This past weekend, the Muslim Life Program in the Office of Religious Life held its seventh annual Muslim spirituality retreat open to students from universities across the East Coast. Over ninety students from Rutgers, Harvard, Brown, and other universities attended the event.
The retreat was created in order to promote solidarity and reinvigorate Islamic faith among Muslim students at neighboring universities. The University first sponsored the program in 2009.
As stated in the event program, the retreat highlights the beauty in coming together as a community to enjoy new experiences. During the day, students participated in activities such as canoeing, hiking, and various other sports. University Chaplain Sohaib Sultan and his wife Arshe Ahmed, executive director of the Medina Community Clinic, organized the retreat.
“Out in nature under the stars or under a shaded tree near the lake you can reflect by yourself and with others on where you've been and where you're going in your spiritual journey," said Sultan in an email to the attendants.He added that students were encouraged to take advantage of all of the knowledge, wisdom and good company available to them during the short time of the retreat.
Over the course of the weekend, times were designated specifically for congregational prayers. Each of the five daily prayers was performed and after each, time was allotted for students to ask questions and learn more about Islamic history and tradition.
The program included time for sharing life stories in a session called Spiritual Autobiographies. Students were split into small, intimate groups where they spent time sharing their life stories. Qur’an studies occurred in small sessions after prayers, and shared traditional Islamic stories by the campfire.
“I personally did not ask any questions, but it was great being able to listen to the other questions people asked,” Rimsha Malik ’20 said.
Malik described the “Chat with Chaplains” session as the most memorable portion of the retreat. The “Chat with Chaplains” was an opportunity to ask questions about any topic regarding Islam to any of the four chaplains in attendance. The chaplains were Sultan, Omer Bajwa of Yale, Patricia Anton of the University of Pennsylvania, and Kaiser Aslam of Rutgers.
“The time we had at the retreat was short, but I am excited to sustain the new friendships that I made,” she continued.
In the evening, participants reconvened by the campfire to listen to original songs and anasheed, musical works that reference Islamic beliefs and history.
Students from the University produced performed an original song titled “Empty Hands.”
Amir Raja ’18, current president of the Princeton Muslim Student Association, was a part of the student group that performed the song.
“Our inspiration for this was that we wanted to use this retreat to improve our spiritual hearts, and hopefully through our music improve the hearts of those who heard the song,” Raja said.
He explained the importance of renewing intentions in the heart and re-establishing what one truly considers valuable in this life. The retreat also included a story-telling of the life and character of the Prophet Muhammad.
“Princeton often becomes so monotonous — so essay-, [problem] set-, and number-oriented — that you can easily lose focus on the less tangible,” Raja said. “But for me, this retreat helped remind me that the most important aspect of life is faith.”
The event took place at the Princeton-Blairstown Center.