In the days before Ramadan, young Muslims from all over the United States gathered in Chicago, in the midwestern state of Illinois for the most popular Muslim matchmaking event in the country. The "Matrimonial Banquet" is hosted by the Islamic Society of North America. VOA's Ade Astuti and Susy Tekunan attended this year's banquet, an event described by many as "Muslim speed dating." Jim Bertel narrates.
"There are five girls on each table and five guys on each table. Every five minutes, the guys rotate from table to table. So you get to meet everyone within a few hours,” explains Shabana Qurshi. This is how she and hundreds of other young American Muslims hope to find a spouse. Since conservative Muslims frown upon dating in the traditional western sense, this banquet, and others like it in other cities, offer a modern twist to finding a lifelong mate.
Shamsad Hussein is one of the organizers. "In Islam, free mixing of the sexes is not allowed. You're supposed to have a chaperone when you're talking to someone of the opposite sex."
What makes this uniquely Muslim is the large number of parents who accompany their children. Musharat Ahmad is one of them. “I'm here to attend the matrimonial service with my son, who is 30 years old, a physician who is a third year psychiatry resident at the University of Kansas. Because we, Muslims, as you know, we don't date, so he's trying to meet somebody in a setting that's conducive to his Islamic faith."
The participants are mostly young professionals who live and work in the U.S. But for most, like Ghasa Mashoor, finding a Muslim spouse is a priority. "It's very important for me to have someone who's a practicing Muslim. I want someone who's going to help me in my faith and I want to have a family who's Muslim."
For that reason, gatherings like this attract hundreds of young Muslim singles, including Aneela Jhouri. "A lot of people are very busy,” she says. “It's hard to come across, and it's hard to meet people and also hard to come across Muslim people, men, so I think this is a good way to know some potentials, and also people who's also interested in getting married."
Yet with only a few minutes with each group, Mashoor says making a love connection is a challenge. "It's a little of an awkward format, but it gives you enough time to see whether you are interested in contacting that person for later on. So, you get someone contact information and, that way, you can contact them later on if you're interested."
Organizers say the banquets have produced many successful marriages in the past. This year's participants all hope to be among the lucky ones to find true love at this year's gathering.