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A visit to this market turns up Ramadan decorations and growing Muslim visibility in Michigan
WESTLAND, Mich. – Holidays, festivals and religious observances are a time to decorate one's home, wear festive clothing and serve special foods, but for years when it comes to Ramadan, finding celebratory items to buy has been a challenge in many parts of the United States – even in places like Michigan with large Muslim populations.
"Growing up in America, these types of things were just not available. We weren't able to have these decors and these celebrations of our heritage and our culture and our religion," said Fardusee Jaigirdar, co-founder of an all-women-owned collaborative event-planning and décor business.
After two years of isolation, some also created more opportunities for shopping for marking the holy month, as awareness of Ramadan grows in schools and wider communities.
Metro Detroit is home to the oldest, largest and most diverse Muslim American communities in the U.S. Syrian and Lebanese immigrants first arrived in the area in the 1880s, followed later by Palestinians, Iraqis, Yemenis, Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and people from other countries. Changes in U.S. immigration laws in 1965 and several global conflicts and crises also contributed to the growth and diversity of the region's population.
Only in recent years, however, have being visibly Muslim and publicly engaging in some of its practices, including fasting for Ramadan, become less stigmatized in some communities than it might have been in the past. And as many Muslim Americans resumed gathering with family after two years of isolation, some were motivated to create more opportunities for shopping and celebrating, as awareness of Ramadan and other Muslim observances grows in schools and wider communities.
Fatima Siddiqui had seen many Christmas markets over the years, but she had never seen a Ramadan market. So the calligraphy artist created one in Westland, a Detroit suburb, in March. She brought together local Muslim American artists, crafters, makers, bakers, caterers and boutiques to help celebrate Ramadan beautifully and deliciously, while also supporting the community. Many of the vendors at Michigan Ramadan Market were women artists and entrepreneurs of different backgrounds who connected digitally on Instagram and Etsy.
Jaigirdar, whose Aynaa Events and Décor co-sponsored the market, said that seeing decor from her tradition "available from other small businesses is amazing. I'm able to create this feeling of celebration and create meaningful memories with my children."
Detroit Public Television One Detroit: Inaugural Michigan Ramadan Market Highlights Islamic Holiday in Metro Detroit
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and observed by Muslims as the month of daily fasting and reflection and community, one of the five pillars of Islam. Ramadan and Arab American Heritage Month coincided this April, but Metro Detroit's Muslim American population also includes Arab Americans, Asian Americans, African Americans and others.
"It's the month of giving, it's a month of reflecting, and it's a month of really gathering," said Amanie Mheisen, owner and founder of Not Your Basic Batch, which specializes in Middle Eastern-inspired pastries like za'atar croissants. "All of us coming together as a family. So this market is nice because it gives us some ideas of how we can gift other things to our families and our friends and our communities. It really brings the communities together."
This year's Ramadan was especially meaningful after the last two. "It was really difficult with COVID trying to gather. There were a lot of losses. So everyone staying home wasn't easy," Mheisen said. "But we're here now. We're gathering now."
While COVID forestalled many special moments, some saw the pandemic as a time to start new entrepreneurial ventures.
Mona Musa, originally from Egypt, took a break from teaching this year to share her love of cooking and baking, starting a business called Taste of Egypt. One of her specialties is kunafa cupcakes, which are shredded phyllo dough baked with butter and stuffed with cream, raisins and coconut. Another specialty is fancy dates stuffed with pistachios and dipped in chocolate.
In breaking the fast at the end of the day, "We pause and reflect, pray then eat. So food is not that essential idea, but we try to make it fun," Musa said.
Bushra Murad founded Barakah Boutique, an Islamic faith-based lifestyle boutique in Canton, another Detroit suburb, in which she curates a collection of inspiring products and gifts for Muslim Americans. The store started online during the pandemic in 2021 and then opened a brick-and-mortar location in March.
Murad carries Islamic books for kids, toys, stationery, halal candy, art, home décor, a crescent moon-shaped singing Quran pillow and more. "The hope is that with these items, children can connect more with their faith as a practice," Murad said. She added that kids are "encouraged to fast from a younger age so that as they grow older, they're kind of in routine and they know about it."
Fourteen-year-old Fatima Ahmad, who first learned to macramé from a craft kit she got from T.J. Maxx, has been selling Ramadan-themed wall décor, coasters, and keychains on her Color Valley Designs Etsy shop.
"I made crescent moon- and star-shaped macramé wall hangings, and I've also made keychains with small crescent moon charms on them, to make them more Ramadan-themed," Ahmad said. Having more Ramadan-themed decorations gives people more of a chance to "be more excited for Ramadan and get more in the spirit of it," Ahmad said.
A growing visibility
Detroit Public Schools closed for Eid al-Fitr, the festival marking the end of Ramadan, for the first time in 2019. Dearborn Public Schools also closed for the holiday this year, and at students' urging, Dearborn High School held a Ramadan iftar dinner at school for students to break their fast together as a community. In Ann Arbor, the first two days of Ramadan and the last two days of Ramadan are marked as major religious holidays on the public schools' academic calendar, so major exams, standardized tests, tryouts, and one-time events like prom are not allowed to be scheduled on these days.
"When I was a kid, we would hide all that. We would be embarrassed, you know?" said Reema Jarjoura, a parent and teacher in Ann Arbor. Jarjoura now creates resources to help other educators during April's Arab American Heritage Month.
Because Arab American Heritage Month and Ramadan happen to overlap this year, Jarjoura also added some materials to help teachers understand the differences between Arab cultural celebrations and Islamic religious observances, which span many cultures.
In her classroom, there is a student from Senegal, a student from Pakistan, and she is Palestinian American. They are all Muslim and they all share the Arabic language because it is the language of the Koran, but "one of us speaks French, one of us speaks Urdu, and another speaks Arabic," she said.
Learning about cultural differences and similarities is also easier to incorporate into classroom lessons than they once were. For World Heritage Day last month, Jarjoura asked her students to fill a bag with some things from their house that remind them of their heritage, and to create cultural displays on their desks. The students treated it like a gallery, looking at all the displays and then writing down key words and things that they learned about each classmate, creating poetry from their findings.
With lots of culturally relevant books in her classroom, Jarjoura's students share their experiences and similarities with each other. Jarjoura showed one Muslim student a book of Ramadan stories.
"'Why don't you find one [short story] that you like that reminds you of your culture?'" Jarjoura said she asked her student. "And she's going to read it to the class."
Umid Yakubov, an Ann Arbor attorney originally from Uzbekistan, said that his 13-year-old daughter had been avoiding the cafeteria at lunch time by hanging out in the girls' bathroom before a teacher found them and helped them set up a special nook in the school library where they could spend their lunch periods instead.
For his family, Ramadan went smoothly this year. Yakubov added that his wife wears a head scarf, and when she works at Whole Foods, customers often said "Happy Ramadan" to her, which she thinks is nice.