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Halal festival 'hearts' value-driven lifestyle

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Navy Pier will host a celebration of ethical consumption and Muslim culture this month.

The inaugural I Heart Halal festival will be held April 13–15 and showcase various aspects of what it means to follow Muslim traditions. “Halal” typically refers to certain foods that are acceptable for Muslims to eat according to the Quran, which excludes meat that has been inhumanely raised and slaughtered. 

According to Salman Chaudry, co-director of I Heart Halal, the festival’s goal is to expand the conversation around halal.

“A halal lifestyle is one that’s based on being good or nutritious, wholesome, healthy and based on your values,” Chaudry said. “So [we wanted] this event to show that halal doesn’t always have to be about food: it can be about many things that all fall under this umbrella of halal.” 

Samana Siddiqui, content manager of Sound Vision, a Chicago-based nonprofit that works to build greater understanding of the Muslim community, became excited about the festival when she heard about it on Facebook. It could help familiarize people with Islamic practices and lifestyle choices, she said.

I Heart Halal will include Taste of Halal, which will highlight local restaurants that serve halal food and famous Muslim chefs who will perform cooking demonstrations. Festival attendees can also participate in a food competition, in which their meals will be judged by a panel of chefs. including former Masterchef contestant Amanda Saab, according to Chaudry. 

Ehba Zaidi, a nursing assistant from Lafayette, Indiana, was excited by the culinary options at the festival because halal food choices are generally limited.

The festival is not restricted to food, however, as fashion will also be a focus, Chaudry said. There will be two fashion shows during the festival with examples of modest fashion, or clothing that may not be revealing or form-fitting, but is still fashionable. 

“Modest fashion is not just accessible to Muslims. Dressing modestly is something that some people want,” Chaudry said. “They want to have more [items] that aren’t as revealing, and that’s why this fashion show [will help] the designers showcase their looks to not only a Muslim audience but also a non-Muslim audience. We’re showing this halal lifestyle is appealing to anyone.” 

I Heart Halal has partnered with various Muslim influencers, including beauty vlogger Nura Afia, CoverGirl’s first brand ambassador to wear a hijab. Afia will host a masterclass that uses only halal cosmetics which are made without animal testing. 

“Even in beauty there are certain products that [people who observe halal] will want to use because it’s in line with [their] values,” Chaudry said. “Beauty is an important part of halal lifestyle because you’re looking at how the cosmetic products are created. [For example], vegan cosmetics automatically fall under the umbrella of halal because they’re cruelty free, they’re ethical, there’s no animal products in them.” 

Siddiqui said she hopes the event will educate people about halal and bring it to the national consciousness, adding that there is a lot of misunderstanding about Muslims and their beliefs. 

“A lifestyle expo like this will help people … demystify Islamic practices,” she said. 

According to Chaudry, observance of halal is about being consistent in the practice of one’s values.

“You want to make sure you shop your values,” he said. “We [should be] more aware of what we buy. If you start becoming more aware of these items and [you’re] making sure that they resonate with your values, then it helps you make better purchasing decisions.” 

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