California Muslims Launch the Nation's First Halal Food and Eid Festival

The Bay Area is home to some 300,000 Muslims, and with Eid-ul-Fitr celebrations just around the corner, Muslim foodies are gearing up to celebrate the state's first "Halal Fest." Dozens of vendors will sell everything from halal cupcakes to brisket soft tacos with all of the goodies prepared according to Islamic dietary standards.

"Halal Fest" is the first ever Halal Food & Eid Festival in California happening on Aug. 17. The venue this year is NewPark Mall in Newark. The free event comes on the heels of similar halal-focused festivals in New Jersey, Los Angeles, and Toronto, although the Bay Area Halal Fest is the first ever to combine both a Halal Food Festival along with an Eid Celebration in the United States.

"I got the idea after I visited New York City," said Irfan Rydhan of San Jose, 38, a self-described "halal foodie" and American Muslim activist who is one of eight key California Halal Fest organizers. "I saw all these halal food carts and trucks, and I wondered why we couldn't do that here."

So he started putting together a team of like minded American Muslims and fellow foodies last August to begin planning the festival, which not only boasts Halal food, but also carnival type rides for children, a performance of Moroccan jazz and Indonesian singers, as well as skateboard, fitness, and chess demonstrations. Rydhan said he hopes at least 2,000 people will attend. As of this week, his group's Facebook page has more than 1,250 "likes."

The event will have Free admission and parking, but festival goers are encouraged to purchase their "Halal Fest" Tokens, which will good for any food, drink and ride at Halal Fest, online for a discounted rate. Halal Fest Tokens will also be available for purchase on the day of the event.

"It's crazy how much interest there is in this, " said Aysha Mohsin, 28, of Milpitas, another Halal Fest organizer and well known Muslim community activist. "Food is at the center of bringing so many people together. And food trucks are so trendy right now. We just thought, 'Why not host a festival?' ''

Halal means "permissible" in Arabic and is similar to kosher food for Jews. Muslims who keep halal don't eat pork or drink alcohol. Animals must be slaughtered in a particular way and God's name must be invoked during the act.

Unknown to most people of other faiths, Halal food is not just Pakistani or Middle Eastern Food. Although Halal Fest will include both of those types of food, there will also be a wide variety of Halal Food such as American style Smoked BBQ Brisket Burgers by King's BBQ and Grill in Fremont, southern fried chicken by New Africa Kitchen prepared at the Masjid Waritheen mosque in Oakland, chocolate dipped bananas by Livermore Donut Wheel, organic cupcakes by RajaBelle's in San Jose, bean and carrot pies by Raoof's in San Jose and grilled Jamaican style corn from Suya African Grill in Berkeley.

The organizers of Halal Fest, which are a coalition of Muslim owned businesses and non-profits are also planning on giving back to the local community, by holding a canned food drive at Halal Fest. For anyone who brings in a can of food (vegetarian or seafood items only), they will be entered into a raffle where multiple prizes such as Free Food Tokens, halal beef jerky, t-shirts. cookbooks and a skateboard by professional skateboarder Jordan Richter will be given away throughout the day.

"This is going to be an historic event for California, celebrating halal food with our Eid festival," Rydhan said. "We believe in the spiritual benefits of halal food. We believe if you put good things in your body, then good things will happen to you in your life."

(Disclosure: Irfan Rydhan is a freelance writer for ILLUME.)