Mississauga's MuslimFest 2017 Reflects The Diversity and Talent of Muslims in CanadaWritten by Chelby Daigle
Muslim Link caught up with Event Director Tariq Syed about MuslimFest's successes this year, and what we may look forward to in 2018, which will be Mississauga's Muslim arts and cultural festival's 15th year!
1. Tell us about the Canadian Flag that was unfurled several times over the course of the event. How did you get access to that flag? What did you hope to demonstrate with this activity? How did participants respond?
One of the best parts of this year's MuslimFest was the unfurling of the large Canadian flag that was held by the crowd. It looked so amazing stretched out across the Celebration Square venue. It was really one of the coolest things ever accomplished at the festival. Not only was it so much fun to do, it also looked pretty breathtaking. People were taking pictures from their apartment buildings because you could see the flag from far away. We also got some pics of our own from the Clock Tower of City Hall.
The initial plan was to hit the World Record for the world's largest flag unveiled at MuslimFest. I always thought our event was an ideal platform to try many world records. Expectations were so high this year when it came to attendee turnout and new programming, so it was important to do something on a grand scale. Festival fans and our own team members illustrate a great aspect of Canadian identity - one of commemorating the peace, harmony, unity and strength Canadians share as neighbors. The Flag Raising ceremony symbolizes our good faith and the pursuit for justice. In the end, according to our research, it turned out the venue wasn't big enough to break the current flag record out there but we still thought it was something worth doing. We only planned the unveiling ceremony for Friday but it rained pretty hard that day. So we tried it out again on Saturday and it went smoothly.
Of course the main purpose of the flag unveiling was to bring people together in a meaningful way. MuslimFest is uniquely made up of such diverse people, both in background and life experience. It was meant to bring friends and families together to celebrate Canada's oneness and multiculturalism.
My humble brag is that we went all-out for this one! A funny story about the flag unveiling is how the flag got lost in the mail when we ordered it. It was supposed to arrive one week ahead of MuslimFest. There was so much back and forth with the courier service, I think we spoke to literally everyone to try and track it down. Thankfully, it was finally located and delivered just one day before the festival - also just in time for the Friday rehearsal. I remember it being so stressful, but now I look back and find the whole thing hilarious. We REALLY hustled to find that flag!
2. Your event was very environmentally conscious with reualable water bottles that people could fill at Water Stations and you even reminded Bazaar goers to bring reusable bags. Why was this important? Did you see fewer water bottles during clean up because of this initiative?
This part of MuslimFest was so important to me, and one of the few things we talked about throughout the planning of the festival. We're Muslims first and foremost, so caring for the environment should be our priority by default.
Obviously, festivals are prone to creating lots of waste and MuslimFest is no exception. The festival grows every year in attendee capacity, so we're always working on supporting this growth by getting more vendors, more food, and more programming in general. At the same time, we’ve been brainstorming different ideas to stop waste production before it starts.
#WasteFreeMuslimFest's first achievement was scraping the idea of printing and distributing 40,000 promotional flyers. This is something we traditionally had done ahead of the festival, but it's an obvious waste of paper and tree resources to create paper. Instead, our marketing team focused on digital media. It also worked out because that's far more effective marketing from my experience. The campaign also discouraged vendors from selling disposal water bottles and I’m thankful to them that they all obliged. We placed eight water stations throughout Celebration Square so that attendees have easy access to refill their reusuable bottles. Our Eco Station volunteers separated waste and made sure garbage was properly disposed of. They also kept reminding attendees not to pollute the area. On top of that, we made sure the festival promoted waste management education through the venue's digital screens and festival signs. To our surprise, we saw a huge amount of waste reduction. Attendees actually used the recycling avenues provided, so much as that a lot of garbage was diverted away from landfills. I'm very proud of our Green Team who did a tremendous job pulling off such a huge task and delivered results that we’re proud of.
Our on-going attempt to keep the environment clean and encourage others to do the same really pulled through at MuslimFest. I'm glad because not only is it the right thing to do, it also reflects on our community as a worthy and impactful effort Alhamdulilah.
3. You received video greetings from PM Trudeau, Premier Kathleen Wynne and Progressive Conservative Party Leader Patrick Brown. Why was this important for you to share with your audiences?
From our experience hosting dignitaries and political figures, we know they look forward to touch base with people on a larger and visible scale. Next to sending a video greeting every now and then, they greet and share words of community on stage and network with other public personas. It's always really great when they tour the bazaar to connect and speak with people directly. For me, it's not really about making sure their video message gets out to our social media followers, the aim is to reach out to local leaders because civic engagement and education is something that should be supported and encouraged. We're a non-profit organization with a huge young Muslim demographic and whether you're into politics or not, we want people to know who is representing them at Queen’s Park and on Parliament Hill and stay informed and hopefully get involved.
MuslimFest appreciates and values the time our elected leaders have taken to record a personalized greeting for our attendees, their words recognizing our community’s diversity, strengths and the hard work of our youth volunteers is well received. MuslimFest is the perfect stage to share their support for the greater Muslim community.
View the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's video message here
View the Premier Kathleen Wynne's video message here
View the Leader of the Ontario Provincial Progressive Conservative Party Patrick Brown's video message here
4. Tell us about the Pakistan Pavilion. How did this collaboration with the Pakistan Consulate come about?
MuslimFest is first and foremost an arts and cultural festival, so it's always a fun experience shining a big spotlight on traditional artistic aspects of a particular country. In previous years, we've had special cultural displays by Malaysian, Turkish and Middle Eastern groups. This year, we focused on Pakistani culture and artistry. The result was an incredibly beautiful indoor pavilion with tons to see. There was everything from music, canvases, clothing, props, and different kinds of art. It was pretty breathtaking!
We were lucky to become acquainted with the Pakistani Consulate in Canada. We first met with their Consulate General, and he told us he’s a collector of traditional classical Islamic art and has a passion for it, and I realized it would be worthwhile to collaborate with him for this year’s Pavilion. He was able to connect us with talented people from the Pakistani community who contributed their work to the pavilion. It was a pleasant surprise to all of us actually! The Pakistani Pavilion turned out to be one of the festival's highlights this year.
Next year we plan to have a Cultural Pavilion from one or more countries from Africa.
5. People have noted that your lineup of speakers and performers was more of an accurate representation of the demographics of Muslim communities in the GTA than is often seen at other Muslim Canadian events, particularly in terms of representation of Black Muslims. Your choice of MC, Somali Canadian journalist Hodan Nayaleh, for example. Do you make a conscious effort to showcase multicultural talent during MuslimFest so that the lineup reflects your audience?
Absolutely. This is something we've actively maintained, and it's a unique part of the MuslimFest experience.
The purpose and mandate of the festival has always been to showcase the best aspects of our communities. In my definition, this means our multicultural strengths, among so many other wonderful things. Yearly we look for attendee feedback especially when it comes to recruiting talent. I've noticed the festival’s huge crowds attend to see their favorite performers and we definitely try to make each festival reflective of our community's diversity, especially through its programming and stage presence.
After 14 years of successful event planning, we've found such great benefit in making sure our theme corresponds to attendees in some way. After all, MuslimFest would not have been successful without the support of its longtime fans. They're our number one supporters, so it's important to keep them in mind every step of the way. We owe it to them to make the event inclusive and memorable. We work hard to make MuslimFest the kind of environment where people want to keep coming back each time. Because of this, we're very big on learning about festival attendees. We have gone great lengths in collecting information to learn about our demographics. It's been a fulfilling experience getting to know people's backgrounds and interests. The festival has made so many lasting friendships along the way.
Sister Hodan is no stranger to our community, she has done a tremendous job engaging our Somali brothers and sisters not only in Canada but across the globe. She has been very supportive of the work that we do with the festival and environment. She's been amazing at bringing lots of incredible talent from the Somali community. She also did a great job emceeing during the festival's primetime shows.
We're so grateful to become connected with some amazing people these past few years, and I hope they'll be a part of the festival for a long time.
View photos from MuslimFest here
6. Tell us about your annual awards ceremony. How were winners selected?
Sure! On top of MuslimFest's performances, workshops, and various art displays, we always try to incorporate an aspect of real social recognition at the festival. The awards ceremony normally highlights examples of everyday people making an impact in ways that matter. The ceremony is meant to signify something more than just giving out awards. We look for achievements of positivity and inspiration. The award can also be to honor someone who's done something impactful for others to learn from. For example, our “Imam of the Year” prize was awarded to none other than brother Nizar. He was actually the Imam present and injured during the January Mosque shooting in Quebec City. I had the opportunity of meeting him in person. His strength and resilience was so admirable. It spoke volumes to us, so we really wanted to make sure that specific award was dedicated to him.
We’ve been so lucky to come across talented and amazing people within our community. Based on worthy contributions in their field, it's so important for us to extend a platform that shares their inspiring stories with Canadians.
You can find the bios of the winners online here
7. Anything else you would like to add?
Apart from few things mentioned above, this year we also had very special exhibit showcasing the heritage and growth the Muslim community has brought to Canada in the last 150 years. This mixed-media exhibit titled 150 Muslim Contributions to Canada hope to inspire the community to continue to actively contribute to Canada in the future. We are currently working on touring the exhibit across GTA starting from PAMA this October.
It's been an eventful year for us at DawaNet & MuslimFest. We juggled so many things while planning the festival. Despite everything, MuslimFest always has a way of exceeding expectations Alhumdulillah. I personally think the reason is because of our loyal attendees and dedicated volunteers. They keep us motivated to come back bigger and better each year.
Next year will be MuslimFest's 15th anniversary and we hope to bring a very exciting programming for our attendees inshaAllah.
I'm super excited for another memorable event that can bring people together in positive and inspiring ways.
- Amira Elghawaby, MuslimFest Leadership Excellence Award Amira Elghawaby, MuslimFest Leadership Excellence Award
- Mohammed Hashim, MuslimFest Civic Courage Award Mohammed Hashim, MuslimFest Civic Courage Award
- Jeewan Chanicka, MuslimFest Civic Courage Award Jeewan Chanicka, MuslimFest Civic Courage Award
- Provincial Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown Provincial Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown
- Unfurling The Canadian Flag Unfurling The Canadian Flag
- Chef Aleem Syed, MuslimFest Entrepreneur of the Year Award Chef Aleem Syed, MuslimFest Entrepreneur of the Year Award
- Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie
- It's all about the fans It's all about the fans
- Salaam Cup, MuslimFest Youth Engagement Award Salaam Cup, MuslimFest Youth Engagement Award
- NDP Federal Leadership Candidate Jagmeet Singh NDP Federal Leadership Candidate Jagmeet Singh
- Azeezah Kanji, MuslimFest Excellence in Media Award Azeezah Kanji, MuslimFest Excellence in Media Award
- MY Voice Canada presents the play "Passing Judgments" MY Voice Canada presents the play "Passing Judgments"
- Provincial NDP Leader Andrea Horwath Provincial NDP Leader Andrea Horwath
- Omar Alghabra, Member of Parliament for Mississauga Centre Omar Alghabra, Member of Parliament for Mississauga Centre
- Liberal Members of Provincial Parliament Liberal Members of Provincial Parliament
- Pakistani Pavilion Pakistani Pavilion
- A Diverse Community A Diverse Community
- Dr. Abdullah Hakim Quick, MuslimFest Lifetime Achievement Award Dr. Abdullah Hakim Quick, MuslimFest Lifetime Achievement Award
- Sandra Noe, MuslimFest Leadership Excellence Award Sandra Noe, MuslimFest Leadership Excellence Award
- Steven Zhou, MuslimFest Excellence in Media Award Steven Zhou, MuslimFest Excellence in Media Award
- MuslimFest's Young Volunteers MuslimFest's Young Volunteers
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