March 1, 2024

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‘Share the sun with us’: MuslimFest fetes art, culture, fun in wake of tragedy

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The event sounds unusual, especially in the wake of tragedy, organizers acknowledge.

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But that is the exact point of MuslimFest, a one-day celebration of Muslim arts, culture and entertainment this Sunday in London.

The usual is no longer good enough, and it’s going to take some different measures to combat Islamophobia, London’s Muslim leaders say.

“What happened early in June was a major blow. We want to demonstrate that we are not going to cave in, we are determined to remove the threat of Islamophobia by being positive,” Munir El-Kassem, imam of the Islamic Centre of Southwest Ontario, said Friday.

“It is a fact that pain lingers. We know that you cannot eliminate pain, but you have to turn it into something positive. Sometimes when we feel pain from a certain malfunction in our body, it’s a good sign to alert us to do something.”

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On June 6, four members of a London Muslim family were struck and killed by a pickup while out for an evening walk. Talat Afzaal, 74, her son, Salman Afzaal, 46, his wife Madiha Salman, 44, and their daughter Yumna, 15, died and the couple’s son, Fayez, 9, was badly hurt.

Nathaniel Veltman, 20, of London, is charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder.

The outpouring of community support, including a rally that drew 10,000 people, were welcome ways to commemorate the family and battle Islamophobia, Muslim leaders say.

But a day of showing Muslim culture and Muslim fun is another important bridge, they add.

“It’s almost imperative on our part to reach out to the broader, non-Muslim community to do our part in building bridges and shedding light on true Islam, which is entertainment also, and having a good time and enjoying the summer – especially during the pandemic,” said Ali Chahbar of the London Muslim Mosque’s outreach committee.

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MuslimFest runs from noon to 8 p.m. Aug. 15 with concerts, comedy acts, art, a children’s fun village, a 15-metre Ferris wheel and nearly 100-metre obstacle course at the Islamic Centre of Southwest Ontario at 951 Pond Mills Rd.

The event is free, but organizers ask that you register online so numbers stay within pandemic safety limits. For registration or more details, visit www.eventbrite.ca/e/muslimfest-2021-at-icswo-london-on-tickets-163419537235.

This is London’s second MuslimFest, but the first where people can gather together. Last year’s inaugural event, the first held outside Toronto, was a drive-in event.

Even before the horrible events of June 6, it was important to share the fun side of Islam and Muslim culture, Chahbar said.

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Too many people carry a stereotype of Muslims being angry or sombre, he said.

“Muslims and Islam are festive and jubilant and at the same time responsible and compassionate. We do have entertainment. We let our hair down sometimes. This will hopefully open up a few hearts and minds,” he said. “I hope a day will come when the stereotypes and misconceptions are a thing of the past.”

In response to the London tragedy and attacks on Muslims across Canada, the National Council of Canadian Muslims in July released 61 recommendations to combat Islamophobia. Included were ways to support Muslim arts and storytelling, filmmaking and other cultural media.

Muslims have given much to the world and Canada, but that narrative has been lost, El-Kassem said.

“We have to shift the narrative and take back what was taken from us. We know that it is going to take some time before Islamophobia is eliminated, but we cannot wait until that happens. We’ve got to share our values with our neighbours.”

Sunday’s forecast is sunny and in a way, MuslimFest comes down to a simple value all Canadians share: love of the summer sun, El-Kassem said.

“We carry what we carry with us,” he said about the loss of lives. “But like everyone else, we love to enjoy a beautiful summer day. We would like everyone to come out and share that sun with us.”

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