26 years ago I embarked upon a journey to bring together the hearts and minds of this turbulent region.

The driving force behind this endeavour was LOVE.

Love for the people living in the neighbouring countries ! Love for the whole humanity ! Love for the one Infinite Presence merged in the Universe like soft fragrance !

The one who created the Universe in Love !

In 26 years, our organization FOUNDATION OF SAARC WRITERS AND LITERATURE, the SAARC APEX BODY, has organized 39 Conferences and Festivals and Academic Seminars for deep deliberations about what binds us emotionally and culturally : our literature, our music, our beliefs, our myths and legends, our sensitivities and deep mystic beliefs, our poetry and our melodies, the evolution of our ancient knowledge systems, and our deep devotion to the infinite balance in the universe.

Our Conferences of Sufism and Buddhism, of Folklore, of Fiction and Poetry ! And Festivals of Mystic Music and Folk Performances ! Cutting across borders and boundaries.

The current International Conference on Sufism is our 40th mega event.

Our focus has been especially on subjects which bind our region culturally and civilisationally, starting from Central Asia, through Turkey and Middle East, and across South Asia ! Binds us through Love and Compassion, Reconciliation and Understanding, and Respecting the Otherness of the Others.

We found Sufism as the great binding force.

Sufism is a feeling of pure elevation ! Of merging your Self in One Creator, the Omnipresent Being !

Sufism is mystic poetry of love, dialogue and friendship, and respecting the otherness of the others. It conveys the message of pluralistic dialogue, trans-cultural understanding of the myriad ways man has found to reach that inner core of peace which resides within !

The beauty of Sufism, for us in Asia and Middle East in particular, lies in the fact that we can trace in it the Centuries-old philosophy of advaita, the two thousand five hundred years old philosophy of Buddhism, and the beautiful merging of Bhakti Movement and Sufism since the tenth century.

Sufism is a great philosophy of deep, infinite feelings, but it is not a religion. One can be a Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Christian, Jew, yet be a Sufi too, because Sufism is an exalted state of mind where love and peace resound like a soft melody, echoing and re-echoing in the depth of one’s soul, creating a new ideological state of mind overflowing with love !

In this age of rat-race for self gratification, of our thousands of never-appeased hungers for amassing wealth, of being surrounded by beautiful bodies and cars and posh bungalows and land much beyond our need, in the age of globalization and consumerism, the lyricism of Sufism brings us peace, because it takes us across to the nowhere land where peace and love and selflessness reign supreme !

It is only through love that we can reach the heights of self-evolvement and enlightenment. Love with the Creator of this Universe, and with the Universe He has created, and with all the living beings which are ordained to share the bounties of this universe : the planet earth and millions of planets in eternal rotation in infinite void, without any accidents ; the days merging into nights, and nights giving way to glorious, sun-drenched days, in an eternal cycle of merging and re-emerging, like the cycle of Death and Life. And all the living species sharing this planet in an eternal harmony, where even tiny ants and bees and butterflies have their special roles to play, along with giant trees, all the green vegetation, majestic mountains, roaring oceans !

This is the universe we human beings were placed in, to comprehend the meaning of Love and Compassion, not only with other human beings, but with all His Creation too !

That is the only way to unravel the great mystery of Life, and the greatest mystery of that Masterly Magician who created it all, and is keeping all of it in a delicate balance !

We in South Asia, Middle East, Central Asia and Turkey are particularly blessed to know and understand this wonderful mystic experience. The luminescent vision and the sweep of Sufism and Bhakti movements, the two cultural-literary-poetic-mystic streams that taught us the everlasting lesson of tolerance, pluralism, love, compassion and reconciliation. The unique vision, because in these turbulent, war and conflicts-ravaged times, Sufism and Bhakti can act as a palliative to relieve anger, revenge and anguish, and to take us towards peace, reconciliation, understanding, tolerance and the realization of the essential Oneness of Being.

Sufism is a worldview, a refined and perceptive way of looking at things that are often expressed in soul-stirring mystical verse and music. It can also be very, very rational, earthy and this-worldly because all the Sufi and Bhakti poetry is written in the language of common people.

Sufism and Bhakti were two parallel movements which grew and flourished in the sub-continent almost simultaneously, grew out of the native soil, spoke in the mysticism-tinted language of the masses, and gave a healing touch to a turbulent and violence-ridden society. Guru Nanak, Mavlana Jalal-Ud-Din Mohammad Rumi, Sant Kabir and Dadu Dayal, Hazrati Usman Ali Hajvery, popularly known as Data Sahib, and Mian Mir, Sheikh Nooruddin and Lal Ded, Shah Hussain and Sultan Bahu, Bulleh Shah and Sheikh Farid, Lalon Faqeer and Amir Khusro, all of them had the same vision.

For this International Conference on Sufism, we had to investigate across large parts of the world to locate Sufi Scholars, Sufi Poets and Writers, Sufi Musicians, as also practising Sufi Murshids and Dervishes.

While many Sufi events, some fashionably elite and some conveniently localized, have been organized by certain organisations and individuals, they focused exclusively on Sufi music. No one had the vision, the stubborn tenacity, the persistent courage to pursue academic excellence of Sufi Scholars, and to organize a conference of Sufi/Bhakti scholars, practitioners and followers which could take stock of the Sufi-Bhakti heritage and work out its relevance in contemporary times.

The Director of this Conference Prof. Refaqat Ali Khan and its Chief Coordinator Noor Zaheer did an excellent job, and made this International Conference on Sufism, Sufi Traditions, Poetry and Philosophy a well-deserved success.

I am also grateful to the Public Diplomacy Division, Ministry of External Affairs, GOI, the Indian Council For Cultural Relations, Bharat Bhavan and of course my painter daughter Arpana Caur without whose financial and moral support this Conference couldn’t happen. Above all, the participation of all Sufi Scholars and Sufi Performers from India and the neighbouring countries of the SAARC Region, from Middle East, from Central Asia, and Turkey.

In this global effort if we are able to emphasise that Sufism is not a fashionable fad that is periodically resurrected to provide titillation to the rich and the elite, nor is it just a genre of music characterized by its soul-stirring melody and gyrating rhythmic patterns heady enough to enthrall audiences, we will feel that our endeavour has been successful.

Because, in reality, Sufism is much, much more than all this. It is an all-encompassing way of life, a powerful vision, an uplifting experience. It is particularly suited to oriental cultural pattern of South Asia, Middle East, Turkey, and Central Asia where it has grown and spread in its various hues and manifestations. Here, Sufism is an infinite melody which keeps the Universe enthralled ! In a warm embrace ! A celebration of love !

This Conference is an attempt to keep alive the fire of yearning and love that burns deep within human hearts !