“Maybe we shouldn’t go in,” my cousin joked as we saw a young man entering the venue of the single Muslim speed dating event with his parents.

We stood in the parking lot of Oakland High School for another moment, both taking deep breaths and checking our reflections in the car’s window. “Maybe it won’t be that bad,” I said, surprising myself with my optmism (considering I'd baulked at attending at all!). 

Rewind two weeks prior to that evening when I first saw the advert via a WhatsApp message. Iman Islamic Events was founded by Iman Chilwan who was raised in Australia and has South African roots. When she moved back to Cape Town in 2014, she noticed the lack of opportunities for single Muslims to meet. So, she started this initiative, teaming up with Moulana Dawood Sampson who often hosts Islamic marriage classes.

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Generally, marriage is serious business - and within the Muslim community, more so. As Muslims, we aren’t supposed to date (in the traditional sense). Instead, we are meant to find someone suitable for marriage and with our parent’s blessing, get hitched.

It isn’t as easy as it sounds though. Finding your Muslim prince or princess can be like finding a needle in a haystack. “Searching” can mean scouring matrimony apps like Muzmatch and Muslima.com, asking loved ones and the imam at your local mosque to suggest a match, or patiently waiting and praying for your halal meet-cute.

I eyed the parking lot and saw that more young women and men were arriving. “Let’s just check it out and we could always bail if it goes badly. Plus, there’s pizza, a consolation prize.” Reluctantly, my cousin agreed, and we walked into our very first Muslim speed dating, pizza and games night event.

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We were greeted by a smiling Muslim woman with a list of names. “Just look for your names on the tables,” she said. Right at the back of the hall, there were chairs for mahrams (companions). These varied between parents, older brothers and siblings. But there seemed to be very few singles. 

Were we supposed to find our soulmates here? I thought as I calculated that there’d be three women, for every male in the hall. Surprisingly, I spotted people I’d often seen in malls and on the commute to work.

We found our names and sat down at a table occupied by two young men. We exchanged hushed salaams and smiles before seriously inspecting the complimentary mints on the table.

The only word for the atmosphere for the first half an hour is awkward.

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There were very few people in the hall and everyone either stared at the ground, the table or the ceiling. After what seemed like forever, two other women, along with another man, joined our table. I looked around the room and realised that finally, it had mostly been filled. “Asalamu Alaykum, everyone”, Iman Chilwan’s voice boomed over a microphone.

She introduced the event and welcomed everyone. We were told that we’d be playing various games for seven minutes each. After each round, the men would switch tables and the women would remain seated. I felt more at ease because playing games seemed easier than the one-on-one speed dating I had imagined. Shortly, a whistle was blown and round one began.

One of the men at our table read out the instructions for the first game. “We have to share our name, relationship status, how many kids we have (if any) and where we live.”

So, we went around the table, sharing this information. Soon, the whistle was blown, and we were greeted by a new set of males and proceeded to play the same introductory game. This went on for many rounds and soon, everyone seemed to loosen up, including me. Knowing that everyone in the room was there for the same reason was comforting.

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Eventually, most of us ignored the games altogether as we shared anecdotes of meetings with potentials that had gone wrong, why we found it so difficult to find a spouse, and our careers. Many of the singles had impressive careers in engineering, business, politics, media and finances. 

We were mainly millennial singles (ages 21-36) at the event and recent stats by The Pews Research Center revealed that 57% of all millennials are single and 36% are well-educated, driven to climb the career ladder once they reach graduation. This makes sense because I found that although none of us were married, many seemed to be married to our careers.

The event ran for about two hours and eventually, the MC announced that the speed dating had ended and refreshments would be served. Thanks to a spot of confusion, my cousin and I ended up at the exact same table we started out with. We spent the rest of the evening eating pizza and socialising with anyone we hadn’t had a chance to chat with during the event. We also had the option to ask the matchmakers to make introductions for us, if we were too shy to do so.

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Overall, the event felt more like a social club to meet new people. For anyone like me, who is introverted but still serious about meeting someone, it’s the perfect setting to practise talking to the opposite sex and to meet potentials in a halal, relaxed environment.

Unfortunately, I didn't meet my rom-com co-star (yet), but my cousin and I were in agreement; we’d attend again. It's a nice way to meet genuine people, as opposed to online platforms because meeting someone in person is a much better way to filter people at the get-go.

The next event will be taking place on Saturday, the 6 October 2018 at Oaklands high school, Lansdowne. If socialising doesn’t appeal to you, Iman Islamic Events also provides personal matchmaking services as well.

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