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Computer Matrimonial Service Matches Up Muslim Couples

September 2, 1996

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) _ Kausar Jahan approached the stand shyly, a white Muslim scarf framing her pretty face. After a moment’s hesitation, she jotted down on an application form the characteristics of her dream husband.

Beside her, Samia Fadel was applying for a daughter-in-law without her son’s knowledge. ``He’s so difficult and picky,″ she explained, then ticked off the language the bride-to-be must speak. ``Arabic, of course! Why should we speak English at home?″ asked Mrs. Fadel, an Egyptian.

This is the Matrimonial Referral Service, the answer for North American Muslims looking for just the right mate. With no family members or neighbors to arrange marriages in the traditional Islamic way, the agency’s computer does it for them.

More than 500 people applied for a spouse at the service’s marriage booth during a four-day convention for U.S. and Canadian Muslims in Columbus that closed Monday.

``We thought that if they cannot make good matches ..., we will make them through the help of the computer,″ said Ilyas Bayunus, a member of a three-man committee overseeing the service.

``This is not merely a dating game. It’s matching, in which we take part very actively ... as go-betweens.″

Bayunus, a sociologist, said the service began in 1983 after a study by the Islamic Society of North America found that one-fourth of Muslim marriages in north America end in divorce. The society sponsors the annual convention. The current divorce rate is 35 percent.

Islam encourages marriage. Devout Muslims often quote chapter 50, verse 21, from Islam’s holy book the Koran: ``He created for you mates from yourselves that you might find rest in them, and He ordained between you love and mercy.″

Shahina Siddiqui, a marriage counselor, said Western influences, as well as lack of family support, play a part in destroying Muslim marriages.

``Most of our children are going in the public school system, where the concept of marriage and family life is different to that of Islamic concept and Islamic view,″ said Siddiqui, who provides premarital counseling.

Take the concept of love, for instance.

``Here it is fire. Here it is something Boom! Bang! and you see the stars and you are in love,″ she said. ``In Islam the concept of love is that of nurturing, that of sustaining.″

Another problem is the mixed messages a Muslim woman receives when she tells Americans her family comes before her career and that the husband is the unquestioned head of the family.

``Here, if you tell somebody that, they right away assume you are oppressed. If you work outside the house and you’re hearing that all the time, you get mixed messages,″ Siddiqui said.

Bayunus said every marriage his service has arranged remains intact.

The applicant _ a prospective bride or bridegroom or like Samia Fadel, a single Muslim’s parent _ fills out a matrimonial form asking general questions: age, weight, height, education, yearly income, ethnic origin and sect of Islam. Similar questions are posed about the dream spouse.

A fee is not charged, but the applicant is told a ``hadiyya,″ or gift, of $25 can accompany the application.

Fed the information, the computer spews out five prospects. The couple is introduced by the service’s staff in a public place, over dinner or tea.

Jahan, 25, wearing a burgundy Pakistani shirwal kameez, said her future husband should be tall, no older than 34, and must speak the languages she speaks _ Urdu or Punjabi.

She said she tried the marriage booth because her family has failed to find her a husband in Seattle, Wash., where she lives.

Aziz Tareq and Jamal Abu Zeid, Egyptian engineers, said their marriages to Americans collapsed because of cultural barriers.

``She wasn’t conservative,″ said Tareq, whose wife converted to Islam before she married him. ``She didn’t think there was anything shameful about wearing shorts.″

He applied to the matrimonial service seeking Egyptian or other Arab women who share his values and background.

Why not just approach one of hundreds of single women at the convention?

Tareq looked toward a group of giggly girls and said:

``I don’t have the courage to walk up to a woman and introduce myself. It’s just not done.″

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