Sometimes it becomes so that we find ourselves swept away by the tempest of life.
Burdens of responsibilities turn the days into blurs and nights into blocks of amnesia. We sense the neglect of our hearts and minds yet we can’t remedy it. There is simply no time to stop.
For me, the spring of 2016 was something like this. I was juggling a full time teaching job with the final semesters of a Masters degree. What little free time I had was spent researching, applying to, and interviewing for schools in the Middle East. And I was battling with my immune system: falling prey to chest infections over and over.
Exhausted, brain-dead and nowhere near the finish line, I almost cancelled my trip to the Beacon of Hope retreat (organised by Greengate Trust). What on earth was I thinking, going to a retreat five days before my dissertation deadline? It would’ve been so convenient to stay at home and make those final days count.
But I didn’t cancel. In fact, the retreat was the best thing I’ve done all summer.
There were fiqh and daf classes, informal Q&A’s with teachers, talks delivered by amazing Ustadas, and so much more. Activities such as canoeing, archery, high ropes, and rock climbing were invigorating! There was definitely no shortage of things to do but I want to share the moments that touched my heart, the ones I will forever carry with me.
Ustada Iffet (Dust to Diamonds) taught us all a valuable lesson, which I believe every single Muslim should aspire to implement in their lives.
Ustada told us that if we were being mean, rude and inconsiderate towards other sisters we would never, ever benefit from the knowledge and blessings of gatherings. We should consider that every sister in the room is better than us. The sisters sitting to our left, to our right, in front and behind, are ALL closer to Allah (swt) than us. It is with this humility and God-consciousness that we should treat others.
This reminder is appropriate for us all. Today’s materialistic society moulds us to be competitive, encourages us to judge others, it makes selfless acts seem like losses and personal victories like profit. But in Islam, akhlaq is extremely important and our Prophet (s.a.w) was the best example of good character. The Ustada’s wise words created a beautiful bond of selfless sisterhood.
Ustada Iffet’s lectures were about Great Sufi Women and she began with the story of Princess Jahanara.
Despite being a very wealthy Mughal Princess, Princess Jahanara was unfazed by wordly glitz and was a devout Muslim. She was a poet, a writer, an architect, an avid gardener (she designed Chandni Chowk), and she was a keen politician in her father Shah Jahan’s court. How many modern Muslims can we think of with a similarly extensive list of professions? Not many right?
Unfortunately, we box ourselves in and hone a single set of specialised skills for the rest of our lives. We work 9 to 5, we accumulate ‘things’ and it’s viewed as an achievement. We stop daydreaming of what we will be when we ‘grow up’. We sacrifice the eclectic range of hobbies and dreams we used to have in favour of one career path.
Imagine what a different Ummah we’d have if we constantly tried to better ourselves. Imagine if we too aspired to be like those early Muslims who were scholars, mathematicians, philosophers, poets, politicians – all rolled into one person.
Ustada emphasised how more Muslimahs should follow in Princess Jahanara’s footsteps, and in a world where literature is increasingly influencing popular culture we desperately need more Muslim writers. This gentle reminder from Ustada is exactly the reason I have upped my game with my blog. What is the point of someone like me – a teacher, an academic, an aspiring writer – completing a Masters in Literature and Creative Writing, and theorising issues affecting Muslims if no-one outside of academic circles reads or benefits from it?
It was fate:
Through out the summer I whinged on and on to my husband about how I missed the creative buzz of university workshops and the valuable input of my classmates. All this independent study was making me lose vision and purpose.
But Allah (swt) planned it so that at the retreat I met Guilia (a Phd student) who was conducting anthropological research into Somali communities. We had a great discussion about our respective research.
As everyone knew I was that ‘crazy one’ attempting to complete her dissertation at a retreat, I was able to have similar conversations with a range of sisters. My dissertation was about more than just the Oldham riots, it explored gender inequality, caste system, Islamophobia, honour killings and forced marriage. Therefore everyone had something to say about it.
I finally got what I had complained about all summer: a platform to workshop ideas. When I returned home, I completed the assignment within 24 hours and that too with no sleep! Alhamdullilah!
I met children, students, professionals, academics, mothers, grandmothers – the retreat bought together women from all over the country. Like everyone else, I left Wales with many regrets. Regrets of not getting to know every sister personally and regret that the beautiful time we spent together was over.
Right now, I am living in a different corner of the world but the memories live on. The retreat was definitely a beacon of hope for me, sent at a time when I was positively losing my mind! It was exactly what I needed and in sha Allah it was the first of many more to come.