This April, the UK’s first festival dedicated entirely to Muslim culture, literature and ideas opened at the British Library in London. And following not far behind comes MACFEST – a new 10-day celebration of art, literature, culture, music, film, food and heritage relating to the Muslim diaspora, which will take place in venues across Manchester this November, launching on the 11th at Whitworth Art Gallery. As the brainchild of the city’s resident critically-acclaimed author and prize-winning peace activist, Qaisra Shahraz FRSA, who has dedicated her life to fighting Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and all forms of discrimination; we’re expecting great things. The programme is wide-ranging, with over 50 events announced so far. Here are just some of the things we’re most looking forward to…
A talk by the great, great grandchildren of Robert ‘Reschild’ Stanley will tell the only recently recovered story of how the Mayor of Stalybridge (1874-76) became ‘A Victorian Secret Muslim’, reverting to the faith 120 years ago after learning about the unfair foreign policies of the British government, later going on to become Vice-Chairperson of the first mosque in the UK (Liverpool). Turning to the present, Baroness Manzila Pola Uddin (the first Muslim and second Asian woman to sit in the UK Parliament) will join others to discuss the political challenges facing Muslim women today. And internationally-renowned Sudanese writer Leila Aboulela (recently interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Open Book) will join Shahraz for a discussion moderated by Dr Claire Chambers, Senior Lecturer in Global Literature at University of York.
Elsewhere, the poetry of the great 13th century Muslim Sufi mystic Maulana Rumi will be explored through an afternoon of music and sound at the British Muslim Heritage Centre. Stand-up comedy will come from local Muslim comedians. An exhibition of art and photography will document ‘everyday life on the Curry Mile’. And a programme of screenings including the British rom-com Finding Fatimah (2017) and Being Muslim Today: Travels in Europe – a documentary by the award-winning author, broadcaster and former diplomat Akbar Ahmad – will cover a wide range of contemporary issues.
The ambitious festival aims to bring Muslim and non-Muslim communities together, promoting social inclusion and helping to overcome barriers. With a surge in Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate crime reported throughout the West over recent years, such an intention seems worthy of applause in itself. Yet, judging by the breadth and quality of the events we have to look forward to, we’re expecting MACFEST to go beyond an exercise in cultural inclusivity and deliver a special occasion for the city to remember, and build upon.
The bulk of MACFEST will take place over the weekend of 17-18 November at the iconic British Muslim Heritage Centre in Whalley Range. Venues also include The Manchester College, Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester Central & Longsight library, Abraham Moss High School, Levenshulme High School for Girls, Manchester Central Mosque, Khizra Mosque, University of Manchester, Elizabeth Gaskell House, Manchester Museum, Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Resource Centre & Star Centre.