One of the trends seen in university student societies is that towards the middle of the academic year they tend to lose motivation and become overwhelmed by the problems that arise. These issues together with the urgency of academic studies can make it difficult to find solutions and lead societies to lose morale.
In response to this trend the Muslim Student Council (MSC), the umbrella body that governs the Ahlul-Bayt Societies (ABSoc) in Britain held its annual weekend retreat programme in scenic Shropshire at Condover Hall.
MSC sends an invitation to all ABSoc’s across the UK. The invitation is aimed at the ABSoc president (or representative) and a committee member or an aspiring president for the next Academic year.
The members that register for the retreat apply online and choose the activities and workshops they prefer and what they hope to gain from the retreat. These are all taken into account and the most popular choices are selected for the retreat programme.
Once the registration period is over, MSC sends a starter pack with details of the programme, participants are put into groups for workshops that require separate teams, and the means of transport are organised.
The retreat itself is held over two and half days. The typical programme would be a workshop followed by activity and reflection before prayer. All prayers are done in jam’at (congregation) and are led by a religious scholar.
Each workshop has its own instructor. These are from a range of backgrounds. Most of the workshops are done by MSC members who have either recently graduated from university or are in their final year. They all have ABSoc experience or are active members of the community.
The aim of the retreat is also to connect the ABSocs with the MSC so they can work together more effectively. During the retreat there are meetings with the MSC president, committee and the ABSoc presidents to improve performance. After the retreat there is a Skype meeting to discuss campaigns. There is also an ABsoc summit in the summer when newly elected ABSoc presidents meet up for more leadership building programmes.
The retreat sought to bring together ABSoc presidents and committee members from across the UK for a weekend of fun activities, interactive workshops, spirituality and leadership skills development.
I had the privilege of being part of this year’s retreat programme. What immediately stood out for me was the friendly atmosphere and the quality of the workshops. Many of us were first timers in the programme, yet the camaraderie was such that it seemed as if we had known each other for years.
There were many activities packed into the weekend. Some workshops explored our passion when we communicate with others, our motivations in being the change we want to see in the world, and our mindfulness of our surroundings and ourselves amidst the hustle and bustle of university life.
Archery, fencing and the workshops notwithstanding, the best part for me was the opportunity to connect with other ABSocs in the UK, from Leeds, Manchester and Bradford to Cardiff and London. Here we realised that the issues we face are not as big as we had previously thought. From each other we learned how to deal with these issues and move on.
Often the answers to our problems are really simple, it’s just that our present conditions and mindsets prevent us from seeing clear solutions.
This retreat helped me to be aware of the importance of sharing our concerns with others who might be able see them from a different perspective and reveal unforeseen solutions.
There were many opportunities for increased spiritual development during the retreat. These included sharing our inspirational ahadith (narrations) and Quranic verses around a camp fire, talks on life and death and my favourite, communicating with God.
Talking with God is intimate. He does not see me just as a student, or from this or that social category, God sees the true ME and it is this soul that He calls upon to talk to Him. Talking with God doesn’t follow a ritual or a guideline; rather it is a conversation between the soul and the Creator. Fascinating!
It is our love for the Ahlul Bayt(a) that unites us. We all strive to make ABSoc a society whose message is heard, whose values are known and respected and to build on our love for the Ahlul Bayt(a) and share it with others. In this respect every step we take on this path is an important one and every challenge we face and overcome will only make us stronger.
We left the retreat spiritually refreshed, mentally motivated, with new friends for life and a reinforced love for the Ahlul Bayt(a) accompanied by a sense of duty as Muslims to be the change we want to see in the world.
Marayam Haneef is a member of ABSoc
and a medical student