SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The meeting was well into its second hour when Tamir Sukkary let out a loud sigh, put his head in his hands and asked about chaperones.
Should we have them?
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He knew this was a sensitive subject for some Muslims.
“Mahram? Of course,” answered one man, an outspoken member of the committee.
After a 40-minute discussion, the Matrimonial Singles Task Force unanimously voted to encourage guests to have chaperones for its Jan. 24 mixer for single Muslims.
Because it is the group's first event, members decided prudence is best. “It is important to be careful,” said Sukkary.
The Matrimonial Singles Task Force at Sacramento Area League of Associated Muslims, or SALAM, is thought to be the first of its kind in Northern California, and it is getting a lot of attention within the Muslim community.
The goal of the group, which is made up of men and women, married and unmarried, is clear: Help devout Muslims find suitable mates.
It is not a dating service. “The goal is to find a spouse,” said Imam Mohamed Abdul Azeez, spiritual leader of SALAM.
The task force is taking every step to make sure Islamic principles are followed. Still, Azeez knows some Muslims do not approve. One local imam confiscated fliers for the singles mixer posted at his Sacramento mosque.
Azeez is determined. “We have to do something. The problem is widespread and it is serious,” said the imam. “All of the mosques in the area have failed in providing our people with an important but basic service — helping couples get married.”
Sukkary, 36, who teaches political science at American River College, is on the committee and is looking for a wife.
“It is hard for Muslims to meet, partly because there's not enough lawful (halal) venues to connect single Muslims,” said Sukkary. “This service could really help.”
Practicing Muslims do not date. Traditionally, devout men and women meet spouses through friends and family. Chaperoned meetings are arranged. If the couple hits it off, an engagement ensues. If not, the prospective bride and groom go their separate ways.
In recent years, meeting potential mates has become more challenging, Azeez said.
That is because men and women have little, if any, interaction with the opposite sex. Growing up, Muslim boys are taught, as a sign of respect, never to approach a Muslim girl. That separation continues when they become adults. At many mosques, men and women must enter through separate doors to worship.
At next month's mixer, organizers have planned every detail, including seating arrangements where men and women sit at the same table, how they will stand together in line at the buffet, and how workshops and games will steer the discussion to marriage.
In countries with large Muslim populations, meeting marital candidates is not a problem. It is more difficult in the United States because there are fewer Muslims and because many U.S.-born Muslims choose to find their own mates.
Those following the traditional route have a harder time.
Shemeem Khan is looking for a devout young woman for her son. She has asked friends of friends for help, but many of them are looking for spouses for their own children.
“I didn't know how difficult it would be,” said Khan.
It has been more than a year since her son, a California Highway Patrol officer, told her that he was ready to get married. He is looking for potential mates, but it is customary to ask parents to help in the search.
Khan began approaching strangers at mosque. “Do you know of any young girls looking to get married?” she'd ask.
“There is definitely a need for this. People tell me all the time that they're looking for someone, too,” she said.
Singles interested in the matchmaking service pay $50 and fill out a three-page application that covers cultural background (country of birth), education and lifestyle interests.
Religious practices are also asked: Do you pray? Wear a hijab, or head scarf?
A section for spousal criteria asks about such things as employment status and preferred nationalities.
“We wanted to be as thorough as possible,” said Khan.
The Matrimonial Task Singles Force reviews the applications and pairs them with ones they think will match.
The group started accepting applications a couple of months ago. So far, no matches have been made.
“We are hoping there will be one soon,” said Khan, who hopes that the group's success rate will improve once it receives more applications.
Ming Ma filled out a form. She also plans to attend the upcoming singles event.
Ma, 28, is a Sacramento pharmacist who said she has always put her career at the forefront. She is now actively looking for a spouse.
Her mother is also helping in her search. They don't always agree on what's most important in a spouse.
“Our standards are clashing,” said Ma, who begins laughing. “For my parents, the priority is education, but that's not as important to me.”
There is one criterion that her future spouse must meet.
“I'm looking for a practicing Muslim,” said Ma. “Someone whose faith is important to him. That's why I'm doing all this.”