In Mus­lim speed dat­ing, Malaysians seek heav­enly matches


Look­ing out ner­vously from her pink head­scarf, Malaysian sin­gle Siti Aisha chats with a man she has never met, but who could be­come her hus­band fol­low­ing their Is­lamic speed-dat­ing ses­sion.

The pair talk shyly for a few min­utes un­der the watch­ful eyes of Siti’s par­ents un­til a bell prompts the dozens of male par­tic­i­pants to shift to a new ta­ble and a new prospec­tive wife.

The Malaysian con­cept, staged in a Kuala Lumpur res­tau­rant, is a new twist on Is­lam’s prac­tice of heav­ily chap­er­oned match-mak­ing, but aimed at mod­ern sin­gles for whom time is of the essence.

Siti, a 29-year-old graphic de­signer, has not been in a re­la­tion­ship since her univer­sity days.

“I’m here to find some­one for mar­riage be­cause I’m too busy to meet any­one and I spend all my free time with my fam­ily,” she said dur­ing a break, as her par­ents ea­gerly com­pared notes on the male prospects.

Or­ga­niz­ers said more than 2,000 peo­ple had ap­plied to take part in the ses­sion this past week­end, the sec­ond staged so far by “Halal Speed Dat­ing,” which uses the term de­not­ing prac­tises that com­ply with Is­lamic rules.

Suit­able matches don’t wed im­me­di­ately.

But un­like Western-style speed dat­ing, which is geared to­ward match­ing up peo­ple for later dates and courtship on their own, cou­ples in the Is­lamic ver­sion are ex­pected to seek mar­riage soon af­ter both sides agree, in­clud­ing the par­ents.

Find­ing a ‘true gen­tle­man’

Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity Malaysia has long prac­tised a mod­er­ate form of Is­lam.

But con­ser­va­tive at­ti­tudes are ris­ing, and the speed dat­ing ses­sions have been em­braced as an al­ter­na­tive to online match-mak­ing sites or apps that many Malaysian Mus­lims view as geared more for Western­style ca­sual flings.

As an added in­cen­tive, Malaysian Mus­lims face pos­si­ble fines and jail terms for com­mit­ting “khal­wat,” the Is­lamic crime of be­ing alone with a mem­ber of the op­po­site sex other than a spouse or close rel­a­tive.

“A true gen­tle­man would seek per­mis­sion from the woman’s fa­ther first,” said Zuhri Yuhyi, co-founder of Halal Speed Dat­ing.

“That has been the way for thou­sands of years and it’s only in the last two or three gen­er­a­tions that we have lost this beauty. But we hope to bring it back.”

Zuhri and his wife met at an un­re­lated match-mak­ing event in 2012 and now have a baby boy. But he wanted to cre­ate some­thing more in line with Is­lamic prin­ci­ples.

Promis­ing an Is­lamic courtship in a “dig­ni­fied man­ner,” Halal Speed Dat­ing re­quires that women be chap­er­oned and that all par­tic­i­pants ul­ti­mately plan to wed.

The week­end round fol­lowed an ini­tial in­stall­ment in May that Zuhri said re­sulted in 14 matches that he hopes will soon end in mat­ri­mony.

Though 2,000 peo­ple ap­plied for the latest ses­sion, ca­pac­ity con­straints meant only around 50 could take part, but Zuhri hopes to stage a big­ger event soon, with up to 500 cou­ples.

Dur­ing the ses­sions, Mus­lim Malay men in Western cloth­ing ban­ter with the women, most of them dressed in con­ser­va­tive Is­lamic long-sleeved blouses, long flow­ing skirts and head­scarves.

Use of per­sonal names is taboo, and par­tic­i­pants have num­bers pinned to their shirts. A few par­tic­i­pants scrib­bled notes as they chat­ted.

Cu­pid’s work is in­ter­rupted ev­ery five min­utes when Zuhri jin­gles a hand-held bell to sig­nal it is time for the men to switch ta­bles.

“Al­right, time to move on ev­ery­body. Let’s move it, move it!” he said cheer­ily into a mi­cro­phone.

Af­ter­ward, or­ga­niz­ers no­tify the women of any in­ter­ested suit­ors.

“So far it’s been good,” said one young woman chap­er­oned by her brother but who, like most par­tic­i­pants, de­clined to give her name.

“I think maybe there’s one or two po­ten­tials, but even if it doesn’t work out I get to meet new peo­ple,” she said.

Sev­eral women said the dif­fi­culty find­ing ro­mance by tra­di­tional match-mak­ing agen­cies, web­sites, or just by chance, had spurred them to take part.

“I have used apps to try and meet Mus­lim men. But the se­lec­tion is not var­ied enough,” she said.

Zuhri, mean­while, warned that pop­u­lar Western-based web­sites such as Tin­der “can lead to so­cial ills like pre­mar­i­tal sex, aban­doned ba­bies and ex­tra­mar­i­tal af­fairs.”

Siti’s fa­ther Ja­mali Ka­marudin said they had tried other meth­ods in­clud­ing match-mak­ing via friends but “it didn’t work out very well.”

“This is very new and it’s our first time, but hope­fully it works out. We should keep an open mind,” he said.

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