International Sufi Symposium
The Need for Sufism in a New Century -
An Old Tradition for a New World
6th and 7th May 2000
We gathered together because we had been called to gather.
From across the country people came to the first Australian
Sufi Conference. Many came as strangers and all left as friends,
brothers and sisters embraced in a spirit of love and the
beauty of unity. The crowd reflected a rich tapestry of faces,
religions and beliefs. For the first time we were all gathered
together in this meeting of the heart. This blessed event
brought together a diverse group, many with only one thing
in common, they were all seekers. Over two days we were given
Sheikh Ahmad Tijani
The call to prayer sung by Sheikh Tijani heralded the beginning
of the inaugural Australian Sufi Conference. Already something
special had occurred. In this brief moment we were held together
in the hands of God and the true spirit of the conference
had begun. The beat of a drum by the conference moderator
James Harvey invited us to listen with our hearts synchronised
to the rhythm. Listen with your hearts.
"Where ever we are gathered in the name
of Allah (swt)
that place would be a holy place."
Fleur Nassery Bonnin
Next Fleur Nassery Bonnin the Founder and Director of the
Australian Centre for Sufism and Irfanic Studies spoke on
"Setting the Tone". She explained "that where
ever we are gathered in the name of Allah (swt) that place
would be a holy place." She said, "We have two centres
for learning, the heart and the mind. You can not hear God
with your mind, only with your heart. We have no power in
opening up our heart, only God has that power, but we do have
the power to give up our attachment to our mind and personality."
She drew this parallel to illustrate "We have two centres
for breathing the nose and the mouth, in the same way if we
close our nose the mouth will open to do the breathing."
Dr Ali Kianfar
This was followed by Dr Ali Kianfar, co founder of The International Association of Sufism based in San Francisco. He spoke on "Self and Discovery". He said "There is a saying amongst Sufis, that always there is a question, but we have to look for a Quest. A Quest raised from the heart. So we all have a Quest, but we get the answer according to our question".
We then were treated to a taste of Sheikh Tijani, who unfortunately
had not been able to join us in person because of last minute
illness, but he was there in spirit and in our hearts.
We broke for prayer and Muslims and Christians alike in a beautiful spirit of unity prayed together in their own fashion.
Sufi Music and Poetry
After lunch we gathered again to the evocative sounds of
the Persian Sufi Musicians playing Daf, Ney and Setar accompanying
readings from Moulana Rumi's Mathnawi recited by Adrian Rawlins.
"A celebration of creation and ascent to the Divine "
This was followed by Sheikh Abdul Aziz who explained "The
Living Tradition of Mevlana Jalal Al-Din Rumi and the Whirling
Dervishes" to prepare every one for the forthcoming performance.
The development of the Sema by Moulana Rumi was explained
as "The outpouring of his worship and love for God expressed
through the unique whirl of ecstasy of his heart and was then
formalised into the Sema, a celebration of the human soul's
participation in the dance of creation and ascent of the Divine.
In the afternoon the Interfaith Panel consisting of Michael Horsburgh speaking on "The Search for an Inner Life: A Christian Perspective", Bhante Tejadhammo Bhikkhu speaking on "Mistaking Reality: Seizing Suffering in Unreality" and Sheikh Mansour Leghaei speaking on "Spirituality of Islamic Daily Prayers". The speakers reflected on the true spirit of unity, humility and love and, as one attendee beautifully expressed it, "represented three different sign posts to the one Reality".
After breaking for Prayer and meditation we concluded in the evening with a performance of Sema by the Whirling Dervishes of the Mevlevi Order. The performance was felt by many in their hearts, and seemed to nurture the rest of the conference.
"Ultimately, for those who are prepared
to pay the price,
it can lead to that ' light that is neither of the east nor
the west'. "
Dr Harry Oldmeadow
Sunday commenced with Dr Harry Oldmeadow of La Trobe University
giving a moving and evocative talk on "The Role of Mystical
traditions in a Contemporary World ". He concluded "For
those who see religions and the mystical traditions at their
heart, as something infinitely more than mere 'cultural phenomena',
who believe them to be the vehicles of the most profound and
precious truths to which we cannot and must not immunise ourselves,
who wish to do justice to both the external forms and the
inner meanings of religion, who cleave to their own tradition
but who wish to recognise all integral religions as pathways
to God, a proper understanding of mystical traditions, within
their own religious frameworks, can open up whole new vistas.
Ultimately, for those who are prepared to pay the price, it
can lead to that ' light that is neither of the east nor the
With the stage set for a beautiful day we then enjoyed the
poetry of Hafez and Moulana Rumi, read by Adrian Rawlins.
Murshid Ali ElSenossi, gave a humble and enlightening talk
on "The Art of Spiritualising our Daily Activities".
He said, "Unless we can take something from the conference
which we can implement in our daily lives then what have we
really learnt". He spoke in detail on spiritualising
the most fundamental activities such as eating, ablution and
After prayer and lunch Rabia (Annalisa Orselli-Dickson) gave
a heart rendered and experiential visual poetry demonstration.
Combining her own poetry and Moulana Rumi's with images and
zikr she took us on a moving journey of her path to Allah
The Sufism and psychology panel followed this with Terence McBride exploring the Jungian perspective and Fleur Nassery Bonnin the role of Sufism and psychology. Then in a powerful and courageous moment Fleur shared with us through her own example the truth and beauty of God's signs for those who have the ears to hear. She demonstrated in that moment the power of the truth on the path, that God is all we need - our beginning and our end and in between our daily quest.
The afternoon brought more Persian Sufi music and poetry.
With three musicians spanning three generations and a bilingual
presentation of Moulana Rumi's poetry in Persian and English
by Omid Honari.
Our final speaker was Dr Kianfar who spoke first on what
Sufism is. In this eloquent presentation he used stories,
knowledge and heart to illuminate the Sufi path. He said "Return
to your heart. That is your mosque. That is your khaniqah.
That is your place. That is your Kabba. The centre of understanding,
the centre of realisation is the heart". He also encouraged
unity and tolerance from Muslims in the west saying "We
should not scare people about Islam, and we do scare people.
The media and our enemies do enough to scare people from Islam,
we should not add to this fear. I live in America, and I should
respect this. Only in America am I free to speak, I cannot
do that in my own country which is Islamic. In my own country
there are sayings of the Holy Prophet (saw)
which I cannot repeat. In my country I cannot invite the people
and tell them to trust their own hearts, but I can say this
in America. This is freedom! This is a blessing! We (Muslims)
should try to introduce people to the real Islam. Islam is
a technique of being, not just a way of talking. The knowledge
of the heart, this is Islam. As Seyyedena Ali (as)
said "Knowledge is the light which Allah (swt) puts in
your heart". Islam is to submit to the Reality, to the
essence of ourselves. Our essence is light. We are all the
children of Allah (swt), how can we hate each other."
He followed this by talking on " Meditation and the Power
of Zikr". At the conclusion the chairs were moved away,
a circle was formed and Dr Kianfar led us all in the Zikr.
When the Zikr and the conference was over no one wanted to
leave, they lingered and cried and embraced. They moved around
with a sense of urgency to thank each other in a genuine,
heart moved way. And whether their words were "Al-Hamdu
lillah" or "God be praised", there was only
one True convenor and gatherer, only one who had planned and
fashioned this bringing together of strangers, who had united,
taught and touched us at this first Australian Sufi Conference.
Shokran Allah (swt).