The Festival of Friendship (FOF) brings together young people from numerous Asian communities in the country through sports and recreation. The initiative was launched in 1992 by a number of like-minded individuals, including Aneez Rahemtulla, representing the Ismaili Jamat.
The Festival began as a small-scale festival involving four communities who shared similar histories of migration from South Asia to East Africa. In bringing together youth from various faiths to compete and share their cultural heritage, the FOF promotes cooperation between young athletes of all backgrounds. The event is similar to the Jubilee Games, which aims to bring Ismaili Muslims from around the world together to celebrate excellence in sport.
At a speech in New Delhi in 2003, Mawlana Hazar Imam spoke of his vision for a pluralistic society.
“Tolerance, openness and understanding towards other peoples' cultures, social structures, values and faiths are now essential to the very survival of an interdependent world. Pluralism is no longer simply an asset or a prerequisite for progress and development, it is vital to our existence,” he said.
In line with Hazar Imam’s vision for a tolerant and pluralist society, FOF aims to use such events as platforms for communities to meet and better understand one another’s cultures and traditions. FOF typically includes participants from a large number of communities including the Shia Ismaili, Visa Oshwal, Shree Cutchi Leva Patel Samaj, Ramgharia Sikh, Lohana, Goan, Sunni Punjabi, Cutchi Sunni Muslim, Shia Ithna‘ashari, Dawoodi Bohra, Tamil, and Kerala communities, amongst others.
Faith communities face similar challenges today in terms of engaging younger generations, building capacity, and passing on wisdom and cultural values. FOF addresses these concerns collectively through sports and other popular activities. Every year the games grow from strength to strength, bringing together new volunteers, new communities, new events, new ideas, and new friends. Annual FOF events are held in both Nairobi and Kisumu where young Ismailis are instrumental in bringing communities together annually through FOF sports events.
In addition to the main Festival, every alternate year in Nairobi, FOF holds mini-games. In the past this has comprised of a series of games, a treasure hunt in the iconic Nairobi National Park, and a mini-World Cup event. This year, featured a triathlon followed by a varied distance and relay track and field competition, and traditional games to include something for everyone. The event was a good example of cultural diversity, both in traditional games such as Kabaddi and kho-kho — both tag-style games — as well as in the varieties of cultural delicacies on offer from the various communities.
The bi-annual FOF sports tournament helps with other community sports development plans, and in the past has also helped the Kenyan Jamat to practice and train for the Kenya Ismaili Games, regional Unity Games, and the International Jubilee Games. Some athletes of Asian origin also represent Kenya at the International level.