Canadian women create ‘offline dating’ service for Muslims looking for love

Co-directors Faiza Khan (left) and Bano Murtuja (right) started Matchbox because so many Muslims around them were struggling to find a partner. Courtesy of Bano Murtuja

For single Muslims looking for love, like most people, they often don’t have to go beyond the comfort of their phones.

Apps like Minder (the Muslim version of Tinder), and Muzmatch offer (sometimes an overwhelming) amount of options, and other popular apps like Dil Mil, Bumble and Tinder also have plenty of Muslims in the pool. But when 39-year-old Bano Murtuja of Brampton, Ont., started noticing Muslims around her were still struggling to find love, she wondered if it had something to do with faith. 

“There are so many services out there, but very few that take into account the competing pressures people of the Muslim faith have,” she tells Global News. “Busy professionals who want to settle down, but don’t have the time and often emotional energy to speak to tens of people before finding someone who may be compatible.”

Months later, she joined Faiza Khan, 27, of Oakville, Ont., and Matchbox was born. A personalized North American matchmaking service for Muslims, that interviews every member personally before they join the service. The company, which officially launched in December 2016, encourages the idea of “offline dating.”

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“We wanted to create a service that respected our client’s privacy, respect their time and make the process of finding a marriage partner fun again. So the matchmaker — a real human being, not a computer or site search criteria — does a lot of the initial work. Our matchmakers look for compatible people, make sure we’re meeting our client’s requirements, and then introducing clients to one another.”

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Barriers for some Muslim Canadians to finding love

Signing up for Matchbox is free, but a single introduction is $250. A “one-to-one platinum service,” which includes meeting the person’s friends and family, and confirming details like health, education and employment, start at $10,000.

The service has also advertised themselves to fit the needs of more unique relationships like divorced Muslims or single parents. They currently do not offer services for LGBTQ couples.

And although her idea isn’t unique to the community — matchmaking between families is a traditional route to marriage still done by many — she adds people are opening up to the idea of finding love outside the family circle. “Just as with any community, Muslims come in all shapes, sizes and outlooks,” she adds. “For many Muslims — even those who don’t consider themselves very practicing — marriage is a serious decision and making use of a professional service just makes sense.”

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Online dating taboos

Dr. Saunia Ahmad, a clinical psychologist of Toronto Psychology Clinic, says while there are many types of Muslims out there, all with different needs when it comes to love, the concept of online dating for some may still be considered taboo.

“Some Muslims are fine with it, while other more devout Muslims ask if this type of dating is OK or not,” she tells Global News. “Some people are concerned about judgment or not being a good religious person.” And when you are single, or on apps, for some, it may feel like the last resort.

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“Some people feel incomplete if they haven’t met someone or gotten married,” she says. “In Islam, part of our mission or objective religiously is getting married.”

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And those people who still identify as Muslims, but engage in premarital sex or drink alcohol, for example, may also face additional challenges, Ahmad adds, to finding someone who can connect with them specifically, without being judged.

But online dating itself has also changed the way Muslims date, she adds. Often, marriages would be arranged through family members but now, sites and apps have allowed single Muslims to meet others they can really connect with.

A Muslim dating in the real world

Fahmida Kamali, a 25-year-old from Toronto, says she has tried a majority of dating apps and sites (both for Muslims and not specifically for Muslims), and says it can sometimes be overwhelming.

“I didn’t know a lot of Muslims and I don’t have a ton of Muslim friends,” she tells Global News. But Kamali also says her appearance, with a hijab, sometimes makes it harder for her to meet men in public because people don’t know if they can approach her.

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And as a divorced woman with open-minded parents, marriage is still on her mind, and it is something she says Muslims, or anyone for that matter, shouldn’t shy away from in conversation.

“I have certain values I hold to relationships and dating,” she says. “We don’t have to talk about marriage right away, but I need to know if you have the intention to get married one day. I am open to talk about it.”

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