Like all communities, Aussie Muslims are a diverse bunch of folks with a diverse range of opinions. And this fact can be demonstrated in a healthy debate that’s going on in the Sydney suburb of Lakemba. Some Muslims believe that an annual event here, called Ramadan Nights Lakemba, has become too commercialised. Meanwhile, some other Muslims think that the way it’s changing is fine.
But let’s step back a bit. Ramadan Nights Lakemba is an annual street market that’s chockablock full of curries, falafel, and a tonne of other delicious treats. If you’re after a Middle Eastern snack or some South-East Asian cuisine, then one of the 75 stalls here will have your back.
Additionally, as the name suggests, these Lakemba night markets happens during Ramadan, a time of year when Muslims fast from the dawn until the sunset. They do this for religious reasons. By fasting for each day, Muslims can become more thankful for the sustenance that God provides.
As Mehmet Ozalp, a Muslim Community Leader, explained, “Many people forget the fact God is the source of all sustenance. While they readily thank agents of delivery, they forget to remember and thank God as the one who ultimately meets all their needs.”
“A fasting person physically feels the value of, and their need for, basic sustenance when they experience the pangs of hunger and thirst. Since a believer fasts for the sake of God, they acknowledge the sustenance, which may be taken for granted, actually comes from God.”
Now, Ramadan Nights Lakemba was born from an ethos similar to the one Ozalp’s describing. The point of the markets was to celebrate the food we receive and be grateful for the sustenance that they score. What’s more, it was easier in the beginning for all of its participants to be on the same spiritual page. This is because in 2012, Ramadan Nights Lakemba was just a small Muslim barbeque.
However, in the intervening years, Ramadan Nights Lakemba grew and grew and grew. In 2021, the Canterbury-Bankstown Council got behind this market and started advertising it to a wider audience. In 2022, 1.2 million people experienced this shindig.
Which brings us to the crux of the issue. Some folks believe something has been lost in Ramadan Nights Lakemba’s expansion. And some other folks reckon that everything’s fine.
“It’s something that’s not ours anymore,” expressed a Muslim man named Fauzan Ahmad. “It’s a very spiritual month for us, and there’s nothing there that represents the rituals or the fasting.”
“Before, it used to be centred on our prayers… Now the council sets the time, and the streets are full, regardless of what the prayer times are.”
But, as we’ve already discussed, not everyone feels that way. And one such person who feels this way is Salim Shaikh, the owner of a chicken shop called Extra Crispy.
“It’s good for Lakemba, good for Haldon Street, good for us all,” said Shaikh. “Personally, this isn’t about making the markets more overtly Muslim, but about bringing in more people. It has become very commercialised, yes, but this event should be for everyone.”
“It’s been better under the council, no doubt about it. We want it to get bigger, it brings more people here and improves our area.”
So, what does this debate mean for Ramadan Nights Lakemba? Well, it hopefully means that the Canterbury-Bankstown Council understands that it has a tremendous amount of power. They should grapple with the fact that they could sideline Ramadan in this festival. And while we’re at it, they shouldn’t encourage people to attend the markets during times of prayer.
What’s more, if the Canterbury-Bankstown Council wants to further expand this event, as some Mulisms want, they should do so in a responsible manner. They should actively educate their patrons about the meaning of Ramadan and why it’s an important time.