Monday, August 18, 2014

al-Maqasid ~ Summer Retreat 2014

I wanted to write this blog post before my Iman (my faith or certainty) totally went back to the lowly state it normally is in. In Ustadha Nagheba's class on al-Ba' iyya (The Counsel of Imam Haddad), she talked about authors who did not just put pen to paper but were breathing out unto the paper. You are not just reading the work of these authors, but their state with Allah (God), you are reading their heart. I wanted you to read my heart when it was at its' purest- hours after the retreat. However, with sleeping 4 hours at the most during a 24 hour period and sometimes as little as 2 hours, I crashed the following days after the retreat. Despite this prolonged writing, I pray that you can still find some benefit, knowing that all good came from Allah, and anything bad is due to my poor state.

Living in Community
My heart was hurting when I first came to the retreat, just as the last retreat: al-Maqasid's Reviving the Remembrance Retreat 2013 and understandably so, but no man can take away your Rizq (sustenance). Allah protects those whom He wills, what is written for you-Allah will provide. And so even though we were assigned to a lonely cabin in the furthest most part of the retreat, I (mistakenly :) was given the perfect cabin which had a "Surf's Up" Beach theme door mat. For those who know how much I love the beach, understand how grateful I felt. . .  and then my neighbors arrived, it was my beloved friend from Trenton makes Nur (Light) whom I affectionately call Auntie. . . and then more wonderful neighbors from New Jersey arrived. I brung an electric tea kettle and my Asian tea set and had our neighbor over for tea. Allah gave me the perfect community living situation, surrounded by people I love. Our cabin was much smaller than the one that was originally assigned to us, but it didn't matter, we are simple people... we made 4 beds work for the 6 of us just fine. Our cabin also had a refrigerator which, Alhumdulilah, was an answer to one of my worries: "how will I store all of Lil A's gluten-free products." We also had a giant closet to store all the gifts we brought and our luggage. This small cabin took care of all needs, so when we have discussions on community living and how much space do we truly need. This is it, all we need is a place for sleeping, storing and taking care of our personal needs. We spent most of our days outside in nature or indoors in the Community Hall that included a Library/Musalla (place for worship, reading, & classes), the Kitchen /Dining Hall, and the Social Hall (sister's exercise, babysitting, etc).

Sample of a Large Community Building in a Co-Housing Community
There are many really good books that talk about community living where the individual houses are small and affordable. Although, the houses are smaller many Co-Housing communities include a large Community (Multipurpose) Building. One that I love is called Pocket Neighborhoods where they explore a few different communities around the nation.

The Large Community Building or Common House in the Co-Housing Plan (below) is surrounded by a Kitchen Garden, Play Areas and a parking lot. The parking lot being away from individual homes (sleeping space) where clean air and walking is a must.

I have great admiration for the tiny/small house movement where people are building houses for as little as $5000, for the cost of one $300,000 middle class home, can you imagine how many tiny houses could be built? This would be a practical and affordable way for the living situation at our al-Maqasid Retreats to be recreated . . . Brother Mujahid from The Hijrah Society shows how those with large families can extend the tiny house by adding two or more units, with costs still below $30,000 for a single family home.

The diversity of people was great at this retreat, and more important the diversity of ideas. It was great meeting like minded people who do not just talk the talk, Erik Klockemann was one of those people and he taught a daily class on permaculture throughout the retreat. He spent some time in Australia learning and working with Geoff Lawton one of the world's leading permaculturist. There is so much more that I want to learn about permaculture, so that I can get help with my current Makkah Community Garden project and in our goal of self-sufficiency.

Another great thing about Erik was that Humble Dad was able to connect with him about California and baseball. In Muslim communities it is rare to find people who know baseball, as soccer and basketball are usually the sports of choice. However, it warmed Humble Dad's heart to see another brother, Barry teaching his son baseball at the retreat. Brothers of all ages played a great game of American football. I think we definitely had more like minded people at this retreat compared to last year, with more free time to connect. I couldn't help but notice all the mixed-race children that my Beloveds were playing with. . . many who had white fathers and African-American mothers :) There seemed to be a great number of converts at this retreat: African American, whites & latinos. Ustadha Nagheba talked to me a little about the mixing of races among the Muslims in Liverpool, UK. This being the beauty of Islam, where races mix and know each other, the best of us being the one with taqwa (piety).

I hardly felt lonely at this retreat. It was an overload of different energies and I felt overwhelmed especially entering the dining hall. Towards the middle of the retreat as we started to remove our spiritual baggage, Peace~ Islam was internalized and externalized. I made a conscious effort to sit, walk from classes, and talk to all different sisters from different backgrounds. But more importantly, I made a conscious effort to sit and be alone with my Lord: thikr, reciting my daily du'as from Accepted Whispers, and my Prayers for Forgiveness.

Accepted Whispers in front of the Beautiful Wave Crashing in the Ocean,
 from our recent roadtrip to Florida.
Ustadha Nagheba was at the center of this community of sisterhood, subhanAllah, I don't know how anyone could have a hard heart after sitting in her company. The plagues of female relationship: jealousy, mean girl syndrome, backbiting, big egos (feminist mindset), forgetting the Rahmah (Compassion) that emanates from our wombs were mostly dispelled from what I could tell. The proof of this is how most of us were crying and hugging one another on the last day of the retreat. About a year ago, I wrote an email to our Minara group about living together in a community:
My only concern in cohousing is having a housing community without a righteously guided Scholar. Especially when setting rules of what is shared and in the purification of the nafs and the heart. I hate to exclude people, but I think the only way to not exclude people is if you have someone who is constantly challenging our nafs and purifying the hearts of the inhabitants. Also having someone who is respected to mediate disagreements. Every successful community has a good leader and teacher. I think cohousing would be no different?
Ustadha Nagheba was that righteously guided Scholar for us this week, a beautiful sincere woman, and I did not want to leave her. I wanted to get in her suitcase and return with her to the UK. It was a blessing meeting Ustadha Nagheba and a hardship at the same time. She definitely was an answer to my duas, a dua I made in December 2013 when sitting in my friend's home in Toronto and she was telling me about her teacher of her Micro-Madrasa in the UK. I begged Allah to be able to sit with Ustadha Nagheba then. When it was announced in our Sunday class that Ustadha Nagheba would be coming to the retreat, she became my sole reason for wanting to attend. Allah has blessed me beyond what I prayed for as she totally surpassed any expectations, so much it is hard to live here knowing people like this really exist.

Our Beloved Children always had playmates, with plenty of time to explore and have fun. Z Man, the natural leader and friendly guy, always had a trail of boys following after him. However, there were two boys in particular that he was with the most and I would call them the three musketeers. Big A spent most of her time with her Beloved friend from Toronto that we visited (snowballed) with last winter. Lil A was most seen with two of her kindred spirits.

There was another blessing of our living situation that should be stressed and that was the amount one had to WALK. Although we were further from the Main Community hall, we were close to the Dining hall. So while we had a nice distance to walk to classes and prayer, those that were close to the Main hall had a nice distance to walk to the Dining hall. Everyone had to walk, meaning everyone got exercise. Most of us did not enter a car or other mode of transportation for a whole week, and it was fantastic! Other electronics/technology equipment were kept to a minimum. . . my phone would stay uncharged during most of the day, only charging it for nighttime use. However, I was a little sad to find out after the retreat that my children were playing video games that their friends had brought. Despite this, my Beloveds still spent most of their time in the natural world,  retreating from these devices. When we went to visit our friends in Michigan last year, I was amazed and grateful to how respectful they were of our parenting choices. The dad always sent our children downstairs to ask us if it was ok for them to watch a certain television show. It would be nice if three questions were given to every Muslim Child:
1) Does your parents allow you to eat meat that is not Zabihah halal?
2) Ask your parents if it is ok for you to have this candy/soda/high fructose/sugar product?
3) Ask your parents if it is ok for you to watch this tv show or play this video game?
Alhumdulilah, many parents are understanding how important healthy lifestyles are integral to raising wholistic (healthy body, mind, & soul) children. I am hopeful for a day when these questions will not have to be asked, but until then. . . .

Although the food was healthier this time with salmon for two nights, spinach in the salad bar, and an absolutely wonderful fruit bar for breakfast, still there were one too many cinnabons and other sugary desserts out in the buffet that made it hard for us to control our children's intake. I read in an article about how American families in the past would have dessert once a week on Sundays. Also, the Amish I interviewed in Tasawwuf of the Amish said something similar. We have moved far past having sweets once a week, past even desserts only after dinner, to a culture of sugary sweets at 3 meals plus snacks in between. . .
InshaAllah we, as a community, can get to the point of adapting a more Prophetic diet. A great model was tried at the Trodden Path Retreat this past Spring. I brought some of my own food, fasted a couple of days which helped me. Sister Zainab of Nadoona fitness brought some of her own food based on a Prophetic model and that helped her, however collectively we can come together to do better. Ustadha Nagheba said this in her spirituality class, but it relates to all aspect of our lives: "We can not continue to have the attitude of, `as long as my house is good`" It's not being self-righteous to care about others, we should have concern for our community and counsel others to good, but we should do it with adab (good etiquette).

Sister Zainab also taught our children a fitness.
I think every community should have a Sister Zainab, mashaAllah, she was motivating and skillful. The brothers had their own fitness class every morning, and we sisters had Sister Zainab who is a personal trainer and worked in Hollywood training celebrities before she converted. For pushing 40, I am doing pretty good, I love to swim (of course), boogie board, anything water/ocean related :) I also love to hike, pretty much anything outdoors and if I still lived in Oakland, California, I would be doing Tai Chi with the little old Asian women who carry their grandchildren on their backs at Lake Merritt Bart (train) Station. Shrugs, I don't have a daily outdoor stretching routine, no problem, Sister Zainab set me straight (in a good way) on the first day! My knees were hurting as she had us do lunges, so I went to her after class asking her if there was anything I could do about my knees. She told me the problem is not with my knees but the muscles in my thighs, and she had me place one leg up on some benches and reach out to her. After I was done with the stretch, she had me do another lunge and walaa! the pain was gone. I did not get any special treatment, Sister Zainab selflessly gave her time to any sister that asked... she really is an amazing beautiful soul, mashaAllah.

If I only had one word to give to describe our al-Maqasid retreat, it would be "Reconnect". There were so many types of "reconnecting" taking place on so many levels. Yes, we reconnected with the Quran, during Fajr salat when Maulana Abdur Rahman gave us a beautiful recitation every morning. Yes, our hearts became reconnected with a previous purified state. Yes, we became reconnected with the natural world. However, some of the most memorable reconnections that took place was that with our Muslim brothers and sisters. I reconnected with many of the original Bay Area Muslim Moms (Bammoms) who flew out from California to attend the retreat. Like the story of Prophet Yusuf, where he is reconnected with his brothers, I felt a similar experience. It took a substantial amount of time for Prophet Yusuf to reconnect with his brothers, adversity led to his brothers' change of heart, then Prophet Yusuf responded with mercy. Reconnection took me recognizing that Allah is al-Adl, the Just. Our Lord will set everything right, especially those who try to harm the defenseless, and in the way of the Sunnah, true Mercy is praying for their forgiveness and that they are spared from Allah's wrath.

The Scholars
to be continued....

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