At 8:30 pm I was driving down a dark rural road at the outskirts of Cottage Grove, Oregon, with my GPS set to an approximate address. The address I had was a property next to 80 acres of forrest I was trying to reach. This forrest didn’t have a street address. My GPS told me “you have arrived” when I came to a gravel turnoff. There were no lights anywhere. I tried calling my host but had no phone reception. At this point my imagination took over.
“I’m going to have to sleep in my car”
“No don’t be ridiculous, I'll just drive back into town and get a hotel”
“What if I just turn down the road and maybe I will see the neighbor’s house and can ask them for directions”
“people get shot doing that kind of thing these days”
“what if I get shot asking for help at the neighbors and then dumped in a ditch and no one finds my body for 20 years”
“ok how about I just drive down the gravel turnoff and see what I can see”
“ok gonna do that”
I drove my Prius down a road that was not made for Prius’s (Prii ?) and passed lights from some buildings on the left side of the road off in the distance. I really had no idea where I should go or where I should stop for help so I just continued hoping that this was God's plan and that things would just work themselves out. I passed some more lights off to the right about 100 yards from the road. It looked liked a campsite. I drove over a rickety old bridge. Figuring that cars were a rarity in this area I decided to just stop, leave my lights on and hope that my host was expecting me and would come to the rescue once he saw a Prius idling halfway up a rocky road out in the middle of 80 acres of forest.
And sure enough after about 5 minutes I saw a figure carrying a flashlight walking towards me.
“What if that’s not the person I’m hoping it is, then what…."
It turned out to be exactly who I was hoping it was, Gidadu, the man who I’d spoken to earlier on the phone.
He lead me back to his family’s campsite consisting of 3 tents, a fire, a solar shower and a compost toilet and introduced me to his wife Aasma and their 7 children ranging from 1 and a half to 16. Aasma served me tea and a plate of food and we began talking.
I had arrived at New Medina Village, a brand new Muslim intentional community on 80 acres of forrest, streams and meadows. Gidadu and his family had only been there for 6 days and the one other family living on the land had also just arrived. Another new resident was scheduled to arrive the following day.
An intentional community is a group of people who choose to live together cooperatively and share resources. Examples of intentional communities are co-ops, cohousing communities, communes, ecovillages and kibbutzim. As a Muslim and a resident of a cohousing community I was curious about New Medina Village so I decided to come visit and learn more.
This community is completely off the grid at present. They get their water from a stream (it was tested for arsenic and giardia and it came out clean) There is no electricity yet so we used the fire at night to keep warm, and of course there was no internet. These factors drastically change family dynamics. Instead of everyone disconnecting from one another and staring at a screen after dinner is over, everyone sits around the fire and talks or sings songs. I asked the teenagers if this was preferable to being on Facebook and they seemed ambivalent.
New members are encouraged to make hijrah to New Medina VIllage. Hijrah is an Arabic word meaning "to emigrate from one place to another” and Prophet Muhammed made hijrah from Mecca to Medina in 622 CE after learning of a plot to assassinate him.
“The true emigrant is he who has emigrated away from what God has prohibited.”
-Prophet Muhammed ﷺ
This is where the values of New Medina Village become apparent, its members have migrated away from consumerist culture, a society that enables the mistreatment of animals, a broken public school system, overly processed food, and any other aspect of mainstream American culture that a Muslim might find objectionable.
Writes Imam Muhammad Adeyinka Mendes on the New Medina Village website:
Consumer culture has led us to disconnected islands of people who feel increasingly alienated, severed from nature, and burdened by the ever rising costs of life’s basic necessities.
Our environment, food, drink, and relationships grow increasingly more toxic due to the lifestyle we have inherited and choose to perpetuate. We believe we have found a remedy for this dilemma.
While we seek to embody all of these meanings of hijrah, its highest meaning is that one leave all that is other-than-God to enter the Divine Presence. This is the ultimate migration we intend that our urban and rural communities help all those who seek to realize their highest human potential attain, God willing.
We practice aligning our values with our actions, free from much of the fitna (strife) of modern life. Our foremost intention is striving for ihsan (inner excellence), being a baraka (blessing) to the earth, and a rahma(mercy) to it’s inhabitants with our hearts, words, and deeds. Daily, we renew these intentions by being the change we want to see in the world.
Building a community from scratch is a tremendous undertaking so I have a lot of respect for these individuals. We had many discussions about how communities can be setup such as an economy based on pure socialism, where everyone’s income is pooled and redistributed evenly. This means that the doctors are given the same monthly income as the people working in the community kitchen. This system is used on kibbutz Samar in Israel and it works because you can’t really put a price tag on the quality of life you get in return for giving your income to the community; the higher income earners realize this. For example residents of Samar enjoy horses, a swimming pool, and 2 cooked meals every day. But given the culture of capitalism in the US, this economic model might be hard for Americans to accept.
We talked about problem solving models in communities to handle conflicts such as disagreements over participation in the community, animal/pet policy, and how to accommodate the needs of non-Muslims who may want to live in the community some day.
It is admirable that the founders of New Medina Village have made a conscious choice to change their own world and their own community for the better rather than just complaining about what they don’t like about mosque culture, consumer culture and increasing social isolation in America.
When does a kid get to sit in a yard with a stick anymore? You know, just sit there with a fucking stick. Do today's kids even know what a stick is? You know, you sit in the yard with a stick and you dig a fucking hole; and you look at the hole and you look at the stick and you have a little fun.
- George Carlin
I remember spending hours outside playing in the bushes with sticks in the dirt when I was a kid and this is what the kids there were doing too. They were also learning how to take care of chickens and goats, how to chop firewood and how to identify different plant species.
The children are home schooled due to Aasma’s frustration with inadequacies of the public school system. It was the weekend when I visited but instead of demanding to be entertained with electronics or attention from their parents, these kids had pretty basic needs and wants and entertained themselves. One of the boys, Farooq who I guessed was around age 10, told me he really just wanted a potato to roast in the fire. Gidadu and Aasma went into town and bought potatoes and I cooked mine with the kids around the fire and Farooq got what he wanted.
This is how my father lived when he was a boy, before his father built the family a home.
The plans for the community are inspiring and include:
• Homes will be beautifully and artistically made from locally sourced, sustainable materials
• Masjid, where everyone in the community prays together
• Schools: K-12, Summer camp, Arabic, seminary, intensives, retreats
• Studios - ceramic, blacksmith/metal-smithing, fber arts, woodworking, etc. (for hobbyists and for people seeking livelihood)
• Corner Store - items produced on the land or imported staples (oils, four, books)
• Recreational facilities
• Ponds - aquaculture, swales, and water collection
• Soccer field
• Guesthouse/Bed & Breakfast with sauna and spa for visitors
• Dormitories to house students, conference attendees
• Health Clinic & medicinal garden & apothecary
• Zone 5: Wild area, meditation/personal retreat/solitude, sacred space
• Hiking trails
• Elder recreation room
I’m rooting for the success of this community and can’t wait to go back. If it moves you, consider making a donation to help this community realize its vision.