Carnival atmosphere as London Muslims celebrate holiday
London - “W e’re not here to worry about extremism. We’re here to party,” said Nayla Hussein, aged 19, of east London. Gesturing around at the throng of Muslims eating, drinking and having a good time, she added: “These are the real Muslims. Not the bad guys dressed in black you see on the news.”
A carnival atmosphere was in evidence as thousands of Muslims gathered in London’s Trafalgar Square on July 25th to celebrate the end of the holy month of Ramadan. Though this year’s event took place in the same week that British Prime Minister David Cameron announced a new counterterrorism policy, which has raised fears among some Muslims, that issue was nowhere to be seen or heard.
Held annually on the first weekend after the end of the Muslim holy month, Eid in the Square brings together Muslims from across the world in an open-air concert, culture and food festival.
The tenth anniversary of the mayor of London’s event took place alongside an open-air concert to cap the end of the Shubbak festival, London’s biennial celebration of contemporary Arab arts and culture. Trafalgar Square was packed with revellers with the festival witnessing an unusually high turnout given its expanded scope and the high number of summer tourists who headed over to the square to check out what was on offer.
“This time it’s special because it’s our tenth anniversary and we’ve laid on a truly wonderful spectacle. We’re very grateful for the food that’s being supplied. Malaysian, Indonesia, South Asian, Moroccan — you name it, fantastic food to be tried… [and] cultural activities to take part in and to watch,” London Mayor Boris Johnson said in a statement.
Attractions ranged from an entire Indonesian dance troupe to a Henna studio, from a tent where Turkish calligraphy was being taught to a fashion catwalk. “It’s so amazing to be able to learn something new,” said one of the happy customers at the Turkish calligraphy tent.
There was also a tent teaching children, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, the story of Surat Al-Feel, and another organised by the embassy of Qatar featuring a special exhibition on the history of pearl diving in the country as well as a falconer and falcon.
There was even a man dressed up as Superman, and another as Batman— a superhero pairing not expected until the release of Batman vs. Superman next year “Can you believe it? Everyone is here!” said Mohamed, on holiday from Egypt with his family, waving towards the superhero pair, volunteers for charity Islamic Relief UK.
But the hustle and bustle of the cultural attractions were just the warm-up for the main event: a three-hour open-air live concert featuring performances from a number of bands from across the Middle East. Egyptian indie band Massar Egbari mixes rock, jazz and blues with oriental music to produce a new flavour. “Eid Mubarak, everybody,” shouted front-man Hany El-Dakkak to the crowd’s cheers, from the stage with Nelson’s Column towering behind him.
Palestinian band 47SOUL, which combines the energetic beats of dabke, shabby and electro also played a set, while Karama, led by Moroccan oud player Soufian Saihi and including a line-up that originates from Venezuela, Spain, Japan, Morocco and the UK, gave the festival a truly international flavour.
“The music is amazing,” said Mohamed, nodding his head in time with one of Masar Egbary’s tunes. “Do you like it, habibi?” he asked his young son, who was perched on his shoulders.
“Terrorism? Extremism? You forget about all these worries when you are here,” he said.