Each and every time we leave the comfort and security of our little city, we search out the Islamic community of different parts of the country. I look up the names and addresses of the mosques closest to where we will be staying, and search out restaurants and shops that are owned by Muslims. We do this so that our children get a sense of belonging wherever they are, and that Islam isn’t just isolated to our city and countries far away, but all over the USA.
Because Ramadan, and Eid gifts have been on my mind since (literally) the beginning of summer, when we planned our trip to the city of Chicago, I assumed that it would be easy to find the shops and pick up some great gifts. I asked a few people I knew from here about shops and places to go in and around Chicago. I kept thinking, Chicago is a great big city, surely there is a large number of Muslims and mosques there. I was surprised to find that no one really knew where to shop there, and no one knew where the mosque was inside the city.
During our morning walk around town, we walked down the 600 block of Wabash street, where a beautiful mosque like building resides. It is home to the Bloomindales Home store. I was very curious, but didn’t stop to get a closer look until later on our return trip. Around the outside of the door, was ‘la illaha ila Allah…” (from where I was standing) the ladies and I stopped to talk about the building and take photos of the Arabic script around the doorway. Once home, I googled the building and found that it is the historical Medinah Temple. It was saved from demolition back in early 2001, and is now a Chicago Landmark.
We travelled to a place on Devon Street called IQRA. They had a wonderful selection of books in English, Arabic and Urdu. The shop is fairly large and well laid out with the topics and prices clearly marked. I appreciated this method of organization, and felt very comfortable inside browsing. We went late in the afternoon on Saturday, so most of the shops were closed. This area of town is focused on Pakistani Muslims, Indian cuisine and shopping. We did not see any gift shops, and the few clothing stores we found were selling Indian/Pakistani clothing. We were on the hunt for more Arabic/Egyptian style clothing…so we moved on.
Our next destination was Pulaski Rd. This address was vacant. We did see a small grocery store and restaurant, and Khaled spoke to a man who pointed out the mosque around the corner. This was the Algerian-Muslim section of town. Moving along to Montrose Avenue, the area seemed desolate. There were signs written in Arabic here and there, but for the most part, the area was deserted.That night, we happened to catch a cab driven by a man named Khalid. Once Khaled started to make conversation, there were grins and smiles and laughter sprinkled inbetween the rapid fire Arabic conversation that took place those short 5 blocks. It is always fun to witness Khaled meet and converse with other Muslim men in new cities. I am in awe of the quick camaraderie that springs up once they’ve greeted each other “Assalamu Alaikum.” I’ve never been able to do that. Later I would find out that our driver told Khaled that the Muslims don’t live in the city, but they live outside in a small town called Bridge View. With this nugget of information, we made plans to visit there on Sunday.
On Sunday afternoon, on our way out of town, we programmed a route for the intersection of Harlem and 87th streets in Bridgeview. It is a small strip mall that houses The Nile Restuarant, a Middle Eastern Grocery and Al Omari Islamic Fashion. We were a little apprehensive at first because of the size of the store, but once inside, we quickly changed our mind. Al Omari had 2 full circular racks of Abaya for little ladies, and racks and racks of adult sized Abaya ranging from extremely simple to Henna Party extravagance. We browsed, and selected…the ladies tried on their choices and when we were ready to pick out matching hijabs, the owner and her daughters were more than happy to help us out. They recommended colors, and fabrics and styles. They offered tips to Pea and Kate on how to put on the hijabs and complemented them on their skill. Once we finalized our purchases, each lady got their own tote bag to carry their outfits back to the car. I was ever so pleased that it was a warm, welcoming and helpful shopping experience. Al Omari had such a nice selection available that I wanted to spend more time looking for something for myself, but we were still a long drive from home and the time was late.
After we returned home, I found out that Dianas Fashions was just a 10 minute drive from Al Omari. Had we known about these shops before leaving home, we certainly would have allotted more time for shopping! I hope to return to the Bridgeview area at least once a year to get new abayas for the ladies. Now that we know where to go, we will spend less time searching for the shops, and more time searching for the perfect outfit.