Annie Qaiser has always been into herbalism, natural remedies and traditional South Asian medicine. As she got older, had children and began studying ingredient lists on various baby products, she was alarmed.
So many baby lotions, creams and oils included ingredients she didn’t trust. Not only did they have chemicals, but also animal products and alcohols that didn’t align with her faith.
“As technology progresses, we’re using a lot of ingredients that are not really meant to be used on the body and especially to extend shelf life,” the Rosemount mother of three said. “We’re using preservatives that actually become harmful.”
So Qaiser, a Muslim and a Pakistani American, set out to make her own skin care line called Silk Road Wellness, a halal-certified, natural line of lotions, oils, lip balms, butters and even an herbal tooth polish blend. An agency reviewed the ingredients and certified these products as halal.
Although her target market is Muslim women, Qaiser has been surprised to find that most of her clients are non-Muslim.
“So that’s been amazing, because I’m using this platform to actually educate them about just herbalism and what’s important in that part of the world,” she said. “So that’s been a really fun journey, too, where I get to explain to people why olive oil is so important, why blackseed oil is so beneficial.”
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When Muslims and non-Muslims think of halal, they often think of food and what they put in their mouths and their stomachs. But for Qaiser, it’s important to apply that religious principle to what people put on their skin.
“A lot of those things, we’re not allowed to use,” she said.
In a brightly-lit second floor store at the Mall of America, you can find Qaiser standing at the counter of Silk Road Wellness talking about her products with customers, explaining the halal certification and the benefits of the herbs and oils she uses.
Qaiser has tubs of creams and bottles of oil along with an explanation of how things are made. She makes everything herself and tries to use sustainable containers. Qaiser also feels strongly about the natural remedies that her products can offer for ailments like joint pain and arthritis.
Qaiser thinks of halal as an umbrella term that encompasses environmentalism and other causes she cares about.
“Halal also covers the sustainability aspect of it, the fair trade,” she said, “how you’re treating the consumers, how you’re treating the vendors that you’re purchasing from, the impact on society.”
Qaiser knows there are other vegan and herbal companies making natural oils and creams as well. But she says what makes Silk Road Wellness unique is the official halal certification that goes a step further and gives Muslim consumers peace of mind.
As a woman who wears the hijab, Qaiser is recognizable as a Muslim and she says conversations with people at the Mall of America don’t stop at skin and hair care. Sometimes talks steer toward the topic of Islamophobia.
“There are so many things that Muslims bring to the table, and it’s a good way to actually incorporate that into society and the community and let people know that Muslims are doing good things for the community,” Qaiser said.
With COVID-19 and changing shopping habits, Qaiser is not yet sure how long she’ll be at the mall. She shares a space with a few other vendors for a limited time.
But Qaiser will continue to sell online, at smaller boutiques and at trade shows when they happen. For now, she’ll be sharing her passion for halal beauty products with customers who continue to visit the largest shopping mall in the country.