When Fatima Umar's husband, Ali, died from multiple gunshot wounds inflicted by an unknown assailant during an attempted robbery, their youngest child out of three was six months old. Her husband's murder took place on July 17, 1982 in the deli where he worked below their apartment unit on Fordham Road in the Bronx. After his death, Umar scrambled to keep the family together “with Allah's help.” Thirty years later, she has become the neighborhood wise woman dispensing advice from her Islamic beauty store.
“Some women come from other countries and they come to this store with problems, money and family problems,” Umar, a 77 year old immigrant from Aden, Yemen, said with a thick accent. “I tell them not everything is easy here in America. They need to take care of their husband and children, like I took care of my children.”
With the help of her daughter, Umar established Gold Mohur Boutique in 2010 “because of the masjid across the street. Some women go to Islam and they want an Islamic dress.” One can see the Bronx Muslim Center from the windows of her store.
Multicolored head scarves, full body women's dresses, men's taqiyahs, incense, and religious books with titles like “Why Hijab?” stock the shelves and racks. The boutique's most ornate dress, decorated with sequins and elegant embroidery, had a price tag of $180.
Islamic businesses like Gold Mohur Boutique reflect a growing Muslim community in the Bronx.
Umar, a robust woman wearing a black head scarf, emigrated from Yemen to the United States in 1977. When her husband died five years later, she prayed to Allah fives times a day instead of accepting government assistance. “I never took food stamps, never in my life,” she told A Journey.
She believes prayer got her through. “I prayed for my health, for my children, for my son's education, for my husband in jannah (heaven), and Allah provided,” Umar stated. She took care of the house while her children attended public school and translated English for women friends, sometimes for donations. Her husband's sister contributed monetarily too.
Her husband's death affected her deeply, perhaps more than she exposed to her family. “I am sad inside when my husband died, but I am happy outside for my children,” Umar said. “God doesn't forget anyone. Muslim women are strong.” She lifted up a clenched fist to show strength.
This is how Umar is towards the neighborhood Islamic women too: tough, but helpful.
Women from the Bronx Muslim Center come by the store to bask in Umar's vigor. One woman, a recent immigrant from Yemen in her early 40s, observed diligently as Umar hemmed a piece of cloth. The woman, who wants to remain anonymous, said she sat with Umar every week to learn how to work with textiles and use sewing machines. (Umar imports the shop’s Islamic clothing from Dubai and Saudi Arabia, but trims and hems the dresses herself for the perfect fit.)
Umar recalls how a Muslim woman came into her store recently to ask advice on how to get along with her husband. “I say, keep clean house and prepare dinner,” she told the woman, “and he will love you.” Other times, women need advice on applying for food stamps (“Take the bus to 3rd Ave and building 555, take elevator to the fifth floor”) or visiting a doctor for a sick baby (“Go to the clinic. When you see a doctor, let me talk to him”) or what to do when a paycheck is late (“Be patient”).
Umar enjoys being the Muslim wise woman of the neighborhood. “This store is all the things of my life,” Umar said. “All the women come to me, and we chat.” She lifted up her hand and made small motions with her fingers, mimicking moving lips.
Now Umar's three children are grown with families of their own. Uma's two year old great grandson played in the corner of the store while his mother, Uma's eldest grandchild, looked with a watchful eye.
“I wouldn't change anything,” Uma declared of her decision to emigrate to the US. While they never caught the perpetrator who murdered her husband, Uma remains patriotic. “I think of my husband everyday,” Uma said with tears in her eyes. “But this is America. People are strong. If you're not strong, go home.”