NPR story on Companionships:
Forget arranged marriages or Western-style dating; an increasing number of young Muslims are turning to companionship organizations in hopes of meeting a spouse, while maintaining respect for their Islamic traditions. It fills a void for American Muslims, particularly converts to Islam.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
That magazine has an advice columnist who often fields questions from readers like I have a crush on a boy, can I meet him for a date? The answer is no, not alone - American style. But there is a saying in Islam that getting married completes half of your religion. For young Muslim Americans who want to respect that Islamic tradition, there is an alternative to arranged marriages, professional matrimonial networks.
NPR's Asma Khalid visited one such organization called Companionships, founded by an Imam and his wife in Northern Virginia.
ASMA KHALID: Forty singles mingle over dinner. At one table, a former Southern Baptist with a fiery red beard talks about how he wants wanted to become a preacher. Nearby sits an engineer, she's a daughter of Indian immigrants. Her long, black, Bollywoodesque hair swoops over her gold hoop earrings. Across the room, an African-American woman wearing a head scarf chats with the man from Cuba.
Everyone here tonight shares a common thread. They're Muslims, and their tradition teaches that getting married is a large part of the faith. So, they've come tonight to fulfill that religious duty but also to see whether they'll find a match.
Ms. HAF SIBULAN(ph): I'm looking forward to, you know, a soul mate, but it's just so hard to meet people nowadays.
KHALID: That's Haf Sibulan, the engineer. She's in her late 20s. She never thought Muslim singles events would work but she's beginning to change her mind. It's a Wednesday, and tonight she's battled rush-hour traffic to get here. Her parents have been relentless about her finding a man.
Ms. SIBULAN: Out of all of my siblings I'm - there's four of us - they're all together married, or engaged and I'm the only one. So the pressure is really on now, like, you have to find a man and, you know - my mom is always like, why don't you just go to India, go find a guy in India. And I'm like no - try to stick to somebody here. It's so much easier.
KHALID: The night begins with a round of bingo - Islamic style with questions like what do you enjoy about Ramadan? Within a few minutes it's time for the evening prayer.
(Soundbite of Islamic Prayer)
Imam MAJUD(PH): (Singing in Foreign language)
Imam Majud and his wife Amara(ph) founded the Companionships organization in 2003. They say it fills a void for American Muslims. According to Amara…
AMARA: It's different from American society where you go to a restaurant or you're going to a store, you know, you're going to any segment of the community and you can find somebody who's single and just start a conversation. For us just practicing Muslims, it means to be a platform that brings us all together in one room at one time, so that we can identify who amongst us as a single. You don't know that just by looking in a mosque.
Bathsheba Filpot(ph) agrees that mosques, where the sexes are segregated, aren't ideal for meeting guys. She's in her mid-30s and converted to Islam 10 years ago.
Ms. BATHSHEBA FILPOT (Muslim single): Mingling of the sexes is not really, you know, something that, you know, easy or it's not something that is embraced. It's generally the opposite. So I think you're just attending prayers on Friday just coming out for a few events like that. It can be difficult because you tend to grab things towards the same sex.
KHALID: For Imam Majud, the social and religious factors of marriage go hand and hand.
Imam MAJUD: We teach in the program some aspects of what this organization look like? We used the holy Koran teaching out the Prophet Mohammed, be (unintelligible) on him and we'll explain the responsibility of husband and wife from this other perspective.
KHALID: As she closes the night, Amara offers a few words of encouragement for her guests.
AMARA: Contact me, say Amara, I'd like you to follow up within brothers that I met here last night. Let me know and let me work for you. This is not a business that is willing to keep you all as clients for a longtime. Our business is about getting you off of our clientele list.
(Soundbite of laughter)
KHALID: Within minutes (unintelligible) gives Amara her e-mail address. She thinks she may have met a special someone here tonight.
Asma Khalid, NPR News.