By Aaliyah Gohir - Editorial Assistant (MWN Hub)

Technology has drastically transformed the world of dating. It provides a much wider pool of people to choose from compared to the common methods such as through family or friends. Online dating, although initially seen as by some shameful and embarrassing to admit to doing, has increased in popularity, including amongst Muslims of all ages. People are turning to popular online marriage platforms, such as Single Muslim and Muzmatch, in the hopes of finding their 'soulmate.'

Of course, such online platforms are popular because of their advantages such as narrowing down perspective partners in a time-efficient way. However, there are also many dangers which can sometimes be overlooked or even completely ignored in the hope of finding a partner. For example, in 1996 a communication professor called Joseph Walther, put forward the hyper-personal model of online relationships, suggesting that people can use selective self-presentation in order to manipulate their online image and be 'hyper-honest' or 'hyper-dishonest' when disclosing information online. Although this model was used to propose that online relationships are better as it potentially leads to more self-disclosure thus greater connection, it also shows the downside such as people creating fake online identities and choosing what information to disclose.

It is quite clear that these online platforms have also created another medium for men to assert control and manipulation over women.

Unsurprisingly, we have dealt with cases showing this pattern of behaviour on our Muslim Women's Network Helpline calls. The Helpline receives calls on over 40 issues ranging from violence to mental health, including traumatic online dating experiences. From the calls received on these issues, it is quite clear that these online platforms have also created another medium for men to assert control, manipulate and abuse  women. For example, one case we dealt with involved a woman who committed to having an Islamic marriage (nikah) after only a few meetings. After the marriage however, the husband only made occasional and inconsistent visits to her whenever he felt like it. She became depressed and called the helpline in which she revealed that she wasn't even sure about his true identity, for example she didn't know his address or have proof of his real name.

It is clear from the many cases we receive that some men deliberately target women through marriage websites. In fact, our helpline has been privy to the tactics used by such men to create a facade. This may include embellishing their identity such as lying about their career, marital status and even religion. In one case, a caller told the MWN Helpline how a man tricked her into giving him £10,000 supposedly for charity work. In another case, a woman who was approaching menopause was worried about having children, so turned to a matrimonial website. She became intimate with someone very quickly in the hope of getting married, for example, a recent case on the helpline involved a young girl who, met a guy on Muslim matrimonial site and was persuaded to meet him at his apartment. During the visit, he led her to his bedroom where he raped her. Sadly, we have received other cases similar to this on the helpline. We are also aware of men having been targeted.

Patriarchal society places pressure on women to be married and have children and often this is made worse by the cultural pressure that some Muslim women face. Perhaps this can result in some Muslim women which results in them feeling rushed into finding a partner without screening the person. It is clear from these cases that more caution needs to be taken to verify the identity and details of men they meet online before getting into a relationship or even marriage. The dangers of online dating have also been highlighted by TV shows such as 'Catfish' and even 'Searching'It is clear that deeper analysis is required to look at the root causes for all such issues, as with better understanding we will be able to better address such harmful behaviours. Ultimately however, Muslim matrimonial websites should do a lot more to verify the identity of their members, and safeguard users.

If you have had similar experiences and would like to talk to a professional, contact the Muslim Women's Network Helpline on the following: 0800 999 5786/

Further reading: Online Romance Scams - Red Flags and Safety Tips

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