Dating apps can be terrible.
Despite the onslaught of niche dating apps, some still feel left out of the dating scene. Especially when dating has been a taboo topic for most of their lives.
For young, single Muslims in the West — whose “white friends” started going on dates as teenagers while they were barely allowed to utter the word “boyfriend” — it’s hard to know where to start.
Enter Eshq (“love” in Persian): a new dating app aimed at young Muslim women looking to dabble in the world of dating without the stigma. By allowing the woman to “make the first move,” the app, which is currently in beta, hopes to remove the obstacles and stigma of dating in the Muslim world.
Its founder, 29-year-old Mariam Bahawdory, launched the app while she was in graduate school. Bahawdory had virtually no dating experience growing up in Raleigh, N.C. When it came time for her to “settle down,” per her Afghan family’s tradition, the options were limited.
After a failed engagement at 25, she found online dating to be her only real prospect.
Progressive platforms for Muslims like Minder promise the ability to “Swipe. Match. Marry.” But that wasn’t enough for Bahawdory and her friends, who were looking for a deeper connection and potentially, marriage.
“I created Eshq as a solution to my own problem,” she says.
She says Minder’s reputation is too reminiscent of its inspiration, Tinder. For someone looking to get serious and introduce a dating prospect to her family, Minder wasn’t the place to go.
On the other hand, clunky, traditional dating platforms didn’t fare any better.
“I looked at Muslim dating websites that are archaic, geared more toward a matrimony,” she said by phone. “I wanted to implement a faster format that’s more mobile-friendly and for a younger crowd.”
While Muslim-themed matchmaking platforms like Minder, Arab Lounge and Ishqr have been around for some time, none of these platforms offer services beyond placing Muslim women on a pseudo-meat market to be plucked from, Bahawdory explains. Eshq is looking to fill a void in the market craved by Muslim women.
For example, Ishqr doesn’t show you potential matches’ face, mimicking the ritual of old-school blind dating.
“I kept thinking, ‘how can I make it different? How can I give women who aren’t allowed to date the power to choose a partner?’” Bahawdory says. “Eshq is the first Muslim dating app created by a Muslim woman who is also its target market.”
After years of researching dating patterns in the Muslim community — including speaking directly to Muslim women of both liberal and conservative backgrounds about what they want to see — the idea of Eshq was born.
“Being a Muslim woman with friends and family members at different ends of the progressive spectrum, I wanted to create an environment that invited individuals from across the Muslim community who are interested in a long-term connection.”
To join Eshq, you must login through Facebook. From there, the app uses a matching algorithm that picks out similarities between profiles, Bahawdory explained. As the user fills out their bio information, the Eshq team picks out keywords to match with others’ profile.
Its drawing feature is that it only allows the woman to start the conversation after a match. It was admittedly implemented by the mainstream Bumble around the same time Bahawdory says she came up with the concept. Still, she thinks that in the context of Muslim dating, the app’s small-yet-curated pool makes the feature even stronger.
For 28-year-old Sahar M., who lives in Manhattan and works in marketing, Eshq’s encouragement of comprehensive profiles, including Spotify, Instagram and embeddable videos is what drew her to it. You can even add an emoji to represent your heritage country’s flag. Given that Muslim culture is far from monolithic, this comes in handy to help give context to your match.
“It lets you provide a fuller picture of who you actually are,” she told me. “And the fact that it empowers women to make the first move helps avoid all the creepy guys.”
Dating in the Muslim community is more nuanced than mainstream millennial dating culture. There is a wide spectrum of piety, culture and religion that factors into decisions around dating, Sahar explains. Depending on the community, there are a range of views of what dating looks like, or whether you even use the word “dating” or “boyfriend.”
Having tried Tinder in the past, Sahar matched with and dated a Latino, Catholic man for some time.
“It was a great relationship, but there was a sense of ‘this is doomed from the beginning,’” she says. “I realized I’d like to have someone who understood my culture and religion.”
Saif Raja, 30, and Judy Jbara, 26, met on Eshq six months ago — shortly after the app’s initial launch. They talked on the phone for four hours before meeting for coffee. Jbara, who is of Syrian origin, had never considered dating a Pakistani man, but was able to change her family’s perspective on it once she met Raja on the app.
Living in the United States, Jbara wanted to find someone who understands both cultures she grew up with. Raja said finding a Muslim girl he actually sees a future with has not only made him, but his older parents happy.
Straddling two contrasting cultures is no easy feat, Raja explains.
“Growing up in America with older generation parents makes it hard to do things like date in the normal sense,” he said. He hopes that tech platforms like Eshq will help make it a bit easier to find common ground.