RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
We've been hearing this week about young Muslim Americans and arranged marriages. Yesterday, we heard from a young woman hoping to avoid a match made by her parents. Today, we visit a group of young Muslim singles looking to meet that special someone without help from their parents. NPR's Jamie Tarabay reports.
(Soundbite of Muslim mixer)
Unidentified Woman #1: I like to go hiking. I really love the outdoors, so I like to...
JAMIE TARABAY: Here's something you don't see every day: Muslim men and women, all unmarried, mixing together.
(Soundbite of Muslim mixer)
Unidentified Man #1: So, what about you guys, how would you see faith as a tool?
Unidentified Woman #2: For me, I think that...
TARABAY: That's taboo in a lot of their cultures. What's more, they're not here for idle chit-chat.
SALIHA (Nursing Student): No, no, I'm definitely not interested in dating, you know. That's not the purpose of what I'm - you know, that's not why I'm doing this. The purpose is for marriage.
TARABAY: Saliha is a 25-year-old nursing student. Like everyone interviewed here, she asked only to be identified by her first name, out of privacy and a little embarrassment. All the mixing is awkward for Muslim singles like Saliha, who want to get married but don't often get to meet members of the opposite sex.
SALIHA: I just want to, like, you know, meet other people and try to, you know, get more into the marriage scene and see how it is because truthfully, I never talked to guys that much growing up, you know. So I'm trying, you know, to increase my - what is it called? - confidence, yes.
TARABAY: Standing nearby in a light-colored suit with short, curly hair is Tarek. He's 34, good-looking and a doctor, the sort of guy every mother wants to drag home for her daughter. He's born and raised here and can't see himself marrying anyone who isn't.
TAREK (Doctor): Basically, someone who understands pop culture and can get the same kind of inside jokes and things like that. I would think that's important. I don't know if people who have been married 30 years say that doesn't mean anything.
TARABAY: It's a Saturday morning in Sterling, Virginia. Everyone has come to the ADAMS Center armed with a checklist. Whether Tarek, or any of them, meet someone who fulfills all their needs is another story.
TARABAY: So have you spotted anybody here that has piqued your interest?
TAREK: I've been busy talking to you the whole time. So I haven't had the chance to look around.
TARABAY: Oh, I'm sorry. Well, I'm not going to keep you. Good luck.
TAREK: Thank you.
TARABAY: There aren't that many places single Muslims can hunt around for a partner. They go to religious forums, which they know are places with great marriage potential. They also hit Muslim dating Internet sites looking for Mr. or Miss Right. But most prefer face-to-face interaction. The biggest attraction about this day's event: No parents allowed. That's something Sahar, a striking 24-year-old electrical engineer, is grateful for.
SAHAR (Electrical Engineer): They have been just on it. They're like, get married already.
TARABAY: You're 24?
TARABAY: They think that's old?
SAHAR: Oh, they think I should have been married at 18. So they're on my back.
TARABAY: Next stop, a lecture from Mohamed Magid, imam for the ADAMS Center. He talks about culture, education and religion, and how expectations might clash with reality.
Imam MOHAMED MAGID (Executive Director, ADAMS Center): Because religion is - could be sometime either source of peace or conflict in marriage. If somebody says, oh, this is my interpretation, if you don't do this, you will be punished by God almighty. That's very dangerous.
TARABAY: It's an important part of the day's discussion. So many of these singles live at home, they've never had to confront issues that are part of adult life. The imam calls on them to consider whether they would accept someone from a different cultural background or less education. Saliha, the nursing student, speaks up to say that one can be a deal breaker.
SALIHA: I think it's very important to - at least the husband and wife should have a compatible educational level, or like, perhaps the husband should have one a little bit higher than the wife. Because sometimes it can cause problems if the wife is more educated than the husband.
Imam MAGID: Why? It's intimidating?
SALIHA: Intimidating to a lot of men, yes, unfortunately.
TARABAY: The imam soon leaves them to awkward chit-chat and heads to his office. He says a lot of young Muslims come through his door seeking advice about marriage.
Imam MAGID: We will caution them because sometimes some of them, they have this extremely romantic, not realistic idea about marriage. And they think that it's just about holding hands and going to restaurants and burning candles.
(Soundbite of laughter)
TARABAY: He's been around long enough and seen many families argue over matchmaking. He thinks young Muslims should talk to their families before they get married. But he thinks parent interference, especially going so far as to arrange marriages back in the old country, is a bad idea.
Imam MAGID: Therefore, they go and get this young lady, which is very much closer to the culture of the parents of the spouse than the spouse himself.
TARABAY: Which, he says, often leads to divorce. It's that culture clash again, and it's evident even downstairs. During a break in activities, a bunch of the younger girls gather outside to vent.
(Soundbite of Muslim mixer)
Unidentified woman #3: It's a great event, except it's full of FOBs.
Unidentified woman #2: What is a FOB?
Unidentified woman #3: F-O-B, fresh off the boat.
Unidentified woman #2: I think the thing is, like, I think there should have been a different process. I think they should have separated the age groups.
Unidentified woman #4: By age groups. Right. That's what I thought, definitely.
Unidentified woman #2: And then like...
Unidentified woman #5: I think the time at the table should be less.
Unidentified woman #4: Yeah. More like speed-dating kind of thing.
TARABAY: The girls complain about a couple of older men who've tried to chat them up, or just some who don't get American culture. By the end of the day, some declared success and some didn't. Sahar, the brunette, is cutting her losses.
SAHAR: I'm going to head up other places like the other sponsored events. What they're trying to do is cool because you see like 30, 40 people in one day rather than spending, like I said, six months or like six weeks to six months on one guy and then, you're like, OK, waste of my life.
TARABAY: Tarek, the doctor, was a favorite. And he was happy with the day.
TAREK: Overall, the session was good. And if you're asking me specifically did I find anyone that I'd be interested? Yeah. And I'm going to go as soon I'm done talking to you.
TARABAY: And with that, he was off to get a phone number and hopefully, a wife. Jamie Tarabay, NPR News.
MONTAGNE: You can hear Jamie's first report on arranged marriages at our Web site, npr.org. And there's more. Tomorrow, a couple whose marriage was arranged by their parents, and they wouldn't have it any other way.
Unidentified Man #2: In our culture, you don't want your parents to be involved, that's a disaster waiting to happen at some point. For parents, this is really their time to shine.