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Mayor Cllr Rakhia Ismail calls out Islington Council over failure to provide any Eid celebrations

PUBLISHED: 18:36 11 October 2019

Cllr Rakhia Ismail. Picture: Islington Council

Cllr Rakhia Ismail. Picture: Islington Council

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The UK's first hijab-wearing mayor says Islington Council disappointed its Muslim community by failing to organise an Eid celebration this year.

Islington Council leader Cllr Richard Watts and mayor Cllr Rakhia Ismail  at GCSE results day 2019 , Archway. Picture: Joshua ThurstonIslington Council leader Cllr Richard Watts and mayor Cllr Rakhia Ismail at GCSE results day 2019 , Archway. Picture: Joshua Thurston

Cllr Rakhia Ismail first publicly voiced her unhappiness with the town hall at a full council meeting last week, saying it had failed to put on an event to mark Eid al-Adha - one of two key Islamic festivals that runs from the end of July into early August.

But council leader Richard Watts says Cllr Ismail usually organises the event with council backing, and he was equally saddened a proposed park celebration didn't proceed due to community organisers failing to submit paperwork, such as food hygiene certification, on time.

"This is the first year in seven years we haven't had an Eid celebration," Cllr Ismail told the Gazette.

"I think the council leader needs to take a serious look into Eid because the Muslim community is the second largest faith group in Islington. [...] I was disappointed. There should have been more effort on Eid. I am speaking for the Muslim community in Islington - we are not happy. [...]

"But this year the plan was to have an Eid celebration in the park. I don't know what happened. They should have approved it.

"I think it's very important that we should be inclusive, especially in this day and age where racism and xenophobia is on the rise, not just in Islington, but globally with the rhetoric of Trump and Boris we need to be inclusive."

She said Muslim community groups have co-signed a letter to the council expressing their disappointment that the planned event in Highbury Fields didn't go ahead.

Cllr Ismail said people had been organising the event for months and that "senior" town hall officials told them everything was "above board" only to start "thread picking" and making "excuses" days before the date.

"I literally held a meeting with senior town hall officers," said Cllr Ismail, "and they said: 'Don't worry this is all above board.'"

Cllr Ismail raised this issue at the last full council meeting, but says no one contacted her afterwards.

"How comes Richard [Watts] or the council didn't come to me afterwards full council and ask me what went wrong?

"They have just brushed it, like many other things in the past, under the carpet.

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"He [Cllr Watts] could have said: 'Can we talk to the community about what went wrong?' or 'I'm sorry'."

Cllr Ismail claims she's been asking Islington Council to make Eid a part of its calendar for years.

She would prefer for the council to work with the community to organise events in future, rather than doing it through her. She also questioned why the council doesn't fund the event, instead of relying on donations from Muslim Welfare House and Finsbury Park Mosque.

This year some councillors made individual donations, which will be saved and go towards next year's event.

Islington's mayor added: "I'm sorry but at the end of the day we all have responsibilities.

"For white working class communities - I'm always advocating for them. I'm not just advocating because I'm Muslim or mayor of Islington - I'm advocating for everyone that's underrepresented."

She added: "I even met with Richard Watts personally and he did say it was going to happen and made arrangements but nothing came of them. He is leader of the council and there is a lot he could have done."

Cllr Watts, who was away when the Eid celebration was due to happen, told the Gazette: "I have nothing but the highest respect for Rakhia and my core point is we are going to work together to make this happen next year."

But he added: "There has never been anything in an Islington park to the best of my knowledge. There has been a reception Rakhia has taken upon herself to organise. There were moved by local Muslim organisations to organise what sounded like a very good Eid in the park event.

"Unfortunately they weren't able to get enough things together in order to get it arranged."

Alluding to previous celebrations, he added: "This has been an event that Rakhia has organised at the town hall. She has done that with some council backing, but this has been Rakhia's event.

"To be honest, I'm unaware as to why that wasn't organised. Until Rakhia said it I wasn't aware [the event didn't happen].

"There has never to my knowledge been a council organised event and there was no plan for a council organised park event."

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