At the lost children’s tent in Small Heath park in Birmingham, Sunny Araf was reaching for his microphone every few minutes.
“We have a small boy, dressed in very distinctive red trousers and top, about two years old … A mum is looking for her toddler. He has brown shoes … Maryam, aged six, has lost her parents …”
After an estimated 88,000 people bowed in prayer in the park on Wednesday morning to mark Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim festival that follows Ramadan, the holy month of fasting, it was not surprising that a few children had strayed. All were quickly reunited with their parents.
“We need events like this to reinforce community spirit,” said Araf, who was on the security detail at the park. “It’s not just for Muslims – look around, it’s very diverse. We need to come together. Let’s be honest, abuse and attacks are on the rise, but I still think we’re more united as a country than disunited.”
This year’s Celebrate Eid, billed as the largest event of its kind in Europe, easily topped last year’s figure of 60,000 participants, and drew more than seven times the number who came to the first festival in 2010.
Many were in their finest clothes, and children clutched balloons and plastic toys. Families picnicked on the grass or queued for shawarma and sticky desserts. Fairground rides, miniature golf and laser clay pigeon shooting were on offer. An Islamic rapper boomed through the microphone in the gaps between Araf’s appeals about lost children.
Waseem Khan, of the Green Lane masjid and community centre, which organised the event with the Muslim charity Human Appeal, said: “We’re overwhelmed by the turnout. Bringing together this many people from across our community, across different faiths, and from around the world to take part in the festivities is incredible.”
Shuja Shafi, the secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said Eid was “a joyous and unique thanksgiving festival which Muslims celebrate all over the world”.
He added: “While there has been an increase in hate crimes since the EU referendum, we also saw an outpouring of love and support from the British public.”
In Small Heath park, most people were focused on enjoying a day out in the sun. Sadia Razak had returned to her home city from Loughborough, where she works in A&E, to be with her family for the festival.
“It’s great that there are so many people here,” she said. “There are people from all races and religions. It’s been a bad week or two, but I’m sure we’ll get through this storm.”
A group of teenagers sitting in the shade of a truck were emphatic in where they placed the blame for their insecurities. “We get judged for the actions of others, for extremism. That’s the media’s fault. The media control everything,” said Adilah Irving.
Her friend Anas Laudat agreed. “It’s all Islamist-this and Islamist-that in the media. People look at us as though we’re a danger, or as though we’re aliens.”
Thankfully, said Irving, most of her friends took no notice of the media. “The younger generation mixes more easily with other cultures and faiths. I’m friends with people from all backgrounds, but none of us read the papers. We’ve got more sense.”