Monday, September 8, 2014

Seekers Retreat 2014

Note: Due to how much attention this picture received on Facebook with several questions inquiring where we bought our abayas. I am not a shopper, Humble Dad does all of our Abaya shopping at Islamic Design HouseShukr & East Essence. Please also consider shopping with my friend at Islamic Outfitters.
We have so much to be grateful for in this life and we often take many things for granted. Sometimes it takes getting outside of our normal environment to realize our blessings. One of the biggest blessings I have is Humble Dad who watched our youngest three children while Big A and I took a road trip to Ontario, Canada to attend the Seekers Retreat 2014.

It took a little heart to heart talk from a dear friend who reminded me that I am able to do what I do because of the maintenance and stability that Humble Dad provides.
Ya Allah, I love You, draw me nearer to You. I am grateful for all that You have done for me and all that You Plan to do, I am not worthy of these blessings, but You still Give so abundantly.

This dear friend had a dream back in May 2014 of Big A and I visiting her and her family in Toronto. I didn't think we would be back in Toronto so quickly as we were just there in January, but Alhumdul'Allah we were able to stay Thursday night with her. Big A was happy to do some cooking with her daughter who taught Big A to make delicious French Crêpes.
Ya Allah, you are the Best of Planners. All we have to do is trust in You (Tawakkul), and You will place who we need  and what we need at the times we need it. 
And to think... I almost was not going to come to the Seeker's Retreat. I went to the very first Seeker's Retreat Summer 2010 in the US. When I heard that Seeker's was planning their first Canada Retreat, I quickly registered for the Retreat because I wanted to sit at the feet of Habib Kadhim al-Saqqaf and ask him some burning questions, questions that only a sincere person of God can answer. Z man and my father favor Habib in facial features, thereby creating a natural attraction to Habib. More importantly, Habib Kadhim is a very special Scholar of our time, mashaAllah.

Allah Knows what we do not know, Habib Kadhim could not make it to the retreat. When I found out, I made the intention to still attend and benefit from the other teachers. Then my friend at the al-Maqasid Retreat said that it would be highly probable that Shaykh Yahya would not attend the Seeker's Retreat as well. It is then that I decided not to come and ask Seekers for a refund. They insisted that I still attend, and I obliged them but this time with a renewed intention. My intention was to spend some special time with my Big A on the path of obtaining beneficial knowledge, no matter who the Scholar is.
* * *
Then I was given two signs that I was on the right path, the day I was leaving my home in Maryland to go to Humble Dad's place of work in Pittsburgh and the day I was driving up to Canada from Pittsburgh. I am trying to stay consistent on doing my Wird al-Latif in full concentration, although sometimes I slip and only get to do it while driving in the car to the Prophetic Invocations cd. The day I was leaving my home in Maryland, I was not only in full concentration, it felt as the words were expanding my heart. I usually do two readings of the Wird, one in Arabic: reading the transliteration and one in English. (download my copy here) When I came to the part of the Salawat: 'Allahumma salli ala Sayyidina Muhammad-in wa alihi wa sahbihi wa sallim' I received this very clear vision of the Prophet, salAllahu alayhi wasalaam, I have been Muslim 16 years and this was my very first vision of him ever .  .  . and during the day at that! May it not be my last, Ameen. The second sign was the certainty in my heart during my drive up to Toronto on Thursday. I had this overwhelming feeling that Shaykh Yahya would indeed attend the retreat, that Allah was in control, and everything was going to be fine. So when it was announced at the retreat on Friday night that Shaykh Yahya crossed the border successfully with his family and was on his way up, what more to say then Ya Allah.
Ya Allah, grant me the Eye of Yaqin (ayn al-yaqin), the ability to see with certainty. "A person only knows complete certainty by the absence of it's opposite." Let me protect my certainty with knowledge until I reach the state of Haqq-al-Yaqin.
Our drive up to Toronto was splendid, we made one stop in Erie, PA to pray along this beautiful strip of land called Presque Isle State Park. Big A counted the seconds it took to get through the border, 90 seconds, no problems crossing, Alhumdulilah. All that was needed was a letter from Humble Dad granting permission and a copy of his driver's license.

We prayed Jummah at Seeker's Hub and said our goodbyes to our wonderful host then made our way to the Seeker's Retreat at Camp Couchiching.

The name of the camp was a constant joke during the retreat, Shaykh Walead "could not" pronounce the name correctly. He kept calling it "Camp Couchie-Couchie" (like the hip-hop song from the 90's), each time giggles and laughter would disperse from the crowd. Big A told me by the end of the retreat, Shaykh Walead just needed to stop trying!!!

The Camp's theme was "Awakening the Heart", a much needed topic in our community. Honestly my heart was awakened from the recent al-Maqasid Retreat 2014 (blog post coming soon). I was more interested on how to keep it awake and how I can reach my Lord with a "qalb saleem" sound heart. As Shaykh Walead reminded us, the heart is the receptacle of Divine Gaze : Allah does not look at our outside appearance, but at our hearts.

This deep understanding of what is important can help us with all aspects of our life: big house vs. house filled with love, fancy plate of empty calorie foods vs. simple nourishing food, etc. Many things we pursue in this world we can not take with us in death. Shaykh Faraz told an entertaining story about his first retreat in a little shack in Connecticut in 1995, that was brought together by our wonderful Imam Zaid Shakir and was well attended by such luminary scholars such Shaykh Abdul Hakim Murad and Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, as well as then upcoming scholars such as Shaykh Ibrahim Osi-Efa, Shaykh Jihad Brown, Shaykh Walead Mosaad. My Auntie-Friend in Trenton was also at that retreat in that little shack in snowy Connecticut, however, overflowing with a wealth of knowledge and light. She filled some more of the story in for me. She says that retreat in that little shack was transformative, that it was a new page for her and that the retreat aligned her heart with this traditional spiritual path.
"The beginning of the path to Allah is a powerful urge of Divine Origin that should be strengthened, protected, and responded to."
She also has a clear memory of Shaykh Hamza and Shaykh Abdul Hakim Murad walking in the snow together. It made me think of the mini-retreats I have attended this past year, each time the house became bigger, but the quality wavered with the best retreat being the one where we were snowed in with a small few of my favorite people. I sometimes look back at that night we were snowed in and contemplate who stayed and who left and wonder if it is a foreshadow. . .

The Seeker's Retreat was a constant reminder of what truly is important:
1. Having a sound heart, guarding our hearts and purifying it
2. Being in the company of other's who have a sound heart (company of the Righteous)
3. Facilitate others having a sound heart (da'wah), leading others to the path of the Righteous...

Although this Seeker's Retreat was not in a shack, it was out in Nature away from many comforts of home. We were intentionally placed in cabins with other Sisters (or Brothers) that we did not know, so that we could get to know one another.
"... and have made you into nations and tribes that ye may know one another." ~Quran 49:13

We were fed simple and delicious foods, with a wonderful daily salad bar that included carrots and black beans. It's easy to complain about another's snoring, bugs, small mammals, humidity, and non-traditional foods. However, it would take strength of character to meet the challenges head on and appreciate what was given to us.

A chance to meet and get to know our Muslim brethren from all over the world, who were absolutely fascinating to talk to. It was also enjoyable finding out how we are connected by some of the same people.

We had classes on Prophetic concern, social change and Prophetic example of social relationships with a focus on interfaith relationships. However, like a sister's question: we must also work on our intrafaith relationships. Not just the Sunni & Shia relationship, but also the snorer & non-snorer relationship following the Prophetic example of compassion and understanding for one another.

I loved our outdoor classroom at the retreat and inshaAllah we will do more homeschooling outdoors this year. . . The fresh air, the cool breeze, listening to the birds worship our Creator, watching the chipmunks scamper about and being distracted by the squirrels doing acrobats in the trees over the heads of our teachers.

"It's not just about taking a walk in the park and smelling the roses, Smell the roses and remember the Creator of the roses. We are here to know our Creator."
The retreat was well organized. I really was inspired by the hard work of Umm Umar, mashaAllah she exemplifies many qualities of Sayyida Khadijah: how she has supported her husband and Seeker's Hub-Guidance throughout the years.  Umm Umar and the two ladies who assisted her in the planning gave the retreat that special woman's touch. She gave us all really useful Seekers Retreat book bags (and pen) that I will cherish and use often and she created a Student Handbook to include note pages, similar to the al-Maqasid note pages I created for myself. MashaAllah Umm Umar covered all the essential tools we needed to seek knowledge, all we had to do was come with an open heart and be receptive to the knowledge.

All the bags looked alike and often were mistaken for someone elses. Fabric paint fixed that problem for Big A and I.

We can look to Umm Umar on how to be a supportive wife and facilitator, however, she is also a mother and homeschooler. I was able to talk to her a little about motherhood and homeschooling, however, I also observed her and listened to stories of Big A's time spent with her daughter. One of my first classes with Seekers was their parenting class with Shaykh Faraz and Umm Umar. The class is free and highly recommended. In some ways I see myself in Umm Umar, she is not a big talker but someone who puts into action her beliefs. . . and the proof is in the pudding: it shows in her children.
"Most people in the developed world spend the vast part of their day in front of a screen consuming. However, this world is for action, this world is for cultivation."

Once I entered Canada, I could not use my phone and I lost connection to the outside world including not being able to contact Humble Dad and my children. When I returned to the US, one of the first emails I opened was from a friend asking my opinion on the new lecture by Shaykh Hamza: The Devil's Trap. My first thought was the importance of guarding our hearts (especially our children's heart), i.e. the theme of the Seeker's Retreat. Then I thought about the importance of acting on what you know is right, even if you have to stand alone. The importance of having the strength to remove the Television... like the Amish in my blog post: The Tasawwuf of the Amish. Umm Umar exemplifies this strength. In a private conversation, she was telling me about the importance of teaching young children proper adab (etiquette) with our Scholars. She said by allowing our children to play hand held games while sitting in front of our Scholars opens the door of poor adab in adults, i.e. fiddling with phone in Jummah, Eid Prayer, & Scholarly Lecture.

"Focus on teaching your children adab and akhlaq (manners and etiquette); parents don't emphasize these enough any more. Have adab with yourself before you set out to teach adab -- that means "pausing". Be willing to pause before reacting."

Shaykh Faraz, mashaAllah is also an excellent father, it is very enjoyable watching him interact with his boys. My friend Hina Mukhtar took some very popular notes on childrearing lecture that Shaykh Faraz gave to a group of homeschoolers at Ilm Tree. Link to the notes are at the bottom of this blog post.

MashaAllah, Big A learned very quickly how to play the duff drum from an excellent teacher Nader Khan. He held a concert for us one night of the retreat and my Big A played along with him on the sister's side. Nader's 3/4 part, his wife Dr. Bano introduced their wonderful project of building wells. Find out more how you can buy his album and build wells at Share the Prophet.

It was required that the students attend all the classes, which I was a little concerned about at first as I need my after Dhur prayer *Nap*. However, Imam Afroz could not make it into Canada which gave me the time of his cancelled classes to take a nap. Big A did very well on this structured schedule and took her studying seriously, even taking notes by flashlight and campfire.

"Whoever sets out on a path in order to seek sacred knowledge, Allah will facilitate for them a path to Paradise." Ya Allah, keep me consistent on the path of seeking sacred knowledge and place before me teachers who embody the Prophetic spirit.
What I appreciated the most about this retreat was how accessible all of our teachers were. It was easy to make an appointment to meet our Scholars in their outdoor office on the deck. Many of our teachers would stop to talk to us after class.

The most memorable occasion happened with Shaykh Yahya and a non-Muslim lady who came from a buddhist tradition. She had many questions and strong beliefs that she was trying to work through and she was excellent at articulating them. I was drawn into the discussion as so was a few other students who stuck around. She wanted to understand who God is and how should she view our Creator: a God of Love or Fear. She wanted to understand how God sees her and if she was worthy of God's Forgiveness. She was struggling with Aqida questions that many of us currently struggle with or have struggled with. She was an intellectual and a simplistic answer would have not sufficed. I have sat in Shaykh Yahya's classes and am humbled, always shyly looking away in his presence. However, this was my first time seeing him being questioned and proceeding to answer each question with enlightened wisdom and thoughtfulness. I had the feeling that his words were Divinely inspired and they touched her. I could see that fire in her eyes finding contentment in what he was telling her. She walked away feeling the need to digest it all. Once his words had fully permeated inside of her and after Shaykh Yahya left Camp Couchiching, she took her Shahadah (testament of Faith) with Ustadha Mona in front of the sisters at the retreat.

I talked to this sister later about her coming to visit us in the US, I joked with her: "Shaykh Walead and Shaykh Yahya are neighbors, you can come and visit us and get 2 (two) for the price of 1 (one)"

She excitedly said "ROAD TRIP!"

Masha'Allah, a kindred adventurous Sister, welcome into the fold of Islam, Beloved. ♥

Read more on this Post by Noor Janan Homeschool.

1 comment :

  1. It's always a pleasure hearing about the many blessed gatherings and events taking place "back home". You'd be surprised to know how hard it is to find its likeness "overseas". May you and yours remain in His gaze- ameen!


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