Atlanta, found the experience a tad frustrating.

"By the time you ask an important question, the three minutes is over," he said.

But he did meet two prospects. He had his mother talk to them during social hour. He also planned to try his luck again at the next night's banquet.

"It is still better than not meeting any people," he said.


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