Islamic view on dating

Informed by my long-term immersion in the field of Islamic law in the UK, I analyse the tensions that emerge when gender norms derived from Islamic prescriptions related to modesty and self-restraint come to contradict the logics of the liberal market, which incites customers to maximise value for money.Participants’ difficulty to perform “the good Muslim” in the competitive environment of “match-making” reveals the intrinsic fragility of religious norms and the inherent ambiguities and doubts, which mark the modern human experience.This article is based on twelve months of ethnographic fieldwork begun in 2008 in England (in London and in Birmingham) in diverse spaces where Islamic norms have made their appearance, particularly amidst the flourishing Muslim marriage industry.The methods used for this research consisted in participant observation in ‘sharia councils’ (mistakenly called ‘sharia courts’ in the media) as well as law firms specializing in Islamic law, observation of a working group on Muslim marriages at the Ministry of Justice, Muslim marriage preparation courses, professional Muslim mediation and match-making services.

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The association of a term derived from Islamic jurisprudence (‘halal’) with one derived from the “matchmaking” industry (“speed-dating”) is revealing of the new social imaginaries and cultural hybrids that this research seeks to document.The growing visibility of Islam in the public spaces of Western societies is often interpreted in the media as a sign of Muslim radicalisation.This article questions this postulate by examining the flourishing Muslim marriage industry in the UK.It argues that these ‘halal’ services, increasingly popular among the young generation of British Muslims, reflect the semantic shifting of categories away from the repertoire of Islamic jurisprudence to cultural and identity labels visible in public space.Informed by long-term ethnographic fieldwork in the British field of Islamic law, this article examines a Muslim speed-dating event, which took place in central London in 2013.

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