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Sufi Festival 2019: 'Promoting harmony and cohesion within the community'

This July, the first Sufi Festival comes to Glasgow.

A day-long festival spread across the Tramway and the Hidden Gardens, with accompanying events across the surrounding areas of Pollokshields and Govanhill, the Sufi Festival will open a door into the art and culture of Sufism, from music, poetry and theatre, to art, craft and storytelling.

We spoke to the organisers to find out more. The Sufi Festival receieved funding through Creative Scotland's Open Project Fund.

Tell us about the Sufi Festival - how did it come about?

The festival came about when Tariq Mahmood (Chair) and some of the other members of the Sufi Festival planning group got talking about the lack of major cultural programming for the Muslim community and Sufis in Scotland.

This was a couple of years ago, and after much planning, the idea for a festival was then born.

Sufism has a multi-arts legacy that, really, you couldn't scratch the surface of in 20 events of this size- Sufi Festival

On the one hand, Sufism is a very outward-facing tradition with a benevolent and inclusive message that expresses universal values, and so it was felt that there was potential to help a lot of people and generally build bridges by staging a major event of this kind.

On the other hand, Glasgow has a large Muslim and Sufi community, but opportunities for this community to take part in large-scale celebrations of their cultural heritage have been few and far between in the past, as are opportunities for representation in the cultural sphere of Muslims in Britain and Scotland generally.

Statistically, in the arts, we are just not doing as well as we could be when it comes to giving Muslims and BME people a platform allowing their voices to be heard.

We felt that if we could bring a major celebration of Sufism to Tramway and The Hidden Gardens - as one of Scotland's most established contemporary arts venues - this would do something to address this; whilst at the same time bringing the benefits of such a showcase to the rest of the (non-Muslim) community in Scotland.

What are the themes of the programme this year?

Well naturally the festival itself is thematic, that theme being Sufism. As it's our first festival, we are keeping things quite general: a general celebration of some of the main aspects and art forms of the Sufi tradition.

But inherent to that tradition are many outwardly social goals, such as promoting harmony and cohesion within the community - so you could say then that the theme is Islamic Spirituality as a gateway to bringing all communities together.

Which artists are participating?

We have many truly gifted artists coming from across the world culturally-speaking, with everything from theatre, poetry, contemporary and traditional music, literary talks from some really major authors, and workshops led by celebrated Islamic crafts-people.

All of the artists can be seen on in the programme on our website, but watch out for young award-winning female poet, Rakaya Fetuga, acclaimed Nasheed (traditional acapella male song) the group Aashiq al Rasul, 90s Islamic UK hip hop tour-de-force reforming for this gig only, Mecca 2 Medina, and of course our headline act, Qawwali masters Shah e Mardan, whose lead singer and harmonium player Mohammed Zubair was an apprentice of the globally legendary Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

How does the Sufi Festival embrace creativity?

As a multi-arts festival the programme really has been conceived as a whole-hearted embrace of creativity, a celebration of creativity in all it's forms that I would say is quite adventurous and ambitious, not only toting the traditional but boldly embracing the modern as well, with Islamic hip hop and dub claiming a place high up on the bill.

Sufism has a 1300-year history as an esoteric branch of religious learning fundamentally applied to the arts - when you look at art, design, architecture, tapestry, pottery - you name it!. There's also literature, poetry and music from across the Islamic world, with all of the beautiful attention to detail, pattern, and colour, and ultimately beauty.

This all comes from Sufism, and its historical role in the development of so many of these varying cultures. Sufism has a multi-arts legacy that, really, you couldn't scratch the surface of in 20 events of this size.

What do you hope audiences will take away?

I think audiences will definitely be taking away a sense of joy, happiness and positivity on the day, as these qualities are pretty inherent to all of the artforms the Festival is platforming; and generally an appreciation of sharing different cultures and the diversity that makes Glasgow and Scotland such a great place to be.

The Sufi Festival takes place 28 July 2019 in Glasgow. Find out more at sufifestival.org.

This article was published on 05 Jul 2019