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MuslimFest coming to London, Ont., for one-day drive-in event

Performers on stage at a drive-in MuslimFest event in Toronto in September. Courtesy: MuslimFest via Facebook

The popular annual arts, culture and entertainment festival, MuslimFest, is hitting the road this weekend for a drive-in event in the parking lot of London’s Islamic Centre of Southwest Ontario.

The drive-in MuslimFest, which will run on Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., marks the first time that the festival has left the Greater Toronto Area since its launch in 2004, and comes as other Islamic History Month events are taking place across the country.

“This year we tried, for the first time, to get them to come to London, and so we are excited that they put their efforts together and obliged,” said Dr. Munir El-Kassem, the Islamic Centre of Southwest Ontario’s director of religious affairs, in an interview this week with 980 CFPL’s Devon Peacock.

“It’s a festival of culture. It’s a festival of people coming together,” he said.

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Described by its organizers as the largest Muslim event in North America, the pared-down London edition — the normal festival runs two days and has dozens of artists and performers and thousands of attendees — will still have plenty of entertainment over the course of its three-hour run time.

Among those already confirmed to be performing are Mustaqeem, TheSoulfulPoet, Ilyas Mao, and Boonaa Mohammed.

“It’s a celebration of art and music without instruments,” known as nasheed, El-Kassem said.

“There will be crafts, there will be food, there will be all kinds of unique stage events … and this year, because of COVID restrictions, we are observing every little safety detail that we are required to observe, and people will be enjoying the program from the comfort of their cars.”

The crowd at the 2019 edition of MuslimFest in Mississauga, Ont., in August 2019. Courtesy: MuslimFest via Instagram

London is home to Ontario’s first, and Canada’s second, mosque — the London Muslim Mosque on Oxford Street, which opened its doors in 1964 — something El-Kassem believes played a factor in the festival agreeing to come to the city.

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“They realized the importance of London for the history of Muslims. And they also know that London has the largest per-capita Muslim population in the country, and the second in North America after Dearborn in the [United States].”

According to the most recent figures available, London proper had a Muslim population of 15,780 people in 2011, about 4.3 per cent of the city’s then 360,720 population, making it the second-most prominent religion in the city behind people of Christian faith who accounted for 62.8 per cent. London’s population grew to 383,822 by 2016. Updated figures are expected to come with the 2021 Census.

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“The organizers are using London as an experiment to go beyond the GTA, but London definitely will be on their stops for their annual tours, as we were told,” El-Kassem said.

Registration for Sunday’s event, which is open to all, is required. Tickets cost just under $17 each. More information can be found online or by contacting the Islamic Centre of Southwest Ontario.

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