Quarantine Matchmaking Project Reveals Racial Bias among Muslims

  • Though the target was to overcome physical appearance, the organizers found themselves dealing with the reality of anti-Blackness in the Muslim marriage market.

Even as traditions of arranged marriage remain popular among many Muslim singles, marriage apps have exploded over the past few years, reshaping the landscape for modern-day Muslim courtship.

Yet, Binta Diallo and her friends wanted to create their own matchmaking experience for US Muslim millennials.

It started during COVID-19 quarantine when they got inspiration from a Netflix show on blind dating.

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“We were just like, ‘Hey, what would this look like in a Muslim version?’” Diallo told Religion News Service.

“Quarantine hit and we didn’t really have much else going on, and there wasn’t really a way to meet someone besides going to the grocery store.”

In April, Diallo and a friend launched Eye Meets Soul, the project designed so that personal appearance, race, and ethnicity would not be first considerations.

Holding its first session, organizers randomly selected 10 men and 10 women from the 50 applications they received after posting about the project on Instagram.

Pairs talk for 60 minutes via Zoom without sharing photos or names. Each single selected his or her top two choices. If there was a match, Diallo connected the pair offline so they could pursue things on their own.

“We didn’t want to, necessarily, erase physical attraction completely,” Diallo said.

“We wanted to try to challenge our own selves, even, see how our minds work, if we are able to get to know someone without looking at the physicalities first.”

Racial Bias

Though the project’s main target was to overcome physical appearance, the organizers found themselves dealing with the reality of anti-Blackness in the Muslim marriage market.

“I mean, we are not naive,” said Diallo. “We know this has been happening within our communities for a while, but I’ve never had it just so blatantly happen to me.”

One participant, Nailah Dean, a 27-year-old lawyer in California, said though she found a connection with another applicant, she felt shocked after he said he wanted someone who shared his South Asian culture. Dean told him she was Black and Latina.

“I don’t know if that will make a difference in your decision to want to connect offline, but it’s been a reoccurring issue,” she said.

Critics say marriage apps also reflect similar anti-blackness bias.

“It’s sad that within our millennial community this is still happening,” Diallo reflected.

“We were supposed to be the ones to come in and shake stuff up. We’re supposed to be the curse breakers.”

Nevertheless, Eye Meets Soul’s creators are hopeful for a change after racial justice protests over the death of George Floyd triggered conversations on racial bias inside Muslim community.

They even began to think about how to make the matchmaking experience “a catalyst for change” in young Muslim spaces.

Now preparing for the second session next September, new candidates will go through a pre-selection interview that emphasizes they are seriously open to marrying people of other ethnic and racial backgrounds.

“This is for those who are open to love another, regardless of race, culture, or ethnicity,” the form states. Those who have specific preferences regarding those, “please do not apply.”