FREMONT — Think it's hard finding a mate to settle down with?

For Muslim immigrants looking for a traditional marriage arrangement, the considerations go way beyond whether a potential spouse likes country music or hip-hop.

In Pakistan, as in other Muslim countries, families play an important role throughout the marriage process. Typically, parents find spouses for their children. A boy's mother usually will contact a girl's family to arrange a meeting for a potential couple.

In determining whether two people are a good match, families often take into account caste, ethnicity, native province and religious sect.

But as Islamic practices continue to evolve in American culture, some Pakistani Muslims are turning to matchmaking services as a way to maintain some resemblance to traditional marriage arrangements.

Firdous Kamran, a Pakistani-born woman who has lived in Fremont on and off for more than two decades, knows all about it.

She is a 5-foot-2 Kashmiri who describes herself as a moderate Sunni Muslim. Her hobbies include reading, social work and writing short stories. She is an Aries who has been married since 1973.

She is also the founder of Family Connections, a matchmaking matrimonial service for Pakistani Muslims living in North America.

Sitting in her Irvington home, Kamran recalled how she met her own husband, Shoab, when in her early 20s living in Karachi, Pakistan.

At the time, Shoab lived in Toronto. He had returned to Karachi to find a wife.

"I didn't have an idea (he was coming).


I was at my sister's house when he was visiting my brother," Kamran said.

"When we met, he was nice and very humorous. We met two or three times. Then we were married."

Kamran moved with her new husband to Toronto and relocated to Fremont in 1979.

After raising three children — Omar, Mustafa and Atif — Kamran began to look for a new career.

With Pakistani Muslims scattered all over North America, including some 6,000 living throughout the Bay Area, there was a need for a reliable system for Pakistani immigrants to meet other Pakistanis seeking a spouse.

"When you try matching people from different backgrounds, it's sometimes difficult to adjust," Fremont resident Asiya Iqbal said. "In Pakistan, there are five different provinces with five different languages, so even what village you come from is important."

Although there are a host of online matchmaking services, Kamran said Family Connections provides more of a personal touch to matchmaking. Since 1993, Kamran says she has helped arrange from 400 to 500 marriages.

"My services are more personal. I always talk to the people, or I get to know at least one person in the family," Kamram said.

"I want to get to know people and talk about their main concerns and link up people with the same values."

To register, applicants are asked to pay a fee of $150, submit a photograph and provide basic information, such as name, height and weight.

She then records their names in two big books — one for men and the other for women. Kamran says she has from 1,500 to 2,000 active members.

"If I get a call from someone who wants to get married, I want to know what their age, ethnic background and education are, and what type of person you are looking for," she said.

"I want to know whether you are a liberal, conservative or moderate (Muslim), whether you drink or smoke and which part of the country you're from."

Typically, Kamran says, initial contact will be made on the telephone or through e-mail. The two proposed matches then meet in a public place, usually with a chaperone or family members.

There is a $500 match fee for connections that result in marriage.

But Kamran says registration fees are refunded in full if no prospective matches are found.

Of course, there are many Pakistani expatriates who choose to marry outside their religion or ethnic background. But Kamran says her goal is to help Pakistani Muslims who are looking to marry other Pakistani Muslims.

She insists her services are not "arranged marriages." She says she encourages both parties to conduct thorough background checks on their own before making a commitment of any kind.

"This service is not an arranged marriage," Kamran said. "Sometimes it is initiated by the parents, but it's not arranged like it is in Pakistan. We only arrange meetings."

Jonathan Jones covers religion, ethnic and cultural issues for The Argus. He can be reached at (510) 353-7005 or [email protected].