Wollongong locals and community leaders dined at Samara’s restaurant in the heart of the city on Tuesday for the #illeatwithyou lunch, as part of a special campaign that strives to ‘reject racism and spread love through food.’ The campaign was initiated after the Muslim-owned restaurant was subjected to racist comments on their social media page, in an attempt to encourage others to “boycott Islamic businesses.”

Samara’s owner Omar Nemer spoke out against the comments, which were mostly against the Halal food market. He explained that much misconception exists over the meaning of Halal foods. “A lot of people think that their food is going to be blessed… going against their beliefs…but Halal simply states that the product doesn’t contain any animal blood, animal fat, any alcohol and certain other ingredients that Muslim people cannot consume.”

However these negative criticisms could not stifle the strong, positive community spirit. From the Uniting Church, People Care, Lifeline, Muslims, local media, and the Police Force, it was inspiring to see such a multitude of guests united by mutual aspirations for peace and patronage. The event details were open to the public, bookings were not required and servings of the best-selling platters were passed around generously; there was room for everyone. Nemer then delivered a motivating speech on the need to cease racism, explaining that 2 billion people cannot be painted with one brush.

photo: Greg Ellis

photo: Greg Ellis

Grahame Gould, a local leader, has been instrumental in his support for the campaign. He promoted the message that “the community says no to racism… it’s about fairness to individuals.” He also noted that it is an opportunity to build public relations and tourism. “It’s good for the economy, if we want to give people a fair go we actually need to embrace people from all different backgrounds… [it’s] a core Australian ideology,” he said.

The event concluded with an acoustic rendition of Give a Little Kindness by musician Graham Wilson and the opportunity to purchase a t-shirt, which brandished the campaign message and Samara’s logo. #illeatwithyou exemplifies that by embracing and listening rather than criticising others we can aspire to a future focused on multicultural engagement, education and harmony. For now, Nemer has been humbled by the strong community support and will continue to deliver quality service to restaurant patrons as Samara’s has always done for the past seven years. “We love being in Wollongong and we’re happy to be born here and happy to be living here.”