British Muslim cultural charity wins prestigious Queen’s Award

The Muslim Arts and Culture Festival was created after the 2017 Manchester terrorist attack to promote diversity

The MACFEST team with Labour MP for Manchester Gorton Afzal Khan. Afzal Khan MP/Twitter
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A British Muslim charity promoting cultural awareness and diversity has received the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, a prestigious reward for outstanding achievements by volunteers.

The Minister for Civil Society Baroness Diana Barran hailed volunteers as “the backbone of local communities” during the national recovery from Covid-19.

The Muslim Arts and Culture Festival, Macfest, was founded in 2017 in the wake of the Manchester Arena terrorist attack to act as a bridge between different Muslim and non-Muslim communities and confront discrimination with culture. It was one of 241 social enterprises given the award, which was created to celebrate Queen Elizabeth's 50-year reign as Britain's head of state.

Greater Manchester received the most awards of any county for the fourth year running, including an award for another Muslim charity, the Myriad Foundation. The outreach organisation focuses on the needs of vulnerable people in the UK’s third-largest city with homelessness projects, Black, Asian and minority ethnic-community blood drives and presentations on Islam.

The festival is unique and it's empowering, particularly women. Qaisra Shahraz MBE

Started by Mancunian award-winning British Muslim novelist and activist Qaisra Shahraz, the annual Muslim Arts and Culture Festival hosts more than 70 social events a year that encourage community exchange and engagement. The organisation now puts on shows across the UK and this year hosted its first international festival live and online from Azerbaijan.

Speaking to The National after the announcement, Ms Shahraz, who has been awarded an MBE, said the recognition was "marvellous" and a testament to the "amazing" team of volunteers at the helm of it all.

A women's community event at the Muslim Arts and Culture Festival 2020. Courtesy Macfest
A women's community event at the Muslim Arts and Culture Festival 2020. Courtesy Macfest

“The festival is unique and it’s empowering, particularly women,” she said, adding that she started Macfest after becoming fed up with increasing Islamophobic sentiment and incidents. She hopes that showcasing the heritage of different Muslim diaspora will challenge negative stereotypes. “If they come to a MACFEST event I guarantee you they won’t stereotype a Muslim woman again,” said Ms Shahraz.

“I wanted to connect communities, it’s also important for different Muslim communities to meet each other and this festival brings them all together.”

The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service recognises outstanding work by volunteer groups in the UK that benefits local communities.

It was created in 2002 to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee. Winners are announced annually on the anniversary of the queen’s coronation and a celebratory garden party at Buckingham Palace is scheduled for next year.

Chairman of the award’s committee Sir Martyn Lewis said the honour highlighted the "growing and key role" of volunteers in times of "unprecedented challenges."

“Whether driven by a neighbourly passion to help others or to achieve that well recognised 'high' of personal satisfaction, volunteering taps into a rich spirit of generosity, ingenuity and kindness.

"The Queen’s Award’s judges are proud to honour the achievements of those who help to make our country great,” Sir Martyn said.