For many Muslims, the American stereotypes of their cultures and lives are a barrier to the freedom they, too, seek in their daily lives.
A group of local organizers has found that the best way to combat those preconceived notions is to invite people to come experience their array of cultures for themselves.
To that end, the public is invited to attend the second annual New England Muslim Festival on Sept. 17 in Malden.
“We are looking to build relationships, and build bridges of love and respect with all of our friends and neighbors,” said main organizer and Shrewsbury resident Mohammed Shadid. “We are inviting people to come and be a part of our culture and our rich and diverse heritage.”
The festival is an opportunity for non-Muslims to unite with Muslims from all over the New England area, with some coming from New York, New Jersey and Canada, and enjoy a day of peace, friendship and family fun together.
“This day is here for all walks of life, all religions and races,” said Tahir Ali, a Westboro resident and media and public relations director for the Islamic Center of Greater Worcester. “It’s a way for people to see what lies beneath the color of the skin, and to see that we are all here, raising our families and working and living our lives and to see firsthand what Muslim people are all about.”
Judging by its unprecedented and unexpected success last year, the festival appears to have been long overdue. During last year’s planning, said Mr. Shadid, the hope was that it would attract 500 people, more or less — and it’s fair to say they got more. Nearly 3,000 people showed up and enjoyed the day, causing the two food vendors to run out of food and organizers to immediately start planning in earnest for a huge turnout in 2017.
“We have eleven food vendors this year,” laughed organizer Malika MacDonald, who added that they have also included many more vendors, with henna artists and people who make and sell headscarves and all kinds of handmade items from various Middle Eastern and South Asian countries.
In an effort to show even more diversity, this year’s entertainment line-up will welcome African drummers and a Turkish Orchestra, along with everything from poets and Indian dancing to Moroccan songs and much more. Deen Squad, a halal hip-hop troupe from Canada, will headline the event.
Like most cultural events, Ms. MacDonald said, the food is sure to be a highlight. For less adventurous eaters, Halal hamburgers will be available, but for those looking to get an authentic taste of a faraway place, everything from hummus and falafel to samosas of all kinds will be on sale for eager eaters.
The Malden YMCA will oversee an area devoted to the children, with everything from face-painting to bounce houses.
According to Mr. Shadid, while last year’s event was held on a Saturday, they switched it to a Sunday this year so that everyone — including people of the Jewish faith who celebrate the Sabbath — can attend.
“It is important to the Muslim people that everyone feel included,” he said.
More information about the festival can be found at nemuslimfestival.org. The event takes place from noon to 6 p.m. at Cambridge Health Alliance, located at 195 Canal St. in Malden.