Art and Soul

an altogether eclectic collection

Feature by Yasmin Ali | 10 Feb 2007

From 7 February to 11 March, Edinburgh hosts the fourth International Festival of Middle Eastern Spirituality and Peace. As in recent years, this celebration marks the convergence of events centred on arts, culture, education and audience participation, all underpinned by common themes of spirituality and peace within a shared ethos of openness and diversity.

Among the main festival organisers is the Edinburgh International Centre for World Spiritualities, working in close partnership with allied organisations. The event has been made open to all principal faith and spiritual traditions in Scotland. EICWS holds among its principles that the event is non-political in standpoint, and takes no fixed position on any political, ethical or cultural question or commentary. This is designed to discern a range of opinions between cultural and ethnic traditions and also within each separate tradition.

Such an ethos avoids the simplistic, schismatic and stereotypical representation of spiritual oppositions, and vouches for understanding and diversity. In an age where religious and cultural intolerance and misinformation go hand-in-hand, this forum provided by MESP is important work.

The festival kicks off with six special screenings of a range of Middle Eastern films at the Edinburgh Playhouse. The programme boasts over 120 scheduled events, many of which are free, and nearly all of those ticketed include concessionary prices. There are a number of lunchtime lectures and weekend events, as well as events scheduled in the evenings across the four weeks. The Festival has secured top venues for its keynote speakers and concert highlights, and a number of smaller, intimate venues for daytime and community events.

Guest speakers this year include renowned humanitarians, clerics and academics. The special guest is Jean Vanier, noted for founding groundbreaking humanitarian community-based care organisation L'Arche. Part of a special five-day visit, his talk for the 2007 Middle East Festival Lecture, at the Usher Hall on 1 March, will illuminate his work.

As well as its formal headline talks and lectures, the festival also runs educational presentations in informal formats, such as its range of workshops. Catering for a multitude of interests, these are available in subjects as varied as Art, Middle Eastern Cookery, Language, Listening skills and Arabic music. Some even carry CPD accreditation such as the Art Therapy workshop The Creative Spirit.

Music, naturally, plays a major part in the festivities, and events in which it features will be those in which the festival can shed its more serious side. Among these are organised evening meals and opening parties and concerts to look forward to. The annual One World Peace Concert (Queen's Hall 10 Feb) is one for the diary, as is the Arabian Night Celebration (24 Feb). The many and varied concerts bring a chance to sample sounds that are unique to the Middle East such as the qanan, a complex and beautiful Arabic instrument played expertly by Abdullah Chhadeh (13 Feb), or the sounds of Beth Bahia Cohen (25, 26 Feb) whose work comprises her wide-ranging knowledge of World Music and far-flung indigenous instruments.

Like any of its events, the Festival of Middle Eastern Spirituality and Peace promises to be an altogether eclectic collection to educate, entertain and inspire. Brochures available online.
Runs 7 Feb - 11 March 2007.,