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Costume Party at the Moslem Temple

Qais Assali

Ink jet prints, pages of Parade to Glory on velvet, ink jet prints on transparencies., 2019

The Shriners, formerly known as the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, a fraternal order organized around the principles of “fun, fellowship and the Masonic principles of brotherly love, relief and truth,” was established in 1870. Appropriating Arab, Islamic and Middle-Eastern props, characters, images, names, spaces, architecture and tropes for their secret society, rituals and public parades, Shriner parades feature exaggerated and overtly orientalist Arab characters and themes. In the Shriner’s vision of America, the Arab, Muslim, Middle Eastern body--like so many Arab noses at a party store--is an object to be consumed, costumed, worn, and discarded. How can the Arab/Muslim community of Detroit persist, resist, and conceal itself right out in the open while the Shriners parade a grotesque Arabesque float just a few kilometers away? This question came to me as I drove the straight line between Dearborn and Southfield, back and forth from the “Temple” to the Mosques. From Moslem to Muslim. From the Middle East to the Midwest and back again, Making a conversation between old fashioned Orientalism and contemporary Islamophobia, the misrepresentations produced by hyper-capitalism, advertising and mass media, the exports of U.S. culture that I consumed as a Palestinian raised in a state of diaspora in the Arab Gulf, these caricatures, this cast of characters in white America have now become my family in the US. What does it mean for me to do research in a place called a Moslem Temple and to dance there? How can I or should I become a part of it, to embody it, to use my senses to understand and laugh at this locale? What is lost and gained in the American dream for the local Arab artists, artisans and shopkeepers embedded safely within the rich diaspora of their relocated cultures and community here? I have found no answers in my investigation. But while engaging these communities and questions through my practice, I have found an endless fountain of knowledge. This is the original sign for the Aref Saad Meat Market that opened in the Eastern Market in 1976. The market for meat slaughtered according to Islamic rituals - halal slaughter - was clearly imagined as being fluent in Arabic. Mr. Saad quickly found that his business was popular among a highly diverse community of Muslims in Detroit. It has been a gathering place for Muslims in the area for almost 50 years. Today the company, Saad Wholesale Meats, is a family affair, managed by several of Mr. Saad’s children. It is the largest halal meat producer in the Midwest and will soon open a branch in California. Ashura is a very different type of Islamic holiday from Ramadan. In the month of Muharram each year many Shi`i Muslims commemorate the 7th century martyrdom of Imam Husayn, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, at Karbala. The many mosques and husayniyyah’s along Warren Avenue in Detroit, and sprinkled throughout Dearborn, hoist giant flags in red, black and green. Many homes are decorated similarly, or as we have done here, with smaller banners that depict key events from the Battle of Karbala, or images of Imam Husayn himself. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, recent Ramadans fell in the summer when the days were at their longest. While this presented challenges to those going without food and drink all day, restaurants and coffee houses began to stay open most of the night and the streets of Dearborn, in particular, were alive late into the evening. After breaking the fast at sunset and visiting a local mosque for prayer and Quranic recitations, people were now able to stop at myriad late-night food stands like A-1 Hotdogs, Cheat Treats, or, on the weekends, visit Suhoorfest in Dearborn Heights. This festival attracted thousands of visitors each weekend from 11pm to 3am. Not to be outdone, the neighborhoods of the city also lit up with festive holiday light displays and this latest adaptation – the Ramadan tree, repurposed by Samar Bazzi from a Christmas tree. The first Arab restaurants and coffee houses opened in Highland Park in the 1910s and Dearborn in the 1920s to feed the factory workers who migrated to the US ahead of their spouses. Gradually, as more families settled in the area, grocery stores began opening, followed by fully- fledged Syrian/Lebanese restaurants. The Nation of Islam community was also quick to establish businesses that supported the new diet that went along with their new faith. Geneva X and Jesse X2 opened the Shabazz Restaurant in 1955 in a storefront on Russell Street. South Asian restaurants were slower to follow, given the plethora of halal options that had sprung up throughout the metro area by the time the Asian community became established here in the 1960s and 1970s. Today they are ubiquitous in Hamtramck, Canton and the Northern suburbs, while West African, North African, and Bosnian cuisine are joining the mix in Detroit. It is often through these ethnic food establishments that non-Muslim Detroiters first encounter and come to appreciate their Muslim neighbors. This display highlights some of the pioneering food businesses in Dearborn, like Uncle Sam’s and Al Ameer’s Restaurants, the very iconic Shatila bakery, and Berry and Sons Halal Meats. It also explores the spread of halal food options throughout the region. When it opened in the 1970s in the Eastern Market, Saad Wholesale Meats quickly became a meeting place for the highly diverse Muslim communities of Detroit. Today, they are just as likely to meet in Hamtramck, where the variety of halal options is remarkable - Arab, South Asian, African American, Eastern European, and more. In recent years, halal food has also been introduced by mainstream vendors like KFC and Walmart in the suburbs, and by high end establishments like Saffron De Twah and Roast in Detroit. The hijab is perhaps the symbol of Islam in the West. Uncommon in Detroit until the 1980s, the hijab today is seen and worn in myriad styles and by Muslim women from all backgrounds. It has become ubiquitous in the Metro area, where several designers and stylists working in the Islamic fashion space have achieved global influence. The scarves displayed here are (from left to right) from the Verona Collection (available at Macy’s) by Lisa Vogel; Adidas, a sport hijab designed in part by marathoner Rahaf Khatib; Haute Hijab, a New York-based company founded by Melanie Elturk; and Beautifully Wrapped, the cultural exhibition company created by Zarinah El-Amin. Tattoos, whether on the body or the car, are a major way Muslims signify their presence to one another. Some of these tattoos are all about faith – they praise God and ask for his protection. Others express strong political positions or national pride. One is a very publicly offered wedding invitation. Decals on car hoods and windows are popular in Detroit, Dearborn, and Hamtramck, but they really stand out in the suburbs. Frequently featuring Arabic language verses from the Quran or national symbols, they bear witness to the ethnic and religious identities of the car’s owner. This decal combines the emblem of Yemen with the seal of Detroit, attesting to the hybridity of the region’s immigrant Muslim communities. When the COVID-19 pandemic first shut things down in Michigan, the Halal Metropolis team was quick to respond. We conducted 75 interviews in April and May of 2020 with frontline Muslim workers, religious leaders, and community activists, and with those whose lives had been upended by the virus. Our goal was to document how the community was contributing to the pandemic response given the large numbers of Muslim health care workers, food service professionals, public officials, artists, and service providers. In 2021 we launched a second round of the Zoom-In on the Halal Metropolis Series to help us gauge the long term impact of the pandemic on the Muslim community. The video here is a highlights reel, of sorts, capturing the spirit of the 150 (and counting) interviews our team has conducted about this unprecedented historical period. Scan the QR code to view the whole series of Zoom-In interviews: Muslim Americans have long taken to the streets of Detroit to express their political concerns - from Black Power to Black Lives Matter, from End Apartheid to Free Palestine, from No Wall/No Ban to Water is a Human Right. In the wake of George Floyd’s murder in the summer of 2020, Detroit erupted in BLM protests that were echoed in Hamtramck, Dearborn, and the suburbs. And with so much war and devastation in Iraq, Yemen and Syria, protests were also held, especially in Dearborn, focusing on the human rights of people in these countries. Finally, in May of 2021, when Israel attacked Muslims at prayer in the Al- Aqsa Mosque, and then began bombarding Gaza, more protests erupted on behalf of Palestinian rights and pressing for the end of the Israeli occupation. We spent much of the past year documenting these protests, represented here in the signs people carried in one or more of these public protests. Protest signs donated by Noora Aldulaimi, Ebtihal Ali, and others from the community.

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