Once you hit the pavement south of 80th Street in south suburban Bridgeview, Middle Eastern bakeries, grocery stores and specialty fashion shops – along with business signs in Arabic – become commonplace. Near 87th Street and Harlem Avenue are the popular Al Bawadi Grill and a strip mall with Arab American-owned businesses ranging from a nut shop to a hookah lounge. But the community is more than businesses. Arab American families moving from both the city and Middle East have put down roots in Bridgeview and neighboring suburbs, establishing community centers and churches and making it one of the largest Arab American and Palestinian communities in the United States.
Asraa Mustufa contributed reporting to this photo gallery.
Nablus Sweets owner Mohammad Ahmad takes an order from a customer. The Bridgeview bakery is known its authentic knafeh nameh, a pastry made with imported cheese.
Knafeh dough can be seen in the kitchen of Nablus Sweets. Ahmad imports a majority of his ingredients and cookware directly from the Middle East to ensure an authentic taste.
Regulars at Nablus Sweets gather for coffee, a slice of knafeh and to catch up on current events.
In Bridgeview, south of 80th Street on Harlem Avenue, business signs in Arabic are commonplace.
Mahmood Frihat serves traditional Arabic coffee to customers at Al Bawadi Grill in Bridgeview.
Ghassan Bader (right) enjoys a meal with his mother Samir Bader at Al Bawadi Grill, considered by many to be the most popular Middle Eastern restaurant in the southwest suburbs.
Archpriest Malek Rihani leads an Orthodox Christian mass in St. Mary’s temporary church space in Palos Heights. Rihani says a church is the first place where many Christians who migrate from Jordan, Lebanon and other Middle Eastern countries feel at home.
In addition to Sunday mass, St. Mary’s offers bilingual Bible studies, sports and other activities to the growing Orthodox Christian population in the southwest suburbs.
Kifah Shukair asks historical trivia questions during an Eid celebration lunch following the holy month of Ramadan at the Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview. Shukair, who helps with programming at the mosque, says the Muslim congregation is very diverse and includes African Americans, South Asians, Latinos – immigrants as well as people born and raised in the United States.
Silvia Hamoud enjoys a pot luck meal at the Mosque Foundation during an Eid celebration. Hamoud was born in Mexico and converted to Islam 36 years ago, not long after migrating to the United States. She says that of all the many places she’s lived, Bridgeview’s Muslim community is the most unified.
Women pray at the Mosque Foundation during an Eid celebration luncheon.
Kifah Shukair talks to a member of the community outside the Mosque Foundation. Shukair says the mosque has undergone two major expansions on this former prairie land, in part to accommodate the growing Muslim community surrounding the mosque.
Othman Othman is the owner of Al-Rasheed Bakery, a fixture in the Bridgeview area, known for its falafel. Born in Palestine, Othman has owned businesses in the Chicago area since the late 1970s. He brought his famous falafels to Bridgeview in 1999.
Othman Othman makes 50 dozen falafel each weekday, and as much as 350 dozen on the weekends, to meet customer demand at Al-Rasheed Bakery. He said he usually sells out by mid-afternoon.
A traditional dress worn in the pre-wedding Henna ceremonies is among the clothing for sale at Al-Omari Islamic Fashions on 87th Street in Bridgeview.
Intricate detailing is found on clothing sold at Al-Omari Islamic Fashion.
A sign at the Walgreens store in Bridgeview is aimed at area Muslims observing the holy month of Ramadan.
Jeanean Othman, one of the founders of the Mosque Foundation food pantry, helps unload a delivery truck. Othman says many people don’t realize that hunger is a problem in the area.
Shinarh Sukkar organizes food at the Mosque Foundation food pantry in Bridgeview. Every Monday morning an average of 300 families receive food made possible in part by assistance from the Greater Chicago Food Depository.
Kids practice the traditional dance, Debka, during a summer camp at the American Muslims for Palestine center in Palos Hills. The summer camp focuses on Palestinian culture, history and religion.
Deanna Othman is an educator and writer from the southwest suburbs and has been a board member at American Muslims for Palestine since 2011. In addition to focusing on the culture and history of Palestine, Othman says the organization helps raise awareness about ongoing incidents of violence against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.