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November 10, 2010

Toronto's Rumi Fest

Scott Stockdale

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A sold out crowd of 750 people attended the opening night of a two-night Rumi Fest, recently in Toronto, to celebrate the works of 11th century poet Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi (1207-1273), the best selling poet in America today.

Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi was born into a family of Muslim Scholars in the year 1207 in the province of Balkh, now the border region between Afghanistan and Tajikistan.

He was an accomplished scholar and teacher of the religious sciences and sacred Islamic law. But he is most renowned as being, perhaps, the greatest mystical poet of Islam. By communicating the absolute love of God through his works, he has attracted spiritual seekers from almost every religious and spiritual path in the world for hundreds of years.

Indeed, former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson and her partner John Raulston Saul, were among the guests the opening night of Rumi Fest, a truly multicultural event at Trinity St. Paul's Centre in downtown Toronto.

Rumi – reputed to be the greatest mystical poet – taught love and compassion leading to global peace and unity. The longing of the soul to merge with eternity, s is a central theme of Rumi's works.

Dr. Coleman Barks, who taught creative writing at Georgia University for 30 years, and has translated many of Rumi's works, opened his performance with a part talking, part singing performance, accompanied by a woman playing a Cello.

In keeping with a central theme of Rumi's – how the human soul fits in with the divine - Dr. Barks sang a verse of a Rumi poem: “Where did I come from and what am I supposed to be doing? I'm like a bird from another convent. The day will come when I will fly off. What's the soul? I can't stop asking.”

He told the audience that stories are to human growth as facts are to science and, after relating a story himself, he added: “What really matters is how quietly you do what your soul directs.”

Singing and reciting from Rumi's works, Dr. Barks said: “The beloved has me on a leash like a camel. He asks me to surrender to him. He asks for my heart then breaks it apart.  Where is he taking me and to do what. I don't know. I don't know.”

Noman Siddiqui, director of Nomans Land Promotions, which sponsored Rumi Fest, and an award winning composer, opened the performances playing keyboards and performing  “Sunrise in Aviary” while accompanied by a woman on a ney – a Turkish bamboo flute, of which Mr. Nomans said: “If you listen to how it cries, it symbolizes its separation from the bark of the tree, similar to how the human soul is separated from it source and it's longing for union with the beloved.

Mr. Nomans said Whirling Dervishes, playing “Sema” - the ceremony of sacred music and whirling dance, which represents a mystical journey of spiritual ascent through mind and love to a state of perfection – was a moving performance for him. It was performed by six vocalists and six musicians.

The goal of “Sema” is to love and to be of service to the whole of creation, transcending discrimination against beliefs, races, classes and nations.

Originating among the Turkish Sufis, the practice of Sufi whirling is a devotional meditative dance that has been passed down to devotees of the Mevlevi order for centuries.

As a symbolic ritual through which dervishes (or semazens) aim to reach spiritual perfection (“kemal”), the sema helps to lead the passional ego (“nefs”), chained as it is to worldly desires, to sweet surrender.

For the dervish, the journey from imprisonment by the lower desires to spiritual liberation is traced through unwavering focus and reflection upon the pearls of wisdom disclosed by the Sufi Shaykh (spiritual guide), through rites of remembrance of God (“dhikr”), and through devotional music and mesmerizing whirling dance, which brings the dervish into harmony with a primal cosmic turning or revolution, the very movement of life.

Mr. Nomans said he wanted to thank Toronto and Canada for supporting Rumi Fest.

“What better way to experience multiculturalism than to show tolerance for Sufism and Islam. Because the goal of Islam is so distorted in the media, we're people trying to show the loving side of Islam.”

A Portion of the proceeds from Rumi Fest was donated to the victims of the flooding in Pakistan, where at least 2,000 people have been killed, with more than 20 million people affected.

According to the United Nations, this is more than the combined total of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2005 Kashmir earthquake and the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

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