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The first UK festival of Muslim culture and literature launches in London this week

Written by
Salma Haidrani

MFest is coming to the British Library this Friday, here’s what to expect

With anti-Muslim hate crimes in the capital rising by 40 percent last year, it’s never been more pressing to celebrate the achievements of British Muslims and their contributions to British culture. Now MFest – a new arts festival of ‘Muslim cultures and ideas’– is going to try and do just that at the British Library.

By the looks of the 25-some poetry and comedy nights on offer, it’s off to a solid start. Artists on the bill cross genres and generations. You can talk books and pop culture with the presenters of the ‘Mostly Lit’ podcast on Sunday at noon and catch up with dancer Akram Khan in the evening. It’s a chance to explore the diverse artistic identities of Muslim communities, and it feels like a long time coming. There’s a lot going on over its three days, so we picked the seven events you won’t want to miss.

The creative one

Get your hands sticky at a Zine Making Workshop with Khidr Collective. With young Muslim communities and magazines like gal-dem transforming the DIY publishing landscape, the idea of this workshop is to demystify the self-publishing process. Khidr Collective was set up in response to a mistrust of mainstream news: now its founders want to help other budding editors create a news source of their own. Sun Apr 29, 12.30pm. Entry with weekend pass.

The feminist one

‘Women and Power: Islam and Evolving Feminisms’ will explore the erasure of black Muslims, the struggle for safe spaces and how Islamophobia hurts Muslim women the most. Chaired by journalist Remona Aly, the talk will feature the authors of ‘Cut from the Same Cloth’, a collection of essays  by hijab-wearing Muslim women who want to put an end to ‘hijab-splaining’. Sun Apr 29, 2pm. £5.

The funny one

Need a break from the heavyweight topics? Watch Omar Hamdi and Esther Manito turn them into stand-up at ‘Don’t Panic, I’m Islamic: Extreme Comedy Now!’, compèred by writer Bidisha. ‘Don’t Panic’ is based on a satirical book released in response to Trump’s ‘Muslim ban’ , so it’s probably going to be a night of extremes. Sun Apr 29, 6.30pm. £5. 

The political one

London was blighted by tragedy in 2017. The Grenfell fire last June left 71 fatalities, with some families still living in hotels  ten months on. At ‘Grenfell: Social Activism and the Failure of Politics’ grime MC Saskilla, MP for Kensington Emma Dent Coad and Grenfell community organiser Pilgrim Tucker will explore the fire’s legacy and how the catastrophic event has shaped social activism in London. With the one-year anniversary fast approaching and the housing inequality debate still raging, it feels like a discussion that’s long overdue. Sat Apr 28, 3.30pm. £5.


Fatumina Abukar/
Johaina Photography

The big one

Let loose at the MFest After Party, the one event that moves from the festival’s home at the British Library to the nearby P21 Gallery. There’ll be a comedy set from Imran Yusuf and spoken-word activism from Lamyaa Hanchaoui. Look out for a performance from Fatumina Abukar, the singer-songwriter and Instagram fashion influencer who just so happens to be finishing a PhD in Regenerative Medicine Bioprocessing. Go and dance like everyone’s watching. P21 Gallery. Sat Apr 28, 7.30pm. £10.

The historical one

Prepare to change how you view the First World War at ‘Forgotten Histories: The Muslim Heroes of World War One’. Founder of the NGO Forgotten Heroes, Luc Ferrier, now dedicates his life to sharing stories of the Muslim soldiers who fought alongside British troops. The talk will be illustrated with rare war archive material you won’t find in the history books. Sat Apr 28, noon. £5.


The reflective one

Take a moment to breathe at ‘My Side of It: Poetry Hour’ an afternoon with some of the UK’s most exciting spoken-word artists, including Young People’s Laureate for London Momtaza Mehri and playwright-poet Sabrina Mahfouz. Got a few verses of your own? Give it a whirl at Momtaza’s workshop that same day. Sun Apr 29, 5pm. £5.

MFest takes place at The British Library. King’s Cross tube. Fri Apr 27-Sun Apr 29. £25-£35 (weekend), £20 (day)

Find out what else is happening in London this weekend

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