Thursday, May 5

Friendship Fest

This weekend in the ancient North African city of Marrakech, an historic gathering is taking place between Christians and Muslims. At the invitation of both the King and the Prime Minister of Morocco, several contemporary Christian musicians from United States will be performing on the same stage with indigenous North African bands in a collective celebration of peace, friendship, and hope.This outdoor Friendship Fest will be held adjacent to the beautiful gardens along the old walls of Marrakech, the cultural capital of the Kingdom of Morocco. It really is a storybook setting--even as the guidebooks assert, "an enchanting rose-stuccoed city set amidst extensive palm groves and desert landscapes." The magnificent backdrop of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains will no doubt provide a breathtaking setting for three days of great music and colorful activities. But they will also provide no little sense of historical irony--and opportunity.

Located in Northwest Africa just across the strait of Gibraltar from Spain, Morocco has long been a battlefield where the forces of East and West, Christians and Muslims have fought. Once the heart of Christendom it was brutally conquered by the marauding armies of the Caliphs in the eighth century. It was then whipped by the scourges of war again and again as European armies attempted to recover the land and its rich inheritance of spiritual vitality. The famous cities of Casablanca, Tangiers, Fes, and Marrakech have been at the center of a millennia-long struggle—and have variously been controlled by the Arabs and the Berbers, by the Spanish and the Portuguese, by the French and the British, by the Germans and the Italians again and again and again throughout history.

More recently, Morocco was found to be the most democratic Arab nation in a recent study by Economist magazine. Interestingly, Morocco was the first country to recognize the newly-independent United States and it has the longest unbroken Treaty of Friendship with Washington, dating to 1786—some three years before our current constitution was ratified. In addition, the United States recently designated Morocco a “major non-NATO ally” in appreciation for the King’s support for the global war on terror. As a result, a free-trade agreement has been signed between the two nations.

This weekend as musicians like Phil Keaggy, Jeremy Camp, Joy Williams, the Newsboys, and Out of Eden share the stage with popular Middle Eastern and North African musicians, it is hoped that the universal language of music will begin the process of bridging cultures and initiate dialog—ultimately confronting the stereotypes on both sides that lead to extremist rhetoric. The aim is that by loving our global neighbors as ourselves, Christians can go a long way this weekend toward opening up the world for the uncompromised message of the Gospel to go forth in peace, friendship, and gracious humility.