The Muslim speed-dating scene

The latest trend in American Muslim matrimony? How about speed dating to find an arranged mate? Or something like that ...

The New York Times highlights the religious and cultural issues involved when Muslim men and women -- some with parents watching closely nearby -- try to make a connection in a hotel ballroom. On the drink menu: hot tea or Kool-Aid.

The opening of the 2,400-word Sunday feature:

MUHAMMAD BAIG knows exactly what he wants in a son-in-law, but he is also willing to compromise.

Mr. Right would be Pakistani, though someone from India might do. Mr. Baig prefers a doctor or lawyer, yet will accept other professions. He brags about his ability to discern a United States citizen over an immigrant whose status is more precarious by the confidence in his walk. And how can Mr. Baig tell if a candidate comes from a good family -- if he prays daily, does not drink, and would not marry outside Islam? Just look at how he dresses.

"I don't like a hobo," Mr. Baig said. Then, shrugging toward his 21-year-old daughter, a nursing student, he added, "But it's her choice. She has to like him, too."

As his daughter approached graduation, Mr. Baig, a Queens wholesaler whose thin black beard adorns a pudgy face, had been on the lookout, going to the mosque more often, asking more acquaintances about their unwed children. But he had had little luck, so one Sunday last fall, he sat on the perimeter of a hotel conference room in Bayside, Queens, and watched as bachelor after bachelor sat across from his daughter, a beige veil draped over her plump face, for a few minutes of stilted conversation.

Speed dating is always a bit awkward. Take away the alcohol, invite parents to watch from the sidelines, and the ritual takes on the excruciating air of a middle-school dance.

Overall, I enjoyed this piece. The writer has fun with the subject matter, and that's imperative for a story headlined Speed-Dating, Muslim Style, right? In general, the story does a nice job of illustrating that not all Muslims believe the same thing or interact with culture in the same way.

This paragraph illustrates the diversity at the speed-dating event:

The women at Millanus events stay in the seats -- stiff-backed, standard-issue seafoam-green upholstered hotel seats -- while the men rotate among them. There are always more women: many Muslim men return to their ancestral villages to select a wife. On this Sunday, one bachelorette wore knee-high leather boots and purple eye shadow; another, a long, elegant white dress. Many were draped in traditional Islamic attire; about a third were veiled.

My major criticism of the story would be that it uses vague terms such as "conservative" and "liberal" and fails to fully explain what's meant. For example, there's this reference to critics of the event:

There has been some criticism from conservative religious leaders, who pleaded with Mr. Mohsin to use teleconferencing, so men and women would meet via video chat, not in person. One of his friends condemned his events, calling them "an American-style meat-market."

In case you were wondering, no, the "conservative religious leaders" do not get a voice in the story. They are not identified by name. Neither is the reason why teleconferencing might be preferable to in-person chatting explained. The friend who condemned the speed dating also is not identified or given a voice. The full extent of Muslims with a problem with this approach is that single paragraph.

The story presents this picture of a "liberal" Muslim woman:

Amna, a 26-year-old graduate student in mental health who spoke on the condition her last name not be printed because she did not want people to know she had attended the event, said of her generation, "We are definitely torn between two worlds."

"American culture, at times, clashes with Islam," she said. "But the beauty is that as we are struggling to find our place, and we’re critically examining our parents' cultural practices."

For example, she says, her Muslim friends at college are now starting to meet each other, not through families, but directly. Still, she said, they always meet in public places to ensure "they don't cross the line."

Amna considers herself a liberal Muslim: she supports abortion rights, and same-sex marriage. But she wears a veil, which she fears deters liberal suitors.

Again, liberal is too vague to have any real meaning in this context. Is she liberal in a religious sense? A political sense?

On the opposite side, this is the portrait of a "conservative" Muslim woman:

Sadaf, a 33-year-old physician from Princeton, N.J., who also refused to have her full name published, has butterscotch skin and compact curls reminiscent of Bernadette Peters's. "Guys at work are always hitting on me," she said. "But they aren't Muslims."

Being a conservative Muslim woman with a successful career, she said, is challenging. There were two Muslim men in her medical school, and both were married. Men she meets at the mosque want wives who will stay at home, Sadaf said; the educated elite, she added, prefer Western women. "I am American and I am professional, and you get punished for that," she said.

Again, conservative is too vague to have any real meaning in this context. Is she conservative in a religious sense? A political sense?

Finally, a religion ghost in the story stood out to me: Jamal Molsin, the event organizer, says the motto is "Muslims marry Muslims." Yet he married an Orthodox Jew, according to the story. I would love to know more about his own religious beliefs and how the mixed marriage has affected his faith and family.

Despite my specific criticisms, it's a fascinating story.

Be sure and read the whole thing.

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