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Matchmaking Websites Are Becoming Hugely Popular

Matchmaking exists in many societies, especially where the chances of immediate interaction between the two sexes are very limited. Marriage in such countries is mostly arranged, often through female matchmakers. It is a part of a tradition that is beginning to create problems for the young generation in those countries. Saudis, for example, are increasingly using the Internet, which has opened a new window in their lives.

The fact that so many Saudi women remain unmarried, to the point where it is considered a problem, supports the argument that traditions surrounding marriage are the key reason for the very high number of divorces. Studies show that there were 18,000 divorces against 60,000 marriages last year. The study also shows that number of unmarried women is about two million and is expected to rise to four million by 2008.

The main problem with a traditional marriage is that the groom and bride are not allowed to see each other before their marriage ceremony. It is part of a belief that women must not be seen by any male they are not related to, including the groom. Some families of course do allow meetings in the presence of the father or brother during which the two can talk to each other, a right granted by the Prophet (peace be upon him).

Reema says her marriage failed because of this. “We never knew each other. I never knew what he looked like or how he thinks until the day we got married,” she said. “My father told me that he is a good man and that he met him and they spoke. I didn’t have any option; the decision was already taken and all I could do was to cheer up because I’m about to get married. And so I did.”

“I can’t tell you how terrible the experience was. The only solution was divorce, and that has meant that my own family have abandoned me,” she said.

Reema is one of thousands. All many families care about is to find a husband, any husband, for their daughter as soon as she turns 17.

“We live in a country where we don’t get to meet women,” said Muhammad K., a high school student. “Everything here is ruled by tradition and culture, which simply don’t fit our new lifestyle any more.”

“I want to know the woman I will be married to for my entire life,” he added.

Muhammad surfs the Internet in search of a suitable partner, as do an increasing number of young Saudis.

Shahzad runs the matchmaking website www.???.com. “Our mission is to help Muslims who are seriously looking for a life partner via the Internet,” he said. “The website started operating in mid-March 2004, and since then the number of users has been growing, with approximately 1,000 new members every day. And now we have over 40,000 members, 35 percent of whom are female.”

“Most of our members are from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt, UAE, US, UK, Jordan, India, Syria and others. We have agents in seven countries who check the profiles in 10 different time zones, monitoring all accounts and allowing only modest pictures and meaningful messages to be posted,” he added.

www.???.com is another website that promotes marriage via the Internet. Umm Yasser, the owner, says that she has a very good experience in her work as a local matchmaker. “I started working on bringing couples together five years ago, but now with new technology many couples are seeking a better way to find their match and that is through the Internet,” she said. “When I realized this, I adapted.”

People still fear new trends. “They still feel comfortable in having a third person or an intermediary who works on bringing them closer rather than speaking to each other immediately, and that is exactly what I do.”

Abdul Hay Abu Hasna of www.???.com encourages the concept of Internet marriage, but stresses the need to monitor the service to assure the reliability of the website.

The number of registered users in www.???.com is more than half a million. “We don’t allow bachelors that are under 18 to register or use our services. We also deal firmly with members who don’t take the service seriously. We simply cancel their membership,” he said.

Pictures of women must be sensitively handled. “We receive about 300 to 500 pictures from our members, and 20 percent are discarded for being inappropriate.”

Abdul Mohsen Al-Obeikan from the Ministry of Justice said such websites were a very healthy and positive phenomenon, but also insisted they must be carefully monitored. Moreover, he said couples “should not exchange photos until after they are formally engaged,” he said. Then, he said, they can examine them as closely as they like.

Note: The website addresses have been edited.