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Harmonica: an Egyptian Mobile Application to Find a Spouse the Halal Way

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Saturday 7 April 201809:15 am
Thirty-six-year-old Hossam decided to divorce his wife because they were "incompatible with each other", realizing that selecting her as his partner was not suitable to begin with. "We were different in everything, we had nothing in common," he told Raseef22. "Even the way we see life and the future was completely different… We had to part ways so we don't treat ourselves unfairly, or start an unstable family." Lack of compatibility is often cited by Egyptian partners who go their separate ways after a few years into their marriages, one of the common reasons behind millions of divorces in Egypt. To make life easier for people like Hossam, a group of young Egyptians decided to launch a mobile application called Harmonica. It helps "anyone find a suitable spouse, with whom they share interests and views", according to one of the founders who hope the application would reduce the soaring divorce rate in Egypt. Although harmonica is a musical instrument, the name of the application actually refers to the word "harmony", which partners should live in after using the application. Shaymaa Ali and Ali Metwali -- two members of the team that has designed the application -- said many people got the impression that Harmonica plays the role of a matchmaker, which is not true. They stressed that the service it offers is radically different from a marriage broker. The duo explain that the application enables Egyptian youth to get married in a more contemporary and efficient way, saying matchmakers cannot set criteria in order for potential compatible partners to find each other through arranged marriages. Matchmaking agencies have sprung up in Egypt over the past few years; a client would pay a fee and fill a form that contains questions about his job, income and traits required in a spouse. An extra commission is paid to the agency when a couple actually ties the knot. The number of people who walked down the aisle through matchmaking services in Egypt remains unknown.

Compatible, Not Identical

Harmonica asks male and female users a large number of questions that are designed by psychology specialists, the founders explain. These questions to a great extent show the interests and way of thinking of each user. The answers are analyzed by a certain algorithm; based on the results, the application determines the best potential partners. The application's founders stress that a successful marriage does not require identical partners, but rather people who are compatible with each other and share views, characteristics, principles and dreams, among other things. They also stress that Harmonica's process is accurate and utterly confidential. In order to use the application, one must have a Facebook account that is at least one year old and has no less than 50 friends. These terms aim to verify the authenticity of the accounts and bar from registering users who seek to hook up with girls via Harmonica. Last September, the creators of Harmonica through its Facebook page asked for 200 male and female volunteers to participate in a trial. Indeed, a large number of people stepped up, which the developers said have been greatly helpful.

Not a Dating Application

Harmonica is not a dating application; it has been specially designated for people who look for spouses, the founders stress. Not only does the application help people meet suitable partners, but it also seeks to spread contemporary scientific basis that shall ensure successful marriages. Thus, there is a section in the application called "Ask Harmonica" for users to send marriage-related queries to specialists. The application is user friendly. It would ask registering users for basic information such as age and city of residence in Egypt. It would also ask them whether they want to use their real names or not. When all questions are answered, the application would pledge that "you will find your life partner at 8pm sharp". All the same, users of Harmonica are likely to experience some bugs and technical problems. For instance, the application could close suddenly for no apparent reason. Uploading personal photos is also quite difficult. The creators say they always try to develop and enhance the application, and pay attention to every single message they receive concerning technicalities. Also, the 8pm promise will not be entirely fulfilled; it could take days until the application sends candidates to users, according to complaints posted on the application's Google Play page. Harmonica's representatives would reply that finding the right partner for someone can occasionally be difficult and time consuming. Perhaps these problems are the reasons why only a beta version of the application is available. The number of Harmonica's users is also still limited.

Skepticism and Optimism

Salma Mohamed, aged 28, says she does not believe that using this kind of applications is the best way to get married, saying marriage requires personal interaction in the real world rather than in the digital sphere. The difference between the two can be drastic, she opined. "Personally, I don't imagine myself downloading an application that helps me find the right husband," she told Raseef22. "I leave that to life; I could meet this person in my workplace, or anywhere else, for that matter. Generally, I don't have much faith in the internet." Conversely, 30-year-old Mohamed El-Sayed is convinced that theoretically speaking, the application is helpful, saying he has to try it out to be able to determine its usefulness. "It's great that a group of young people have decided to help others and make their life easier," he told Raseef22. "Definitely there is a suitable person for me but maybe the time and place are not right to meet her, so it's good to have an application whose goal is to introduce me to this individual." Hossam who has divorced his wife says the split has made him extra vigilant when it comes to marriage. Should this application help him find a woman who is compatible with him, he stressed they would still need to be engaged for quite a while to get to know each other better. "Meeting someone via Harmonica is not enough for a marriage to happen, it's just the beginning," he said.

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