By JORDAN CONN
He hadn’t eaten in nearly twelve hours, but Alhambra Halal Meat Market owner Mohamed Hebbar couldn’t stop smiling as he prepared for Wednesday afternoon’s Ramadan rush.
It’s easy to sell meat when your customers are famished.
“We sell at least two to three times as much food during Ramadan,” Hebbar said, referring to the Islamic holy month in which Muslims fast every day from sunrise to sunset. “People come in, and they are so hungry that they buy more food without even thinking about it.”
Muslim-owned and Muslim-patronized businesses throughout the Mission District began adjusting as Ramadan began on Monday, Sept. 1. For Hebbar’s market at 3111 24th Street, hungry patrons mean higher demand and higher prices until Ramadan ends Sept. 30. But across town at New Yorker’s Buffalo Wings on Valencia St., owner Usman Sheikh has seen business slow.
“At lunch time, things are much slower, because people are fasting,” Sheikh said. “But it’s a little better for dinner.”
Hebbar and Sheikh are part of the Mission District’s small business community catering to an increasing market for halal meat, which is specially butchered to remove all blood and is therefore permissible under Islamic law. The Halal Journal estimated in March that the global halal meat market is a $580 billion business and growing at a 7 percent annual rate.
“This is one of the best areas in the city for small businesses,” said Sheikh, a native Indian and practicing Muslim who opened his restaurant three years ago. “I think that’s why you see more Muslims moving here — they see opportunity.”
Hebbar certainly did.
“My store has been open for only two months now,” the Algerian immigrant said, “and I came here because there are so many families who want a place like this. And it’s close to the highway, so I have customers who come from Oakland and San Jose.”
It’s unclear how many Muslims live in the Mission District, but Sheikh and Hebbar said the numbers had increased in recent years because of the opportunities.
Muslim customers aren’t the only ones whose habits change during Ramadan. Business owners have to adjust to midday hunger and weakness, and they must manage business operations with religious obligations.
Palestinian-American Aysha Khalin, who owns Pay ‘n Save Grocery on 17th St., said she’s had very little sleep lately. “I had to wake up at 4 a.m. to feed my six children before the day’s first prayer,” she said.
That prayer comes even earlier this year than usual. Because the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar with only 354 days in a year, Ramadan begins and ends 11 days earlier each year. As its beginning moves from fall to summer, sunrise comes earlier and sunset comes later, meaning 14-hour fasts in the United States.
“In these first few days of the month, we must begin the fast around 5 a.m. and end it after 7:40 p.m., so it is more of a sacrifice now than in most years,” said Sheikh.
New Yorker’s and Pay ‘n Save both employ an extra worker during Ramadan to manage things while other employees are visiting mosques to pray. So far there are no mosques in the Mission, and many Muslims travel to San Francisco Islamic Center in Bernal Heights or the San Francisco Muslim Community Center on Divisadero St. Employees may also gather with family and friends for the nightly iftar — the time at which they may suspend their fast.
Sweet dates and milk typically break the fast each night — a tradition Hebbar is happy to accommodate.
“Oh, we sell about 100 pounds of dates a day,” he said. “We’re always selling dates. Dates and milk, dates and milk.”