In the past decade, American sisters have established a new trend of weekend get-a-ways, to create a time to reconnect with each other, nature, and their deen. Whether in a campground, the mountains, or at sea, sisters are taking charge of their spiritual needs by organizing retreats away from family, work, and their chaotic and demanding routines, to nourish their soul and body, and strengthen the bonds of sisterhood.
In Connecticut, entrepreneur and founding member sister Jamilah Rasheed has been gracefully championing one of these retreats. Originally started by sister Bahiyah Muhammad over 12 years ago, this year’s spiritual retreat pulled together over 30 sisters from across New England, with a sister traveling from as far as Florida. The theme: Perseverance – The Essence of Faith.
Held in the breathtaking landscape of Lakeside, CT, and with a weekend agenda that included inspirational lectures by prominent scholars Imam Zaid Shakir and Sister Ieasha Prime, sisters were welcomed on Friday evening by a delicious meal followed by a therapeutic relaxation session in a softly lit room, beautifully decorated with candles and flowers. This session would set the stage for a weekend of introspection and midnight prayers, and open the sisters’ souls to healing and spiritual rejuvenation.
Having the opportunity to “turn off” the incessant demands that raising five children, running a household, and working full-time bring about, I have to admit I had left home with a completely different agenda. Packed with a fiction novel, my iPod, and a magazine, I thought I would relax, breathe some fresh air, and have a good time, all in the company of some sisters I never met.
Yet the minute renowned speaker Ieasha Prime made supplication and exalted our Creator, I knew that my intention needed some serious adjustment, and that I would leave the retreat a different person. Blessed were we to be there, she said, not by our own will but because Allah generously had chosen us, and given us the opportunity to replenish our faith. “A retreat, yes!”, she explained, because as the female servants of Allah, we were constantly under attack, distracted from His remembrance by our trials. I looked around the room, and saw through my own tears, how all my sisters were crying, tears of relief in solidarity from the relentless tests we all face. United, sisters from all races were one soul, begging for the know-how of dealing with our day-to-day problems while remaining dignified.
The emotional and spiritual detox was exhausting but served as a cleanser to plant new seeds of faith. Esteemed and respected Imam Zaid Shakir offered needed words for spiritual nourishment, through his leading of our prayers and dhikr, and his intellectually-stimulating lecture that touched on a myriad of contemporary issues, from motherhood to islamophobia to organ donation. His scholarly support and impeccable manners brought a heartwarming reassurance of the sense and sensibility that this deen brings when practiced correctly.
Throughout the retreat, I was blessed to meet sisters from many walks of life. Each and every one of them had a story to tell, a trial to work through, and a kind word to say, to strengthen our new but timeless bond. The entire sisterhood was represented by the sisters’ diversity of ethnic backgrounds and professions: from Brazilian to Jordanian, from African American to Indonesian, there were teachers, engineers, police officers, graphic designers, and entrepreneurs.
And there was pampering: lots of it! Facials, massage, yoga, swimming, nature walks at sunrise, canoeing and much more. After all, nourishing the soul requires a healthy body. Which brings me to the food: Exquisite! From carrot ginger soup to tomato and goat cheese quiche, from stuffed shells to honey glazed salmon, each meal was a feast. The retreat was a perfect combination of inner and outer delights, leaving sisters ready to face the challenges ahead of them and yearning for next year’s retreat.
But perhaps the best part of the entire experience was to witness how surrounding ourselves with good company can bring about great things, as one of the attendees accepted Islam. Her conversion sealed our weekend with a renewed zest to practice, and to share the blessings of guidance.
Enith Morillo is Events and Publicity Editor for Altmuslimah.