The YUMNA Collective will facilitate the research residency ‘A Spiritual Home for Us’ April – July in the WORM Pirate Bay. This residency centres around the experiences of Muslim women in the Netherlands. It focuses on how can they build an infrastructure to navigate the different ways of being, living, creating and thinking in religious and spiritual spaces on their own terms.

Jasmin Sharif is one of the founding members of YUMNA. We sat down with her to discuss the vision of this residency.


Can you tell us a bit about the emergence of your collective and the individuals behind it? 

The idea and outcome of YUMNA started one year ago, born from the need for a space where the multifacetedness of being a Muslim woman can take shape. The first gathering was an experiment to work around this need. So I organised a small prayer gathering in my house for which I invited 7 women. The idea was simple: to just come together, pray together, and then reflect on our relations to prayer. “How do you give it a place in your daily life? Are you experiencing any difficulties? What does it bring you?” What happened in that space of women whom had just met was very special – and we continued to build this further through organizing more gatherings in different contexts.

Being a Muslim woman is often questioned – outside as well as inside religious or cultural communities. Especially if you are visibly Muslim, there is a specific type of expectation of being very pious associated with it, as if that is all you are and are able to. However, actually giving room to all of your facets can be complicated when you live in a secular society that does not offer (a lot of) space for religion and spirituality.

I remember in university, adding God into the equation during philosophy class would be stuffed away. Even it is your frame of reference – it is not seen as a serious element. But I move in this world as a Muslim, I believe in God, I believe in an afterlife. I base all my actions around that.

Secular spaces ask you to put that away. So in YUMNA gatherings we try to focus on what our inner worlds look like instead of constantly relating to outside factors, norms and expectations.


A spiritual home for us is about building a sustainable community of togetherness for Muslim women in the Netherlands. What do you believe is needed to achieve this?

I think what is needed is to see and meet different Muslim women. If I speak for myself, that has been a very valuable factor. A big part of my life consisted of growing up on the internet. So that meant I met a lot of people through Instagram, for example, which have shown me different ways of being Muslim.

Some are DJs, some teach Qur’an class, some dye their hair monthly, others wear niqabs (and still dye their hair monthly). It comes down to living such different lives, but nonetheless there is this common denominator of identifying as Muslim. You can be raised with islam, but as you reach adulthood, you actually have a choice in deciding whether you want to identify as a Muslim or not. And that’s the only needed baseline: a belief in God.


Are there other things you’d like explore in this residency? 

I strongly believe in the concept of role models and seeing the different ways to be Muslim. The migration history of the Netherlands has contributed to an idea of islam displayed through Moroccan or Turkish culture and customs. Most mosques are facilitated by these communities as well. It is amazing that they have been able to take up this space in the Netherlands – however it is a limited perspective.

There’s such a variety when you get to speak to people with different heritage, are reverts or simply are trying to grasp what it means to be a Muslim in 2023. We try to move away from the idea that you have to be very well-read and covered to be a proper Muslim. That is what we are trying to debunk, that is not what it means to be a Muslim. We center experiences and by doing so create a space where we reflect on new meanings collectively.


The four main aspects of this research residency are connection to the divine, the body, the mind and nature. What made you choose these to center? 

Every theme comes from a different motivation – but the aim of it is a holistic one. What they have in common is that all of these ask you to question the relation to Dunya [life on earth] and Akhirah [the afterlife]. As a Muslim, you are constantly balancing those two worlds.

Speaking of ‘the divine’ for example can sounds like something for which is limited or no space in life on earth. Because you cannot grasp it, you cannot see it. But I do believe there are ways you can enter it, through simple rituals and encounters. That is something we will unpack during the first session.


You highlighted reliance on God and the aspects of Islam that build on conscious living. Can you go further into what this means for you and in general?

There are many rituals built into Islam that help you move more consciously through life, such as prayer. It is something that is built to do five times a day and every time you step into prayer, even for just five minutes, you are actively choosing to say: “okay, I am going to take some distance from the work that I’m doing or the people I am hanging out with now and tap into another realm”.

During this interview, many Muslims are observing Ramadan. I think this month is such a beautiful month to tap into more conscious living. Just something simple as being aware what time the sun comes up and goes down in order to start or break your fast gives you a natural rhythm for the day. You are literally moving through the day like the sun does.

The extra time you get access to because you are not focused on your regular routine creates more focus to look inward. What do you want to improve this month? What do you want to spend your time on? And how does this nourish your relationship to the Divine?


How do you hope a spiritual home for us will be a guiding force for Muslim women? 

One of the things we want to do during this residency is to build an online archive based on what we discuss every session. So that will be things we collect, such as texts, photos, reflections, but also people’s favourite Instagram accounts or articles.

I hope that A Spiritual Home for Us can become a continuously-built archive. Not only one that is built during those sessions, but also after that. I hope that people get inspired to organize their own gatherings following the residency. I don’t think it’s really sustainable for one organisation to forever organise things, especially when you aim for intimate settings. It’s really special when people within a community get inspired. Maybe an individual finds two other people who are like-minded and start a book club or halaqah together.

I hope that it helps to create people’s spiritual homes within their own lives. That you don’t have to be reliant on an organiser, but you can be the organiser yourself. You can gather, you can create your own spaces – even if that’s inside your own house. Obviously not everyone has the means to be able to do so, but as human beings we are with so many. It would be amazing to just see people become more comfortable to trust each other in order to build together.

At the end of the day, people think a lot about ‘what do I want my life to look like? What do I want to be a part of?’ One of the ingredients that we want to add to that is that spirituality can be part of that life.


Were there any platforms that inspired this project?

I’m very inspired by anything that happens in London. I think it’s such an interesting blueprint for organising and community building for diasporic people. Despite London and Rotterdam having different histories – somehow it does resemble a similarity in the way migrants have become such a big part of the city’s constitution. The difference however is that in London, all types of cultures, religions and communities just make it happen to organise, to come together, to make space for themselves. Comparing the Netherlands as a whole to that makes it seem as if we have been years behind.

One of my favourite platforms is Amaliah.com, a media platform for and by Muslim women. Besides sharing very practical articles, such as how to pay Zakat (yearly part of your income donated to the needy), they also share very ‘real’ stories: dilemmas that are very relevant for the time we live in, ranging from our relation to social media to buying or renting a house. It shows that you can choose the way you want to move with religion to give it a place in your life.

The platform also offers an openness to ask questions. One time they published an article by a woman who shared a list of things she can’t reconcile about Islam. Then you had another article from someone who replied to that. So it’s also a very fruitful platform to have a conversation.

In the age of being overflooded with content on a daily it can be difficult to find or hear voices that are truly relevant and not just noise. . So a platform like Amaliah is a gem, if you ask me.


Finally, what insight and knowledge do you personally want to gain from this residency?

I am really curious what the question and thoughts are of Muslim women that they don’t necessarily always feel comfortable enough for to ask. I’m just really interested to see what those topics and questions are. And what motivated people to sign up and also what knowledge and experiences they carry with them.

The way I developed my relationship to my religion is very different from people around me. And as I recently have met people who grew up as a Muslim in Asian countries, it became even clearer how layered all of our different contexts are.

I think for everyone, it’s a really personal journey. So I’m really curious what those journeys entail for the people joining the residency.


Interviewer: Chioma Anyabuike