Culture and heritage

Eid at Queen Victoria Market promotes peace, love and compassion

18 March 2024

Your neighbours come from 160 cultural backgrounds, speak 150 languages and practise 80 faiths. In fact, 55 per cent of people living in the City of Melbourne were born overseas, making Melbourne one of the most multicultural cities in the world.

Community leaders like Ayesha Bux, founder of SalamFest, both celebrate diversity and unite us as one.

In April, Ayesha’s team of volunteers will present Eid celebrations at Queen Victoria Market as part of SalamFest, which has been running for nine years. The City of Melbourne is supporting the Eid event through our Events Partnership Program.

Eid-ul-Fitr is the the biggest celebration in the Islamic calendar and marks the end of Ramadan.

“Muslim people come from more than 70 different ethnicities. We come from Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Europe, including Turkey, Bosnia and beyond,” Ayesha said.

“I don’t think any community is more diverse than ours. It’s such a beautiful thing – like a bouquet of colours and backgrounds.”

A table of Turkish spices, servingware and produce
Stalls display produce and artisan wares from around the world

Ayesha’s family has been in Australia for more than 160 years. Her great grandfather is thought to have been the first Muslim man in Western Australia.

Growing up between Perth and Lahore in the 1980s and 90s, Ayesha said she felt the pressures of assimilating into a single Australian identity that did not celebrate her culture, language and spirituality.

“As I was growing up, there was an unsaid pressure of assimilation – to be a mashed up soup where everyone was the same,” Ayesha said.

“I believe we should be a salad – where we come together in peace while maintaining and celebrating our individual identities. Our geographical identities, our Muslim identities and our unique cultural identities.”

A group of performers in vibrant cultural costumes
Performers showcase traditional dances throughout the Eid event

Ayesha said her first experiences of discrimination took place in a time when conversations about racism, privilege and belonging were not as overt and accessible as they are today.

“After an ugly incident, I kept thinking about it and, through conversations with those around me, I realised that the discrimination I experienced was more pointed than the casual racism that makes up water-cooler discourse – it was Islamophobia,” Ayesha said.

“As I came to know that these sorts of experiences were quite common and were becoming part of people’s day-to-day life, I asked myself: how can we respond to this?

“This question led to the beginning of SalamFest and the need to create more public spaces and platforms for our rich traditions to be celebrated.”

More than 80 per cent of attendees at the first-ever SalamFest shared that the festival helped them gain a better appreciation of the vast contributions that Muslim people people to the wider community, including to the arts, culture and cuisine.

“We need to celebrate our traditions. After all, without them we don’t have biryani, falafel, kebabs, baklava, or even coffee,” Ayesha said with a chuckle.

“SalamFest is a movement that creates non-judgemental spaces where people from any race, background, orientation, belief or non-belief can share our traditions with us.”

People eating under umbrellas at an outdoor food market
People enjoy international cuisines from bustling stalls

In the first year of SalamFest’s Eid at Queen Victoria Market event, 400 people turned up. The next year it was 5000. Then it was 20,000, then 70,000 plus. Ayesha describes the energy of the grassroots event as phenomenal.

“In the second year of our festival, a young person came up to me and said: ‘I don’t tell my friends and colleagues that I’m a Muslim, but now I want to bring them here to show them this is who we are’,” Ayesha said.

“That was a very moving moment for me. We work hard to create spaces where young people can express themselves, as well as welcoming the general community.”

Over the years, SalamFest has staged events at Melbourne’s most iconic locations, including deep-learning at State Library Victoria, refined musical experiences at Hamer Hall, vibrant concerts at Fed Square, and curated food experiences at Queen Victoria Market.

The dedicated team’s creative responses to Islamophobia and intersectionality have garnered international acclaim, including praise from the United Nations and the Parliament of World Religions. Closer to home, SalamFest has also been a finalist in the City of Melbourne’s own Melbourne Awards.

Multicultural musicians seated on a stage with their instruments
Musicians perform on stage at Queen Victoria Market

As communities across the world face great challenges, the role of SalamFest is more important than ever, and constantly evolving.

“We dream of a world without hate, discrimination and Islamophobia, and we see each event as a step towards this goal. That’s what drives my team.”

Eid at Queen Victoria Market will be held on Saturday 13 and Sunday 14 April from 9am to 4pm.

How to connect with your multicultural community year-round

Here are some ways to celebrate Melbourne’s diverse people and cultures:

  • Visit our Multicultural Hub – meet, work, share and learn in a safe and supportive environment
  • Explore Melbourne with What’s On – find out what cultural festivals are coming up and discover the latest restaurants offering dishes from around the world
  • Volunteer – make new friends and gain new cultural experiences with a backstage pass to some of the City of Melbourne’s biggest events, programs and festivals

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