The Kawthar Learning Circle (KLC) held its Social Wilayah Summer Retreat from 3-6 August 2018 at the Cap-Saint-Jacques regional park in Montreal, Canada. The Social Wilayah Summer Retreat has become a yearly tradition among the KLC family, as an opportunity to strengthen the bonds of social wilayah between students and to bolster their commitment to the pursuit of godly knowledge. The KLC community was blessed with the presence of its respected teachers and noble role models Shaykh Dr Shomali and Dr Heydarpour.
The retreat site consisted of a brothers’ wing and sisters’ wing, each with its own facilities, which joined at a central hall where the lectures, discussions and congregational prayers were held. The surrounding forest provided an atmosphere of natural beauty and spirituality, which allowed attendees to disconnect from their outside lives so that they could direct the entirety of their mind and spirit towards self-development and acquiring godly knowledge.
Attendees came from numerous cities, such as Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, London, Vancouver, Houston and many more. It was a gathering steeped in diversity – in generation, language, culture, age – yet the hearts were one.
Each morning began with meditation and dhikr while the attendees prepared for prayer. At 4:30 AM, Shaykh Shomali led congregational prayers, which was followed by du’a and ziyarah. Afterwards, Shaykh Shomali gave a 3-part reflection on the hadith of Imam Ali(a) to Kumayl ibn Ziyad, which is saying #147 in
The first part of the hadith describes hearts as containers and says that the best containers are those which can better contain and preserve ideas, knowledge, insight and wisdom, and that this capacity can be increased. Shaykh Shomali put forth the question to the audience: what are the signs of a heart with a large capacity, and how can this capacity be increased?
In this hadith, Imam Ali(a) tells Kumayl that people are of 3 groups: 1) knowledgeable people/godly scholars, 2) learners who are on the path of salvation, and 3) the common people without insight, knowledge or intelligence who run after every caller and bend in the direction of every wind. This third group has not acquired the light of knowledge and has not found refuge in a firm pillar.
The hadith goes on to mention the merits of knowledge and its supremacy over wealth.
Shaykh Shomali led a discussion related to how we can express tawhid (oneness of God) in everything that we do. Each attendee was asked to reflect upon how conscious they are of God in their daily life. He mentioned that the difference between true believers and others is not actions, but rather it is knowledge and understanding. Believers connect to God by constantly being conscious of Him. When the heart is open, it causes a change in the recipient. Little by little, knowledge will cause enlightenment. Shaykh Shomali added that we should also share the knowledge that we have, but we need to know and respect our limits. The knowledge must be practiced otherwise will bring darkness and ignorance rather than enlightenment.
On the brother’s side, during the session “Be Honest with the Shaykh”, Shaykh Shomali responded to questions about how to acquire answers from the Qur’an. He said: “The Qur’an is like a university, such that you need to learn from the beginning. You can’t just expect to learn answers to advanced questions without learning the basics.” Shaykh Shomali suggested that it’s helpful to reflect on the meaning of the Qur’an and to read the tafsir of the Qur’an (such as Tafsir al-Mizan). The Shaykh also replied to numerous questions about spirituality, seeking knowledge and working to perfect ourselves in this life.
On the sister’s side, Dr Heydarpour discussed the spiritual dimension of marriage and parenthood. She mentioned that spouses should be ready to fulfill their own responsibilities in a marriage, without necessarily demanding their own rights. This is because we often demand too much from our spouse and thus we would never perceive that they have fulfilled our rights. Dr Heydarpour elaborated that expectations can destroy a relationship, even if a couple has the best relationship, because these expectations can make us ungrateful. A wise suggestion by Dr Heydarpour for the sisters was for a wife to avoid defining herself based on her husband; rather, she should make God the centre-point of her life. She mentioned that we are all travellers on our way towards God and thus we should have our own private time with Him. Dr Heydarpour also reflected on the power of love for God. She suggested that tasting the sweetness of a loving relationship with God is one of the best deterrents to sin and disobedience.
During the “Traveling with Our Teacher” panel session, more than 10 students who had travelled with Shaykh Shomali on his various interfaith excursions presented their thoughts and feelings about their experiences. Students’ experiences varied, as some had visited the Focolare village of Loppiano in Italy, while others had accompanied Shaykh Shomali during his other trips
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to Italy and Switzerland. The consensus among those who had gone on these travels was that the Focolare Movement offered a beautiful example of social wilayah from which we can learn. They expressed how these brothers and sisters from the Christian faith had dedicated themselves wholeheartedly to one another, and how they emphasise the love of God in their worship and practices.
Programmes continued with Shaykh Shomali delivering the second part of his reflections on the hadith of Imam Ali(a) to Kumayl. He began this session by asking students to give their responses to the previous day’s question: what are the signs of a large capacity of the heart? Students responded with many different ideas, such as thankfulness, knowledge, determination, patience, removing worldly attachments, and mercifulness.
Continuing his previous discussion concerning the heart as a container, Shaykh Shomali mentioned that a person can only be judged by the quality of their heart, as this is where all of a person’s virtues and vices lie. This is why only God can judge people, because only He has access to their heart. He mentioned that the heart’s quality and capacity is not fixed. This capacity varies between individuals, and even within the same person it can vary at different times. This potentially infinite capacity of the heart makes it possible for the hearts to contain God – in fact, our heart is the sanctuary of God and we should work to ensure that nothing else settles in His sanctuary. Shaykh Shomali mentioned that one of the qualities which allow the heart’s capacity to grow is humility. Humility is a very important sign of a large capacity because this quality helps us connect to God.
In another session, Shaykh Shomali began by outlining the importance of family in Islam. He mentioned that God did not create Adam without Eve, and even when He removed them from the garden, He did not separate them, but kept them together on earth. Thus, there is no replacement for having a family. Unfortunately, modern society is trying to replace family through a culture of individualism and liberalism. People sometimes marry but they don’t do so wholeheartedly; in their minds, they perceive that they’re still single and believe that they can leave the marriage whenever they want – this is destructive.
We need to be willing to sacrifice whatever is necessary to fix our problems and maintain our relationship, as this relationship is part of our relationship with God. When we marry, our spouse becomes a major player in our relationship with God. Shaykh Shomali warned that people should only get married when they’re ready to undertake the great responsibility of marriage.
Dr Heydarpour continued by mentioning that we need to ensure that we don’t decrease the love which God has given us in our marriage. In fact, we need to constantly work to increase this love, as this love is like credit that we’re building within our family. She also gave some practical tips to ensure that love remains within the marriage. Firstly, we should never compare our spouse to the ideal image that we have in our minds.
• We should always be appreciative of all the good qualities which are in our spouse and we should thank God for them.
• We should be grateful for the good and pray to God to help us with the problems and difficulties.
• We should also avoid comparing our life to the superficial view that we have of the lives of other couples.
• Lastly, we should always consider that we are all travellers towards God and we should be content knowing that God is sufficient for us and we completely rely on Him.
Dr Heydarpour gave a lesson entitled “The Fastest Road.” This lesson highlighted that the love of God can act as the fastest road towards Him. As she mentioned, our life is a journey, with God as the destination. Since this destination is infinite and our time is very limited in this life, we need something to speed up our journey and bring us as close as possible to our ultimate goal. Love of God gives us so much power. It makes us tireless in our struggles and helps us direct all our actions towards Him.
Shaykh Shomali delivered the last part of his series of reflections on the hadith of Imam Ali(a) to Kumayl. This session addressed the remainder of the hadith, which is concerned with the qualities which allow for the transmission of godly knowledge. In order for knowledge to be transmitted, the giver must be able to give, and the receiver must be able to receive. Additionally, some types of knowledge can only be transmitted from heart to heart. He mentions that four types of people are unable to receive knowledge from the Imam(a): those who are clever but not trustworthy, those who are obedient but possess no vision or insight and thus get confused easily, those who are driven by lower desires, and those who do not aim to promote religion. On the other hand, there will always remain those through whom God preserves godly knowledge and who are His hujjah in the world. These are rare individuals who have embraced the spirit of certainty in God and possess true vision.
There was a presentation titled “Moving Forward Together – Part 2”. This was a continuation of the discussion during the KLC Winter Retreat in March 2018. The accomplishments of the KLC so far were presented as well as the plans for the future. Then, the audience was asked to provide their feedback and suggestions. These suggestions included further ideas for putting social wilayah in practice within the KLC as well as in the wider communities.
The final session of the day consisted of a recognition and certification ceremony. Shaykh Shomali and the KLC administrators acknowledged and recognised students who had reached specific milestones in their studies, such as those who had completed a certain number of courses and who were well on their way towards graduating from the 2-year KLC program. These students were honored for their hard-work and perseverance in committing themselves to acquiring godly knowledge.