Ramadan began in the United States on April 2. Muslims who observe will be spending the next month reading the Quran, giving to charity and only eating and drinking before the sun rises and after it sets.
Ahead of the holy month, a Ramadan market featuring Islamic inspired crafts and food was held in Westland.
Attendees at the market say there hasn’t been a place where Metro Detroiters can shop for Ramadan-inspired goods made by local vendors since maybe the ’90s. This one is also special because it features more than 20 businesses that are all led or co-led by Muslim women.
Vendor Zainab Arshad’s table displays greeting cards she made for Eid, the celebration that marks the end of Ramadan. Arshad says the colorful drop shadow font on the cards is inspired by the way trucks are decorated in her home country of Pakistan.
“There’s a huge pride in it. They’re very ornate, it’s painted by special artists, very colorful. There’s a special style that they do. And I tried to incorporate that into the Eid cards,” she says.
Arshad is also selling cards and wall hangings with cut-out geometric patterns which she says her degree in architecture inspired her to create. A full-time mother of three, she’s says she’s been gradually building up her business. In addition to helping her find customers, she says this market is helping her find peers.
“I feel like the one thing that I was missing out on was connecting to other female Muslim artists,” she says. “[At this event], we kind of connected.”
There are artists selling candles, macramé, handmade cutting boards and more. Plus, there’s food. Nearby there’s a table covered in cupcakes, cookies and cake pops. Yousef Bhutta says his mom – who’s standing next to him — is responsible for the spread. He says she has been up until 2 a.m. working every night after the family has gone to bed. Saliha Bhutta, his mom, says she began baking about nine years ago. It started with her kid’s birthdays, then spread to her friends’ kids’ birthdays and eventually she was baking treats for strangers.
Saman Javaid stands in front of what’s left of the homemade desserts she brought. There are a couple small cakes, some pudding cups and Biscoff sundae cups with cookie butter, her favorite.
Javaid and her husband moved to Jackson from Pakistan two years ago. She says she bakes while staying at home with their 1-year old and so it’s been nice to get out and meet some other entrepreneurs.
“I don’t have any family here. So it’s kind of a small family of growing business women,” she says.
A few tables down, Mona Musa is displaying her baked goods in white boxes and atop tiered dessert trays. One of the items she’s selling, kunafa, looks a little bit like a bird’s nest in a cupcake wrapper. It’s a staple for Middle Eastern families and it can be shaped in different ways like mini cupcakes.
Musa says her kunafa is inspired by the version she grew up with in Egypt. It features crunchy shredded pastry layers soaked in a sugary syrup with a thick cream inside.
“I was surprised that other cultures try to taste it,” she says, adding, “It was my [top seller] today.”
It’s not just baked goods. Some vendors are displaying trays of savory food like the spiced chickpea dish Channa Masala or a puffed rice snack known as Jhalmuri. Attendee Yasmeen Nasr says she feels like she now has a list of local businesses to choose from if she wants to get food catered during Ramadan or for Eid.
“And the options are phenomenal because there’s the American and Middle Eastern twists and then there’s Desi, which is like Pakistani, Indian or any of that twist as well for the desserts that you don’t really see or buy in the stores,” she says.
Amina Anwar, a vendor selling colorful Quran verses, says it’s not just certain foods that are hard to find — Ramadan decorations are sparse in U.S. stores too.
“I know Target and Party City have some stuff now. But there is a shortage. So this market fills that gap. And whatever I made here I might just spend it all over here,” she says.
Organizer Fatima Siddiqui — who makes wood coasters, trays and signs painted with Arabic and English calligraphy — says she is happy with the number of vendors at the market. Part of the reason she put the event together was to promote the work of local small business owners like herself. She’d seen Christmas markets and thought – why not Ramadan too? But, she says, she also wanted to put Islam on display.
“As someone who lives in America especially as a Muslim, you don’t really see your faith, your religion, be promoted, be portrayed as something beautiful, as something positive,” Siddiqui says. “I thought that if there’s a market like this, if there’s an event like this – it’s a way to teach other people it’s a beautiful religion.”
“We are not what the media says we are,” Siddiqui says.
All photos by Laura Herberg