It began as one Muslim’s quest to get married. A quest which was successful. But it also developed into something more extensive. It became an idea, a vision, and a mission - to help single Muslims find and connect with future spouses in a more effective and innovative way.
Ali Ardekani’s Story
“Had the same difficulty other Muslims had looking for someone,” says Ali Ardekani, an IT analyst in Los Angeles who does stand-up comedy under the name Baba Ali. A practicing Muslim who had grown up in a secular household, Ardekani found a lack of community infrastructure to help an American Muslim find someone compatible. So, like many others today, he tried a number of Muslim matchmaking sites - but they were not very helpful.
“They just followed a standard dating structure,” he says. “A lot of [the sites] aren’t even owned by Muslims. Eye color, hair color, height, weight - that doesn’t give me enough to marry someone.”
Ardekani came up with his own solution. He wrote up his own list of questions, to understand someone’s values, personality, and other topics. He sent them to the women he was in touch with through these sites. “I used their questions as a surface level,” but used his own to look at compatibility.
“I sent them to seventeen women,” Ardekani says. “It sounds like a lot, but I registered with a bunch of sites. On the seventeenth try, she was the one who became my wife.”
The questions’ effectiveness impressed his friends.
“They said, ‘Dude, hook me up!’ They thought I had some kind of magic formula. But I didn’t,” he says. “I just gave them the questions, and they got married too.”
His experience, and that of his friends, helped inspire him to start his own matchmaking service. But another factor was his work as a Muslim comedian.
“90% of my [comedy] routine is about marriage,” says Ardekani. It’s a response to what Muslim audiences want. “Marriage is the one topic that keeps coming up.”
The strong demand and interest in marriage among Muslim audiences convinced him that the need for a more effective way of connecting Muslim singles is global. “I thought maybe I could help people with it,” Ardekani says.
Half Our Deen: A New Kind of Marriage Site
After one initial earlier model, Ardekani and his team launched Half Our Deen on July 18, 2010.
The goal: Create a completely different kind of Muslim marriage site.
“Basically, the exact opposite of what’s out there. If they make profiles public, then we’ll be private. If they’re flooded with ads, we’ll have no ads. If they charge $29 [a month], I’ll charge $5.” He adds, “Something affordable everyone can afford. You shouldn’t have to get a loan to register with a [marriage] site.”
Ardekani thought that keeping membership at affordable rates- $9 for one month, $5 a month for a year- would be the main draw to Half Our Deen.
Instead, it was privacy.
“We took a poll,” Ardekani says,” 67% said joined because it’s private. The majority of people are there exclusively on Half Our Deen. They came because of privacy.”
A common practice among dating and even many Muslim marriage sites is to make profiles public. This allows sites to advertise their members. Since that can be a problem for people, especially within the Muslim community, Half Our Deen makes profiles searchable to paid members only.
“It’s especially important to [Muslim] sisters,” he says, explaining why women can only search men, and vice versa. “And writers. We have such a paparazzi culture….If your name is out there, you don’t necessarily want everyone to know [you’re searching].”
Half Our Deen’s unique set of questions, however, remain one of its distinctive features. Ardekani’s original group grew to a database of 100 questions. Members can select twenty-one on their profile for the other party to answer, or create their own. Examples include:
Half Our Deen also added compatibility tests covering personality, religious views, family life and values, and criteria about a spouse’s biography and background.
Because they are neutral, not having “right or wrong” answers about personal attitudes towards religion and other issues, they allow for a wide variety of people to use the site.
“We have a big rainbow of Muslims,” explains Ardekani. “We’re not limited to one audience.” Although Half Our Deen tends to attract many religious Muslims, it also draws a fair number of people for whom it’s a cultural identity.
Even just being “religious” is not enough for a good marriage. “Take a hard core Salafi and a hard core Sufi….They may not get along.” In addition to the questions Half Our Deen provides, members can write their own, to increase their chances of finding the right match.
Afra and Sammy
Half Our Deen’s compatibility tests and questions, designed with the particular needs and interests of other Muslims in mind, can do more than help people find each other. They can be most valuable after the first introduction.
Afra Said, 32, who was living in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), joined Half Our Deen to overcome the social obstacles to finding a spouse. In November 2010, she started working for the company. Ardekani introduced her to Sammy Ahmed, 30, also a member, to work on an article about the “Day in the Life” of Half Our Deen members. “Privacy and the thorough match making process is why Half Our Deen was our choice,” according to Sammy.
They felt an initial attraction. To see if they were compatible, they used the questions and other resources on Half Our Deen to see if they could be a real match. “We used the website at that time to get to know one another at that level,” says Afra.
Thus began their transcontinental romance, with Afra in the UAE and Sammy in the US, until they got their nikkah (religious wedding) in September 2011 and she arrived in the US in 2012.
Why Muslims Are Turning to Online Services
Afra and Sammy are not alone. “About one in four relationships today start online,” says Ardekani. In society at large, it is increasingly common for people to find significant others through relationship sites and through social media. “It’s almost like it’s awkward if you’re not [using social media],” Ardekani notes. “People will ask, ‘What’s your Facebook? What’s your Twitter?’ “
In the American Muslim community, a generational factor often drives younger Muslims to find spouses through online means.
“A lot of families have cultural baggage,” says Ardekani. Sometimes Muslim parents care more about ethnic or cultural identity, while their children are more religious. Immigrant parents will often want their kids to marry someone “from back home.” But their children have grown up in America, and want to be with someone who shares the same cultural background and experiences. Since the local mosque and other community centers often lack a marriage program, many Muslims will go online to find “MSA’s” (Muslim single adults).
Going online also enables Muslims to overcome some of the special obstacles to meeting eligible singles of the opposite sex. Many times Muslim conferences and other events will separate men and women so much that one cannot even start conversations.
When doing stand-up comedy at Muslim events, Ardekani has often performed in front of audiences where men and woman cannot even see each other because of a wall. “How is this side going to marry that side, if they can’t see each other, let alone speak to each other?” he would silently ask himself.
Seeing these kinds of obstacles all spurred the development of Half Our Deen.
An Ethical and Faith-Based Service
Although Half Our Deen has been a financially successful business, with membership increasing almost every week, the primary motivation has been Islamic ethical and religious values.
Before the launch of Half Our Deen in 2010, Ardekani had tried an earlier version called Half My Deen. At that time, he followed the advice of web programmers to use a standard template used by almost all dating and matchmaking sites, which then cost $1500. He was working with a Romanian website consultant. When they were ready to launch, the consultant told him, “Now you need to put in your fake profiles.”
Ardekani was stunned.
According to the consultant, it is standard practice for dating and marriage sites, when they are first launched, to create profiles of fake members. That way, they can get around the problem of attracting subscribers when they have zero members.
Ardekani explained that, as a Muslim, he could not engage in any kind of fraud. “You’ll lose all your money,” the developer warned. He was right, and Half My Deen folded quickly.
Years later, Half Our Deen emerged from the lessons of that experience. Ardekani followed his own path, developing the site’s infrastructure from scratch. But he still maintained his religious orientation.
Which anyone can see by looking at the Terms and Conditions for joining.
When his attorney was drawing up the “T and C’s,” Ardekani said, “I instructed him to add that the member will not hold me accountable on the Day of Judgment.”
“He hadn’t heard that one before.”
Visit Half Our Deen: http://www.halfourdeen.com/