A Festival of Coexistence and Peace for All

By Hind Al Subai Al Idrissi

Fez, the intellectual capital of Morocco, hosted a significant spiritual music festival from June 4 to 12, based on a message of coexistence, peace and purity of soul.

According to its website, the Fez Festival of World Sacred Music “represents the spiritual heart of Islam – peaceful, pluralistic, generous and cheerful. It honours all the world’s spiritual traditions and it dissolves musical boundaries.” The festival provides people with a place to meet and discuss music, poetry and Sufism at well-known historic locations throughout the city — as well as listen to amazing music.

Some of today’s most popular spiritual and religious music groups from around the world came together in Fez for the festival’s 16th annual celebration. Performances by musicians of different religions and nationalities accentuated the potential for openness and dialogue between people.

The Fez Festival was begun by the Moroccan anthropologist Faouzi Skali in the aftermath of the first Gulf War to help people from different spiritual traditions learn from each other without prejudice. Today, it is considered one of the most significant festivals aimed at instilling peace, security and dialogue between civilisations, according to the United Nations. It is organised primarily by the Message of Fez, an organisation which provides the festival with financial and material support.

This year’s theme was Perfection in Purging the Soul, coined by Ibn Arabi, a 13th century Arab philosopher. According to organisers, Ibn Arabi’s work represents the will to rid oneself from rigid, exclusive dogmatic beliefs and instead instil the principles of tolerance and mutual respect among civilisations, which the festival aims to do through music.

This spirit of coexistence is evident, with the musical traditions of different religious communities and nationalities highlighted throughout. This year, the festival celebrated Jerusalem as the city of three faiths. The audience listened to a live music performance, Jerusalem, the City of Two Peaces: Heavenly Peace and Peace on Earth, which presented the history of this diverse city through music played by Spanish, Iraqi, Armenian, Moroccan and Greek musicians, highlighting different musical genres to showcase different eras of the city’s history.

The audience enjoyed a mixture of musical rhythms and compositions inspired by religion, the poetry of wisdom, African religious songs and religious folk music from Anatolia, Cambodia, Asia and America, as well as spiritual performances by major musicians, such as Jordi Savall, a Spanish Catalan viol player, composer and conductor, who presented the audience with a musical composition particular to the former Jewish community in Baghdad.

Festival-goers were also treated to Persian classical music by icon Shahram Nazeri, a contemporary Iranian Kurdish tenor. In addition, the festival featured Sufi music from Zanzibar and Christian gospel music by US African Americans, as well as a classical acrobatic troupe of boys, the Young Gotipuas Dancers, from the Hindu temples of Orissa in eastern India.

Several Moroccan Sufi musical groups also performed at the festival, including Gnawa Click, a very popular Gnawa band from Essaouira in southern Morocco. Gnawa is a musical genre from North Africa, particularly Morocco, and is a unique mix of sub-Saharan African, Berber and Arabic religious songs and rhythms, played with various drums and flutes. There were also other Sufi musical groups that performed, inspired by Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jilani, a Sufi imam in 12th century Baghdad who taught his followers to lead spiritual lives and promote goodness in their communities.

The Fez Festival of World Sacred Music has become part of the core identity for Fez, always considered by intellectuals, poets, writers and musicians as a major cultural capital of the world. And the festival has helped shape Morocco’s image as a country that not only supports but actively encourages friendship and coexistence between people of all backgrounds and spiritual beliefs.

Hind Al-Subai Al-Idrisi is a Moroccan blogger (hindapress.canalblog.com) and journalist.

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