Kawthar Learning Circle held its first West Coast spiritual retreat from June 29 to July 1, 2017, in the beautiful city of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. KLC students and families from North America had the rare opportunity of spending spiritually inspiring and exclusive time with Sheikh Shomali and Sister Israa. We also had the privilege of the company of Sheikh Murtaza Bachoo and Sister Fatemah Meghji. KLC students and families, in all 50 people, came from far and wide; Houston (Texas), Hamilton, Winnipeg and Edmonton (Canada). Some special guests from Vancouver also attended some events during the retreat.
The following was prepared by the help of KLC students and participants.
Stanley Park Picnic and Discussion: June 29, 2017
The West Coast Retreat started with many participants getting together at Stanley Park for a breakfast picnic. We ate a hot home-cooked breakfast and ‘Khoja’ tea along with lots of other goodies. The picnic served as a ‘meet and greet’ with KLC friends and families who joined us from the US and other parts of Canada.
Afterwards, Sheikh Shomali gave us some ‘pearls of wisdom’ as guidelines for life. Some of the points in brief were:
- Emphasis on keeping good relationships with people around us
- Being role models – as Muslims following true teachings from the Qur’an and from the ‘Ahlul Bayt (as)
- Importance of reflection, contemplation and self-evaluation
- ‘Tafakkur’ (reflection) and ‘Tadabbur’ (contemplation) – important tools for making righteous decisions
- Importance of presenting Islam to other communities in the right way – by our actions
- We as human beings are unique; we are not triggered by external facts or internal pressure; we can still control ourselves using our free will
The picnic was followed by noon prayer led by Sheikh Shomali at the Az-Zahraa Islamic Centre in Richmond followed by a light lunch.
The group then assembled into different cars and drove to Camp Bridal, the venue of the retreat. Nestled at the base of Mt. Cheam, Camp Bridal is a short drive to the beautiful Bridal Falls Provincial Park. The group was in the main lodge at Camp Bridal, with our own kitchen. Men were on the ground floor while all the ladies and children were upstairs on the first floor.
Opening Address – Sheikh Shomali – How to present Islam in the West – June 29, 2017
Sheikh Shomali’s opening address on the theme was thought- provoking. We started with an interactive discussion on the theme followed by a Q&A session.
Summary of the topic:
- Islam is a universal message for everyone – for all human beings
- The Prophet(s) was a warner and Rahma (mercy) for ‘al-Alamein’ (all of God’s creations)
- The message first came not for ‘al-Alamein’ but as a practical measure
- The Prophet(s) first invited his closest kin and then Islam slowly and gradually spread to the wider public
- Towards the end of the life of the Prophet(s), he was sending letters to kings and emperors also inviting them towards Islam
- The message of Islam was for all communities, Arabs, Asians and all others
The Qur’an is and has been a constant source of guidance for all humanity from the beginning of time and until the end of the world
- The Qur’an is a source of light. If we are really sincere and try to understand it, with God’s grace it will illuminate our lives in ways that have not been achieved by previous generations.
- Allah is constantly sending down mercy and guidance through the Qur’an
- To inspire people towards Islam, we as Muslims need to make sure that we portray ourselves as good Muslims and successful in our worldly lives
Interactive Quranic Tafseer – chapter Al-Asr : June 30, 2017
On the morning of June 30, Sheikh Shomali gave an in-depth Tafseer of chapter Al-Asr after Fajr prayers. This was an insightful and interactive Tafseer session.
“It is amazing how sleep flew away as we were engaged in the Tafseer. Although a very short chapter, its message is very profound”. – Masuma (Vancouver)
A brief summary on the Tafseer:
God starts with qasm (swearing by asr), to draw our attention to it. ‘Asr’ may mean time, afternoon or age, which is a portion of our life. ‘Khasara’ means losing – and losing even our capital. God has given us capital – something valuable given to us in the form of fitrah (primordial human nature).
So time is the capital that we are losing, but if we have iman (belief) and righteous deeds, we’ll be saved from loss and we will indeed grow and become better.
‘Iman’ means that we open ourselves to the truth that God has presented to us through his revelation. Iman brings righteous deeds; actions are the outcome of iman.
‘Amalu Salehat’ means to do good deeds and make the intention of doing good even if we cannot achieve our goal.
We’re all gifted with very valuable capital, but we will lose it unless we turn it into something endurable that will remain forever. But we can only do this if we have iman and ‘a‘mal saleh’ and only by enjoining each other towards truth and patience.
In addition to the spiritual and intellectual aspect of the camp, being in the presence of nature was very inspiring. It is a blessing to be able to reflect and think outside one’s day to day life while being in the midst of the God’s wonderful creation. The group went hiking followed by paddle boating on Cultus Lake. This served as a chance for the brothers, sisters and children to create new bonds and strengthen the ties of social wilayah.
insert images Boating/Kayaking/Canoeing at Cultus Lake Park
Interactive session with Sister Israa:
The ladies had an interactive session with Sr. Israa on the importance of Islamic schools for our children in the West. We discussed some of the advantages and challenges faced by Islamic schools in the West. It was interesting to hear the parents’ perspective as well as the teachers’ views and experiences. Sr. Israa is very talented. She shared her insight on the importance of nurturing our children with the teachings of the Holy Qur’an, the Holy Prophet(s) and his family.
Interactive Quranic Tafseer – chapter Al-Nasr
“One of my favourite parts of the day was the Quranic Tafseer programme after morning prayer. Despite the late nights, I didn’t want to miss out on the Tafseer, but we managed to wake up on time and sit through the programme and learn valuable lessons from it.” –Masuma (Vancouver)
A summary of the Tafseer
“This Surah was revealed towards the end of the life of the Prophet when almost all of the Arab Peninsula had become Muslims.
Surah Al-Nasr is very brief but has very profound ideas. Nasr in Arabic sometimes means victory, but in this chapter, Nasr probably means assistance and fath (victory). Victory is when you are following the path of God and the real victory is when the hearts of people are soft and open for you.
If victory is from God, it makes you more humble, grateful and mindful of him. Success is when you manage to remove barriers and let the light of God spread. So when this success comes, we should do tasbih which comes with hamd (gratefulness). We do this for two reasons: the beautiful qualities God possesses and the beautiful actions He does. To be humble and evaluate the blessings in our lives, we do tawbah and istighfar (repentance).
We pray that we are able to follow the same path that the Prophets and awliya’( saints) of God have shown us and dedicate our lives to the remembrance of Him and bringing His light to our families, community, and all humanity wherever we are”. (Write-up contributed by Sajeda Vancouver)
Theme Address – Sheikh Shomali – Presenting Islam in the West – June 30
Sheikh Shomali continued the topic with a brief history of Kawthar Learning Circle and how it started. Individuals in Eastern Canada were very much interested in gaining deeper Islamic knowledge and urged Sheikh Shomali during his visits to Canada to start something online as these individuals could not attend hawza (seminaries) studies. Their enthusiasm and persistence paved the way to start an online programme with students from different cities. Within a short time, there were around 30 students who joined the group.
Main discussion points on presenting Islam in the West:
God revealed to Musa, “Endear Me to My people and endear My people to Me.” Make them love me and make them lovable to me.’
So Musa said, “O God how should I do this?”
God said, “Remind them of my blessings and bounties so that they love.”
When people remember how much God has blessed them, they will naturally love Him and when people receive kind and considerate treatments, they appreciate it. So God has told us to remind people of His blessings and bounties.
God said to Musa: “…if you manage to bring someone who has run away or been misguided, this is better for you than hundred years of worshipping in this way: every day you fast and every night you keep awake and do tahajjud (recommended night prayer)”.
Then Musa (a) asked, “Who is the one who has run away?”
God said, “Those who have rebelled.”
Then Musa asked, “Who is the one who is misguided and cannot reach You?”
God said, “The one who is misguided is the one who doesn’t know who is the hujjah (the proof) of Allah, the Imam of his time, or the one who may know but has missed the connection with him, the one who doesn’t know the rulings of his religion.”
The above hadith played an inspirational role in the presentation of this topic.
Some important guiding points for people in the west and their responsibilities:
- We should do everything in our capacity to bring people towards God, to make them love Him more, to make them appreciate religion more, to facilitate their relationship with scholars and the religious community.
- Muslims, who live in the West or even if they do not live in the West, have ways of communicating Islam to people in the West and have a historical responsibility on their shoulders. Their first responsibility is to maintain own belief and that of their children and families. But it’s not enough for them to just maintain their own belief.
- The Qur’an tells us, “O believers, save yourselves and your family from the fire,” “O those who believe, you must be concerned about yourselves. Those who are misguided, if you are guided, would not harm you.”
- If Muslims who are in the West can create a respectful, meaningful relationship with the people who are here, it can affect the lives of millions of people
- Imam Sadiq(a) said, “May God’s mercy be upon the one who brings the love of people towards himself and to us.”
- Muslims should be adding to the love of people for God, to the love of people for Islam and the school of Ahl ul-bayt. This is the additional responsibility.
- Muslims should do whatever they can to help people move towards God and if the relationship is affected, they should restore this relation.
- It would not be reasonable to make any unnecessary addition to Islam that would make their acceptance or respect for Islam more difficult.
- Islam should not be presented as an alternative to any culture.
- Present Islam as it is, without one’s own feelings, and tell people that there are many positive aspects in their culture that we appreciate and Islam also likes these positive elements and maybe they’d like to consider other aspects of Islam, just as an addition, not a replacement.
- Muslims have to maintain their own iman, their Islamic identity, which is different from their cultural identity.
- Muslims should remember their Islamic identity does not involve exclusion or rejection of others; rather, they can base it on what they are and how they can relate to other people
Interaction with Focolare Community – Az-Zahraa Islamic Centre – July 1, 2017
After the retreat, we had a unique and amazing experience at Az-Zahraa Islamic centre. A few members of the Focolare Christian Community visited the centre and we had an informative time meeting them, having lunch together and sharing our experiences. It was really inspiring to listen to Sheikh Shomali’s personal experience with the Christian community over the last 20 years. This has motivated me personally to engage with the Focolare and other Christian communities in Vancouver so that we can work together to establish a world full of peace.
Interaction with the Youth Committee on ‘A Journey into Islam’
Az-Zahraa Islamic Centre
The youth committee at Az-Zahraa Islamic Centre had an inspiring time showcasing some of the exhibits from ‘A Journey Into Islam’. ‘A Journey into Islam’ is an initiative undertaken by the youth of the Az-Zahraa Islamic Centre, designed to convey the core beliefs and practices of the Islamic faith in an interactive and comprehensible manner to non-Muslims . The aim is to create a comfortable environment in which guests from all cultures and religion are welcome to ask questions and engage in dialogue with members of our community.
The youths received very positive feedback from Sheikh Shomali and Sister Israa. This has inspired the youngsters to revisit some of the exhibits and incorporate fresh ideas and information into the exhibits for the next event coming up in January 2018.
Valuable feedback from the participants:
Camp Bridal – The Venue:
“The place was truly breathtakingly beautiful, surrounded by mountains and lakes. One immediately feels a sense of peace and tranquillity enters the heart. A feeling of gratitude and appreciation of God’s beauty and blessings encompasses us”. – Sajeda (Vancouver)
“The children really enjoyed painting bird feeders at the camp. They were excited to take the bird feeders home and have now kept them on the trees to attract and feed the birds….” – Shaheena (Vancouver)
Other topics of Interest:
“The most significant part of the retreat to me was the presence of Shaykh Shomali and Sr Israa. As always they provide us with purpose and not only were the interactive sessions valuable but so was their presence in all our activities. I also thought the presence of KLC members from other parts of North America added great value to the retreat. Most of us were meeting each other for the first time and this will be, God willing, a building block for further interactions and social wilayah.”
- Meeting and being graced with the company of a family for two whole weeks… each and every moment with this family will be cherished.
- Waking up in the middle of the night to greet two KLC members who travelled across the continent to be with us and then witnessing their vibrant personalities.
- Meeting a quiet and humble personality who demonstrated determination in doing so much more with the blessing of life from God.
“What differentiates this retreat from other retreats, camps and conferences, is that KLC has a framework inside which one can work. So instead of leaving motivated without knowing what to work on, we have a programme that helps us keep on track in regards to pursuing knowledge. Additionally, meeting members of the KLC community who are working towards the same goal of seeking Islamic knowledge helps as a source of motivation even after we have all returned to our respective cities. Finally, being in the presence of Sheikh Shomali inspires us to be true to what we learn and persistent in our journey towards perfection”. – Hussein (Vancouver)
“We Muslims are encouraged to engage in social acts and acts of worship together; our prayers in congregation, or even eating together brings blessings to Muslims. The concept of unity and brotherhood are very important in Islam and have the potential to bring the hearts of Muslims together. And that is exactly what we did during our retreat! Over a meal of lasagne, we had the most interesting discussions with Sheikh Shomali and Sister Israa in which everyone was passionately engaged. We bonded with our Muslim brothers and sisters during our hike and picnic at Cultus Lake while learning so much more”.
“The aspect that I really admired about Sheikh Shomali is that he puts great emphasis on interfaith dialogue which is a sort of coming together, a family reunion. Our interaction with the Focolare Community was very heartwarming, it showed how similar we are in our beliefs and it also demonstrated that interfaith dialogue is the key to peace in this world”. – Zahida (Vancouver)
“We had a beautiful and enriching experience at the camp. It was refreshing to wake up with 40 other individuals at fajr, pray in congregation, and begin our day with reflections on the Holy Qur’an. Although we discussed two short chapters of Qur’an, the messages they conveyed were deep and eye-opening. We feel very blessed to have had the opportunity to meet the wonderful community in Vancouver, the other KLC members who joined from various locations, and to have been in the presence of our dear Sheikh Shomali and Sr. Israa. The sense of social wilayah there resonated loud and clear. The Sheikh’s main discussion on Islam in the West was interesting and thought-provoking. He reminded us how a mu’min (believer) is like water – takes the form of the container but doesn’t lose its essence or substance. Thus, living in the West, we need to learn to adapt without losing our identity or essence. He posed a rhetorical question that greatly reverberated within me: “Are we going to isolate ourselves and keep Islam on the margin or will we bring Islam to mainstream society while maintaining its authenticity?” He underlined the importance of being united, successful and virtuous as a community, and only then God Willing will we be able to soar to greater heights”. – Abdullah & Maryam (Hamilton)