It's 2016, and online dating is no longer a crazy novelty. There are dating apps catering to every niche imaginable, but the market seems dominated by the mainstream ones that have become household names: Tinder, OkCupid and more. So what happens when a marginalized group attempts to use the apps and websites made for general audiences?
The U.S. Census Bureau doesn't track religious affiliation, but American Muslims are estimated at about 3.3 million people, or 1% of the U.S. population. The most racially diverse religious group in America, according to Gallup, Muslims are second only to Mormons in noting the importance of religion in daily life. On top of that, American Muslims are significantly younger than other groups in the United States — and you can bet more than a few of them want to date.
For American Muslims, the experience is an incredibly mixed one — especially these days, given how tenuous American public opinion about Muslims has been in the aftermath of recent attacks, not to mention the incendiary rhetoric of certain politicians. Although there are a number of dating apps and sites specifically for American Muslims — Minder, Ishqr, Salaam Swipe and the ever-present Shaadi.com — they're not the only ones utilized by young Muslims looking for relationships.
So what's the situation like when Muslim women — who may already be targets of harassment and sexism on dating apps simply because they're women — venture into the dating market? Regardless of whether you're "visibly Muslim" thanks to a headscarf, the experience can be a crapshoot, particularly with attitudes toward Muslims being what they are today.
For AK*, a 25-year-old Muslim woman from Chicago, her experience on OKCupid was an interesting one.
"I don't get a lot of Islamophobia unless I tell people that I'm Muslim, since I'm white and don't wear hijab. On my profile, I wrote, 'Please do not message me if you are Islamophobic, racist, sexist, anti-Semitic or homophobic,'" she told Mic.
And yet what happened during her time using it was a shock to her. Unprovoked and unsolicited, a man began harassing her through messages about Islam. In a series of screenshots AK provided Mic, the man begins his conversation with a full-on attack:
"islamophobic? yeah SURE I embrace a 'religion' that has a child molester for its leader and I TOTALLY agree with whipping and honor killings. Get real Islam is a religion of VIOLENCE and I REFUSE to embrace or accept the mess. If YOU embrace ISLAM don't talk to me. SIMPLE."
"I was so confused," AK said. "It was just so unnecessary. It was really ridiculous."
For Carly Haufe, 31, also an OKCupid user, the experience has been a varied one. "I've basically separated the emails I get on OkCupid regarding Islam into three categories," she explained to Mic via email.
"[The first is] people who send messages so grotesque that they're obviously (I hope) trying to troll and instigate a fight (after all, negative attention would be better than no attention, I guess). So every once in awhile, I'll get messages from people like that [say] things like "Death to [Allah]," or something equally ludicrous. These ones are fairly easy to ignore because I just don't feel baited by something like that. It's dumb."
She noted that after the recent Paris attacks, she braced herself for a barrage of Islamophobic messages on the platform, but was pleasantly surprised to not receive any. Her outward appearance might be a factor. "I figure that people probably aren't always looking at the religion thing in my profile. Maybe they skip over that a lot of the time," she said. "And of course, if I were visibly Muslim I'm sure I'd get a lot more messages like that."
Those trolls aren't the only ones Haufe encounters, however.
"[Then there are] people from the 'New Atheist' set who'd like to have a 'logical discussion' with me about Islam, which invariably turns into them 'educating' me on how all religions are bad, but Islam is definitely the worst," she said. "They're just incredibly confused as to how I can be a hardcore feminist and also a Muslim. They usually decide it's because I'm not educated enough about Islam, [and] try and tell me how it's antithetical to feminism, specifically and human rights in general, and they'll almost always throw in some hateful things, like telling me that Islam promotes pedophilia and the prophet was a pedophile. That's a big one.
"I usually end up telling [them] that they're [missing] the point of the website, and it's actually a better use of their time to try and find someone who'd they'd LIKE to talk to."
And lastly, there are the "Muslim guys who want to tell me that I shouldn't be doing... shouldn't have tattoos, shouldn't be not wearing hijab, shouldn't whatever. I just usually tell those guys we probably don't have much in common."
That, of course, reflects issues that women also have on faith-based dating platforms. Mediha Sandhu, a 33-year-old visibly Muslim woman, told Mic that finding a relationship has been a struggle on both religious and nonreligious platforms, where her religion becomes the fixation.
"They wanted to have inappropriate conversations and or share pictures or videos of sexual nature, and to try to 'corrupt the hijabi' because they saw it as a challenge," Sandhu noted about the men she spoke to on Muslim dating platforms. "This was no different than other sites, actually; Muslims and non-Muslims just felt that they wanted to 'corrupt' me and 'teach' me, but weren't interested in knowing me. If they were turned down, some would get really angry."
Inevitably, the harassment American Muslim women reflects the findings found in the 2014 Pew Research Center poll, that found that nearly 25% of young women between the ages of 18 and 24 report having been sexually harassed on the internet. Online dating sites and apps provide the ideal environment for such abusive behavior.
It just so happens that some of those abusive behavior instances take the form of faith-based bigotry — which can't be helped by the fact that religious affiliation itself is rare among millennials (Pew Research reported that a high percentage of young millennials identify with no religion at all, or are atheists).
It remains to be seen what will happen for American Muslim women, both on general and faith-based dating apps and platforms. Especially in today's climate, the act of putting yourself out there as an American Muslim woman seems to be a revolutionary act. What's for sure, however, is that like the countless other badass women of dating apps, young Muslim women know how to defend themselves and shut down trolls. That, amidst everything, is strangely comforting.
* Names have been changed to allow subjects to speak freely on private matters.