An imam has unleashed a spray on western Sydney’s famous Ramadan night markets, branding them the ‘new Kings Cross’ – the city’s famous party district.
The imam, who publishes on TikTok under the name ‘Iman Boost’, shared a video on the platform on Monday entitled ‘a must listen for for all Western Sydney Muslims’.
‘Have you seen in our communities what Ramadan has become now?’ he says to the camera.
‘It’s become this nightlife. It’s become this… Wallahi, Lakemba has become the new King’s Cross.’
Every year during the month Ramadan – when Muslims commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to Prophet Muhammad – food markets are held each night on Haldon street in Lakemba, south west Sydney.
Muslims spend the day fasting from sunrise before having their first meal, known as Iftar, at sunset.
Many celebrate breaking their fast at plethora of stalls on Haldon street where chefs whip up dishes from Middle Eastern Pakistani and Indian cuisines.
Camel, beef and chicken burgers are on offer, as well as desserts included the famous Lebanese sweet Knafe, the traditional Middle Eastern baklava, homemade churros, chocolate-coated strawberries and marshmallows, and the festival favourite, fairy floss.
The markets have become increasingly popular over the past decade and are expected to draw more than a million people this year from Muslim and non-Muslim backgrounds.
Crowds packed onto Haldon Street at Lakemba on Friday night where families enjoyed the hot food on offer from the stalls
A street chef works up a storm behind the stove set up on Haldon Street in Lakemba, south-west Sydney
City of Canterbury Bankstown Mayor Khal Asfour pointed out it was more than the numbers expected at the Sydney Royal Easter Show.
‘We’re thrilled that the State Government have acknowledged the significance of this event, which means so much to not only our community, but to the abundance of tourists who are drawn from all over Australia,’ Mr Asfour said.
However, there has been growing criticism of the festival’s popularity.
In the video the imam explained what he meant by Lakemba becoming the new King’s Cross.
‘You know in the 90s and in the 80s in the 70s… Where do you go to party?,’ he said.
‘You go to King’s Cross. No, now we’ve got the new King’s Cross and it’s called Lakemba. It’s the buzz, it’s the place to be. Is it haram to be there? Wallahi it’s not haram.’
The Imam grows increasingly animated as he beats his chest he adds: ‘But I am asking you, is that what Allah wants?’
He then mocks people who wait stand in line for ’45 minutes to eat a donkey in a burger’.
The imam then goes on to criticise the attendance of non-Muslims at the markets.
‘So the night life – and brother, even the non-Muslims are in,’ he says.
‘Do you think the non-Muslims are coming because wallah they’re learning about Allah? And we’re fooled.’
Men, women and children of Muslim and non-Muslim backgrounds treated themselves to an array of hot food from the stalls on Friday night
Muslims spend the day fasting from sunrise before having their first meal, known as Iftar, at sunset
The video is captioned: ‘Not halal or haram? But are you doing more good than bad by being there?’
Not every viewer agreed with him, however.
One TikTok user said there was ‘good’ in the markets.
‘Muslims united from all over Sydney. Non-Muslims appreciating our community after years of harmful stereotypes,’ they wrote.
But the imam is not the only one critical of what the markets have become.
Mostafa Rachwani, reporter at the Guardian, said ‘the Lakemba Ramadan Markets are more about gentrification than anything else’.
‘There is an implicit understanding in the Muslim community that without recognition of the sacredness of Ramadan, these markets reduce Islam and Muslims to something consumable,’ he wrote on Twitter.
He added: ‘Lots of media exploit the financial success to tell stories of cultural exchange when in reality, these spaces have been excavated of any sense of Muslim-ness. This is how minorities have always been reported – either demonised or reduced to food.’
Mostafa Rachwani, reporter at The Guardian, criticised the gentrification of the Lakemba Ramadan Markets
Mr Rachwani shared an article in which he spoke to some of the business owners and market stall-holders in the area.
Fauzan Ahmad, the manager at the Darussalam bookstore in Lakemba, lamented the market’s commercialisation.
‘It went from a few hundred people on the road to tens of thousands of people, and the sheer number of people is great, but it isn’t a Muslim event any more,’ he told The Guardian.
‘There just isn’t an Islamic ethos that frames the festival any more. Before, it used to be centred on our prayers, people would finish praying and go out.
‘Now the council sets the time and the streets are full, regardless of what the prayer times are.’
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