Online dating is permissible in Islam as long as it is conducted for the express purpose of finding a spouse, a Palestinian religious institution has ruled.

The Supreme Council of Religious Ruling in Palestine, the highest institution of legal opinions in the Palestinian Territories, stated Tuesday on its website that mingling of men and women in social networks is a “central characteristic of our time” and cannot be avoided, but must adhere to the principles of Islamic law, or sharia.

Islamic dating websites have proliferated in recent years, mimicking the successful model of religious-specific platforms, such as JDate for Jews. But many Palestinians converse freely on other social networking platforms, including Facebook and Twitter.

According to the fatwa, or religious ruling, meeting online must be undertaken with the intent of marriage only and not “for purposes that deviate from the purposes of sharia.” Conversation between men and women must revolve around marriage only, and take place with the knowledge of both families.

Women, continues the religious opinion, may not describe themselves in detail to men and may not share photos of themselves, nor may they meet the potential groom alone without a male family escort.

“These permissions do not substitute for the formalized, traditional methods of encounter for the purpose of marriage,” the council underscored. “It is better for those wishing to marry to enter the house through the front door.”

For the man, that would entail meeting the prospective bride at her family home in the presence of her custodians.

“If he is unable to do so, and has not found any way but the Internet to meet his potential fiancee, he should do so while adhering to the tenants of Sharia specified above. However, using the Internet and other means of communication to engage in improper actions, satisfying his whims and physical inclinations under the pretext of searching for decent women — this is entirely impermissible.”