A few months ago, according to Netflix, 1.5 million viewers became infatuated with the Netflix Original Series Love Is Blind. I saw the memes, but I purposely didn’t want to watch it because I didn’t think it would be worth my time. One day, I decided, “What the heck, why not?” and gave it a go. After the first episode, I was hooked. There was something exciting about watching other people meet their potential spouses through a wall, and engage in intimate conversations that would potentially lead to proposals. After I finished the season, my friend and I talked about how great it was, and reminisced about the moment Cameron asked Lauren to marry him, or the joy on her face when she saw him for the first time. We wondered what would happen if there was a Muslim version of this.
Before the shelter in place orders were issued due to COVID-19, it was hard enough to meet someone in real life. Both my friend and I had experimented with online dating apps; however, they never offered what we were looking for. We wanted to be able to experience what it would be like to talk to multiple people without knowing what they looked like and if “Love Is Blind” within the millennial Muslim community.
We created Eye Meets Soul, a safe “blind” virtual matchmaking experience for Muslim millennials. We sent out a form with a few non-invasive questions for people to fill out within our networks. Forty-nine people from 22 cities in the U.S. applied. In order to protect everyone’s names and to avoid any favoritism, we asked participants to submit an alias that would be used to select people and to be used during the sessions. From April 18-23rd, the 10 selected men and 10 selected women “met” two people a day for one hour via Zoom breakout rooms and were given soul conversation prompts that may potentially lead to marriage. On “decision day” participants selected their top two choices. If there was a match, then we connected the two via the contact information that they requested to share.
We had low expectations going into this experience, and thought it would be fun to curate while we are all staying at home. We did, however, come into this with the base assumption that people knew by signing up for a “blind” experience, they would be talking to people of diverse ethnic backgrounds, and thus we assumed they were comfortable doing so. What we didn’t take into consideration was the unearthing of the underlying racism and anti-Blackness within the “marriage world” of the Muslim community.
We came into this with the base assumption that people knew by signing up for a “blind” experience, they would be talking to people of diverse ethnic backgrounds, and thus we assumed they were comfortable doing so. What we didn’t take into consideration was the unearthing of the underlying racism and anti-Blackness within the “marriage world” of the Muslim community.
There were multiple instances of discrimination that occurred on behalf of both the men and women who were participating. On the first day of the experience, we each shared where we were calling from to break the tension. On the second day of the experience, one of the participants expressed to me that they did not want to speak with one of the other participants. I asked why, and their reason shocked me to the core. They proceeded to say, “Well, I know that they are African or African-American, and my family wouldn’t approve.” They assumed this based on the participant’s voice alone.
So many thoughts rushed through my head. As calmly as I could, I told them since they signed up for the experience, they had to fulfill the requirements, and speak with everyone. After I got off the phone, I was numb. I could not believe the blatant way in which this participant profiled others merely based on their voice. But I noted this experience, and proceeded with the agenda for that day.
To be clear, I am not placing blame on this person because I know that this attitude was something that was inherited by them which stems from cultural and systemic racism. However, what this person said made it clearer to me how devastatingly real this problem is within the Muslim community. For centuries, Black people have worked against our will, fought, and still fight for basic human rights, including the right to love who we choose to love. We constantly have to code switch and juggle multiple masks to protect our lives and prove our worth as human beings.
Our dear Prophet Muhammed (peace and blessings be upon him) stated, “O people, your Lord is one and your father Adam is one. There is no favor of an Arab over a non Arab, nor a non Arab over an Arab, and neither white skin over black skin, nor black skin over white skin, except by righteousness. Have I not delivered the message?” (Musnad Aḥmad 22978). Our beloved prophet (peace and blessing be upon him) spoke words of wisdom and truth. But the message is only clear to those who seek it. Not choosing someone based on their race or color of their skin is not righteousness; it is an injustice, and far removed from the beauty and diversity of our faith. Everyone has their preferences, and we are all vulnerable to implicit biases. We are not responsible for the faults and prejudiced nature of our families; however, we are responsible for what we do or say after witnessing an injustice. Deliberately not giving someone a chance based on the fact that they are Black, or asking them inappropriate questions to find out their ethnicity is wrong. Moreover, it is irresponsible for us to not acknowledge our own biases and discriminatory behaviors. Our parent’s and elder’s preferences are important to consider, and always be mindful of. But what about if those preferences are against our faith traditions and the important message of our beloved prophet (peace and blessings be upon him)? How do we hold our own actions accountable? How do we educate ourselves on issues of race in our communities so as to not further perpetuate racist ideologies?
At the end of the experience, while there were some matches and joy shared, my heart was saddened by an overwhelming feeling of guilt. I couldn’t believe that we unintentionally subjected ourselves and any participant to speaking with people who were perpetuating anti-Blackness. We tried our best to conduct a thorough evaluation of the process, and followed up with individuals who felt personally discriminated against based on comments that were made to them regarding their ethnicity. As a first-generation Senegalese and Gambian woman, and my friend being of Somali and Yemeni descent, we have absolutely no room for racist and discriminatory ideologies in what we do.
In direct response to participant’s feedback and what we personally experienced, we were inspired to continue our efforts, and are now in the process of creating Eye Meets Soul: Session Two. In this new application, we clearly state that we align ourselves with those open to love regardless of race, culture, or ethnicity. We will not tolerate nor perpetuate anti-Blackness, racism, colorism, or any other discriminatory acts or language. In our first Eye Meets Soul session, we did our best and gave everyone a shot. This time around we are not taking such a risk at the expense of the mental and emotional well-being of ourselves and participants. Moving forward, we plan to conduct a pre-selection interview as part of our application process to ensure our values and commitment to justice is also reflected in our pool of applicants.
After all of this, I am not jaded nor discouraged. In fact, I am more determined to create a space within our community that centers love and faith regardless of racial background. My co-founder and I believe it is important to not only call out racism and discrimination, but to actively work on creating viable solutions and make space for honest conversations. We still do not know if “Love Is Blind,” but we all know racism, sadly, is very real.
To read about the experience from the point of view of one of the participants, click here to read What is it Like to Take Part in a Muslim Version of “Love Is Blind”? by Nailah Dean.
If you or someone you know is ready to take a leap of faith, and wants to give love a chance via this platform, applications for Session Two: The Notebook are open now. Follow @eyemeetssoul on Instagram, or please email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Have you already found love in a committed relationship and are in need of a support system to share lessons and love? Look out for the upcoming platform On Us. Follow @msdija07 on Instagram for details coming soon!
May Allah (swt) place barakah in our unions, and bless our progeny to be better than we were in service to Him and His servants. Ameen.
Binta is a 1st generation Senegalese and Gambian singer-songwriter hailing from Chicago, IL. In addition to creating music, she is the Arts & Culture Manager for The Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN). @bintasings | Instagram @_bintak | Twitter