Aisha and Usman, who connected on Muzz app and had a picture-perfect wedding, believe the social norms of matchmaking services are evolving in Pakistan. Image Credit - Muzz-1671289672360
Aisha and Usman, who connected on Muzz app and had a picture-perfect wedding, believe the social norms of matchmaking services are evolving in Pakistan. Image Credit: Muzz

Islamabad: Arranged marriages have been the norm in Pakistan forever but for young couples, the answer to “How did you two meet?” is slowly but surely changing with the growing popularity of matchmaking apps for Muslims.

In 2019, Usman, a young Pakistani professional was working in Nairobi in his late 20s — an age where it’s considered socially unacceptable to be single in Pakistan. Usman was looking to get married but he was in a foreign country with a limited circle of friends and literally no family around. Brought up in a traditional Muslim family, he was caught between the “Western way” of meeting a partner online — through a dating app — or family-arranged marriage which was not delivering results as his mother and siblings in Pakistan couldn’t find a “suitable match”.

Usman realized that “Tinder was not meant for him” as he was “looking for something serious and long term” — a view shared by many Pakistanis. He then tried what is described as “the halal way to meet a potential spouse” on a Muslim matchmaking app. “I found out about Muzz and gave it a try” in mid-2019. A few months later, “that’s where I met Aisha. We are married now and have an 18-month-old baby boy.”

Digital matchmaking experience

So how did it all start? Sharing his experience with Gulf News, the 33-year-old Usman said he initiated the conversation on Muzz and got a reply from Aisha “out of the blue” after a few days of waiting. “We met and there was an instant connection. I introduced her to my friends. She introduced me to her family.” Aisha’s parents of Pakistani descent have been living in Kenya for forty years now.

But how hard was it for Aisha, also in her late 20s, to convince her parents to meet her potential spouse whom she met on a digital platform? “My parents always knew about the app. I showed them Usman’s picture and profile. And the second time we met, I introduced Usman to my family.”

Aisha believes that it is important for women especially to show respect to families by involving or informing them from the very beginning in societies like Pakistan that have a legacy of arranged marriages. While Aisha’s parents knew about the app, Usman preferred not to share the details of the how we met story because of the way online dating or marriage apps are perceived in Pakistan. “I just didn’t want to make it complicated,” he says.

The growing popularity of Muslim matchmaking apps is changing the way young Pakistanis find their spouses. Image Credit: Muzz

The story shared by the couple endorses that this was a match made in heaven and connected on a digital app. Usman and Aisha met in Nairobi but their families were from the same city in Pakistan: Bahawalpur which is famous for its palaces and forts.

This historic city of Bahawalpur is where Usman and Aisha got married the same year in December 2019. Aisha’s parents travelled to Pakistan where the couple had a “big Pakistani wedding” complete with all traditional events, the Mehndi and Mayun were full of colors, music, and a lot of dhol, and finally the main ceremonies - Nikah, Baraat and Valima.

“Beautiful ceremonies, two bridal showers, and joint family celebration. We had big celebrations in both Kenya and Pakistan,” Aisha recalled.

Then came COVID and turned lives upside down. In 2021, the couple decided to come to Pakistan to spend some time with family. It was both exciting and challenging for Aisha who has never lived in Pakistan before. “Usman and his family did their best to make me feel at home. I was glad to finally meet my cousins and family in Pakistan and get to know the culture and try the food,” she says.

“The only challenge is the weather. Extreme winters, and harsh summers” in Pakistan but overall an “amazing journey.” This year, the couple moved to Lahore where they both are pursuing an executive graduate program at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS).

Growing popularity of matchmaking apps

Both Aisha and Usman, who connected on Muzz and had a picture-perfect wedding, believe the social norms of matchmaking services are evolving in Pakistan from rishta aunties — who charge a fee to find suitable matches from Rs50,000 ($200) and 200,000 rupees ($850) for each match. In comparison, the Muzz app is completely free with several privacy features.

Muzz (formerly Muzmatch) is one of the world’s largest Muslim matchmaking apps. The company is very specific that it is not a dating app. Because “Muslims don’t date, we marry,” says Shahzad Younas, founder and CEO of the Muzz app. He wants to change attitudes in the Muslim world while being respectful of culture and traditions to approach marriage in a modern way.

Shahzad Younas, founder and CEO of the Muzz app, wants to change attit  Image Credit - SuppliedMuzz-1671289668877
Shahzad Younas, founder and CEO of the Muzz app, wants to change attitudes in the Muslim world while being respectful of culture and traditions to approach marriage in a modern way. Image Credit: Muzz

Younas set up the website in 2011 to connect Muslim youngsters who were looking for a life partner and not casual dating. In 2014, he quit his job as an investment banker and dedicated six months to learn how to build apps to lay the foundation of a tech company.

The London-based Muzz app was launched in early 2015 and instantly went live globally. The company is registered in the US and Europe. The app claims to have more than 7 million members globally and 400,000 success stories worldwide, bringing people from different backgrounds and countries together. The app is available in 15 languages including Urdu, Arabic, Bengali, Hindi and Malay.

Changing trends in Pakistan

The company recently shifted focus to the overwhelmingly young, tech-savvy Muslim demographic in Pakistan. “Our fundamental mission is to transform how Muslims meet and marry. And we are making a difference, especially in the US, UK and now Pakistan” Shahzad Younas told Gulf News. In Pakistan, the app “is giving young Muslims different and better options because not everyone has a big family network or afford a rishta aunty.”

The success rate has been faster in Pakistan with 740,000 members and 6,200 marriages via Muzz already. About half of the app users in Pakistan are between the ages of 18-25 and the other half are aged 26-35. The fact that 37 per cent of women in Pakistan are more likely to send the message first on the app also reveals changing trends and women’s approach toward marriage.

Younas says he has received an “extremely positive” response from Pakistani women who have had awkward encounters with potential spouses and awful experiences of getting rejected multiple times in a typical setting controlled by families and rishta aunties or marriage bureaus. In Pakistan, most women are “using the app to meet someone and then getting families involved” leading to a mix of modern matchmaking and time-honored traditions.

Women especially appreciate the privacy features that allow them to keep photos hidden and use a nickname to remain anonymous on the app. The app allows checking profiles, matching, chatting, and calling on the app without sharing numbers, and it’s all free. There are value-added features for the paid members but 90 per cent of the users never paid a penny, according to the company. The app also has filters to search partners by sect, ethnicity, and praying habits.

Will the app really change the way Pakistanis look for spouses? “There are clear advantages of digital matchmaking but it’s still a long road ahead in Pakistan where parents are primarily the decision-makers of their children’s lives, especially girls,” says Usman. But the app surely gives young Pakistanis an option to find their own way between modernisation and tradition.