It's Friday, October 12, and the Mall of America's indoor amusement park is a colorful sea of headscarves and robes. Men sport their finest suits. At 2:00 p.m., the line for ride tickets is more than 100 people deep. The air is alive with the squeals of Somali kids riding the Screaming Yellow Eagle roller coaster or hanging upside down in the Mighty Axe.
The non-Muslims in the crowd look a bit bewildered by the scene. "Excuse me," says a middle-aged white woman visiting from Utah. "What is going on here?"
The occassion is Eid ul-Fitr, which commemorates the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. After 30 days of sunrise-to-sunset fasting and religious piety, it's a time to let loose. Typically, Muslims celebrate by feasting, visiting family members, and exchanging gifts.
But in the Twin Cities, the Mall of America has become an integral part of the festivities. Nobody can say for sure exactly when Muslims began making the MOA pilgrimage to celebrate Eid. "It is an annual tradition," says mall spokesman Dan Jasper. "We do welcome our friends from the Islamic community."
Sabah Yusuf says she's been coming to the mall for four or five years for Eid. She's joined by her three children, along with numerous nieces, nephews, and other relatives. "It's sort of Christmas for us," she says, standing by the funnel cake and ice cream stand, wearing a traditional black hijab, or headscarf. "This is one of the biggest places that's indoors. Most of the time if it's summer we would usually have picnics or family gatherings or things of that nature."
The day started with prayers and breakfast before they headed for the mall. "And we're going to go to a movie afterwards," she says. "I think it's Game Plan or something like that. The Rock is in it. The kids want to see that."
A gaggle of Muslim women are clustered at a table by Paul Bunyan's Log Chute. A teenage girl is dressed in a headscarf, ankle-length skirt, and a sweatshirt that reads "Little Diva." A woman originally from Jordan juggles a cell phone in one hand and a cup of Caribou coffee in the other as her excited kids bounce at her feet.
Abdul Ahmed is watching his three daughters bob up and down on the Frog Hopper. His family started the holiday with prayers at the Shakopee Community Center. "It's a day for the kids," he explains. "It's a day to buy gifts, take them to the rides. It's a happy day for them." This is the Burnsville resident's first time celebrating Eid at MOA. "Usually, my wife takes them," he says.
Abdirahman Kahin came to the mall with his wife and three kids. "We have gone on some rides," he says, keeping an eye on his children as they play with Legos. "Frog Hopper, Mighty X, the horses, too. Now Legos." A native of Somalia, Kahin has been in this country for 11 years, the last nine in Minnesota. He says the reason for celebrating Eid at MOA is simple. "It's the largest mall in America. We're Americans."