Fes festival of sacred music
Under the motto "Essence of Time, Spirit of place" the 13th Fes Festival of Sacred Music has just drawn to a close, featuring a whole range of spiritual musical performance from the Whirling Dervishes to Sephardic Songs of Spain, from Pakistani Quawwalis to Gospel singers from London. For a week the medieval old town of Fes was alive with an afternoon concert at the Batha Museum and an outdoor evening concert at the splendid Bab Makina palace courtyard every day, plus free taster sessions for the general public by the same artists, and the attendants were as varied as the performers. The musical programme was complemented with lectures about contemporary issues. Without presumption, the city of Fes, the ancient spiritual capital of Morocco, taught the world a lesson about the truth of Islam, available to anyone willing to listen or see.
There are those who claim that music has no place in Islam. There are others who want to make us believe that giving the devotional expression of religions other than Islam a platform somehow diminishes Islam. The truth is that fanaticism is a sign of repressed doubt and that true Islam is grounded strongly enough in its own tradition in order to be tolerant to the traditions of others. Only when Islam is a mere theory in the heads of holier-than-thou hotheads with little knowledge and totally divorced from the culture of its people will it feel threatened. Only when the deeper meaning of Islam enters the hearts of people and finds expression in their literature, poetry, music and general culture will it survice and leave a lasting legacy.
In Fes, a new town has sprung up alongside the old Medina, and it has recently been transformed by the creation of palm tree boulevards with water fountains and gardens into a location rivalling California for sheer beauty. But the attraction of modern Fes lies not in its latest development projects. It is found in the absence of bigotry. In the modern Morocco under the rule of the new King Mohammed VI modernisation is not at logger-heads with tradition but both are at ease with each other. Without wanting to gloss over problems the Moroccon society, like any other, has, the acceptance of change without abandoning roots is an important accomplishment. Morocco's King was certainly right when he pointed out in his speech opening the festival season that without the modern the sacred would wither and without the sacred modernity would be soul-less. A brief look around the Muslim world as well as the Western world throws up endless examples of both unfortunate situations.
In the interest of the greater good and to saveguard humanity Muslims need to re-establish their role of leading a spiritual revival, and this can never be accomplished by petty-minded dogma. The only way to invite others to cherish what Islam has to offer is by welcoming them. A visit to Fes airport at the start and the end of the festival could have proved the point. Tourists arrived inappropriately dressed for a Muslim country in revealing Western attire and departed adorned with henna, long robes and scarves around their necks. Something of the spirit of the place had most certainly rubbed off on them and maybe, for a while, they tasted the essence of time.