Festival 2013

Love’s Eternal Melody

IAS Songs of the Soul Poetry and Sacred Music Festival

March 2013, San Rafael, California

In March 2013, the International Association of Sufism hosted the second annual Song of the Soul Poetry and Sacred Music Festival in San Rafael, California.  Participants, including Sufis from many orders and seekers from diverse faith traditions and countries, came together over three days to be inspired and to continue to work toward mutual understanding and global peace through poetry, music and presentations.

The Festival is an outgrowth of 18 years of symposia that IAS has sponsored across the United States and in several countries in Europe and Asia.  These annual gatherings have been inspired and guided by Sufi Masters Seyyedeh Nahid Angha, Ph.D. and Shah Nazar Seyyed Ali Kianfar, Ph.D.  “Songs of the Soul” is establishing itself as one of the premier annual gatherings for local and international artists, musicians, poets and religious scholars, and includes participants from multiple generations.

Festival 3 redo

IAS co-Founder and distinguished guest speaker, Dr. Angha, opened the 2013 Festival to a packed Concert Ballroom:

“This is a weekend that promises to mesmerize us with the beauty of poetry and sacred music from many traditions.  Let us enter this splendid world of imagination, away from the business of everyday living, where the language of poetry and music will take us to the distant time…

In the words of Omar Khayyam, 11th century Sufi poet: ‘Let us celebrate this Spring in the air and the nightingale songs for the yellow rose and the morning dew that rests gracefully upon that tiny grass leaf reflecting the rays of the sun. Truly into ecstasy the world has fallen deeply. Every living heart brings feasting to the garden. Hands of Moses, light of every branch, breath of Jesus blows in every breeze’…

Sufi poets have offered a mesmerizing poetic language to the nations where every manifestation is an expression of divine beauty…In the words of the Sufi poet, Rumi:

            ‘Listen to the longing of the reed,

            To melodies of plaintive separations.

            A listener I need, one with the broken heart,

            To whom I shall sing my songs.’”

Dr. Kianfar inspired longing and imagination through his talk on Love and Wisdom:

When we look inside of our system, every part of our system has the same center.  All these magnetic centers are working together and are in charge of for communication, for living, for continuation.  If you try very, very hard with very strong logic, you cannot divide the universe; it’s just wasting time. All is united; all is divine, not differences. 

The only point in this moment which is necessary for us to remember, and to appreciate, is that we can stand, we can sit, we can walk, we can remember all these beauties, all this majesty.  We cannot underestimate this power which has been granted to human being as a gift.  That’s the recommendation of the Holy Prophet: ‘Think deeply about the creation of the skies, earth, everything.’

Actually, when we look carefully, we don’t have enough time, we don’t have enough time to think about all this majesty.  So what we can do?  How we can save our time, and to find and enjoy the majesty?  Instead of being distracted, be focused.  Meditate.  Return. 

For study, for education, we don’t need any book.  We have it.  Everything is available.  Look at nature:  It’s all pages of the whole book, and each page of the book is a book also.  It’s amazing majesty – that’s why we expect a Sufi [to be] astonished.  So, in this case, we find a new definition for thinking.  Is thinking really the activity of the mind?

Thinking is the result of the pure mirror.  That means remove all the dots from the face of your heart – that’s thinking, and you will find it.  When the heart becomes pure, and purely reflects the majesty, that is Wisdom.  Wisdom and Love cannot be separated; they walk hand in hand. 

The Reverend Canon Charles Gibbs, founding Executive Dir. of the United Religions Initiative, Episcopal priest, visionary and poet, shared a few “poems from the heart.”  In poetic verse, he offered:

            I’ve only ever wanted my life to be a prayer

            What matters most to me is to

            Make each breath a prayer

            The event of a lifetime

            Filled with gratitude wonder

            Complete surrender

            The mystery is there

             In each moment

            If only we will be

            Still enough

            For long enough

            To be filled with wonder and

            Endlessly grateful.

Many experiences of sacred music filled the ballroom at the FestivalThe Yuval Ron Ensemble, dedicated to creating musical faith bridges, performed sacred instrumentals and vocals along with whirling dervish, Aziz.  The inspired combination of spiritual stories and music moved the audience to laughter, applause, and appreciation with spirituality as the common root.  Albert Tenaya, a descendent of Yosemite Valley’s Chief Tenaya, introduced the balance and wisdom of the Native American culture through steady rhythms and melodies intimately connected with the world of Nature.

Sonia Gilbert, president of the Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship and Mosque in Philadelphia, presented light on the “Resonance of Allah,” a book spoken and sung by her teacher, Bawa Muhaiyaddeen.  Reflecting on the origin of music, she said: “It begins with resonance.  A subtle and a wonderful resonance that goes throughout the universes and never stops.  It is always there, but is very refined.  In order to find it one has to be become very quiet.  It is a worthwhile endeavor to try to find it.”

Dr. Nevit Ergin shared Rumi selections from Sayings of the Saints:

Step on the road that has no end to it

            Watching from the distance is not for a man

            Start the journey by the strength of the heart

            Body strength is for animals

            Hear this if you can

            One has to go beyond himself to reach him

            Be silent

            When you arrive at the world of absence, don’t talk

            Ecstasy is the language there, not words”

Aswat Bay Area Arabic Ensemble brought the rich heritage of Arabic music to life which included the Youth Ensemble, the Women’s Ensemble and the Sacred Music Ensemble.  Filling the stage with twenty vocal and instrumental participants, they enchanted the Festival audience with renditions of Sufi and Islamic song.  Words of Muslim saint and Sufi mystic Rabi’ah al-‘Adawiyah and Turkish Sufi mystic Yunus Emre were set to music and played on instruments including the traditional oud, nay and tanbur.

John Fox, poetry therapist, illuminated the audience with a presentation on “Poetry: Healer and Awakener.”   John inspires a creative voice as a means to achieve healing and awareness.  He reminded all gathered, “Curiosity involves at its roots a respect and savoring and that is the core of my work…Remembering and becoming sensitive to the self-rooted voice.”  Other sacred whisperings from John:

            If you praise a word it turns into a poem

            Praise to thunder that warns me of lightning

            Praise to my name without which I’d be no one

            Praise to this poem for letting me write.

            Praise to the world that touches me back.

Salma Arastu, internationally renowned artist “blessed with a fluent and lyrical visual language” introduced her work with focus on expressing “joy in the universal spirit that unites humanity.”  She shared her mesmerizing artwork translating Rumi poetry into multimedia paintings.  The paintings were compiled into a limited edition book that Ms. Arastu passionately shared with the crowd.

Emeryville Taiko drummed with the audience, enlivening the crowd with their energy and invitation for participation.  Taiko drumming, with origins in the religious ceremonies and folk festivals of Japan, is a visual as well as auditory experience.  Artistic Director and Sensei Susan Horn introduced and explained the pieces they performed. Several audience members joined the performers on stage for a lesson in drumming. The room was filled with sound and vibration, and the audience members proved themselves quite adept at these large drums!


The second annual IAS Songs of the Soul Festival welcomed the first poetry slam collective, Avay-i-Janaan.   Alive and unstoppable, the collective magnetized the audience, prompting all gathered to experience Avay-i-Janaan, echoes of the unseen, ‘live’ by looking for the path within themselves in each moment.  Through a fusion of poetry, hip hop, mixed-media, and song, Dedan Gills, Craig Laupheimer, Richard Wormstall, Wendy Campbell and setar player Noushin Toghyan invited listeners to seek their own origin through the light of inner awareness and stillness of inner peace.

Avay-i-Janaan Collective

Dedan Gills, a celebrated local poet, began with his poem “Soul Book,” echoing Sufi teachings in its reminder to seek within for answers.  A sampling of lines:

           I have a recommendation for a great book I would love you to read.

            within its pages is everything that you will ever need.

            You can’t find it on Amazon or the library shelf,

            It can only be read by you, yourself.

            It is written across the cosmos and sparkles in the black vastness of the starlit skies.

            Its pages even twinkle in the magic of an infant’s eyes

            It is an audio book but it speaks in silence and has no words,

            yet it has more wisdom than that which is ever, ever heard…

            Its pages will come and its pages will go,

            they are written uniquely

            for only you to know…

            It is more rare than diamonds and more precious than gold…

            Oh, did I forget to mention?

            The name of the book is

            Your Own Soul!

Wendy Campbell emerged from the audience to share “Soul Capsules” and invite wonder:

           In this ancient magic realm

            in this cosmic now

            we are each a soul capsule

            encased  in something precious

            something primordial…

            my center is molten

            I am facing you with

            wonder in this spinning

            dance attuning myself

            to your generous brilliant warmth…

            everything is possible

            everything’s enchanted

            my core is ignited

            my soul’s heart is yours.

The theme of the 2013 Festival’s poetry contest was Love’s Eternal Melody.

The winners for this year’s contest were as follows:

  • First Place Winner:  Genesis, by John Mizelle
  • Second Place Winner:  Pursuit of the Divine Lover, Mary Ann Eiler
  • Third Place Winner:  Hum, by Andrea Freeman
  • Honorable Mention:  Awakening, by Louise Kantro
  • Honorable Mention:  Gently From Your Core, by Tony Roffers

As the achievements of the above poets were celebrated, the audience was reminded that the invitation to submit original works of poetry and perhaps eventually be announced as next year’s winners would begin in the Fall 2013.

The 2013 Songs of the Soul closed with Sufi zekr led by Pir Shabda Khan, Taneen Sufi Music Ensemble and other musicians.  Participants chanted and moved together, demonstrating and experiencing La ilaha illa Allah: There is no reality but the one reality (God).

For further information, including bios and details about all featured presenters, poets, musicians and artists, and future events see www.ias.org.

IAS extends deep gratitude to all participants in this year’s Songs of the Soul Festival.







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