Archive Pages Design$type=blogging

The Retreat: a BBC Documentary on Spiritual Retreat

Do you reflect that the Companions of the cave and the inscription were, among Our signs, a wonder?
- The Quran 18:9

Spiritual retreat is valued across all traditions. For obvious reason the nature of it, duration, how it is conducted has evolved over period of time and it varied in various cultures and traditions. Yet one thing remained unchanged that human being need to turn away consciously from the ordinary at times in order to prepare the journey towards the extra-ordinary. All major eastern religion and even in three major Abrahamic traditions we find that the Sunnah (pattern) of the Divine Messengers such as Moses, Jesus and Muhammad, perfect peace and blessings of God be on them always have spiritual retreat as corner stone of radical spiritual transformation of these greatly illuminated beings. The forty days and forty nights of Moses at Mount Sinai, forty days of Jesus in the wilderness and prolonged solitary retreat of Muhammad in the cave Hira at the Jabal Noor are all solid examples of the need of retreat for individuals. 

One of the major function of spiritual retreat is to break away from usual patterns and habits, and in a time where we live extremely mechanized life-style with tremendous amount of demand from work and society, the value of spiritual retreat even for a short period of time has its place and need without doubt. It is one of the forgotten sunnah (pattern) and ways of the Messengers and Prophets who showed us the path how to be in the world yet above it, and spiritual retreats are a re-establishing exactly that value. Spiritual retreat is not for a permanent renunciation of the world, but intended to experience even for a sanctified time for total turning towards God, a complete alignment towards spirit which is our original and eternal nature.

Nothing benefits the heart more than
a spiritual seclusion whereby it enters
the domain of true reflection.
- Ibn Ata' Allah Iskandari

Day before yesterday I was watching this documentary made by BBC that featured modern retreat experiences of 6 British individuals who volunteer to attend an Islamic spiritual retreat in Spain for 4 weeks. They involve themselves in a course of spiritual self development, the Islamic way and conducted using some of the Sufi methodology (organized by Sidi Hamza's fuqara of Qadiri Boutchich tariqa).

I have to warn you that this 3 part documentary that was aired in 3 weeks are quite long and may consume a lot of time for you (in total 3 hours). I was personally very captivated by the documentary and eventually a good portion of my day was gone in watching it. But I enjoyed it immensely, particularly the experience of transformation that was documented, how people react to spiritual practices which they are not familiar with, the understanding of others, how the doubt and faith rises and dissolves and all of the human drama that comes along it.

The participants featured in the retreat came from diverse and intersting backgrounds including agnostic, practicing traditionalist muslim and non-muslims as well. It was very interesting because the retreat was mostly done using some of the Sufi practices and at the same time almost all of the participants had no introduction / training in Sufi Path and its Way. Thus you can see the human challenges that arise in spiritual journey both for individual and collective.  

The Participants: (from left to right above):

Muslim Aisha Alvi is a 31-year-old single law graduate from Cheshire whose work specialises in Islamic law. At 14 she campaigned successfully for the right to wear the hijab at school.

Khadejah Begag is a 32-year-old married mum-of-one. Formerly Claire Sullivan, she converted to Islam 10 years ago and married an Algerian man. But she worries she is losing her faith and is fed up with abuse since 9/11 and 7/7.

Sarah "Pom" Jenkins is 28 and single. She is a psychotherapist in London, was brought up a Christian but is still seeking a faith, having tried alternatives including Kabbalah.

The group was be led by scholar Abdullah Trevathan. He lives in Spain but also works as a lecturer at the University of Roehampton in Twickenham.

Azim "Han" Ziaee is 34, single and an advertising salesman from Birmingham. He was born into a Muslim family but rebelled from an early age.

Muddassar Ahmed is 23, single and from East London. He leads a hectic life running various businesses and is rarely off his mobile. He sees Islam as a chore rather than a conviction.

Divorcee Simon Yarrow, 36 is a scuba diving instructor. He describes himself as a "questioning agnostic". He beat cancer in his twenties and prefers rationalism to religion.

Watch it Online:

>> Episode 1 of The Retreat (click here to watch via Google Video)

The first episode begins with the 6 British individuals arriving at their designated retreat place at Andalusia, Southern Spain (Alqueria de Rosales).

>> Episode 2 via Google Video

Episode 2: After last week's gentle introduction to this observational series about an Islamic retreat in southern Spain, and the six people spending time there searching for spiritual enlightenment, things start to hot up. They're an amiable bunch, but as their different personalities emerge, so does the friction between them. It's becoming clear that Muddassar is resisting the whole experience, refusing to disengage from life back in the UK until he's almost surgically removed from his mobile phone. Aisha, meanwhile, has such a prescriptive take on Islam that she spends her entire time pursing her lips in a disapproving fashion. But top moment goes to agnostic Simon, who's so rational about everything that he's struggling to engage with his mystical, spiritual side. Just as he's explaining to the camera why he thinks he didn't need to visit the retreat to get religion, there's an almighty crack of thunder that has him (laughingly) begging for forgiveness.

>> Episode 3 via Google Video

Episode 3: "This last week is going to be really tough," warns Abdullah, the retreat leader with the beard, the knotted brow and the vaguely transatlantic accent. That's because it's the start of Ramadan, so our pilgrims will have to fast all day for the remainder of their time at the gorgeously tranquil Spanish madrasa. And that really sets the cat among the spiritual pigeons. Though don't get the wrong idea: no-one could accuse this series of heated melodrama. Finger-drumming longueurs alternate with quiet personal crises: Simon the agnostic has a revelation in the woods; Pom has a significant dream about sheep; and romance is blossoming. Well, OK, not blossoming but sticking its nose out cautiously. It's a suitably mild end to a thought provoking series. (Review credit: David Butcher, RT reviewer)

"Why are you in such a hurry?" asked the Rabbi. 
"I run after my life" the man replied.
"And how do you know," said the Rabbi, "that your life is running before you, and you have to hurry up? Perhaps it is behind you and your only need is to stop." 
- Rabbi Meir ben Baruch of Rothenburg (c. 1215-1293) aka. Maharam, Jewish rabbi and Talmud scholar


Its worth reminding while watching this documentary that its not necessarily a very ideal picture of a sufi retreat. First of all it was filmed, which immediately makes it not really a retreat, there were obviously people who were not in a spiritual orientation necessarily. Also one very serious component that was missing in this retreat is the (pre) connection between the leader who is leading the retreat and one who is participating in the retreat. The heart connection, soul trust and complete surrender to the guide of the retreat is a quintessential element of the retreat which was missing.

A retreat often as it happens in modern day is that people pay money to get away from busy life. A Sufi retreat is not a holiday, but in classical sense only those with a soulfull yearning for God, for Truth is guided by a master by recognition of the genuine yearning of the soul is sent or guided to a retreat. A deep burning desire to be alone with the Alone is the only pre-requisite and indeed with the grace of God then the retreat is guided and made a catalyst for radical transformation of heart and soul.

So those who watch this BBC documentary must not take it was an ideal retreat but I wanted to share this documentary because it is a hint along the pathway and a taste of contemporary spiritual practices as and how it is preserved in our time. It also somewhat provide a hint of sufi spiritual retreat, even though ideal sufi retreat can be much more intense, a complete withdrawal from the world for 40 days and 40 nights, could also involves prolonged sitting with the guide and uniquely assigned inner work etc.

What I am reminded from the documentary that the person who lead the retreat must have to be very very knowledgeable, both heartwise and intellectual wise. The removal of doubt with sincerity requires the ability to flow with the doubter's perspective and one needs to have expansive knowledge and wisdom to do so. For example in this documentary a practicing muslim who was questioning some of the Sufi practices which she wasn't familiar with, and didn't know that they were integral part and practices within the tradition of Islam - and when she opened her doubt, the guide needs solid knowing regarding the foundation of the faith as well as the connection between its mystical practices and how they relate to the tradition etc. This element was missing and a part of the debate that comes up during the retreat among the participants were coming exactly from that lack of knowledge and wisdom.

Nevertheless its a lovely documentary to watch, a good opportunity to peak what constitute a sufi retreat (without generalizing it because it can vary tremendously depending on the teacher, guide, student, need of the time / moment). Hope you will enjoy the documentary. The links of the video are provided in highlights.

Watch Part 1 >> The Retreat (click here to watch via Google Video)
Watch Part 2 >> Episode 2 via Google Video
Watch Part 3 >> Episode 3 via Google Video

Those who cling to the world,
Endeavor to free them;
Those who are free, praise.
- Mechthild of Magdeburg

# Related:
* BBC Programs on Religion and Ethics
* Alqueria de Rosales

# Previous posts:
* Khalwa | spiritual seclusion
* Reminiscence from a khalwa night
* With Sidi Said al-Jamal and sufi khalwa night



99 names abida activism adab adamandeveit advaita alchemy alchemy of the divine Ali alka Allah almsgiving americandiary anab antiwar art article ascetic attributes audio authority award bahai bahaullah bangla bangladesh baul bawa beauty bengali bhakti bible bill whitehouse biography blog book booklog book review bosnia breath bual buddha buddhism calligraphy carnival carolyn charity children Christ christian christianity Christology click comparative comparative religion compassion consciousness contemplative tradition conversation cosmology counsel creative creative thought creative thoughts crucifixion current affairs dante darshan death deception democracy desert spirituality destiny devotion Dhikr diary documentary donation download dreamwork DVD dying earth ecospirituality ego egypt eid end time enlightenment eschatology esoteric ethics event evil exegesis exergesis experience faith fast fasting feminine folk forgiveness fundraising ghayb gita globaloneness gnosis God golden sufi gospel governance gratitude guestblog guide on the path gurdjieff hadith hadra hafez hafiz haiku hajj haqiqat haqqu hasidic headscarf headscarves healing health heart hinduism history humanright humor husayn illusion imran-hosein in_quest_of_oasis inayat khan infographic inspiration integral spirituality interview islam islamophobia jesus Jesus Christ Jewish journalism judaism justice kabir kahlil gibran kenwilber Koan Koran krishna language last age law of attraction life link Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee love love. inspiration lyric mahmud shabistari maktub malamat mansur hallaj mary mary magdalene Mawlid meditation meditative quranic verse mercy metaphysics miracle miraj Mohammad mosque movie Muhammad music muslim mystic mysticism mysticsaint poetry mysticsaint prayer mysticsaint thought Nachman naomi naqshbandi nature news news. jesus tomb old age oneness origin original osho palestine paradox peace philosophy photography pir zia inayat khan pluralism podcast poem poem on God poetry poety poll porshee positive psychology poverty practice prayer presence present project Prophet Muhammad protest psychology qawwali question quote Quran quranic qurbani rabbi meir ben Baruch ramadan reality reincarnation relation religion Remembrance resource Resurrection retreat review roundup rumi sacred activism sacred geometry sacrifice saint saints saying sayings of Prophet science secularism self service Shadhiliyya shamanism Shamcher Shaykh Nooruddeen Durkee shrine Sidi Sikh social media sohbet song soul sound speedlink spiritual spirituality spiritual materials statistics story submission sufi sufihaqqu sufi healing sufi-infographic sufi podcast sufi poetry carnival sufis sufism sufism. hinduism sufism wisdom sufi tale sufi tariqa sufi wisdom surrender survey symbology tafsir tagore tantra tao teaching technology ted temple terrorism thelogy the secret thought thoughts time translation travel tribute truth unity upanishad vatican veda veil video view violence visit webcast wisdom witness woman workshop worship yoga zakat zawiya zen zen mind Zikr
Technology of the Heart: The Retreat: a BBC Documentary on Spiritual Retreat
The Retreat: a BBC Documentary on Spiritual Retreat
Technology of the Heart
Not found any posts VIEW ALL Readmore Reply Cancel reply Delete By Home PAGES POSTS View All RECOMMENDED FOR YOU LABEL ARCHIVE SEARCH Not found any post match with your request Back Home Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat January February March April May June July August September October November December Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec just now 1 minute ago $$1$$ minutes ago 1 hour ago $$1$$ hours ago Yesterday $$1$$ days ago $$1$$ weeks ago more than 5 weeks ago