A report on the YMWA Cultural Integration Camp 2012, 14 – 17 December.
The temperamental waves of Long Bay beach swished and swayed idyllically, enchanting all within its reach. For the 60 participants of the annual Young Muslim Women’s Association (YMWA) youth camp, the Sir Peter Blake Marine and Education Recreation Centre was a captivating site. The site is situated within the very heart of the beach and welcomed the girls who were aged from 12 to 24, from 14 ethnic groups from over 22 countries. ‘Cultural Integration’ was chosen as the theme following recommendations by attendees of the previous camp.
The first day of the camp forced camp members to shock their inner biological clocks and arrive at Rocket Park for registration at 8.00 am. While this is ordinarily a relatively easy task, it requires some degree of effort when on school or university holiday! A bus transported the girls to the campsite where they were welcomed and essential ground rules and safety instructions were delivered. The girls were allocated into five teams each led by two supervisors who remained with them for the entire duration of the camp. Following this briefing, the volunteers of the food committee laid out morning tea. After the girls were nurtured physically, it was then time to feed their mind and soul with a lecture on ‘Culture in Islam’ conducted by Auntie Waseema. This lecture looked at the role of Islam as a natural and complete way of life beginning with our submission to the will of Allah (swt). To discover and understand Islam is, by and large, a return to our natural predisposition; that is, for us to understand Islam, we must understand the purpose of life and vice versa. The meaning of culture, defined as the collective practice of a large number of people, was explored and identified as adding depth and breadth to our relationships with one another. The hands of unity are neither defined nor shaped by the colour of our skin or by the tongues we speak, but by our character and behavior. A Muslim has a unique disposition as ‘home is where the heart is’; as our hearts and minds pulsate and radiate to the beat of our inner iman and faith in the oneness of our God, a Muslim does not belong to one village, tribe, city, town or even country. A Muslim belongs to and finds solace anywhere and everywhere on the face of the earth. As long as a Muslim points his or her inner compass in the direction of our Maker, inner peace is always profoundly experienced. Alhamdulillah.
Following dhuhr prayer and lunch, team-building activities and games were held at the beach. Echoes of contented laughter resonated loudly and filled the afternoon sky. Next, Sister Arifa Afzal delivered a lecture on the ‘Contemporary Cultural Struggle’ and gingerly peeled the layers enclosing the ‘Facebook culture’. In particular, the importance of questioning whether or not we as Muslimahs are presenting ourselves in a graceful, tasteful and honourable manner via our posts, comments and photos on the social networking site was stressed. In the evening the girls were introduced to a ‘Talent Quest’, which was scheduled for the Sunday night, and were given the first practice time. The evening was divided between beach volleyball and soccer, prayers followed by a spiritual bulletin and a lecture on ‘Minority Cultures in Islam’ delivered by a revert brother, Said Milton. This lecture in particular explored the contemporary struggle and challenges experienced by Kiwi reverts and was a harrowing and guilt-inducing recount. As Muslims, our duty to spread the message of Islam does not end with reversion. Instead, we must view reversion as a beautiful commencement into a chapter embossed with support and companionship. Several ‘food for thought’ issues were raised. If Islam is as empowering as we know it is, then why must Muslimahs pray behind a curtain or in a separate room as though whisked out of sight and out of mind when it is contradictory to the teachings of Islam? Why do Muslims present Islam as though it is a foreign religion from a foreign country for foreigners when it is a complete way of life for all of mankind? Why have we become divided with the facilitation and delegation of “Indo-Paki mosques”, “Arab mosques”, “Asian mosques” etc, leading Kiwi reverts to crave, sadly, for the creation of a “Kiwi mosque”? Why is the khutbah delivered in Arabic in an English-speaking country where only 15% of the crowd have a working knowledge and understanding of Arabic, when ironically in Arabic-speaking countries, it is sometimes delivered in English? The Friday jumuah prayer is, for some, the only time of the week they have time to come into the mosque and so as Muslims we have a fundamental obligation to fulfil our responsibility of nurturing the future generation of Muslims in a manner and form that is easily accessible and comprehensible. The first day ended with isha prayers, and girls headed into their cabins with the sleeping arrangements consisting of two large cabins with 30 girls in each. Saturday morning commenced nice and early with fajr prayers and a spiritual bulletin. After an hour of much needed sleep, breakfast, and cleaning duties, the girls tried their hand in the following activities: archery, canoeing, abseiling, sailing and rock-climbing. These activities were rotated in five groups of 12 and spanned across both Saturday and Sunday. Archery taught the girls vital life skills of perseverance, patience and setting challenges for one’s self, which may at first appear impossible, but which are all in fact conquerable – the ever-glorified “bull’s eye” for example. What appears as a mountain for one person is a mere molehill for another.
Canoeing and rafting were a battle against the elements, which for some girls meant that is was also the first swim of the summer after capsizing! The crystal-clear waters, wispy Rangitoto Island and the multi-million dollar clifftop houses all added to the serene ambiance that permeated the air. Abseiling and rock-climbing challenged those with a faint heart, particular those with a fear of heights. Once again, the age-old adage of “mind over matter” came into play with the girls learning that fear and insecurity occupies the space we are willing to create both mentally and physically.
Saturday afternoon was spent with a lecture on the “Role of Female Companions in the Upbringing of the ‘Islamic’ Culture” presented by Afifa Chida. Time was also allotted to Talent Quest practice. The girls admired the sun, which removed the last rays of warmth as it set, saying ‘adieu’ in an exceedingly beautiful manner. Time and space appeared to be interwoven into fragments of the infinite, causing one to marvel at the tragicomedy nature of it all.
Sunday morning activities began with a leadership workshop on dealing with differences in personalities and working together using “Lessons from Umar alKhattab (ra)” presented by Azoora Ali. Sunday was divided into the aforementioned activities that took place on Saturday followed by a particularly insightful spiritual bulletin later in the day. We are all familiar with the line delivered by the evil Queen from Snow White: “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” In Islam, beauty encompasses all that is derived from purity and goodness, which in turn is bestowed from Allah (swt). This bulletin questioned the meaning of the term ‘beautiful’ and urged us to wake up in the morning, gaze at the face peering back in the mirror and ponder whether we are a “mu’min, mutaqeen or munafiq” from Suratul Baqara’s descriptions. By echoing such questions to ourselves on a daily basis, we are all, insha Allah, sowing and harvesting the seeds of our gardens in Jannat (Paradise).
The girls participated in a “Young Leaders” workshop on Sunday night, in which they looked at organising and being leaders of projects of their own, seeking to fill the gaps that may exist in the community currently. Ideas as varied as planting trees and baking extravaganzas were conjured up andthe girls not only looked to their right or left but above themselves and applied it with undeniable zest and oomph in a forward-thinking direction. Later the much awaited and widely anticipated ‘Talent Quest’ was held and the girls showcased their finest acting, singing and dancing skills with much improvisation and bucket-loads of fun. Streams of laughter and joy split the humid night air and created a festive environment.
Monday crept up on the girls all too soon and a lavish smorgasbord of food was served for lunch much to everyone’s delight. A lecture on “De-fragmenting Time and Focus” broke down the myth that multi-tasking improves productivity by showing that the brain needs 14 – 40 minutes to regain peak concentration when switching from one task to the next. The prize-giving ceremony was a formal affair, which some parents attended. Over fifteen awards were presented varying in nature including three special awards for teams entitled “Best Team Spirit”, “Clean Green Team” and “Talent Quest Winning Team”.
Special awards were also given to youth ambassadors for achieving their youth ambassador projects under the “YMWA Youth Ambassador Success Awards” and new youth ambassadors were appointed for schools, with those who did well continuing to stay on for another year to represent their schools. All in all, the camp fulfilled its goal of uniting the Muslimahs who, as we all know, are the leaders of both today and tomorrow, and strengthened the bonds of sisterhood and piety. The theme of cultural integration and unity was adhered to and is beautifully described as follows by our blessed Prophet Mohammed (saw): “O people! Verily, your Lord is one and your father is one. All of you belong to one ancestry of Adam, and Adam was created out of clay. There is no superiority for an Arab over a non-Arab, and for a non-Arab over an Arab; nor for white over the black, nor for the black over the white except in piety.” As the Quran states, “Verily, the noblest among you is he who is the most pious” (49:13).