Bills and the Arab Corner-Store Owner

Recently Umm Zaid has been writing about the problems between Arab-Muslim liquor/corner/ bodega owners and the community in African-American and Latino neighborhoods. This highlights the fact that throughout America in the ghettos there are thousands of these stores owned by Arabs and they are almost all in black and Latino areas. In New York these stores are owned by Yemenis; but in most of the country they are owned by Palestinians, Jordanians, Lebanese, Iraqis and Syrians.

These stores are located in poor communities of color not because the store owners hold in particular animus against people of color; but for the following reasons; first it is easy to start a business in these areas because it is much cheaper and these are areas where Americans do not wish to do business in, the locals in the communities do not have the financial resources for the most part to start their own businesses, these areas are often dangerous and the job itself is dangerous so many established people don’t want to do it, the way of doing business in the hood is very informal and much more similar to the way of doing business in the Middle-East than the very tight and regimented way of doing business if they go to middle-class white America.

When the Arab immigrant is looking to do business in these areas, and he is more than likely being aided by someone already there, he is looking for something that will be a guaranteed source of profit and the corner store that sells snacks, drinks, lottery tickets, deli items and tobacco products will make good money if it is in a good location especially if it can accept food stamps; but it can make great money if it sells beer and liquor. It’s just that simple and the motivations are financial in nature; the deen is never taken into account.

Once they are in the store doing business then they branch out and try to make as much money as possible, sometimes legally and sometimes illegally, and many of these brothers go to jail for things such as food stamp fraud and selling stolen merchandise that they buy off of customers.

Some of these brothers after a period of time gain a little Taqwa and don’t want to do business any longer in selling swine and alcohol and so they look for another kind of business and I have seen this many times. They open up beauty supply stores, gas stations, dollar stores, cell phone stores or florist shops. All of these stores remain in black and Latino communities.

Others continue their lives in the corner stores and they raise their sons in these stores and their sons are influenced heavily be the pimps, hoes, crackheads, dealers and jackers who are in and out of the store all day and that is what they grow-up and become. The entire time their family is telling them, “don’t be like the abid”. Abid is the derogatory term used for blacks by Arabs and when asked where their store is these bothers will tell you “fil haya tul abid” meaning the place of the slaves.

For these brothers Islam doesn’t even enter the equation. The Muslims in the community, the African-Americans especially, may see this as an Islamic issue; but the store owners don’t. They feel that they are doing business amongst non-Muslims and in a land of kuhfr. When they go home they often do not tell the people what they do for a living in the US and the families really don’t care since they are desperately depending on the money that is being sent to them from the sale of Colt 45, Olde English, Thunderbird, Night Train, Black n’Milds, Swisher Sweets, Kools and Newports.

One often hears two myths about these brothers; the first myth is that the government is giving them money and helping them start businesses which is not the case at all (in fact in most places the government makes it as hard as possible and many of these brothers have almost no dealings with banks), and the second myth is that these brothers were “took out” (out of the deen) since coming to America; in fact most of these brothers had never been observant Muslims even back home wherever that is.

Which brings me to Bills. Bills was a store I use to hang-out in front of sometimes when I was like 14 or 15. It was owned by a Palestinian couple who called themselves Bill and Sandy. A group of my friends and I used to stand on the side of the store all day and drink forty ounce bottles of beer and cheap wine we had bought out of the store (which was actually bought by neighborhood drunks who we let keep the spare change for buying it for us) and Bill never minded that we hung-out on the side of his store and didn’t care that from time to time we were committing crimes on his property. He was cool with us and we were cool with him. That was until one day one of my friends named Ernest got mad at Sandy and asked her “are you bald or something bitch, what the hell do you got under that thing (meaning the hijab)”.

Later that night we were all standing on the side of the store and we were drunk and smoking weed when Bill pulled his car up and got out of the car and walked towards us with his pistol pointed at us. He said over and over “motherfuckers you talk about my wife?”

We all said “no, we love Sandy.” Bill walked off and let us be and that was that. After I became Muslim I visited the store because I wanted to talk to him but it was closed.

When I was in Palestine I asked the Grand Mufti what he thought about these stores and he told me they were haram; but that I couldn’t apply it to any specific cases. Meaning, in the typical Arab fashion, I will condemn it as long as it isn’t practiced by a prominent family in which case can I collect my taxes please.

What happened in Oakland, CA recently where African-American Muslims raided a store and smashed its merchandise has made national headlines; but this has happened many times before and there have even been suspicious murders of these store-owners in the past. The only thing different now is that this is on tape; if the news had tapes of every time Muslim brothers in Brooklyn got into it with the Yemenis on Fulton Street that could run a news marathon.

Many of these stores, in places like Brooklyn, are the exact same stores that a generation or two ago were owned by working-class Jews and one African-American brother I know calls the Arabs “the new Jews”. But, like many Jewish immigrants before them, these Arabs are willing to neglect the adherence to their religion in pursuit of a piece of the American pie for themselves and their families. It isn’t right and we should Islamically condemn it, and Dawah should be made to these families, but at the end of the day it is about money. Most of these Jewish former store-owners sent their kids to college and sold their stores when they got older as their kids became educated professionals and this is what the Arab store-owners should be doing. Unfortunately, I am seeing that when the sons get older he opens up his own store and the problem just gets bigger and bigger and many of these parents are telling their kids not to go to college because they already have a business waiting on them.


7 thoughts on “Bills and the Arab Corner-Store Owner

  1. Very interesting. I’ve always wondered why some Muslims sell stuff which their religion forbids, but I guess some people are too interested in making a profit.

  2. i believe that there is still the question of whether what happened in oakland was done by muslims. they were described as “tuxedo-wearing.” yes, they were wearing bow-ties and suit jackets; NOI trademarks. even if they were NOI, then they would NOT be muslims.

  3. Salaam ‘Alaikum

    I find a contradiction amongst the Yemenis in the BX and Westchester (the ones that I know personally). On the one hands, their wives are veiled, they pray, they have this very strict culture at home. On the other hand, they sell liquor, beer, cigarettes, rolling papers, cigars (for rolling), ham, lottery. And they say they won’t allow their family to touch these things, and talk about the “abed,” but… then they turn around and have girlfriends on the side or / and do khat all night. A lot of them are addicted to this drug. It’s contradiction on top of contradiction. I can’t reconcile these people being religious and praying and fasting, and all that and then they’re doing khat after isha’ prayer and selling beer. — UZ

  4. Good point UZ. The Yemenis are different in that they are still praying and are religious and the ones from Palestine and Sham I have known just don’t pray at all but their wives, for the most part, are covered. They have girlfriends, but they consider them to be like less than human or something, and they chew that khat all day and say “no akhee it is not a drug. It is like coffee”

  5. While I agree with the majority of what you say, I do want to point out that a LOT of brothers and sisters find it almost impossible to find a job that doesn’t involve a little bit of haraam. I definitely disapprove of opening stores that sell poison, especially in the poorest neighborhoods; but at my current job I serve haraam meats to people, so how much room do I have to talk? I used to work as a landscaper, where I’d have to decimate patches of land to make rich people feel good, which disregards the Islamic guidelines for land stewardship. Inshallah, more of us will someday own our own businesses and have the power to make money in a more halal way; but for now, it is not always possible.

  6. Assalamu Alaikum, da.

    What are the Islamic guidelines for land stewardship that a landscaper breaks? I think a landscaper, in general, makes more money than a cashier in a store, although the work is more strenuous (outdoor work). I don’t see why there is anything haram about working as a landscaper, but I think there are lots of halal avenues of making money. Even if what we earn is less, Insha-Allah, there will be barakah in our earnings, and Allah will put increase in our money if we do so for His sake.


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