Interview with Baba Ali

March 9, 2011 at 8:13 PM (Interviews - Islam) (, , , )

Many of you will recognise Baba Ali from his YouTube series; ‘Ummah Films’. After several years of sitting through khutbahs and noticing a tendency of recurring topics being discussed whilst countless issues remained non-existent, Ali decided to deal with the matters at hand. What started off as a few videos being uploaded and mailed to friends later escalated to nearly 10 million video views.

Since embracing Islam; have you noticed any changes within yourself?
I remember before Islam, I would be tossing and turning almost every night. Islam put me at peace and alhamdulillah I sleep like a baby. Literally, I fall asleep in the matter of seconds each night. Alhamdulillah…

Being a new Muslim, did you face any difficulties?
Yes. As a convert, I had a tough time trying to figure out what was culture and what was Islam. The division among the ummah also confused me since each sector claimed they were right and that everyone else was wrong. Also, I noticed there were a lot of people doing da’wah but not enough people doing nasiyah. Before you give your shahada everyone is so supportive but after embracing Islam there is a lack of support available to help you to learn the basics.

Why did you decide to create ‘Half Our Deen’?
Many years ago when I couldn’t find my other half locally, I decided to do the unthinkable by joining a matchmaking website. I really disliked the whole setup because the sites basically took the dating structure and applied it to Muslims. These websites would ask surface level questions such as, “What’s your hair colour?”, and “What’s your eye colour?” and so forth. These questions are the type of basic questions individuals want to know before dating someone but for marriage minded people these questions are not enough. If you want to spend the rest of your life with someone, you need to know more than what their favourite colour is. So whenever someone contacted me through one of these sites, I would send them my own series of questions. I made sure my questions did not have right or wrong answers to ensure that people answered them honestly. Of the 17 sisters who responded to my advert, only one of them answered the questions to my liking and that’s the one I married 9 years ago. I was inspired to help other Muslims with the marriage process and so I decided to make an alternative to the current matchmaking websites available. I made a list of all the things I disliked about the Muslim matchmaking sites and decided to do the exact opposite. I launched Half Our Deen.com on July 18th, 2010. The project ended up costing me over $40,000 to build but it was well worth it.

How does ‘Half Our Deen’ differ from other matrimonial websites on the Internet?
‘Half Our Deen’ is completely private so individuals don’t have worry about showing up in Google search results 🙂 We’re the only Muslim matchmaking website that is upfront about the price ($9 month to month or $5/month if you pay annually). We have developed a custom algorithm which calculates your compatibility with each member based upon various categories (i.e. Religious views, Character and Family values). We setup a “What’s New” page to inform people of the latest ‘Half Our Deen’ upgrades. This is something we have yet to see on any other matchmaking site.

Since the creation of ‘Half Our Deen’; how has the website progressed?
Currently we have about 1300 active members on our site. The exact number of marriages resulted from the website is unknown since members do not necessarily contact us to inform us that they’re getting married. Approximately 72 people have told us that they have found their other half via ‘Half Our Deen’; it’s always inspiring to hear that the website is fulfilling its purpose. The ‘Half Our Deen’ success stories are more rewarding than any pay check.

What advice would you give to someone who is experiencing difficulty in searching for a spouse?
I would advise them make du’a, pray istikhara and be patient. Often I come across people who try to look for their other half for a few days and say, “Oh forget it, I give up…there is no one for me out there. Please cancel my account”. I understand that it can be quite frustrating but giving up is not going to resolve your problem. Patience is the key. We made ‘Half Our Deen’ inexpensive because we understand that it may take months or even up to a year to find your other half. By having a profile online, if you’re ideal match signs up, at least they can find you. But if you disable your account, how would they know you exist?

What questions do you believe are vital to ask when meeting a potential spouse?
It is best to ask questions that don’t have right or wrong answers. For example, I would ask; “When you get mad, how do you communicate?” These types of questions help you learn more about the person on a deeper level. On ‘Half Our Deen’, members are given the opportunity to be able to filter out people who they would not be compatible with by posting questions on their profile that they want people to answer prior to contacting them. These can be the deal breaker questions such as; “Do you want to have kids?” or “Are you willing to move to the UK?” What’s the point of spending hours communicating with someone just to find out that you guys don’t match? One can easily get emotionally connected and it can be painful each time a possible marriage falls through the cracks so we hope members avoid this problem by providing them with the ability to filter.

What advice would you give to newlyweds regarding the formation of a solid marriage foundation?
The goal with my marriage project was not just to help people find their future spouse but more importantly for them to stay together. I have made a series of videos informing individuals of what to expect when you get married and how to resolve communication issues between you and your spouse.

What is ‘Half Our Deen Offline’ and how can people get involved in this innovative project?
‘HOD Offline’ (http://hodoffline.com) is a project to help Muslims who want to look for other single Muslims in their area. Personally, I do not like how ‘Singles Events’ have been setup by other organisations as they have taken the “speed dating” protocol and tried to make it for Muslims by calling it “halal speed dating”. This doesn’t work. Playing musical chairs with 30 people, and having only three minutes to speak to each person is not a realistic approach when trying to find the person you want to spend the rest of your life with. It’s called speed dating because it’s made for dating. Since Muslims are not allowed to date and are marriage minded, you can’t just copy and paste methods from dating and expect them to work for Muslims. So with ‘HOD Offline’ I wanted to take a completely new approach. Here are some of the differences:
No Missed Connections: Everyone that attends a ‘HOD Offline’ event can also be found on halfourdeen.com. With so many people and just a few hours, you may not always have the opportunity to speak to everyone. Sometimes you may speak to someone but you may not be comfortable asking them questions such as; “Are you divorced?”, or “Do you have a job?’’ and so forth but with ‘Half Our Deen’ you can easily look up that information on the person’s profile. By having all attendees registered online you can find out much more about the person and since halfourdeen.com shows your compatibility percentage you can see how you connect on a deeper level and not just face to face.
Filtering Process: Anyone interested in attending the event will have to fill out a survey on ‘HOD Offline’ which will tell us a little bit more about them and what they’re looking for. If we feel that we have enough candidates for that specific person, then we would invite them to that event. If not, we will hold their information and invite them to a future event. Thus, ‘HOD Offline’ is by invitation only because we don’t want to have members present at the event if we feel that we do not have enough potential matches for them. The idea is to seat similar individuals at the same table (rather than having people spend time with incompatible individuals). Also, the “by invitation only” process helps us balance the men/women ratio.
Unique Activities: I have come up with a list of cool activities, which will hopefully make the event a comfortable experience for all participants insha’Allah.
Privacy: The city, date and time of the event is advertised but the exact location of the event is only sent to those who are invited.
Baba Ali Hosting: I’ll be hosting the event myself insha’Allah so I can keep things light. I hope by having a younger person that many people are familiar with will ease the tension in the room. Plus having a little humour here and there won’t hurt 🙂

Follow Baba Ali on Twitter: http://twitter.com/ummahfilms
Find Ali on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/halfourdeen
Baba Ali’s Website: http://www.halfourdeen.com/

Neelam Atique – March ‘11

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