Muslim Dating Ads: What’s With the Racism?

Among other content, Islamic Horizons, the bi-monthly publication of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), runs personal ads. There are two sections: “Seeking Husband” and “Seeking Wife.” The personal ad below appears in the latest edition under “Seeking Husband,” and it is one of only two ads (among ten) in which a woman is seeking correspondence for herself. (The others are written by parents and a lone uncle.)

Muslim woman invites correspondence for herself from believing/practicing, driven, fun, feminist Muslim man. Must not be intimidated by elite education or a penchant for the high and low brow. Skin color requirement masked “complexion” not applicable because that’s racist. Contact:

As a Muslim American woman living in North America, happily married to someone who happens to be a “believing/practicing, driven, fun, feminist Muslim man,” I have some words for Ms. YesThisIsForReal.

First off, brava sister! Or more appropriately, masha’Allah! Secondly, I assume you’ve placed this ad as a form of protest and satire, as it forces us to question the assumptions and prejudices of our fellow Muslims, women and men alike.

As I mentioned, I’m married to a man who meets your requirements to a tee—and no, he’s no more down for a second wife than I am, so that’s not why I’ve taken interest in your ad. Rather, it’s because I think you’re pointing out some vital issues that we as Muslims need to be discussing today.

For one, what’s with the racism within our own communities (a number of the personals in Islamic Horizons mentions that the writers has a “fair” complexion)? As a darker-skinned Iranian-American, I’m all too familiar with the Persian penchant for fairer complexions. All my life, for example, I’ve been consistently cautioned against sunbathing—and not because people were concerned about the possibility of my developing skin cancer. And we Persians aren’t alone here. This is an issue that plagues societies worldwide—Muslim or not.

But you’d think that ISNA (purportedly the largest Muslim organization in North America) might be above running blatantly racist personal ads with complexion requirements. You’d think as consistent victims of racism ourselves that we wouldn’t practice it among our own kind. You’d think that we’d be above this, right?

Well, as Ms. YesThisIsForReal so accurately points out, too many of us are not. So, I say it’s up to those of us who are to stand with her and challenge the others who have yet to evolve and realize that we cannot stand for racism within our own communities any more than we can stand for it from the outside.

So too, we need to stop letting our parents and uncles “seek correspondence” for us! I know way too many other women (Muslim and non-Muslim) who happen to be daughters of immigrants and believe that choosing their spouses is a process in which their parents need be intimately involved. I don’t entirely disagree. Of course you should take your parents’ opinions under consideration if they’ve bothered to love and raise you. But ultimately, this is NOT their decision to make.

“ISNA Matrimonials” seems to be a serious business, with its own video promotional ad, full of red roses and fancy fonts. It ends: “ISNA Matrimonials: Building the Future of American Muslim Families.” I hope to hell not!


  1. ASA, I couldnt agree more with this article. I was shocked while in Morrocco I was told that one of 2 brothers was more exceptable marriage material because he was white, while the other was black. The whole catagorizing process totally baffled me. See me and the black brother have similiar color but for them I was white. I was told it was because I didnt have black features and he did. I replied but what about the sister to the brothers? She has light skin but very course hair. They said no she was still white. I found that they absolutely adored white people, the whiter the better. This really aggravated me. Then I move to UAE and the women are bleaching their beautiful brown skin and I cant figure out why because it makes them look like walking corpses. Whatever happened to black is beautiful? Why do we ignore Prophet Muhammeds words: All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action. Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood.

    • Akhtar Ali Khan says:

      My dear sister: you should tell this to the Qatari, who won't even allow the dark-skinned Indians, Bangladeshi to enter their Malls. Bigotry, based on skin colour and ethnicity is quite common in the Middle East and North Africa, and skin bleaching (chemically, or use of turmeric) is quite common in Indo-Pakistan. Southeast Asian and Chinese girls won't even walk in the sun without an umbrella (not because of UV rays but because they may turn brown).

      I keep telling my medical students that white is the basic colour (every thing beyond it is superior) and inhabitants of cold climates have white skin because exposure to sun is limited but skin has to manufacture vitamin D. In warm and hot climates, brown (or black) pigment provides protection against UV (if white skin was prevalent in hot countries, almost 90% of the people will die of melanoma) .

      Keep up the good work.

  2. Right on Shakirah! Thanks for your insightful comments. I too wish we could get beyond this, but it's SO deeply ingrained. And the BLEACHING kills me. I use Joleen to bleach my mustache/sideburns–why be ashamed when about 3/4 of the Arab and Muslim world does it–Yes, I'm outing myself here ;). But anyway, for a while I assumed that was what people meant by "bleaching"–bleaching body hair, not SKIN! But I've fairly recently learned of this practice, and it's repulsive to me! Maybe people will consider bleaching my mustache just as repellant, but I like to think there's a difference. And what's worse about the skin bleaching is that so many of the products/home "remedies" can actually burn people and cause serious damage–not to mention PAIN!

  3. Cyrus Goram says:

    masha'Allah! Melody, for bringing to light an issue no "Muslim Personals" ad institution anywhere in the world will touch, and no Muslim family wants to address. The so-called "Muslim Personals" for the most part is a racist, caste system showboat patronized by 'parents' and 'uncles' hyper-paranoid that the perfect match for their child/niece/nephew will have dark skin. Being a brown-skinned North African/American Indian myself with a Persian first name, 13 years experience listening to all kinds of "fairer complexion" gossip in Farsi, and having many Persian friends, I know all too well what you are talking about 🙂

    In the movie Mississippi Masala, Mina's father laments, "once I was just like the two of you (East-Indian Mina and her African-American boyfriend, played by Denzel Washington)." "I thought I could change the world, be different – but the world is not so quick to change." Sad and true.

    I expected better from a religion of islam's caliber.

  4. I'm not a Muslim or religious at all, but I think Muslim women need a revolution, and need to stand up to parents and uncles about their own futures. Getting an education and independence through a job would give Muslim women more clout regarding these issues. They could refuse to be categorized in this fashion and reduced to a commodity their families barter for a date.

    • Against stereotyping says:

      Where do you get your views on Muslim women? Because I think that your views are a bit stereotypical. There is a widespread preference for light-skinned women in African-American, Indian and African communities and it doesn't have much to do with education or independence but deep-seated prejudices about beauty.

      • Right. It's time to unseat the "deep-seated" prejudices about skin colour and even about what constitutes beauty. There are stereotypes about weight, height, hair, sizes of noses, eyelids and lips. It borders on insanity. If women had power via education and economics, they could expose these stereotypes and develop a new "image" for all women. Obsessing about lightness and darkness keeps people pre-occupied, and not thinking about the status of women worldwide.

  5. love this ad – thanks for bringing it a wider audience than it would have gotten 🙂

    but i don't think the word "satire" is the right word choice to describe it – especially considering the pseudonym is "yesthisisforreal". sassy and snarky yes. satirical, no.

  6. Can you comment on this point please: “it is one of only two ads (among ten) in which a woman is seeking correspondence for herself.”

    Is it common for families to place dating ads for women in the Muslim community or was this magazine a one-off sort of thing?

  7. One of my favorite quote on this subject is:

    All people are equal as the teeth of a comb. There is no virtue (nothing better or superior) to an Arab over a non-Arab,nor white over colored, except by the fear of God.” Prophet Mohammad (SAW)

    I think to ignore this fact we are all equal in the eyes of God means you must place someone else higher in your eyes that God (Allah)

  8. I think the issue you are describing with these advertisements is due to misunderstandings. The reason being that the majority of the people writing the advertisements or operating the businesses involved are not true Muslims. They are people just trying to make a buck by running a dating or matrimonial business. I don’t think it’s their intention to offend anyone – they just don’t know any better.

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