Sufism Symposium seeks harmony with all religions

Joy Carey used to shake her head at her grandmother.

The psychologist from Redmond had tremendous respect for her "nanny," but she just couldn't understand her gloomy way of thinking at times.

"She used to always say, 'We'll see you next week, God willing,' " Carey recalls. "And I used to think she was so pessimistic. But since Sept. 11, I think we all might see that phrase in a different way."

Seeing things in a different way is one goal, Carey says, of this weekend's ninth annual Sufism Symposium, an international event held this year at the DoubleTree Hotel Bellevue.

Event organizers expect more than 700 Sufis from around the world to attend the event. It began yesterday and concludes Monday afternoon.

Sufism is a mystical path of Islam that includes deep inner exploration to find God. Following the Quran and Islamic faith, some Sufis say they pray five times a day, if not more.


The Sufism Symposium continues today through Monday at the DoubleTree Hotel Bellevue, 300 112th Ave. S.E. The conference is open to people of any faith, and admission prices are $70, $120 and $140 for one, two or three days, respectively. For schedule information, go to
Ali Kianfar, co-founder of the International Association of Sufism, says Sufis take their worship very seriously, though they don't feel obligated to pray in a mosque. He said his mosque can be his home, his workplace, or any other place because God is everywhere.

JoAnn Haymaker, spokeswoman for the association, said it's difficult to determine the number of Sufis in the world. There are an estimated 1 billion Muslims worldwide, and the association estimates 20 percent of those are Sufis.

Sufis express a constant remembrance of God in an effort to find peace within themselves so they can spread harmony around them.

This year, with unrest spanning the globe, many believe harmony is especially important. The symposium's theme is "Practicing Harmony."

Celebrating differences among all religions and among Sufis themselves, the meeting is the only known gathering of the world's Sufi orders, Haymaker said.

A panel discussion about religious tolerance at 2 p.m. today will specifically look at transcending the boundaries of religious denominations to achieve peace. For Carey and other Sufis, it's the type of discussion the world needs now as much as ever.

"The goal is to work on developing strong and good character, so by God's grace we can try to not react from an ego point of view, but to be peaceful," Carey said.

"It's a practice to try to discover the truths behind all the religions and that behind them all, there is a call to be good people, to be loving and compassionate."

The discussion will be led by a four-person panel: Kianfar, the association's co-founder; Rabbi Ted Falcon of Seattle's Bet Alef Meditational Synagogue; the Rev. Rodney Romney, a retired minister of Seattle First Baptist Church; and Alexandra Kovatz, a Seattle University professor and Roman Catholic Sister of St. Joseph of Peace.

It's not the first time Kovatz has worked with people of other religions. She said she has spoken on occasion about overcoming religious differences, and she specializes in what is called ecological spirituality.

"It's basically recognizing that our spirituality must be about all our relationships," Kovatz said of ecology spirituality. "Not just to the divine, but to incorporate the rest of creation, as well."

The symposium began yesterday with an Islamic Arts workshop. Participants explored patterns of artwork from around the world, especially that of Islamic design. An interfaith celebration, "Music of the Soul," took place last night at Meydenbauer Center.

For Kianfar, the symposium is an opportunity to learn how other Sufis find God within themselves and to learn about people in other parts of the world.

"We have a different image of people outside of the United States," Kianfar said. "We don't actually know what they are thinking and who they are. And those outside of the United States, they have different ideas about Americans."

Brian Moore can be reached at 206-464-2145 or