By Kristin Tangel
Nestled within a shopping center in College Park, just a short drive from the Beltway, is International Tropical Foods, also known as Salsabeel. It is run by the Dar-us-Salaam Community.
Half grocery store, half Islamic bookstore, it stocks halal food, religious and school literature, CDs, DVDs and clothing that fits Islamic modesty guidelines.
“We try to keep a little bit of everything,” said manager Rizwan Khan.
Halal food is permissible to eat by Islamic standards, and halal meat has to be slaughtered in a specific way.
The animal must be in good health, according to Khan, and must be calm and no other animal can be present. It must be killed by one stroke of a sharp knife while invoking the name of God. Then the blood is drained.
Pork is forbidden under halal rules, but the store sells bacon and other traditionally pork products made from beef and turkey. Also, seafood is considered halal, with nospecial slaughter provisions.
The store also sells black seed products, hailed as a source of amino acids, carbohydrates, minerals, oil and fiber. Black seed comes from the Nigella sativa plant and is found in few stores besides halal and Middle Eastern shops.
Black seed, also known as “blessing seed”, is popular because it is mentioned in the hadith, of word of the Prophet Muhammad. Employee Mukhtar Sheikh said that many non-Muslims come to the store to buy black seed products.
Dar-us-Salaam used to have a separate kitchen, but a fire rendered it unuseable in May 2008.
The store previously sold only African food (under the same name) before the community took over it.
Khan said there are plans to expand the store into the space next door so it could offer a wide range of cuisine, especially because of the multicultural makeup of the community.
The Islamic garments for men that are sold include the kufi (hat) and the taub, a style of long gown worn by the prophet. Muslim men should cover their body from their belly button to their knees, at the minimum.
“Men cannot have tight clothing, except when we’re staying in the house,” said Sheikh.
Women can purchase clothing such as the hijab (head scarf) and jilbab (long dress). They are supposed to cover almost their entire body except their hands and some choose to cover most of their faces.
The store also carries textbooks for Al-Huda School.
“It brings traffic when students come to pick up books,” Sheikh said.
During the holy month of Ramadan, most of the faithful do not eat or drink anything during daylight hours. The store is still open, however, so people can buy their fast-ending dinners.
Muslims traditionally break their fasts with dates or water. The store carries many varieties of dates.
Because marshmallows and jelly beans typically contain pork products, the store carries those items made from fish and beef gelatin.
For the holiday Eid al-Adha, people can sacrifice livestock by doing it themselves or ordering from a butcher. The meat is given to them for personal consumption or donation.
The store also sells perfume, as well as holy water from the Zam Zam spring in Mecca, where pilgrims visit on the Hajj. Known since the time of Abraham, the source was lost until Muhammad’s grandfather had a dream and rediscovered it.
“People can drink as much as they want,” Khan said.