Holy Islamville, South Carolina – The 25th Silver Jubilee Banaatun Noor Ladies Summer Program, held from June 2nd to July 8th, in the tranquil Muslim village of Holy Islamville, in York, South Carolina, was the culmination of the adventure of the rustic camping experience, the discovery of learning new,. practical and creative life arts and skills and the illuminating spiritual enlightenment that hundreds of ladies have been blessed to experience since the program’s establishment in summer of 1987.
Twenty-five years ago, on this very hallowed ground, 75 Muslim ladies of all ages anxiously stood in a semi-circle formation around the front porch of the home of Syeda Najah Qadria (Allah’s mercy be upon her) and Baba Ali Abdur Rasheed. The First Annual Banaatun Noor International (BNI) Ladies Retreat was nearing its close, and the participants excitedly awaited the highlight of that historic, exhilarating and enlightening two-weeks of intensive classes in Islamic religious studies, life of the Holy Last Messenger and the fine arts of Islamic homemaking.
Finally, the telephone signaled that the call that everyone awaited was coming through from the luminary founder of the BNI ladies’ educational programs, the beloved Murshid and “Abu” – His Eminence El Sheikh Syed Mubarik Ali Shah Gilani.
The crystal clarity of the voice of the Imam of Muslims of the Americas and Vice Chancellor of the International Qur’anic Open University evoked the feeling that he was actually in our midst, though in reality being thousands of miles away. His vision to inculcate thorough knowledge of the Islamic way of life and its practical application was realized as the participants studied the Islamic manual of life – the Holy Qur’an, and learned how to benefit from its sublime teachings, and derive maximum guidance and blessing by following its instruction in letter and spirit, as demonstrated by the Holy Last Messenger, peace and blessing of Allah be upon him.
For twenty-five years, His Eminence El Sheikh Gilani has overseen and developed the programs of Banaatun Noor International (translated ‘Ladies of Light’), which has been instrumental in transforming the lives of hundreds of Muslim ladies by providing the keys to true success of this life and the next through comprehensive Islamic Education courses that focus not only on academics, but also on the etiquette and proper conduct expected in life as a daughter, mother, wife, and citizen.
As a direct descendant of the Holy Last Messenger Muhammad, peace and blessing of Allah be upon him, El Sheikh Gilani always demonstrated the most distinguished of manners and decorum – that of the sublime character of Nabi Muhammad, peace be upon him, leading the participants of the educational programs for ladies – and the entire community as well- to form a bond of loving emulation of that most excellent example.
During the course of those twenty-five years, the gem-seeds planted by El Sheikh Gilani in this blessed village – the fourth-holiest place in the world – in the establishment of the Jamia Fatimah Mosque and School, and more recently, the Abdul Qadir Gilani Institute of Sufic Sciences, have been incessantly nurtured by his devoted, tireless and loving instruction, mentoring and guidance that has reformed two generations of American Muslims from a state of roughness and ignorance, to a polished, refined and enlightened existence.
His Eminence El Sheikh Gilani has always encouraged the ladies to follow the noble examples of the most blessed women of Islam, who all displayed exceptional courage, diligence in performing their duties, patient perseverance in difficulties, and abiding love and devotion to the Almighty Creator, urging each individual to study their lives and to choose a specific lady to emulate and to then strive to cultivate the honorable qualities she exhibited. .
Unique to this camp, the 70 Silver Jubilee participants were arranged into seven groups, as directed by His Eminence, in order for them to become more familiar with one another by preparing a daily meal and eating together, thereby fostering a cohesive group spirit in their studies and daily activities. Each group adopted the name of one of the pious ladies of our Islamic heritage, with 10 ladies under the banner of each of their respective names: Hazrati Fatimah, the most beloved daughter of the Holy Last Messenger, peace be upon him, Hazrati Khadijah, his first and much-adored wife, the very astute and scholarly Hazrati Aisha, his youngest wife, Hazrati Amina, the pure mother of Nabi Muhammad, peace be upon him, the most generous Hazrati Zainab, Hazrati ‘Asiya, the wife of the Pharoah of Egypt who suffered torture due to her belief in the One Almighty Creator, and Hazrati Maryam, the blessed mother of the Holy Messenger Jesus – may Allah’s peace be upon them all.
The groups remained together during classes, showing concern for the progress and welfare of each other. This fostered community spirit and love between the ladies, reinforced the virtue of self-sufficiency as they learned how to make soap and other toiletries, fruit preserves, clay pottery, and other practical skills; it was a daily reminder to each participant of their charge to choose one of the pious ladies, learn about her, and make her a role model for her own life.
Thus, by the end of this very special retreat, the fortunate ladies of the 25th Silver Jubilee Summer Program, like diamonds, brilliantly reflected the luminescent rays of true light which they gained through the compassionate attention, teaching, lectures and training of His Eminence El Sheikh Gilani throughout the camp’s 5-week duration.
As the participants entered the pavillion for the closing ceremonies, aligned in their groups behind colorful banners embroidered with the names of the most honored heroines of Al Islam, every heart present felt a rush of emotion – proud of their accomplishments, grateful that they were so honored, renewed and emblazoned with the resolve to fulfill their mission.
A ‘Ceremony of Thanks’ was conducted, with the Honorable Khadijah Begum K. Khalil and the Honorable Khadijah A. Raheem expressing, on behalf of Banaatun Noor International, heartfelt thanks to the most important person our lives – His Eminence El Sheikh Syed Mubarik ali Gilani; an exquisite plaque was also presented. The melodious voices of the participants, in songs of tribute to El Sheikh, echoed the love and gratitude of each participant, and the entire community, for the unwavering dedication, sacrifice, and decades of tireless work of His Eminence El Sheikh Gilani to revive the practice of Al Islam throughout the world and infuse love of Almighty Allah, The Exalted and His Holy Last Messenger, peace be upon him, into the hearts of all humanity.
Each participant of the auspicious 25th Silver Jubilee Ladies Program realized deeply their commitment and obligation to utilize and share their newly acquired and refreshed knowledge, and ultimate treasure of wisdom that each heart extracted from the amazing experiences. The tremendous spiritual energy generated by the abundant Mercy, Forgiveness, and absolving Grace our Almighty Creator showered upon them filled their innermost beings with the certitude of His Eternal Presence in the existence of His creatures; verified their understanding of how they must live the Islamic way of life – fully, passionately, joyfully, yet soberly aware that obedience to Almighty Allah, love and emulation of His beloved Holy Last Messenger, doing and enjoining of good, and forbidding and abstaining from evil are the unfailing components of the formula for success in this life of testing and the abiding .reward of the real life hereafter.
Honorable Khadijah A. Raheem (above left) presents awards to competition winners Yamina Abdullah (center) and Ashiqa A. Alim (right).