This year, Sydney’s Multicultural Eid Festival and Fair (MEFF) took place for the 29th time.
Tens of thousands of Muslim Australians, and, each year, a growing number of non-Muslim visitors, enjoyed a carnival, musical entertainment, speeches and (halal) food, with booths promoting charities, selling a variety of goods and soliciting support for a range of causes.
Federal, state and local elected officials, representatives of religious, national and ethnic organisations, sporting personalities and television celebrities contributed to the atmosphere in what has become an established feature on Sydney’s calendar.
While organised and hosted by Muslims motivated by a feeling that Eid al-Fitr – marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan – is best celebrated in the company of many others, it has the all-embracing feel of that other Sydney institution, the Royal Easter Show.
Having attended, and spoken at, quite a few of the events, with AIJAC co-hosting international speakers on interfaith cooperation with MEFF in the past, I have witnessed the way the day has developed – mirroring the integration, founded in self-confidence, of many Muslims with the wider Australian community.
Those who want to use the day to promote anti-Jewish and/or anti-Christian hostility, or to foster ill-will between different Muslim groups, have been informed that such behaviour is not tolerated.
When I have encountered anti-Jewish literature on stands in past years, the MEFF committee members have acted swiftly, efficiently and out of their own conviction that this is wrong.
Hizb ut-Tahrir, a group which seems to damage the reputation of Islam with its every public appearance, did have a stall, but looked, and acted, as if they were there under extreme sufferance. Most people passing by their booth passed by very quickly, and during the brief time I was in the proximity of the stall I heard them described as “mad” and “unbalanced” by a number of Muslims walking past.
MEFF does a great job, and their desire to show the positive face of a multicultural subset of multicultural Australia is an essential balance to some of the other images of Muslims in Australia in mid-2013.
Within a few days each side of MEFF there were a number of times in which people proclaiming Islamic identity were in the news – and not for positive reasons.
As Christians were reeling from attacks on Churches in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood’s activities in Sydney attracted media attention, with growing concern that an ideology which is fundamentally anti-multicultural has supporters in Australia.
The events in Syria and Egypt have brought into focus not only Muslim on Christian, but Muslim on Muslim violence, with hate speech calling for hate actions not uncommon.
Verbal tensions, and hopefully not worse, between Sunni and Shia and between supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of Tamorod are now openly discussed. Considerable energy is being devoted to preventing overseas conflicts resulting in violence in Australia.
Returnees from Syria, who will have experienced training in conflict and indoctrination, add to the pool of potentially dangerous individuals who have undergone similar processes in Afghanistan. International experience in this regard suggests this is a real challenge for security organisations.
Meanwhile, five men who are in a NSW jail after being found guilty of planning terrorist acts, motivated by Islamism, began appealing their sentences, with early media reports noting a climate of intimidation and fear affecting the legal processes.
Add to this mix the thugs bearing Hezbollah flags in Sydney shopping centres and a variety of individuals engaged in criminal activity identifying themselves as Muslims, and it is very apparent that there is no shortage of negative images which potentially contribute to the way Muslims may be viewed in Australia.
The positive contributions to Australian society of numerous Muslims involved in politics, the media, sports and culture are important correctives. The Annual MEFF days, where there is face to face contact in an atmosphere of celebration stands at the forefront of helping all Australians to learn about our growing, dynamic, integrated communities of Muslims.