Arab Americans are enthusiastically seeking an alternative way to find meaningful connections within the community, based on the impressive growth of the Detroit-based Arab relationship app, Baklava.
“We decided to open up a headquarters in Detroit because of the huge community we [Arabs] have here,” says Serena Skaf, Baklava’s chief marketing officer. “For Arabs looking to meet people, they want to feel culturally seen and also want what anyone wants … love and connection.”
Named after the popular Levantine dessert, Baklava launched in December 2020 and is dual headquartered in Los Angeles and Detroit. The team, led by Arab women, is committed to honoring and keeping Arab culture alive while helping people make real connections without the stigma of traditional dating app features and filters.
Skaf says she has seen many Arabs convert to Baklava from other relationship apps because they feel they will have more mutual values, interests, and connections with other Arabs. The app has modes for friendship, dating, and marriage, making the app a social app hub for Arabs to connect.
“For Arabs looking to meet people, they want to feel culturally seen and also want what anyone wants … love and connection.”
Skaf and Leila Muhaizen, Baklava’s founder and CEO, met as schoolmates while in high school before reconnecting years later to discuss the possibilities of a dating app that “infuses and resonates with our culture.” Skaf joined as CMO with a background in tech entrepreneurship, tasked with growing the app’s user base in Arab market demographics and targeted campaigns of awareness and accessibility.
Today, the app is growing with more than 160,000 downloads and more than 75,000 active members daily worldwide, including the U.S., the Arab world, and Europe. Since its launch, Baklava has created 3 million “matches” and 10 million exchanged messages per month.
In Summer of 2021, Baklava became the most downloaded app in Germany, surpassing social media giants Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram. Baklava also hit No. 1 on Global Dating Insights Startup Roundup in April 2021.
“We have been so excited to hear from folks about their success stories in finding love and friendships,” Skaf says. “It’s crazy and such a privilege, we’ve been invited to so many weddings and events. [We get] messages from people all over about the new lasting relationships they found with us.”
Online dating as an alternative to traditional Arab matchmaking
According to the Arab American Institute, there are an estimated 436 million Arabs in the world, roughly 3.7 million of which identify and live in the United States as Arab Americans. Many from the community live in diaspora, and oftentimes individuals find themselves displaced from their home country and alienated from each other due to political conflicts caused by war and instability in the region.
In his seminal prose poetry book, The Prophet, the late, beloved Lebanese writer and poet Khalil Gibran captured the yearning by many for love in times of emotional or physical dissonance, famously writing, “And ever has it been known that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.”
Skaf says one of the main intentions in creating the app was to bridge gaps of social alienation for Arabs while they regenerate their lives in new homes, especially those living in more remote locations worldwide away from the larger community.
“We are already displaced in our new communities and usually we live as minorities,” Skaf says. “We are scattered all over the place and already so divided.”
The open-platform concept on the Baklava app challenges Arabs to build a sense of collectivism by removing filters such as religion or ethnicity preferences.
When it comes to romantic relationships, traditional Arab culture is predicated on a close knit community-centered approach to navigating social situations, typically involving family and friends in the process.
This communal approach is intended to weigh in the considerations from those who know the couple best in hopes of collectively guiding them toward a successful marriage.
The app allows Arabs to explore an alternative avenue to find connection on their own while also circumventing discomforts that seekers may encounter through more traditional matchmaking.
Arabs can choose to pursue connection independently through the app and help mediate common issues such as “people pleasing (putting up a facade for the other family and prospect out of respect) and a lack of control (looking for your own partner offers better odds as you know what you prefer).”
Although there still exists a stigma of online dating in the Arab community from those that frown upon individuals taking their own reins toward love, Skaf says she noticed conservative Arabs now being more open to chat and getting to know someone when they haven’t found luck within their own networks.
The app features a user-friendly interface that resembles other dating apps, including steps to build a profile complete with pictures and background information. For those concerned with privacy, one of Baklava’s niche features includes Incognito Mode, a paid option allowing users to make their profile invisible to others and only reveal themselves to those in the queue by a match made on their own terms.
In contrast to other traditional matchmaking apps, while Baklava users can include preferences in their bio descriptions, they cannot filter people by height, skin color, religion, or other attributes. This is to challenge users to be open-minded when it comes to making connections with others who they may not have given a chance to explore otherwise within limited social circles.
The platform is inviting to both Arabs and non-Arabs who are interested in Arab people and culture. Arab users can select Arab flags in their profiles denoting their background, and the app includes teasing graphic illustrations of the classic Persian and Arab love poem “Layla and Majnun” and culturally curated playful prompts, such as “FOB [fresh off the boat], white-washed, or in-between?”
Looking ahead, Baklava is working on expanding access for Arabs in more countries, including the Arab world, and is building toward being available on Anghami and Podio, the largest music and podcast streaming services in the Middle East.
The basic level for joining the app is free with advanced features available with membership. To learn more, see baklavaapp.com.