On a Thursday evening in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, about 250 Muslims gathered in a halal Italian restaurant for a singles dating event. Some of them shied away from cameras, citing privacy concerns, while others said they were afraid of appearing “desperate.”
The event was hosted by Muzz, a Muslim dating app based in London, with eight million users worldwide, according to the company.
Prayer mats were set up in an outdoor dining tent for Maghreb, the fourth of five daily prayers for Muslims. Inside the restaurant, tables and chairs were cleared to make space for the mingling guests, and platters of hummus, chicken kebab wraps and Mediterranean salad were being served.
Topics of conversation included halal Thai food in New York (“Top Thai — we should go check it out,” one person said to another) and the difficulty of meeting new people while working remotely.
According to Muzz, which was founded in 2011, 400,000 couples have married after meeting on the dating app, which offers free and paid memberships. “The heart of the app is empowering young Muslims to find a partner in their own right, but doing it in a way that respects their faith, culture, traditions and family,” Shahzad Younas, the founder of Muzz, said in an interview. He aims to “embrace the quirks around Muslim marriage,” he said, which includes a “sweet spot” of familial involvement. He noted that families serve as a vital support network for couples.
On a North American tour in May, Muzz hosted dating events in four cities: Toronto; Jersey City, N.J.; New York; and Baltimore. Last month, they hosted events in London and Dubai.
When the Brooklyn event started at 7 p.m., there was a clear and nerves-filled divide at first: Women were talking with other women, and men were mingling with men. It was a curious sight for a straight singles dating event.
At 7:30 p.m., Mr. Younas stood on top of a table in a corner and made a welcome announcement. Women had received a sheet of eight green stickers, and men had received a sheet of eight red stickers. To help make it easier for people to introduce themselves to others, he said, the stickers must be exchanged with people after a conversation — everyone’s goal is “to meet the one,” he said, adding “inshallah,” or God willing.
The encouragement worked, and the two groups began mixing.
Some people came to only network and to meet other people of a similar faith and cultural background. Ali Fall, a 34-year-old financial consultant, said he had always dated non-Muslims, and his exes didn’t understand his religious beliefs and obligations. Coming into the event, he had no expectations. “I believe in destiny, everything is written,” Mr. Fall, who lives in Harlem, said.
Others were looking for “the one.” What matters to Mohammad Binmahfouz, a 33-year-old global relations coordinator, is “respect and trust,” he said. “And she prays … and fasts.” Mr. Binmahfouz drove two and a half hours from Meriden, Conn., to attend the event.
Others were making a statement about the way they find their partners. Even though their parents had arranged weddings, many young Muslims today still want to make their own decisions about who they date, while still respecting cultural and generational traditions.
For example, Salmah Ahmed, 25, and Mohibbah Abdul-Ahmed, 27, two sisters from Hillside, N.J., said their parents were pressuring them to get married and tried to introduce them to potential suitors. “It’s annoying,” Ms. Abdul-Ahmed said with a laugh.
“We want to look for the men we want,” she added.
The sisters, who are both Ghanaian and nurses, each only had one red sticker on their name tags. “I feel like when I was walking through, people were looking through me to get to somebody else,” said Ms. Ahmed, who has experienced colorism within the Muslim community and who noted a lack of Black Muslims at the event. On the app, they both use the race filter, specifying that they are looking for other Black Muslims.
But the filters set on the app do not necessarily translate in person. Mr. Younas is aware of the difficulties of getting an even mix of races and ethnicities at in-person events, but he tries to appeal to all backgrounds. He said the event in Jersey City had a large population of African Muslims, while the event in Brooklyn was held in a predominantly Arab community and therefore attracted more Arabs.
Muzz, like many other religious dating apps — Eden, Mormon Match and Meet and Right among them — does not serve L.G.B.T.Q. people. Several communities for L.G.B.T.Q. Muslims do exist, however, such as the Queer Muslim Project.
Expanding the app for L.G.B.T.Q. people is not in Mr. Younas’s plans, he said. “We’re still at a stage where the premise of our app, even for the straight market, is considered taboo.”
Other Muslim dating apps include Salams, formerly Minder, which has about four million users according to the company.
As for the events, he said, “whether you meet someone or not, you should at least have a good evening.”