Right from the start, I could tell that the Global Peace and Unity Festival would be unlike any event I have been to this year. Stacks of name badges for guest speakers and rows of press passes lined the PR table at the London Excel’s Platinum Suite ahead of what would be a busy and event-filled weekend.

The mission statement for this year’s GPU was “Freedom for all” – something so simple and yet unheard of in parts of the world. The basic concept of bringing together Muslims from all walks of life and then adding people from other faiths and cultural backgrounds into the mix, really hit the notion of unity spot on.

Set across 30,000 square meters the large scale, ticketed event offered a wide range of activities to interest the entire family, making for a fun and informative day out that represented the breath of Muslim communities in thinking, education, entertainment and exploration.

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Chairman, Mohamed Ali Harrath said in a statement: “The recent revolutionary waves of demonstrations and protests in the Eastern & Western hemispheres have created an ever increasing need for conveyance of ‘Freedom for All’. Citizens around the world are unjustly held captive for exercising their right to ‘freedom’ of speech, association, assembly, thought, religion, expression and choice.”

Speaking with Farooq Murad, the Secretary General of the Muslim Council, to interviewing the bright and creative Nasheed singer Ahmed Hussain, I found that every minute was precious with so much to do and see.

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“I think it’s a very good strong statement and brand in the sense that the title global peace and unity resonates very much what Islam is all about and stands for contrary to common perceptions. So I think it’s a good attempt to counter that narrative,” Murad said.

“I think one of the major issues under discussion lately has been the issue of freedom and multiculturalism, which is has been used in the topic of security, and that has been used to curtail the freedoms we’ve enjoyed in this country. This year’s theme provides the scope to explore those issues through speeches, discussions and workshops. But at the same time this should be an occasion to celebrate the freedom we do have, which I think is quite empowering in many ways.”

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It’s that freedom that allows exhibitors like Islamic Pixels and Pearl Daisy to connect with such a substantial community and essentially connects people over mutual interests. It’s also that same freedom that gives individuals the chance to pursue their dreams – some of whom have turned those dreams into their livelihoods.

This year’s GPU, despite it being my very first, enabled me to see just how progressive this community is, with a marriage expo incorporated into the weekend where people could register and attend in order to meet potential and like-minded spouses.

With seminars and speeches throughout the day, the evening brought with it live musical entertainment. The Saverah Fashion Show drew in crowds of women eager to see the very latest in modest Islamic fashion and a huge funfair kept children entertained for hours on end.

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Amongst the fun and laughter, there was an underlying charitable purpose where people could donate to Human Appeal and help people across parts of the UK, Africa and Asia suffering from poverty, social injustice and natural disasters.

Overall I would say the GPU 2013 was a success. Whilst seen as a predominantly Muslim event, it was great seeing people from so many backgrounds attend, participate and really get into the spirit of what can only be described as a family-filled weekend out. The one piece of advice I would give to anyone attending the GPU next year however, would be to plan your time wisely. With so much going on in such a big space, one weekend is barely enough – which says a lot in my opinion.

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