Prescribed by his Islamic faith to pray five times a day, Mazen Materieh often prostrates himself on one of the prayer rugs in the basement of his corner store. When he is done, he returns to his perch behind the counter, where he sells liquor, lottery tickets and pork skins — all forbidden by the Quran and the Prophet Muhammad.
"I'm not justifying what I'm doing. I know it's wrong," said Materieh, 52, of Orland Park. "I'm an honest person. I don't like to be a man of two faces."
Materieh's conflict is common in corner stores across Chicago's South Side. On one hand, store owners cannot make ends meet without selling what customers demand. On the other, consuming or profiting from products forbidden by their faith is considered sinful. What's more, neighbors blame the stores for perpetuating violence, addiction and obesity in low-income neighborhoods.
Now, a coalition of Arab and African-American Muslims is offering Muslim merchants an opportunity to improve their reputations and renew their religious principles by selling fresh produce and healthy foods, especially in neighborhoods without major groceries. Along the way, they hope, store owners will think twice about selling forbidden products. The Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago has provided a grant that will serve as seed money for pioneers in the campaign.