By Caitlin Maloney, Lilas-Mae Njoo and Caitlin Young

A record 1.57 million people have attended the month-long Ramadan night markets, which ended last night, bringing to a close one of the biggest and fastest-growing events in Sydney’s cultural calendar.

Attendance at the markets in Lakemba, in Sydney’s south-west, while over a longer period, attracts almost twice as many people than go to the fortnight-long Royal Easter Show, which averages 828,000.

Ramadan, when Muslims worldwide observe a month of fasting from dawn until sunset, is broken with Iftar (an evening meal) and dua (prayer). Today marks the start of Eid, a three-day festival of prayer and family gift giving.

And while the night markets began as an event for the local Muslim community, it has become a go-to foodie and cultural festival, bringing together people from different backgrounds over their shared love of food.


A man hands out drinks on Haldon Street. Photo: Lilas-Mae Njoo.


Along Haldon Street, which the market has taken over every Ramadan for the past 17 years, there is a vivid display of multiculturalism. Stallholders advertise Arabic knafeh, Indonesian satay, Syrian ice cream, Broaster Chicken’s camel burger, and more, reflecting the cultural diversity within Islam.

Co-founders Abdul Obeid and Yassr Yatim, started the festival 17 years ago, when they began selling their now-famous camel burgers.

“We started with a little barbecue, just to give back to worshippers and people after prayers, and just to feed the community,” Obeid said. 

“And from there the gentlemen came and introduced us to camel meat, which we found kind of strange at the time, but we started selling it and it kicked off.”


A local Lakemba family visiting the Ramadan festival on Haldon Street. Photo: Caitlin Young


Since then, the festival has grown, no longer just important to Lakemba’s local Muslim community, but also to strengthening bonds between people from all over Sydney.

“They get to have that communication with other people. That’s our biggest thing,” Obeid said. 

“I mean, what you always hear on the media [about Islam] isn’t always what it’s perceived to be, and it’s only when people come to Lakemba, and they see different mixes of cultures, religions and nationalities that they realise ‘Oh wow, this is not what we thought it was.’”

This message was echoed by a second-time market attendee, Hina Shahid, whose family elected her as their official spokesperson, ushering her towards our microphones.


Hina Shahid (top left) and her family outside the knafeh and chips on a stick stand – Shahid’s favourite snacks at the festival. Photo: Caitlin Maloney


Shahid has noticed growing numbers of non-Muslims at the festival over the years.

“Food is the main thing that you share, something every community can enjoy,” she added. “It brings us closer, probably that’s why it’s becoming more popular, because all the different food is here and you can come to enjoy it.

“We talk, we chat. They ask about what Ramadan is and why we are fasting, so it brings us closer — the talking and food and everything.”

The Ramadan night markets has also gained an international audience, with Karen and her family, proudly visiting from Michigan, USA, enjoying the food and culture the festival offers.

Asked who she would recommend the markets to, Karen replied: “Who wouldn’t I? Anybody who likes to try new, fun foods. We just like the different cultures.”

Karen (second from the right) with her family of proud Michiganians visiting Haldon Street. Photo: Lilas-Mae Njoo.


Local businesses have also received a huge boost from the markets.

“We’ve had a lot of people from interstate, and people that are just curious to see the Lakemba Night Markets. They’ll come in and they’ll have a look around to see what we have,” said Bianca White, owner of modest Islamic store, Boutique Naur Al Houda.

Bianca White (right), Lakemba business owner. Photo: Lilas-Mae Njoo.


White emphasised the importance of the markets in expanding people’s understanding of Islam.

“I believe Islam is very misunderstood, so I think that it’s great exposure for the people that are not Muslim, or don’t know much about Islam, for them to come down and meet the people,” she told Central News.

Haldon Street was swathed in red, green, black and white, reminding festival-goers of the ongoing conflict in Palestine, where Muslim people make up 98 per cent of the population. 

Obeid explained that the Palestinian flags displayed around Lakemba was to “support the children, innocent people, and victims that are suffering over there”.

 “The things going on overseas, that’s obviously a soft point to all our hearts,” he said. “We don’t want conflict anywhere in the world, let alone with missing kids and children, and innocent people being hurt.”

Stall holders pledged funds towards helping civilians in Gaza. Photo: Lilas-Mae Njoo.


The markets have a rich history of supporting charity and giving back to those in need. 

“From day one we’ve given funds worldwide to charity,” Obeid said. “And now obviously because the phenomenon is Palestine, the majority [of our donations] are going to Palestine.”

Main image montage by Caitlin Maloney.