Muslim Dating Sites and the Technology of Marriage, Part III

Yesterday we finished introducing you to a few Muslim dating (or “matrimonial”) sites. Today, we introduce you to our “experiment:” I set up profiles and recorded the experiences of my different “subjects.”

These websites and the expectations of the participants tell us something about the conceptions of femininity and masculinity that surround marriage. Some people, or more specifically some women, are more desirable than others for different reasons. In order to find out why, three female subjects were created (this also shows how easy it is to set up a fake profile). These women were completely different and fit within very stereotypical notions of womanhood.

Subject 1 is a Canadian citizen in her 20s who is still a student, but will graduate with an engineering degree in the next year. She is Caucasian, tall, and thin. She is a convert to Islam, but she does not wear hijab. She would never accept polygamy, and she is looking for a caring husband to share financial responsibilities and house chores.

Subject 2 is an Arab woman in her 30s. She has never been married, but she aims for a husband who will take care of her. She is a teacher right now, but after marrying, she wants to be a housewife. She is very religious and volunteers at the mosque teaching Qur’an to children. She is average height and she is slim. In addition, she wears niqab.

Subject 3 is an African Muslim woman in her 40s. She is divorced and has three children. She immigrated to North America and she now holds permanent resident status. She has a heavy-body type and she is not very tall. Nonetheless, she has a good job and she is financially stable. She is looking for a husband who will accept her with her three children.

This research cannot give ultimate results, because it does not exhaust all the possible types of Muslim women out there. However, men’s responses towards these different women tell us something about male participants’ marriage expectations. The results will take all sites into account.

Interestingly enough, the most popular woman was Subject 1. This woman received over 20 messages in less than a week and several invitations to chat and to review a male member’s profile. One of the most striking things is that this was the only instance in which Muslim men attempted to be romantic. Subject 1 would receive a number of messages outlining how wonderful the prospects were and how romantic they could be upon marriage. Moreover, men would show a soft side to her that they would not show with Subjects 2 or 3.

Subjects 2 and 3 received less than five messages total in a week from all sites.  Furthermore, the messages directed to them were lacking the romantic aspect. One possible explanation is that, as my research partner pointed out, a man cannot direct himself the same way towards a Muslim woman born into traditional Muslim family than towards a convert or a “white girl.” For some, it is even considered a matter of respect. Social expectations when it comes to mainstream Muslims may be different, but this leaves two questions: don’t Muslim girls deserve romance, despite their background? Or the opposite: don’t white converts to Islam deserve the same “respect” as the other Muslim women?

Additionally, when it comes to Subject 1, the economics of marriage played a role. A number of the men that contacted Subject 1 were interested in relocating to Canada. Many of them were from North African or Arab origins and they were working in the Arabian Gulf. Some of them had high levels of education, but they were temporary workers in other countries. Not only is Subject 1 attractive to those looking to gain a visa, but as a soon-to-be Engineering graduate, people may presume that she will make lots of money.

In contrast, people had no economic interest in Subjects 2 or 3, even though Subject 3 had permanent resident status, a stable job and made a decent amount of money. In regard to Subject 2, even when she specified that she was a teacher, she clearly expressed her desire to become a housewife after marriage. Although this is mostly a traditionally and social accepted role, it is not easy for one-salary marriages to sustain a comfortable lifestyle, which may have contributed to the lack of interest in her.

In addition, the citizenship issue may contribute to further attention to Subject 1. It is through marriage that a number of women in North America and Europe sponsor men in financial difficulties in their own countries to become citizens of another country, and many men were aiming for that. One of the issues that may have contributed to the little interest in Subject 2 was the fact that she was portrayed as citizen of a North African country; thus, this may have not been appealing for men who are looking for better financial conditions.

When it comes to religion, it was odd to see that Muslim men did not aim for a “practicing” Muslim woman when it came to Subject 1. No one asked questions in regard to her religious practices and no one objected the fact that she was depicted without hijab and as a smoker, which are often thought to be undesirable characteristics for a Muslim woman. In this sense, chances are some men thought they could “fix” Subject 1’s habits and shape them to their own lifestyle because she was a convert to Islam.

On the other hand, the most respectful message out of all the ones received, was directed to Subject 2. This message showed interest in her religious practices and her niqab may have played a role. The man who sent it depicted himself as extremely religious and looking for a “proper Islamic wife.”

Conversely, Subject 3 was the least popular. Part of it could be her age. Most of the men in these websites are between 30 and 50. Very few men are in their late 20s. However, most men aspire to get in touch with a woman in her 20s or 30s at the most.  The only man that showed interest for her was an individual who was also interested in Subject 1 and Subject 2. Ironically, the man was in his 50s and he was looking for a second wife.

There is also the racial factor: light skin is still held as a feminine ideal for many predominantly Muslim cultures. Though neither of the messages she received mentioned race or skin color one way or the other, Subject 3’s race may have played a role in her unpopularity.

Subject 3 was divorced and had children. Divorce remains a big stigma for women, especially when there are children involved and when the woman is beyond her 30s. Despite this woman’s financial stability and permanent residence status in North America, there was a consistent lack of interest from men in the sites. Hence, although divorced women may find marriage alternatives elsewhere, men in dating sites seem to be looking for younger women who have never been married or that don’t have children.

Tomorrow we’ll figure out what this all means for Muslim women online. Stay tuned!

  • Dina

    Eren, lovely idea!! However, I have to say one thing that comes to mind as a chance of highly interesting results lost: You variated too much between the profiles.
    More meaningful variation would have been f.e. 3 profiles in their 20s, one Caucasian convert, one African woman/dark complexion, one Arab woman. If you wanted to get meaningful results on whether devout/conservative women are more desirable, you would have varied only hijab and views on working women, roles of the wife. ideally, neither childlessness nor body type nor age would vary in order to not dilute results. If you wanted to see the impact of colour, you’d vary essentially only the colour and make them all hijabis. If you wanted to know the impact of weight or age, same thing – most other potential influence factors would need to be held constant.. in your very interesting experiment you will not know whether the Caucasian woman is, say, more successful because of her colour, not wearing hijab, being childless and young compared with the other 2 profiles.. likewise, for the African woman you will not know whether she is, say, unsuccessful in comparison due to her dark colour, weight, or the children she has. Your finding will be “an overweight, middle-aged, black woman with dependent children is less desirable” when it could have been “a black woman wearing hijab is less desirable than a white woman wearing hijab”, or a “devout women with dependent children is less desirable than a devout woman without children”, “a white convert wearing hijab is more/less successful than a white convert not wearing hijab”, “a young white convert gets x times the responses a white middle-aged convert gets” etc etc. See what the difference in clarity of the finding is?
    You could have switched these up with every portal you registered on to get more diverse findings, which you seem to have wanted with the highly differing characteristics you used. I suppose the added value of 3 portals on what the success of white convert hijabi vs. non-hijabi is not so great to justify foregoing the other results if you have sufficiently clear (and many) responses on the 1st one. Just recommendations, very interesting project still!

  • Salma

    This is a good experiment. I can’t say that any of this surprises me. I can’t wait to read your results.

  • muslimbro

    as salaam alaykum

    It is sad how superficial some brothers can be , but sisters are also as bad. Many will go for a non-religious brother, who doesnt pray and shaves, who has more money than a pious one with less. Ive even see adverts of hijabis specifing clean shaven brothers only!!

    Many brothers go for looks and sisters for money; somewhere along the line deen gets sidelined.


    This is indeed a great idea for a project Eren; but like Dina advised I also think it would help if you keep some variables constant, it’ll be easier to later deduce results for the variable you wish to study.

  • Eren Arruna Cervantes

    Thank you for all your comments. Dina, I completely agree. In order to get more accurate results we would have to create more subjects. This would have helped us to measure specific variables. However, we just wanted to get a general sense of how these sites work and what they can provide for women. We decided to go with very stereotypical images of Muslim women just to get a sense of the reactions. Of course this study cannot present ultimate results, and maybe in the future we will expand on it. Nonetheless, I still find that this study show us that femininity and masculinity traits in this websites remain fairly consistent when we talk about an “ideal Muslim” wife. However, it still strikes me that we draw the difference between Western converts and Muslim born women. We are neither treated the same nor expected to behave the same despite the fact that we are Muslim.

    Hopefully in the future we will be able to carry out a more detailed study that will reflect conceptions of femininity, masculinity and marriage in a different light.

  • Miriam

    wow, wow, wow, wow… this is so interesting! Great study, but i have to agree with Dina and Rchdoudh for further study, mantaining some variables constant.

  • Emma

    Online is NOT much different than real life. If you look good/are outgoing, then you’ll get approached in public (college, clubs, etc.) Same w/ these online sites- it’s about that 1st impression. Since MOST ppl aren’t getting noticed this way, I suggest finding more alternatives. Some ladies I know are on Shaadi, others are dating differnt religions/races, etc. Otherwise, liberal or conservative, we’re gonna have TOO MANY singles!