Young Muslims On Finding Love In The Tinder Hook-Up Era

Photo: Noranierah Noho / EyeEm
When it comes to love, dating and sex, Muslims are often conspicuous in their absence from the public conversation. From Muslim dating apps to halal sex shops selling halal condoms, it’s clear that Muslims are in the market for intimacy, romance and love just like anybody else, but sex-positive portrayals are few and far between. This may be, in part, due to strict rules on sex and dating outside marriage, but that doesn’t mean the religion is anti-sex (for married couples, at least). Quite the contrary. Islam has long preached sexual gratification – from scripture emphasising that a woman’s sexual pleasure is equally as important as her husband's, to a heavy focus on foreplay, to numerous books on how to sexually satisfy a woman.
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Of course, not every Muslim dates and finds love in the same way; what one person thinks may be at odds with another. And don’t be fooled into thinking arranged marriages are a traditional trajectory – one person may be staunchly "no nikah, no nookie" (no sex before marriage), while another may actively look for a husband on a Muslim match site, and another may not find dating and premarital sex such an issue.
Challenging the view that Muslims aren’t a monolith isn’t the only battle, either; many young Muslims struggle with an older generation which expects them not to have dated in their teens and adulthood but to have found someone compatible to marry by their early to mid-20s. Given that most people in their 20s and 30s are part of the Tinder generation, is it any wonder conversations about relationships both in the Muslim community and outside are shrouded in secrecy?
So how do young women and men grapple with the conflict between religion and a Tinder hook-up culture? How do they align their religious values with a society where sex is quite literally a button away? Refinery29 spoke to several young women and men and although they’re not reflective of every Muslim, given the diversity of the community, the results are certainly illuminating…
1 of 7

I know what my religion says but we’re only human and if you feel a connection with someone, and it feels right to you, then that’s your choice to make with your body.

Bella, 26, visual merchandiser, Birmingham, single

What has been your biggest challenge dating as a Muslim?

It was finding the balance between being a Muslim and being me. Being a Muslim makes up a part of me but it’s not the whole person.

Do you exclusively date Muslims and if so do you find it hard to stick with?

I used to exclusively only date Muslims, but I’ve found it hard over the years to date as a Muslim. I always felt like I was being torn between two worlds: one where this is how it should be done, and the other on how things were going. Whereas now, I feel it’s not as important because it’s all about what feels right at the time and whether we connect, which doesn’t happen always. So when you do connect, you hold it dear.

What are the positives of dating as a Muslim?

There are lots, it just depends how you look at it. Being with someone who is Muslim can be great! You’re on the same page and you know what you want from each other right from the get go. That’s a wonderful feeling.

What misconception would you most like to clear up?

Some people think that, as a Muslim, you can’t date or that it’s not 'the done thing'. The way I see it, you’re only human, and when you’re dating people you’re only getting to know them. My religion allows that much.

Do you use any apps and if so what’s your experience of them been like?

Using apps just isn’t for me; whenever I've started seeing someone, it's happened much more organically. I’ve never found being a Muslim a hindrance.

Are you strict with sex before marriage?

I’m not. I know what my religion says but we’re only human and if you feel a connection with someone, and it feels right to you, then that’s your choice to make with your body. As long as you’re happy, then do as you please. It’s only a problem for me if someone is conflicted between the two and not confident in their decision.
2 of 7

Western society doesn't really understand the concept of 'Muslim dating' - in fact, a lot of people don't consider it dating at all.

Eman Ali, 23, engaged, London

What misconception about being a Muslim and love would you most like to clear up?

That Muslims don't date! Most of us do – it just may not be dating in the modern sense. Many of us decide to date without intimacy, to get to know the person, their morals, their intentions and if they would fit in your life. Many of us date to build friendships so that this person who may potentially be your life partner is compatible with your lifestyle. We too look for love.

What do you think is the hardest thing about love/relationships as a young Muslim today?

There’s always a backlash when getting to know a person and even dating as a Muslim. You have Western society that doesn't really understand the concept of 'Muslim dating' – in fact, a lot of people don't consider it dating at all. They would consider it a friendship because of the lack of intimacy in the relationship. And to some Muslims it would be deemed wrong that you are not immediately marrying this person and avoiding the possibility of sin.

What has been your experience of dating/love/relationships as a Muslim today?

For me, dating as a Muslim meant that I couldn’t just date guys to pass time or to have fun, it was trying to find that perfect person to be the last piece to my puzzle.

I've never really been interested in an arranged marriage, although I've never completely opposed it either. I actually had quite a few proposals, however to me that didn't seem like the right option. I'm not saying it doesn't work because I've known plenty of people in beautiful relationships that were arranged, it just has never been for me. I've always wanted to be friends first, lovers later.

I found that when I was meeting people, I always had the attitude that the person is a potential spouse but at the same time I wanted that special connection that any other person would look for. Luckily, I found it.

You wanted to find a love marriage before going for an arranged one – could you tell me more?

I was introduced to my fiancé through a mutual friend. Us being together was completely unintentional and unexpected. We started out as friends and he made me laugh for hours. The first time I met him, he took my number and we spoke on the phone for six hours. Even then, we had no interest for a relationship – it was purely a friendship that developed.

I was lucky in finding my fiancé very young, so I've never had to try to ‘find’ a husband as such. A lot of people were surprised to find out I was engaged so young, but for us it felt right. We're not rushing the wedding – or he isn't at least! If I had reached my 30s and had still been unmarried, I would have had an arranged marriage.

Before meeting your fiancé, did you use any apps?

I've never used any apps to find a partner. Muslim apps usually just jump straight to promoting marriage which I completely understand. However, when it's a complete stranger, it will take you an awfully long time to get to know them and marriage should definitely not be the immediate topic of conversation.
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3 of 7

Sometimes a Muslim guy will approach you for 'fun' and then, realising you're not into that, suddenly gain respect and want to marry you. Erm, no thanks.

Nafisa Bakkar, 25, cofounder of Amaliah.com, London, married

What challenges have you encountered?

I think the biggest challenge for many Muslim women is being able to find a man that can deal with ambition and not feel emasculated or have the expectation that a woman should ‘step down’. A lot of these challenges stem from cultural issues rather than from Islam.

I also think that being a Muslim woman who doesn't wear hijab can sometimes be interpreted as not holding my faith in high regard, which is a common experience for myself and women I know. There have been occasions where a Muslim guy will approach you for 'fun' and then realising you're not really into that, suddenly gain respect and want to marry you. Erm, no thanks.

What, from your experience, are the positives of Muslim dating?

Personally, I was quite strict with myself in the sense that I wasn't really interested in having a boyfriend. I found this was a great filter, my mindset was: If you want to be with me, then you've got to be ready to get married. However, I've spoken to a number of women who don't feel confident enough to say something like that because they think it will scare the person off. But for me, if they’re scared off, then good riddance.

You married young – what has that been like?

I chose to get married when I was 21 and I was 22 by the time we got married. Many assumed that it must be arranged, or that my parents must have pressured me but quite the opposite – we met through friends and my parents were quite shocked that I wanted to get married and told me I should wait. It also shocks a lot of people that we only met three times in person before deciding we wanted to get married.

I personally think it's a very logical process and I was very aware that I didn't want to just get infatuated and swept off my feet without thinking. In Islam, there is a lot of emphasis on character and for me it was about finding a God-fearing man with good character. I don't think figuring out someone's character takes long.

What misconceptions about Muslims and love would you most like to clear up?

That we don't fall in love. That our marriages are all arranged. That we don't enjoy sex. I went to see a nurse and after knowing I was married, she went on to ask if I was Muslim. She then said, 'Your parents must want you to have a child soon'.

Do you think there is a lot of guilt that comes with having sex as a young Muslim?

I think there isn't enough sex education for young Muslims. I also think there isn't enough education about what healthy relationships look like. Many women find themselves in toxic relationships but don't feel as though they can talk to family or friends out of fear of judgement. This can sometimes lead to individuals not feeling like they can reach out to help.
4 of 7

It’s hard enough finding the right girl, let alone bringing the ideal religion into the equation!

Omar, 25, journalist, single, London

What’s been your experience of dating as a Muslim?

It’s not always been straightforward, but it's also not been a hindrance. When I was much younger, my faith didn’t have any effect on my love life. I was able to date and meet girls and get on with them like any other person. I eventually got into a long-term relationship with a Christian girl which lasted nine years and eventually after some time, religion did become a bit of a problem.

Do you exclusively date Muslims?

I don't exclusively date Muslims. In fact, I think I've only had one or two flings with Muslim girls – the majority of my relationships have been with people of different religions. If I did exclusively date Muslim girls, I don't think it would be a major issue but it’s hard enough finding the right girl before then bringing the ideal religion into the equation!

Do you use any apps and if so what’s your experience of them been like?

I used to use Tinder and Bumble after I got out of a long-term relationship, but it wasn't something I used regularly. I preferred meeting someone in person and talking instead of over an app.

What’s your attitude to sex before marriage?

I don't care too much to wait. I think the world we live in now is different so I'm completely fine with it. However, I'm also completely supportive of people who decide to wait for marriage before having sex. That's their choice and in a way, shows they hold great morals and beliefs, so I'm for both you could say.
5 of 7

Irrespective of my religion, I’ve never had a problem attracting the opposite sex.

Saira*, 23, London, administrative assistant

What misconceptions about Muslims and love would you most like to clear up?

A Muslim relationship is not an ‘I say, and you must obey’ type of affair, as it is often portrayed on social media or TV shows. I don’t understand this portrayal of Muslim women not enjoying their relationships or being forced to submit.

Tell me about your experiences of dating/love/relationships as a Muslim today.

Irrespective of my religion, I’ve never had a problem in attracting the opposite sex. However, I haven’t always had the best relationships. I learned many tough lessons along the way. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve ever really fallen in love before. I don’t care too much for the ‘modern day man’. By that I mean a guy who is just with you for a bit of fun and up for the ride for as long as he can last and doesn’t have any goals for where the relationship is heading. And in the past few years, I seem to have dated many modern-day men.

Do you exclusively date Muslims or non-Muslims?

In my early teens, I didn’t really practise my religion so I wasn’t so fussed about who I dated. However, as I got older and grew into my faith it only made sense to date a Muslim. Funnily enough, this contradicts my faith because it’s not permissible to ‘date’. Nonetheless, I do find that some Muslim guys I’ve dated can be kinder and gentler in every aspect of our relationship. I don’t know if this has some correlation with my faith or it’s just the character of those I've dated. However, it's also worth noting that I’ve also dated some Muslim guys who have been less than kind.

What have been positives of Muslim dating?

The Muslims I've dated have always had a positive influence on me whether the relationship has worked out or not. I find myself practising my religion more. I am more cautious of my actions and I become more humble and sensitive to many things and people around me.

What is your attitude to sex before marriage? Are you very strict with it?

I really believe in sex after marriage. Unfortunately, I didn’t when I was a teen. Intimacy is a fundamental part of any relationship: it’s healthy, for your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual being and it elevates the attraction and connection. It's important you take your time and not rush into intimacy because it's very personal.

Do you think there is a lot of guilt that comes with having sex as a young Muslim?

Absolutely. Now that I'm older and I’ve developed my perception of my religion, I do feel guilty. I think it's better to wait and explore with the right partner. It's not always easy but I would be stricter on myself if I had the choice of doing things differently.
6 of 7

Once I got in the rhythm of dating, I never planned to wait for the one, but many of my friends do, even those that aren’t Muslim.

Amirah*, creative, 24, single

What’s been your experience of dating/love/relationships as a Muslim today?

Dating has always been openly frowned upon in my community and family. Growing up, it just never seemed like an option and I wasn't confident enough in my teens to be rebellious. It was only after university that I decided to put myself out there and that was tricky. It was like I had to catch up on everything people learned to do early on. I didn't really even know how to talk to guys let alone flirt with them. I just started off with the normal dating apps like Tinder.

Do you exclusively date Muslims and if so do you find it hard to stick with?

I always had an open mind to dating even when I wasn't ready to do it, so when I went on Tinder, I wasn’t exclusively looking for Muslims. My first relationship was with a white guy. The person I was with was always very understanding and keen to learn about my culture and religion but in the long term, understanding turned into resentment. In this particular situation, he wasn't ready for the commitment that came with dating someone from my background and the challenges that might come with it, eg. my parents.

It's fair to say this makes me lean more towards dating someone from a similar background. I've always been open-minded about who I date but I feel it would make more sense to date someone from a similar background as in the long term, my parents would be more accepting of it. In addition, being with someone of a similar culture usually means there's some understanding.

What is your biggest challenge?

I feel very exhausted from dating apps, be it Tinder, Bumble or Minder (the Muslim version). They are very time-consuming and it takes a level of commitment and effort to swipe, keep up conversations and go on first dates. I just don’t have the time for it anymore, especially when things are not really leading anywhere.

What misconception would you most like to clear up?

Dating is interesting since so many people do it in so many ways in the Muslim communities. In my generation, the person next to me might have dated her boyfriend for years with her parents knowing, another person for years without her family knowing and the person next to her might have met her husband through a family friend or aunty.

What is your attitude to sex before marriage? Are you very strict with it?

For me, this was something that I was always open to but once again, since I didn't have the confidence to date, it never happened. Once I got in the rhythm of dating, I never planned to wait for the one. Many of my friends do – even those that aren’t Muslim – but it was never for me.
7 of 7

A lot of my married friends met their other halves at work, uni, the mosque, the corner shop and face the same problems that everyone else does.

Asha Hussein, 25, social media influencer and content creator

Tell me about your experiences of dating/love/relationships as a Muslim today.

I go through all the same ups and downs in love and life as any other 25-year-old woman – I don’t think being a Muslim makes my experiences any different. Right now, there’s so much I want to focus on like my career, my friends and making the most of my 20s. So the idea of a relationship tends to be a bit of an afterthought. But if you can laugh at the ups and downs of dating and perhaps meet the love of your life, then it’s all worth it.

What misconceptions about Muslims and love would you most like to clear up?

You just have to look at films and read books to see the misconceptions about love in the Muslim world. The storyline is usually about a young girl, destined to marry someone her parents chose for her, but she fights against the oppression and elopes with her true love. When, actually, the reality of it is that a lot of my married friends met their other halves at work, uni, the mosque, the corner shop and face the same problems that everyone else does. The vast majority of us don't have a Bollywood love story – if only!

Not everyone's marriage is arranged. But when it is, it’s not that different from a mutual friend introducing you. If you’re introduced and you like each other, then you explore a potential relationship and see if it could work. If you’re not feeling it, then you can shake hands and part ways.

Do you use any apps and if so, what’s your experience of them been like?

Muslim dating apps are a fairly new thing, and it's interesting to see how people navigate them with religion in mind. I'm currently documenting my experience with a dating app to share with my single viewers and so far, it's hilarious!

It's interesting to see how a lot of people on such apps have the same concerns as you. Should things work out, how do you explain to your family that you met on a Muslim dating app? It's not what leaves me lying awake at night, but to see that everyone finds it just as embarrassing as you do, bizarrely offers a little comfort. One guy literally wrote on his profile: 'How dramatic do you want our lie to be about how we met?'

For me, it's never been an option and to be fair, like most people, online dating is usually a last resort.
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