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Helsinki mall welcomes Muslim consumers with Eid festivities

Finland's largest shopping mall has apparently become the first in the Nordic region to focus on attracting consumers of Muslim background. On Wednesday the Itis centre in eastern Helsinki is hosting a major family event celebrating the end of Ramadan. Thousands of Muslims are expected – along with anti-immigration protesters and police.

Image: Sabina Muksin/ Yle

Muslims in Finland are among an estimated 1.6 billion people around the world celebrating the end of the holy month of Ramadan, which began on June 6. The Eid al-Fitr holiday begins with prayers at mosques, after which families head off to eat and buy gifts, especially for children. The date of Eid varies between countries, depending on local sightings of the new moon – though most countries observe it on the same day as Saudi Arabia.

The Itis mall (formerly known as Itäkeskus) has found that a quarter of its customers speak native languages other than Finnish or Swedish. There are also several mosques nearby, so its management decided to arrange an Eid event for families. The idea had also been suggested by Qufi Creative, a branding agency focusing on Muslim consumers that operates in Finland and England.

"The customers are already there"

The 150 retailers at Itis are offering special deals on items such as toys during the event, which runs from noon to 7 pm. A survey carried out in advance suggested that local Muslim families spend an average of 200-500 euros on presents for children, while teens are given extra pocket money.

"As a Muslim, I've always noticed that Itis is full of Muslims on the holiday. So the customers have already been there for many years, but no-one has dared or thought of approaching them," says Sara Salmani, a Finnish-Iranian co-founder of Qufi Creative.

The mall will offer face-painting and henna tattoos along with a disco and bouncy castle for kids. Restaurants have laid on extra staff. The department store Stockmann, meanwhile, has been selling fresh halal meat throughout Ramadan.

"It's hard to say how many new customers this will bring in. Normally ad campaigns bring 3,000-4,000 new customers to Itis," says the centre's marketing director, Anna Homén. On an average day the mall draws about 50,000 customers.

"The feedback has been great," says Salmani. "Young Muslims are very active on social media, where there have been many delighted comments about how things are now moving in the right direction and that we have been noticed," says.

"Ask a Muslim anything"

The shopping centre is of course open to anyone, and is hosting an "Ask a Muslim anything" booth for non-adherents who are curious about the world's second-largest religion.

There are an estimated 65,000 followers of Islam in Finland. However no exact figures are available, as many are not registered with any particular community. Most of the tens of thousands of asylum seekers in Finland are also from predominantly Muslim countries, primarily Iraq and Afghanistan.

Police keep demo calm

A group calling itself "Suomi Ensin!" ("Finland First!") held an anti-immigration demonstration on Tallinnanaukio square, adjacent to the mall beginning at 6 PM.

A video stream from the site showed a small group of demonstrators and a large crowd of counter-demonstrators gathered around them, some shouting down speakers at the rally, with a police line separating the two.

Police described the scene as confrontational and a few people were escorted out of the crowd by police.

A tweet by Helsinki police, posted just after 7 PM said that the demonstration had ended and police were on hand calming the situation.

Nordic pioneer?

Salmani notes that Eid is a major event for retailers in the Arab world and the UK, for instance, but so far no shopping centre in the Nordic region has staged such a holiday event.

Other large malls in the Helsinki region told Yle that they have not considered such events.

"We have not thought about this," the director of the Jumbo shopping mall in Vantaa, Olli Lehtiaro, told Yle, adding: "Jumbo is politically and religiously unaffiliated, and we have an established marketing calendar."

This item was updated at 8:19 PM to include information about the demonstration on Tallinnanaukio square, adjacent to the mall.