The Retreat

BBC Two has announced the names of the volunteers who agreed to give up the trappings of modern life to spend a month at a remote Islamic study centre, for a new three-part series – The Retreat.

They include a psychotherapist from London, brought up a Christian, who has been searching for alternative faith; and a devout Muslim who fought for the right to wear a hijab at school and now wants to share her faith with others.

Following hot on the heels of the success of The Monastery and The Convent, this new series made by the same team explores the faith, tradition and culture of classical Islam as it tracks the six volunteers on their soul–searching, thought–provoking and life–changing journey.

Away from the pressures of modern life, they take part in daily prayer, reflection and study at the Spanish retreat of Alqueria de Rosales in Andalusia, which caters to many different branches of Islamic faith.

The final week will be a real test of their strength and commitment as the volunteers observe the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and are expected to fast between sunrise and sunset.

Their experience triggers some real insight into deep seated personal issues around their faith or – in some cases – lack of it.

The programme explores a face of Islam rarely seen on TV today and give viewers the chance to witness the spiritual side of one of the world’s most important monotheistic religions.

Muddassar Ahmed is 23, single and from East London. University educated, he leads an extremely busy life running a number of businesses.

He sees Islam as an onerous obligation rather than a conviction.

Constantly on his mobile or emailing, he finds it hard to remove himself from the distractions of the outside world.

Can his eyes be opened to the mystical, spiritual aspect of Islam and will The Retreat encourage him to abandon his purely rational approach to his religion?

Aisha Alvi is a 31–year–old law graduate from Cheshire whose work involves reconciling UK wills with Islamic law.

Her family background is devoutly Muslim and Aisha is a forthright proponent of strict Qur’anic observance. At 14 she campaigned successfully for the right to wear the hijab at school.

She volunteered for The Retreat because she wanted to share her love of Islam with others.

With her devout faith Aisha could struggle to come to terms with any form of Islamic worship that is different from what she is used to. Will she be able to embark on a personal spiritual journey or will her strong desire to conform to rules get in the way?

Khadejah Begag is 32 and married. Formerly Claire Sullivan, she converted to Islam ten years ago to the alarm of her family. Shortly afterwards she met her Algerian husband Rashid and they now have a 9–year–old daughter.

Khadejah is worried about losing her faith. The family suffered abuse after 9/11 and 7/7 and had to be re–housed. She has also found it difficult to practice Islam where she lives in Lincolnshire as her local Mosque has no facilities for women.

She wants to regain her love of Islam and God and to worship with other Muslims.

Sarah “Pom” Jenkins is 28 and single. She is a trained psychotherapist living in London.

She was brought up a Christian but Christianity has not answered her own spiritual quest. For years she has been exploring alternatives such as Kabbalah and Deepak Chopra.

She volunteered for The Retreat because she says she wants to experience the divine in a more committed way.

Also, in spite of all her searching, she has unresolved issues around the death of her elder sister when she was 12.

Pom is open to religious teachings and discussions. Could The Retreat and learning more about Islam be what she is looking for and give her an experience that will change her life?

Simon Yarrow is a 36–year–old divorced graduate. He trained as a scuba diving instructor and until recently ran his own business in Edinburgh. He describes himself as a “questioning agnostic”.

Simon became interested in spiritual search through life–events which caused him to question its meaning. He was diagnosed with testicular cancer in his late 20s but after making a good recovery, suffered a major upheaval when his wife suddenly left him.

Simon is an intense rationalist. He mistrusts emotion and prefers an intellectual response to anything from the heart. Could his questioning nature be a barrier to spiritual access?

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.

Han has enormous energy and an irreverent sense of humour, he refers to himself as “Blaisian” (Asian man, black attitude and culture).

After 20 years of little faith, less practice and a complicated personal life, Han volunteered for The Retreat because he wants to see if he can return to his religion and restore good relations with his father. Can he be inspired by the religious atmosphere of The Retreat?

The group is led by Abdullah Trevathan, a respected scholar and academic. He lives in Spain but also works as a lecturer at the University of Roehampton in Twickenham.

Born in Canada, he converted to Islam 30 years ago and was, until recently, head teacher at the Islamia school in Queen’s Park, London – one of the first Muslim schools set up in Britain.

BBC Executive Producer, Jacquie Hughes, says: “The series sets out to explore what Islam means to people on an everyday, personal and spiritual level.

“While it makes no claim to being a comprehensive guide to Islamic culture it does offer real insight into the spiritual heart of a faith practiced for centuries by millions of people around the world. We think it goes some way to addressing the misunderstandings which often surround Islam as a religion.”

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