A hands-on Muslim tradition

This kind of tattoo isn’t permanent, it’s just for decoration


Kiran Ansari


Twelve-year-old Tehreem Hussain of Schaumburg has a lot to look forward to in November when her Muslim family celebrates the holy month of Ramadan. She will fast from dawn to dusk and spend time at the mosque with her friends. She’ll get new clothes, gifts and host a henna party.

Girls paint their hands and feet with intricate designs at the henna party usually held a few days before Eid, the celebration marking the end of Ramadan. This year Eid is Nov. 14.

Henna has been used in Eastern cultures for centuries as an adornment. It is now gaining popularity in the west and although it has no religious significance, it is a cultural must-have for Muslim girls no matter what their ethnic backgrounds.

When girls and women greet each other on the day of Eid after prayers at the mosque, their clothes may be worlds apart—from long embroidered Syrian gowns to glittery pants and dress outfits from Pakistan called shalwar qameez. But their hands look the same. Their palms are embellished with elaborate patterns in a deep reddish-orange tinge.

Shops, such as Bibya Hair Design and Mahboob Salon, both on Chicago’s Northwest Side and Shaz Hair Designs in Roselle, apply henna for $7 to $15 a hand, depending on the design.

But many women and girls do it themselves. That’s what Tehreem and her closest friends will do at her henna party with a little help from her artistic mom, Tazeen. They will use store-bought henna cones to applying the dye. The process is similar to decorating a cake. You pierce or cut the tip of the cone to the desired thickness of the bead of henna. Arabian-inspired designs tend to be thicker and less cluttered than the more intricate South Asian designs that cover the entire hand.

Ideally, the henna should be left on overnight to dry. The longer the dye is next to the skin, the darker the design, which will fade and be nearly invisible after a week.


Kids Eat Chicago

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