The women and girls held their hands high as they squeezed through the crush of people at Karmel Mall, daring not smear their freshly applied henna after waiting hours in line for the elaborate designs.
“Hands up! Hands up!” they shouted.
With Muslims preparing to celebrate the Eid al-Fitr holiday on Tuesday after the holy month of Ramadan, this is one of the busiest times of year at the Somali shopping center in south Minneapolis. People flocked here in recent days to buy presents for the children, try on dresses known as abayas, style their hair and order pastries.
“It’s like you guys when you get ready for Christmas,” said Iman Jama, owner of a jewelry shop where she had an ideal vantage point to watch the surge of Eid shoppers. “We can’t wait for Eid.”
Children squealed, girls fanned one another’s hands to dry the henna dye faster, merchants rolled their rugs, men crowded into barbershops and horns blared outside amid madcap traffic. As he helped direct wayward cars in the parking lot, where a sign flashed the holiday greeting “Ramadan kareem,” Karmel Mall owner Basim Sabri said he had increased the number of security guards from four to 12 and added cleaning staff to accommodate between 5,000 and 8,000 patrons a day.
Many Muslims took off from work and school, and merchants worked long hours to meet the demand at the mall. Eid begins Tuesday morning, when worshipers will pray and gather with family for meals after a month of daytime fasting.
“It’s the best time of the year … we don’t eat, sleep, nothing,” Sahra Ali said of running her clothing business.
She started House of Arawelo in the mall to sell modest, stylish Islamic wear for teens and young women. Ali, 30, noted that many of the clothing stores in the shopping center are run by older women, and those her age want to wear different fashions imported from Dubai and China.
“I’m out of nude, I’m out of beige, I’m out of a lot of colors today,” she told a new customer who was looking for a hijab to match her Eid abaya.
“You’re so lucky, girl, it’s the last one,” she told another woman, putting a camel-colored hijab in a bag.
A young woman pointed to a white abaya with lace and pearls hanging high on the wall.
“All white? Risqué!” Ali joked.
Wearing white on Eid was a bold choice, given all the children roughhousing underfoot and food everywhere.
“You don’t have henna, right?” Ali asked before letting her try it on.
Minutes before, she had to urge a customer with fresh henna to stand back, as the dye can ruin clothing if not yet dry.
Ask Sabri about henna and he sighs wearily, noting that the security guards are supposed to enforce a policy that customers cannot leave a henna shop until their hands have dried — otherwise, the walls and merchandise are ruined. But they did allow some lapses in the spirit of the holiday.
“It seems like a far away place from Lake Street when you’re in here,” said Faiza Heban, who was with her mother in a clothing store down the hall. Heban hadn’t bothered to wait in line for henna, admitting, “I don’t have the patience.”
‘It’s a celebration’
On the second floor, henna artist Farhiyo Mohamed mixed henna and heated water as dozens of customers waited in a hot, windowless room. After several minutes of stirring, she added another splash of water, saying, “I just know what is right.”
Some let her and her fellow artists apply the decorative henna “freestyle,” improvising a design; others ask for more particular patterns from India or Sudan. “I’m coming!” Mohamed called out to a waiting customer.
Sitting in the back corner was Hafsah Mohamed, waiting for her henna to dry after asking an artist to replicate a design she’d found posted on Snapchat. Other times, she has found inspiration on Facebook and Instagram. Mohamed took the day off from work to come here with her mother from Eden Prairie. She couldn’t find an Eid dress at the Mall of America the day before and hoped to have better luck at Karmel Mall. She was also looking forward to having fish sambusas — a popular fried pastry — and an avocado smoothie here.
“Every year, this time of year I like to do henna,” Mohamed said.
At another henna shop downstairs, women and girls sat on rugs, couches and the floor waiting for their turn, mollifying antsy children with cookies.
“My mom likes me to look nice on Eid … since it’s a celebration,” said Amira, a 9-year-old in line with her mother, Amran Mohamed.
The family plans to go to Valleyfair on the afternoon of Eid; the amusement park offers discounts to Muslim families during the holiday. In addition to henna, Amira added, “There’s another thing I really like — presents!”