Inside the Karmel Square shopping mall in southwest Minneapolis, women wearing headscarves paint customers' feet with henna. Others sell beaded caftans in narrow stalls. On the first floor, shopkeepers kneel toward Mecca to pray.
Somali entrepreneurs in the neighborhood have transformed an abandoned machinery warehouse into this bustling indoor bazaar. Karmel Square is one of several commercial districts they've revived in recent years with support from an unexpected ally: the city.
Since 2006, Minneapolis has loaned more than $1 million to Muslim business owners through a program that complies with sharia law, which prohibits Muslims from paying or earning interest in a financial transaction. The program, which is operated in partnership with the African Development Center, makes Minneapolis the only city in the country to offer Islamic financing at a time when states are trying to ban sharia from the courts. "Minneapolis is a very welcoming city," says Kristin Guild, the city's business development manager. "Because [Somali immigrants] wear headscarves, they are visible as entrepreneurs and people see that they are setting up businesses in our town and creating jobs."