Meet ‘Salaam Swipe’ – a Muslim take on one of the world’s biggest hook-up app.
The iPhone app, which officially launched in August, has drawn inevitable comparisons with Tinder, the online dating service that matches singles – or not-so-singles – who ‘swipe right’ on each other’s profile pages.
But Salaam Swipe has a crucial difference, in that it is aimed specifically at Muslims looking for love and marriage.
It was created by Khalil Jessa, 26, who was born and raised in Vancouver, Canada. Like Tinder, the app uses GPS to find singles in a user’s geographic area, allowing them to swipe right if they like another user’s profile, or left if they don’t.
But unlike Tinder, Salaam Swipe allows people to specify whether they are liberal, moderate, or conservative – as well as being Sunni, Shia or “just Muslim” – and filter their potential matches by the same criteria.
Jessa – who studied Middle Eastern Studies and Political Science and previously worked in Canadian politics – said he launched the app because of the difficulty people had in meeting like-minded Muslims in his own community.
“We have all these different divisions. And so that makes it really hard for young people to meet each other, especially meeting each other serendipitously, in the way you meet everyone else,” he said. “I made this [app] because we all live it.”
Salaam Swipe officially went live in August, and the bulk of its “thousands” of members are in Canada and the U.S., Jessa said. It is available to download for free from the Apple App Store in the Middle East, with an official launch in this region in the pipeline over the next year, along with an Arabic-language version.
The app’s creator told Al Arabiya News how Salaam Swipe is different to the raft of other Muslim matchmaking sites – and why he thinks it will be an attractive proposition for Arab singles.
Q&A with Khalil Jessa, creator of Salaam Swipe
Q. Why do Muslims need their own matchmaking app?
One of the things I noticed about my community [in Canada] is that it’s much easier to meet someone outside of our community than inside it. We have a lot of gender segregation; we have the Bangladeshi community, the Pakistani community, all the different Arab communities, the Iranian community. There are divisions on sectarian lines – Sunni and Shia. And we’re also divided geographically. So what I wanted to do was make it easier for young Muslims to be able to meet, to interact, and to find someone to marry.
Q. And is this app intended for people looking to marry – or just for sex or a casual fling?
Obviously it’s up to the individual how they are able to use it. Users can be flagged by other users, if they act inappropriately, or if they are spamming people.
Q. So is it a Muslim Tinder? Or don’t you see the app in that way?
The thing that we have [in common] with Tinder is the swiping. You swipe left or you swipe right, and you match, you talk. But we have a lot more beyond that that really takes into account some nuances of our community. You can go into the app and you can pick how you see yourself, and what your denomination is – Sunni, Shia, ‘just Muslim’ or non-practicing. And you can play around with those settings to find the type of person you are looking for.
Q. What if your friend, brother or sister, or even – yikes! – your parents were on the app too?
We have built in an ‘incognito’ mode that hides you from your friends and family. So if you turn this feature on – and it’s free for a limited time – you can hide from your friends and family. As long as they’re your Facebook friend, and you have that feature turned on, you will not find them.
Q. How are Muslims in your community in Canada meeting each other now? Is it through family introductions?
There will always be a place for that in our community – for family members to set each other up. And I wouldn’t even say that we’re so different from the traditional methods. Traditionally one family would give a picture and a little bio to another family, and if they like each other they would exchange the bios with the kids – and ask if they want to meet each other. We’re really doing the same thing – but without your auntie and uncle.
Q. How do Muslims in your community feel about their families intervening in their love lives?
It depends on the individual. For some people, how they see themselves and their life may be different from how their parents see it. And so that discrepancy is what I want to take away.
Q. Does the Sunni/Shia divide matter when young Muslims in Canada are looking for spouses?
It does for a lot of people. And for a lot of people it does not. And so that’s why we have that option on there, to say ‘I don’t see myself as a Sunni or Shia, I’m just Muslim’. One of the philosophies behind Salaam Swipe is that we celebrate the diversity of the Muslim community. It’s not meant to divide us. It’s meant to celebrate who we are.
Q. Obviously there are other Muslim matchmaking sites out there, such as Shaadi, SingleMuslim, Muzmatch and Ishqr. How does your app differ?
All these sites are very good – I don’t want to speak negatively about any of them. I think what differentiates us is the indicators of religiosity that we use. We ask people to self-identify, we don’t base it on how people look, we base it on what’s inside of them. I don’t want our app to say ‘ok, you dress like this, you look like this, so we’re assuming that you’re more or less religious’. Because I don’t think that’s accurate.
Q. What kind of feedback are you getting from users of the app?
A lot of people are thanking us for what we have done. I think people really recognize the need because they live it. When they know how difficult it is to find someone, and you come along with a solution that can make a difference in their life, I think it’s appreciated.
Q. In some Middle Eastern countries dating sites are blocked. What’s your response to that?
Before I built this app I spoke to very trusted religious people close to me – imams. And they were all very supportive. Just as long as it’s being used in a way that is not nefarious I think they will support it. Because they also see the need – they also live in those communities and understand what young people are going through.
Q. Do you think dating sites will gain acceptance in the Middle East, given some see them as haram (forbidden in Islam)?
Well Iran just launched its own dating site, run by the state. So if a country like Iran can launch a state-wide dating site, then I think there’s definitely opportunity in the Middle East. And we don’t actually define ourselves as a dating site. We’re a matching site – we match you with other people. And you can’t match with someone unless both people match with each other, unlike a dating site where you can message people or wink at people, or whatever it is people do. We’re not like that, we just match you up.