Are matchmakers becoming a nightmare?
By Yasmeen Qadri
Matchmaking through such institutions like the South Asian Rishta [matchmaker] Ladies/Rishta Aunties is an age-old tradition in all Muslim cultures and, surprisingly, in Orthodox Jewish and Christian families as well. As a young woman 50 years ago, I also hated this practice of women making matchmaking a career or a community service.
The intended groom’s families would visit the intended bride’s home and stare at her with ten eyes (at least five people would visit), one looking closely at her walk while others engaged her in conversation and asked tons of questions that would make her freak out. The girl’s family was pressured to serve refreshments or even dinner if the candidate was a sought-after professional like a physician, lawyer or IT worker. The country where he worked also mattered, thus raising standards even higher for candidates residing in the U.S. than in Saudi Arabia or other countries.
Today the trend continues; however, there has been recently a big resistance to it. During last year’s ISNA convention, I was surprised to witness a booth and placards waving and huge posters held by young women that said: “Save us from Rishta Aunties.” ISNA and ICNA matrimonial services invite the many single attendees to their matrimonial banquets. ISNA’s matrimonial service has been in place since 1985. Other matrimonial services consist of a large variety of virtual sites and apps like Muslim Matrimony.com, Eharmony.com, Muslima.com and Single Muslim.com.
Sadaf Farooqi’s blog, “Before You Roll Out the Red Carpet: Be on Red Alert for these “Rishta” Red Herrings & Red Flags” (Jan. 30, 2018), lists five major issues with matchmaking: helicopter parents (domineering/overprotecting parents), the entitled lady (pampered girls and their attitude), too much haste (foreign candidates who visit for 10 days and rush), an overemphasis on cooking and food and finally, the deliberate cover-up of mental illness.
Meet the Muslims Falling in Love on Instagram (Muzz Blog, Aug. 2022) describes other challenges, among them the following:
• “For a young Muslim it can be more comfortable meeting someone online because there’s no family, there’s no restrictions. You can talk normally; you don’t have to meet in person. It has made it easier; there is less pressure.”
• “Someone requested to follow her on Instagram. When she accepted, he liked 20 of her photos in one go.”
• “That should have been ‘a signal’ to doubt him. They were together for a year, until she noticed he was liking selfies of many other hijabi girls. There is a code of conduct. When you’re with someone, you don’t like other girls’ photos. That is shameful.”
The highest divorce rates are as follows: Muslims (31%), Jews (30%) and Born-Again Christians (27%). Two primary causes are cited: relationship compatibility and a lack of religious knowledge.
Matrimonial practices among families vary from those whose parents chaperone the meeting to those who take total charge through apps and websites. Candidates also resist — most complain that their parents don’t understand the new generation and impose their own cultural practices. This conflict creates barriers, and most women are reaching their 40s and with no further hope of finding a suitable bachelor!
Samreen, a beautiful young hijab-wearer with a full-time job, is facing parental pressure to get married soon. “Your sister married who we had proposed with no issues, even when the boy was from India. She was only 19 years old, and now I am getting very worried about my second daughter who is rejecting every proposal.” Samreen, on the other hand is frustrated. “Rishta Aunties tend to push their own agenda onto boys and girls, instead of listening to what we would have to say. I totally dislike this process, as Rishta Aunties care more about making a match than seeing if it is a good match.”
Maria, a medical school student, says she hasn’t pursued the Rishta Auntie route due to its lack of a wide network, which results in limited people and those who aren’t of the best quality. Meena, 40, a tall hijab-wearing pharmacist, was waiting patiently to find her Prince Charming. “I am tall, and I can’t marry someone shorter than me. Neither H-1 (work) visas nor someone fresh off the boat (fob). I am fed up with this process, and I am not interested in marriage now!”
Rizwana from Canada surprisingly stated: “I do not mind the process itself, in fact I highly value aunties going out of their way to help us hijabis for reward from God. My frustration is that the boys (and sometime girls) are not on the same page as their parents. I also do not appreciate the long time they take to decide. Once we talk, 2-4 weeks are sufficient to know the compatibility; if it prolongs for months and years and parents are not brought into the picture, and then you know there is a problem.
Some hijabi girls are frustrated with the double standards of the boys’ mothers. She added the Desi [South Asian] culture find beauty in the white, slim and tall girls and decline proposals even before sharing with their sons. Mothers would initially say “what is more important is a good religious hijabi girl but then they would ask: “Is the girl light skinned?”
Hooria, 30, a highly qualified physician, daughter of a successful physician, had a very unique response: “Al hamdu lillah, our generation is blessed with many privileges, wealth, education, status, career, and whatnot and we assume that we will find a guy of our choice as easily.” After the challenges of pressures from age and time, Hooria states that delaying marriage helps build one’s relationship with God and this may bring your closer to Him. “Kun fa yakun. Only God knows when and whom I will. Whether it is Rishta aunties or apps or other tools, without His will nothing can happen. This lesson may also help us build a strong marriage in the future. I am content with this belief, but others may think I have given up!”
The challenges are numerous, as many women are highly qualified and can move easily in the larger society, whereas men are less qualified and more willing to lead a simple life.
Young men too resist Rishta aunties, but they handle it in a more diplomatic way by saying “they are not yet ready” or “let me first reach my goals,” or even better “aunty, it is hard to find good girls, I would rather stay single than regret later.”
If young adults don’t like the Rishta Aunties, they must be prepared to find their own spouse. In a way, this makes it more difficult — either virtual dating or “halal dating.” There is a very small number of success stories of finding spouse online; however, the majority feel unsafe with this process.
A matrimonial search conducted with one’s parents or an adult mentor who can be a good advocate for the candidate might help bridge the gap between immigrant parents and their born-and-raised American children. Despite the high divorce rate, both groups are frustrated because there is no one-size-fits-all process, given the many family variations; wide diversity in ethnicities, languages and cultures; as well as vast cultural differences among reverts, Arabs and South Asians. Children raised within liberal families may be no different than reverts and reject matrimonial services. My three born-and-raised American children were married through our Hyderabadi culture’s traditional matrimonial process. Yet there was diversity within the same culture, as each child was raised differently.
I believe that a partnership between parents or a trustworthy adult and the candidates may be a safe and better choice. Most young adults can make hasty or decisions based on their emotions. Their intention of finding a spouse may not be realistic or may be aligned with some fantasy world.
The first part of my six-part YouTube video series “Not Yet Married?” offers some useful tips in Episode 1:7 Easy Tips to Begin Your Journey: select an advocate, make a list of characteristics, share your list with your advocate, use marketing strategies, mobilize with common circles (show your etiquette), make a marriage timeline and conduct a background check & verification of the candidate.
Marriage is a very serious matter, and the matrimonial process even more so. The free mixing of genders can weaken our Islamic cultures and impact the marriage process. As a community, Muslims must lay down parameters to manage this undertaking. Although most of us may believe that marriage is a part of our destiny, it’s important to first tie your camel and then trust God.
“The greatest test of faith is when you don’t get what you want, but you are still able to say, ‘Thank you, Lord.’”
Dr. Yasmeen Qadri, a mother of three and grandmother, is a tenured professor at Valencia College, advisor to the Muslim Ambassadors for Peace Student Club, as well as a board member of the Peace and Justice Institute.