“Wait until you get married, your husband will take you there,” Aisha’s parents told her.
“When the kids are grown and you have more time, then you can go all you want,” Nafeesa’s husband told her.
“Aren’t you too old for this nonsense?” Another sister is reprimanded for wanting some R and R.
Why are we as a community so afraid to encourage women to travel? In the 21st century, travelling overseas is statistically safer than commuting to work or school. The Gap Year is known to be of tremendous benefit to encouraging personal growth, especially when travel is the main occupation during this sabbatical. Even the Sunnah lauds travel as a means to foster empathy, explore and be assistful in the world, and to learn and better oneself. Muslims have gendered this discipline, shutting women out of another healthy, life-changing activity for misplaced fear.
“Oh, you who believe! Take care of yourselves; he who errs cannot hurt you when you are on the right path.” [5:105] Fortunately, there are those Aisha’s, Nafeesa’s and others who persist, grabbing themselves some world travel and adventure, retreating from the norms to become extraordinary.
Why can’t women just take vacations with their families? How is a retreat different from a vacation?
You know that joke about needing a vacation after your vacation? That’s not a joke for many women who still do a whole lot of work while vacationing, many still cook, clean, do most of the childcare… actually, there’s a joke for that too… check this out! On a retreat everything – everything – is taken care of so that you can actually relax, rejuvenate and, at Muslim hosted retreats, there is an added benefit of encouraging a reconnection to our spirituality. Actually, there are now even a variety of Muslim retreats. There used to only be weekend-long ilm-learning sort of things. Many are strictly for men, but a few have popped up that are co-ed or just for sisters, which is great because sisters really need both ease of access to learning and also to have the comfort of female-only spaces. Those ‘retreats’ are great for that kind of work. But now there are retreats available in the more mainstream sense of the word, where women can go and do some tazkiyah (self-reflection) and self-care but with all firmly halal and even focused on (re)connecting to the sunnah and Sustainer.
Like the Prophet’s (SAW) retreats? Muslim women retreating in caves?
That could be amazing, but we are talking about a bit more lush than that, still with quiet time to reflect as well as the top notes of the fun of travelling. Therapeutically, we need time away from the every day because humans are creatures that have a basic need for variety and a break in the rigidity of daily schedules. Monotony often creates a drive to ‘break free’ and get away, often when this normal desire is ignored tragedy follows. Mommy-burnout, midlife crisis, mental health problems, physical deterioration – all can result from not giving ourselves the needed time to rest and play.
Alhamdulillah, we have the prayers in our day to provide a daily retreat. However, from time to time we need more. Meeting (and living) with new people and a physical move out of our comfort zone really does lead to a lot of (self) discovery in a short space of time, God willing.
The Big Reconnect Sleepover
The Big Reconnect Sleepover (TBRS) blossomed as a result of co-hosts Brooke Benoit and Khalida Haque recognising the shortage of space for Muslim women to retreat to as well as the lack of travel opportunities for them. Their personal and professional lives helped them to see that this was something that was much needed (and wanted) within the Ummah (Muslim community) – although they welcome non-Muslim retreaters with the understanding that the retreats are ‘Muslimy’ in content. The retreats purposely choose locations that are very Islamically inspiring and pack the itineraries with activities encouraged by the sunnah. In Morocco, we have the unique opportunities to ride camels, pray Jummah in an 800-year-old mosque, practice Islamic-influenced arts and even swim in a completely private pool. While in London we surround ourselves in a green setting full of Allah’s bounty and beauty in the natural world, practice archery and have a sister-led halalqa in our own private little mosque. On all retreats, we also eat great food, laugh a ton, challenge ourselves, get much-needed rest, and very importantly – make meaningful connections to other sisters, both the women attending the retreats and the dozens of women who work hard to make these vacations so special.
One of the greatest things about The Big Reconnect Sleepovers is there is no one kind of sister who comes, we have Aisha’s, Nafeesa’s… women who are both young and eager to see our world, women who have lived full lives and seek to continue making them fuller, women who have travelled plenty and those who are on their first trips abroad. All of us have something to offer the world and the right to see it as much as possible. You can wait for the stars and moon to align or you can take a leap and travel the world with your sisters right now.
The Big Reconnect Sleepover currently has retreats for Muslim women scheduled in Morocco, London and special writers retreat in Andalusia, as well as a forthcoming retreat in Zanzibar. They have made it their business to provide affordable halal holidays, creating amazing inclusive itineraries enjoyed by Muslim women from around the world.