Eid in the Park – thousands Muslims come together in prayer

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SHAFAQNA - Up to 70,000 people are expected to converge on a Birmingham park on Friday to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the festival of thanksgiving to mark the end of Ramadan.

Celebrate Eid in Small Heath park is being billed as the biggest gathering of Muslims in Europe, with worshipers and revelers attending from across the UK.

When it was first staged in 2012, the event attracted only a few hundred people but by last year welcomed about 40,000.

This year, organisers are confident – as long as rain stays away – that will be the size of crowd associated with the Reading and Leeds music festivals rather than a religious event.

“Numbers depend a bit on the weather,” said Charlotte Morris, of Human Appeal, the event’s charity partner. “It began small with just one mosque organising it. Now there are six mosques involved and people come from all over the country. And it’s not just Muslims – people of other faiths come to enjoy the day.”

Celebrate Eid (motto: one day, one location, one community) must rate as one of the most remarkable festival events in the UK. Not least because Eid al-Fitr is a moveable feast, the timing dependent on the sighting of the new moon with the naked eye. Organisers in Birmingham wait for word from a moon-sighting committee in Saudi Arabia before deciding the event is on. Confirmation of the moon sighting came late on Thursday.

The event begins with prayers – waterproof prayer mats are provided – and sermons, after which the fun of the fair starts. There will be a bazaar with more than 100 food, drink, clothes and craft stalls. For children, there is a soft play area and an exotic animals corner. More sedately, there will be boat rides and picnic areas.

Remarkably, the event thrives without local authority funding. Rather, a coalition of mosques donates money and stallholders pay for their spots.

There is some concern that Eid al-Fitr has become – like Christmas – too commercial and expensive. Despite its burgeoning size, the Small Heath festival tends to have a modest feel to it with food and gifts pegged at sensible prices and stallholders donating generously to charity.

Last year’s event came at the height of the Trojan horse scandal. Two reports published just days before suggested that there had been a concerted effort by hardline, conservative Muslim men to infiltrate a number of Birmingham schools and run them on religious lines.

This year Shaukat Warraich, chief executive of community-based organisation Faith Associates, said Muslims across the UK were likely to be asked to think about international events at a time when Islamist extremists are wreaking havoc.

He said: “On the day of Eid there will be sermons and I would be very surprised if Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Tunisia were not remembered in some way.” However at Small Heath, organisers said the focus would not be political but all about faith, community and fun.

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