Christian worshippers at this year's Greenbelt Festival will have the opportunity to learn Islamic worship chants – thanks to an organisation which says its primary aim is to 'guide seekers of Allah'.
The Ansari Qadiri Rifai Tariqa – which describes itself as 'an international non-profit spiritual organization... in service to the Divine' – will be teaching 'basic universal Sufi chants' which it says 'are rhythmic, healing and a unique form of worship' according to the Greenbelt website. Festival-goers are invited to 'come, enter in, learn and participate'. The invitation continues: 'Here is healing'.
The Ansari UK website says its mission is to promote Sufism which is 'founded on the Holy Quran, the Holy Scriptures and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad and other Prophets (peace be upon them)'. And on the Greenbelt website the organisation says its 'primary mission' is 'to be available to guide seekers of Allah'.
Other Muslim contributors are also featuring at the festival. One is Ahmad Ikhlas, a British born Jamaican convert to Islam, who according to the Greenbelt website 'has used his heritage and love for the Prophet (pbuh) to generate an expressive unique style of music and poetry'.
Another is Abdalhamid Evans, a British Muslim convert, who will be participating in a discussion entitled 'Scriptural Reasoning Remixed' which is described as a 'a fun and thoughtful conversation around the music and lyrics that move us as spiritual people'.
The Greenbelt website reveals it has 'received funding from Amal' – a project aimed at promoting a diversity of Islamic cultures and arts – 'to produce a brand new venue and programme at Greenbelt this summer, showcasing Muslim art, culture, thought and spirituality'.
Explaining the vision for the new initiative, Greenbelt's Creative Director, Paul Northup, told Christian Today: 'Being able to introduce this new venue and programme feeds into Greenbelt's commitment to help build better religious literacy, and is a continuation of Greenbelt's programming about the Muslim faith at previous festivals. We want to play our part in dismantling the extremist stereotyping and narrative the Muslim faith and community have laboured under, and to provide a space of welcome and conversation.
He added: 'In a world that can even entertain the idea of a Muslim travel ban – freedom of movement being curtailed based on religious identity – and where identity politics more generally seem to trump all, it's important for us to make room to bring people of different faiths and understandings together and to respectfully allow them to demonstrate how they worship.
'It is because we are Christian that we do this. Not because we want to dilute or deny our faith. It's because we want to be true to our faith and to continue to live and express it dynamically, creatively and generously. In a world which seems ever-more divided, then we want to build bridges not barriers.'
Writing on the Greenbelt website, Northup stresses the festival's Christian basis: 'While we have the chance to experience more deeply and richly what artistry, thinking and spirituality flourishes within a progressive Islamic cultural context... we will also have the chance to remember ... our own Christian heritage and worldview; and Greenbelt's role as a distinctively Christian festival with a distinctively integrated view of life, faith and culture.'
This aspect will be highlighted during the inaugural John Peck Memorial Lecture at Greenbelt. John Peck was a Baptist minister and theologian who died last year and who played a pivotal role in developing Greenbelt's spiritual ethos. Former Greenbelt trustee Steve Shaw will seek to introduce John Peck's 'founding theological vision to a new festival audience of Greenbelters'.
Northup concludes: 'Amal at Greenbelt is just another step in our long journey to model inclusivity and engagement. To listen to and to learn from different religions, cultures and philosophies... For me, it's this open-mindedness that characterises Greenbelt at its best. It is also what is most distinctively Christian about the festival.'
Greenbelt is a festival attended by many thousands of people which began in 1974. It takes place over the August Bank Holiday weekend at the Boughton Estate in Northamptonshire.