Navy Pier Hosts IFANCA’S I HEART HALAL FESTIVAL: A Celebration of All Things Halal

Dress by Al Nisa Designs

Children of all ages laugh and play throughout the large ballroom hosting the weekend’s event. Their laughter combines with words exchanged between dozens of vendors and potential customers while mingling with conversations amidst family and friends. The smells of the festivals many culinary offerings drift through the air and sounds of various lectures, music, and demonstrations can be heard throughout. There is a relaxed feeling in the air as thousands flock to the 2nd annual I Heart Halal Festival at Navy Pier.This is a place for those who live the Halal lifestyle to gather and connect with vendors who can meet their needs, learn new cooking skills, travel tips, watch stand up and more. Most importantly the festival provides a space to unwind and celebrate this vibrant culture. It is also an accepting, open place for those curious to learn more.

Something for Everyone

For those unfamiliar, Halal refers to the traditions of Islam which include meal preparation and other lifestyle guidelines. Another daily offering was the kids place-a sizable inflatable wonderland-which cemented this event as family-friendly.

Produced by the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America (IFANCA), the weekend was jam-packed with activities that appeal to many different people. A staple over the course of the three days was the grand bazaar-right at the heart of the event. Made up of dozens of vendors selling a myriad of products-there was something for everyone. From toys & games to vitamins, henna, beauty products, clothing and artwork the offerings were endless. And everything, of course, was catered to the Halal lifestyle.

I Heart Halal also included numerous educational seminars that armed patrons with a variety of tips and tricks for everything from cooking to travel, as well as discussions about media relations, civic engagement and more.

The sounds of the bazaar echo around us as we watch skillful hands handle delicate fillo dough through a projected live feed. The near countless ways in which fillo  dough can be manipulated are described and demystified by world-renowned Chef Demetrios Haralambatos. The ease  with which he works the dough, and his simplified explanations on how to work with it, reassures us that we too can have this skill and make full use of this product.  Demetrios was able to find levity in what might otherwise be a review of skills- even making jokes about the use of bacon fat amongst a room of people dedicated to the Halal lifestyle. Taking the time to answer questions individually following the conclusion of the demo, and supplying many with their own package of fillo, Chef Haralambatos engaged with the crowd in a manner reminiscent of sitting in the warm kitchen of a knowledgeable friend.

Kicking off the weekend was a hip-hop concert featuring Neelam, Kayem, Brother Ali, and Lupe Fiasco. The concert, like the rest of the festival, created a welcoming and relaxed atmosphere for festival-goers. We heard personal stories-from everyday hardships and discrimination to dealing with the loss of a family member but also shared laughs with the performers. The concert generated an air of excitement that culminated with Lupe Fiasco’s performance. He, like the rest of the performers, is Muslim but he is also from Chicago. To this writer, it felt like the concert started out the weekend-long festivities on the right note.

Rapper Neelam performs during the opening night of I Heart Halal
Rapper Lupe Fiasco performs during the opening night of I Heart Halal

Bold, Modest Fashion.

To many people perhaps modest fashion means dressing like grandma. The festival’s modest fashion show upended that entire idea, boldly showcasing just how diverse and fashion forward modesty can really be. Eight different designer brands, including Al Nisa Designs, Covered Bliss, and Abaya Addict were showcased. Some had a more causal feel-everyday wear that was still chic yet comfortable and suitable for work or errands. Other brands went a more high-end route with outfits that struck this writer as knock outs for formal events and even wedding dresses. The color choices seem geared to appeal to a wide range of customers-from bold reds, yellows, oranges and pinks to more basic tans, blacks, and whites. We saw many prints-some simple, some complex with a variety of sequins and other sparkly embellishments. And, it wasn’t just dresses-the show included pants, blouses, skirts, and jumpsuits, and a variety of headwear from colorful hijabs worn in many different styles to berets and other hats. The fashion show succeeded, at least for this writer, in challenging expectations of what modesty means-it doesn’t have to be matronly. It can be bold, high fashion and still modest.

Chef Demetrios Haralambatos shows his Fillo Dough skills
Mosquers Film Festival took place on the last day of I Heart Halal

Expressive Short Films

The Mosquers Film Festival closed out the weekend and featured a collection of five short films from the bigger festival in Edmonton, Canada that is held every year.  This festival seeks to give voice and platform to Muslim filmmakers in order to show off their talents and, of course, their variety of styles.

Wudu directed by Ayanna Sharif followed a woman preparing for prayer and cleansing herself in a sunny forest stream. We feel serenity and peace with its use of location which is temporarily broken in a jarring moment to remind the audience of the many ills plaguing marginalized groups within our society. Ultimately, Wudu ended peacefully with the woman not letting these issues drown her, but rather we see her persevering.

The Drone and the Kid by director Imran J Khan, followed a Pakistani boy who finds part of a US drone. The boy quickly befriends this drone and spends an entire day playing with it while the US military attempts to get the boy to give them a location. The boy’s connection with a potentially lethal drone is instantaneous, making it even more heartbreaking when trouble befalls the drone. In this writer’s view,The Drone and the Kid is very powerful and succeeds in humanizing the people our military regularly monitors and attacks remotely via drones.

Sacred Hair directed by Mario Morin follows a young white boy in Montreal questioning the concept of veiling. He connects with a very patient Muslim woman who explains how veiling exists in a variety of religions and is a personal choice for a follower. The connection between the two is solidified when they realize they have something in common; they both have to deal with the ignorance of others-her due to her religion and him due to illness. The film balances nicely between that connection while also showing the bigotry faced by Muslims-namely in the way the woman is treated by the boy’s friend and Mom, who are both quick to judge her and hesitant to interact with her.

I Heart Halal is an important event for the Muslim community. It’s a space free from bigotry in which people can unashamedly celebrate their culture and learn new things. This event is also perfect for anyone interested in Halal lifestyle.

For more information visit the I Heart Halal festival website

Also see the  Mosquers Film Festival website

Photos by Taryn Smith

Photo: Brian McConkey

About the Author

Taryn Smith, Chicago Communities Associate Editor,  graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago's BFA Performance program in 2011. After graduating, she co-founded Realize Theatre Group and served as Executive Director for the company.  She has filled numerous roles while with RTG both on and off stage including making her playwriting debut with her play America, Inc . She has worked as a stage manage, designer, director, and actor. Outside of the theatre world, Taryn is a licensed massage therapist.

Click here to read more Picture this Post stories by Taryn Smith.

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