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Spiritual Festival Promotes Unity

Seidel's group, Beloved, performed Friday at the Hanes Art Center auditorium as part of the four-day festival, which aimed to unite people of different religions. The fourth annual festival, which started Wednesday night and ended Saturday night, included camp outs, spiritual discourses, workshops and musical performances in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area.

Seidel said his group's music fit in well with one of the festival's aims -- promoting cultural unity through music. "We've got elements of north Indian classical music and American contemporary music and Central Asian music," he said. "And we try to blend these things together."

Sufism, the spiritual basis of the festival, seeks to promote harmony among people of different religious and ethnic backgrounds. Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi -- the festival's namesake -- founded Sufism in the 13th century.

Although many of the festival's attendees follow the Sufi practice, which they say teaches love, compassion and oneness of religions, non-Sufis participated as well. "It's a celebration of (Rumi's) teachings and his living of those teachings," said Laura Thiel, festival co-chairwoman. "There are people from all walks of life. You can't even imagine what a broad spectrum it is."

This festival is considered one of the central events in American Sufism, bringing participants from all over the country. "I live in New Hampshire ... so we had a 15-hour drive," Seidel said.

Although the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks had no direct bearing on the event, organizers said they emphasized the need for the festival and its message.

"We thought it was even more important to have it because it was a time of great pain, sorrow," said house manager Rodrigo Dorfman.

During the day, all events were held at The Lighthouse, a camp 11 miles west of Chapel Hill. Participants then caravaned into Carrboro or Chapel Hill for the night events.

Wednesday night, attendees gathered at the ArtsCenter in Carrboro for prayers, poetry, music and spiritual discussion. "The focus on (Wednesday's events) is more the gathering," Thiel said. "And the celebrating is celebrating of the preciousness of life."

The festival also included musical performances at the Hanes Art Center auditorium Friday. A religious ceremony, called Zikir, also was held on Thursday night at The Lighthouse and Saturday night at the Carrboro Century Center. "Zikir is sort of like a religious ceremony where we dance and we sing and we praise the divine creator," Dorfman said.

Participants said the festival succeeded in bringing people of diverse backgrounds together for an extended weekend. Lewis said, "I think the underlying message of it all is very good, and it seems to speak beyond religious barriers, which is really good right now considering what's going on in the world."

The City Editor can be reached at citydesk@unc.edu.

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