Friday, 6 January 2017

Generation X Muslims and Rudeness

I think our young people are often unfairly stereotyped and maligned. The papers often seem intent on creating an image of young people as lazy, spoiled and shallow, I have seen them described as “snowflakes” for being too sensitive amongst other things.

I don’t agree with this and I think that youngsters today are more compassionate and have a greater social conscious than the generations that preceded them. They are more environmentally aware, they care about the plight of the poor and homeless and they are concerned and upset by the wars in the world. They also live in a world that is more complex, connected and sometimes a lot more frightening than the ones their parents and grandparents grew up in.

I believe that we should show understanding and compassion towards them and have patience with them as they figure out the world and their place in it.

But sometimes I cannot believe how rude young Muslims raised in this country are! I can’t understand if it is on purpose or if it is the result of shyness or awkwardness. I wrote recently asking whether we could raise Good Muslim children in the West, I mentioned the example of a mum I met on the school run who was talking about moving back to Pakistan with her children:

“Another mum asked her why she wanted to go back and she replied that she couldn’t see a future here, that no matter how much you worked it wasn’t enough to live comfortably and the kids turned our strange here”.

I argued that children could be brought up well or badly in either place depending and that either place could have a different definition of well brought up and different values around what they thought good upbringing is. Some of the readers who commented on this post brought some insightful and interesting viewpoints to this conversation and really made me think.

What got me thinking on this theme again was an invitation to a recent aqeeqah dinner for a friend’s first grandson. I love people and I love socialising so was happy to go with my girls, although poor Little Lady had to be dragged there complaining the whole way.

I only knew the host and one other guest, but said hello to the other guests and found excuses to talk to them. A number of the guests were young women who were friends and cousins of the new mother. They avoided us and sat in their own group not saying hello and or engaging at all. When dinner was served they disappeared into another room completely.  Little lady was very uncomfortable and hated being there. I felt a bit like an outsider and almost an unwelcome guest. The grandmother was lovely and made us feel very welcome, but she was the only one.

Little Lady and my lovely neighbour who is at university often tell me how rude young hijabi’s can be, in particular giving dirty looks to people. I used to argue with them that they were paranoid or reading into things too negatively and they would roll their eyes and say I just don’t see it because I am older and don’t get the same treatment.

But there are lot of young hijab-wearing Muslimah’s at my office, particularly in the latest in-take of youth trainees. Groomed, make-up contoured to Instagram perfection, stylish clothes and eye brows on fleek (although this new trend of colouring outside your eyebrows just makes me laugh), but boy can they be haughty. They won’t look at you, they will not return your smile, forget saying salam to a sister. 

My husband says that kids would never get away with this kind of behaviour in Pakistan. Children are expected to say salam to their parents when they come home from school. They will greet uncles and aunts they meet and family friends or their parents friends. Networking and building relationships is an integral part of life in Pakistan and you won’t get if you don’t build relationships, treat others with respect and learn how to meet and greet people (unless you’re rich of course, in which course none of the usual rules apply).

My children are expected to greet anyone that comes into the house and I try to get them to sit with guests and certainly to engage with their children. They can forget leaving a child sitting alone or feeling awkward and disappearing into their bedrooms. I saw too much of this behaviour as a child from children in my family and wider community who would disappear at the sight of guests and not even say hello. These are the same kids who as adults often have no idea how to host people they have never met before or how to behave in specific social interactions such as paying condolences following a death.

I know not all young people behave like this. Teenage is a difficult time and sometimes teenagers are still trying to figure things out, but I don’t think there is any excuse for blanking people and many of these people are well out of their teens.

I think part of the problem can just be personality, people can be shy and find social situations excruciating, especially if you are naturally introverted and find people draining. But that’s still no excuse not to say salam and ignore people, or move away en masse like a herd of haughty teenage peacocks.

Perhaps parents don’t think it is important or a big deal, but the way you greet people, the first impression you make and the way you make people feel is such a big deal. Most important of all, Muslims have a beautiful example in the sunnah of the beloved Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wasallam):

Abu Hurairah (RA) who quotes the Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) as saying: 'A Muslim has a right against his fellow Muslim in six ways.' Asked what these were, the Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) said:

1. When you meet him, greet him;
2. If he invites you, accept his invitation;
3. If he seeks your advice, give him an honest and sincere advice;
4. If he sneezes and praises God, bless him;
5. If he falls ill, visit him; and
6. If he dies, attend his funeral.' (Sahih al-Bukhari and Muslim)

I am starting to see some of the young ladies in my office use the prayer room and will always say salam, hold open doors and ask if they need a prayer mat. I can see some of them open up and smile shyly, sometimes they seem surprised that someone said salam to them. Maybe they haven’t been treated with respect or don’t know the value and important of saying salam to each other.

"When a greeting is offered you, answer it with an even better greeting, or (at least) with its like. God keeps count of all things." (Surah an-Nur; 4: 86)

Umar (RA) reports that he was riding with Abu Bakr (RA) on one mount. When they passed by people, Abu Bakr (RA) greeted them saying: 'Assalamu alaikum' and they replied: 'Wa alaikum assalam wa rahmatu Allah.' Or he may greet them saying: 'Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatu Allah,' for which their reply was: 'Wa alaikum assalam wa rahmatu Allah wa barakatuh.' Abu Bakr (RA) commented: "Today, people have gained much more than us." (Sahih al-Bukhari in Al-Adab Al-Mufrad)

It has been narrated from Ibn Umar (RA), that the Holy Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) said, "He who speaks without firstly giving salaam, then do not answer him (to what he has to say)." 

Imams Bukhari and Muslim reported that the Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) said, "A rider should greet a pedestrian, a pedestrian should greet one who is sitting, and a small party should greet a large party, a younger should greet an elder one."

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Word of the Year 2017: Salah

I really enjoy the annual practice of picking a Word for the Year and thinking about how I can use the word as a starting point to improve my life and the way I do things or to bring focus to something that matters to me at that time.

(image courtesy of Harlequin Sister's creative photography skills)

In recent years I have been picking a word for the year (WOTY) to motivate and guide me with some turning out more appropriate than others:

In 2011 my word was courage as I was keen to try new things and new directions in my life.

In 2012 I didn't pick a word as I was expecting Darling that year and struggling to stay sane through a busy time at work and severe nausea, so in hindsight I think patience would have been a good one.

In 2013 the word was discipline - in my eating habits, spending and family routines – I felt that I was very bad in being disciplined at these and by the end of the year I didn’t feel that I had seen much improvement.

In 2014 the word was focus – I had so many plans and felt so clear about how I would achieve them. However I soon found myself pregnant with Baby and every one of those plans went out the window, first because my body felt like it was breaking down under the pressure of a fifth pregnancy and then because my mind could barely keep up with the demands of five children and extended family. I have no idea what the word should have been during that - maybe acceptance would have been a good one.

My word for 2015 was shukr – gratefulness. I wanted to practise gratitude – for all that Allah (SWT) has blessed us with – the things we remember and those we don’t. My intention was to become more grateful for every big and small blessing in my life, but more than anything else it made me realise how much we have and how little gratefulness we show for it. So gratefulness will be an ongoing theme for me and one that I hope to work on and pray for indefinitely.

My word for 2016 was health. I felt that if I got this right it would impact so many areas of my life – my energy levels, my confidence if I lose weight, my long-term health, my budget, my conscience – I wanted to get my family eating as healthily as possible and to enjoy cooking good, healthy food. What changed during this year was that I tried to blog a monthly update on how I was doing with this WOTY – what I was trying to differently and what I was learning. I only managed to do this for part of the year, but it really helped me to reflect and to keep focus.

My word for 2017 is Salah, or prayer. There are a number of reasons for this. For all of the effort we put into trying to achieve our goals and improve our lives, I have always felt that the one thing that can really help me is salah and as part of that dua. Again and again I have come across advice and examples from the Quran and sunnah of the way salah has been used to fulfil needs. Whether this has been asking for your needs through supplication in your five daily prayers or through the optional prayers such as tahajjud, the night prayer:

It is narrated by Abu Hurairah (ra) that Allah’s Apostle (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) said: “Our Lord, the Blessed, the Superior, comes every night down on the nearest Heaven to us, when the last third of the night remains, saying, “Is there anyone to invoke Me, so that I may respond to invocation? Is there anyone to ask Me, so that I may grant him his request? Is there anyone seeking My forgiveness, so that I may forgive him?”” (Bukhari)

Abu Hurairah (ra) reports that the Messenger of Allah (
sallallahu alaihi wasallam) said: “The best prayer after the obligatory prayers is the night prayer.” (Muslim)

''The Dua made at tahajjud is like an arrow that does not miss its target.'' — Imaam Ash Shafi (ra)

I have also been quite self-conscious of my prayers in the past. I am mindful that the quality and concentration of my salah could be much better. Part of this is the busy-ness of life and the distractions of being a mother, but a bigger part is about not allowing those distractions to take away from the quality of my salah. I think developing or improving the ability doing this will also help me to become a calmer, more conscious person that can attend to what is important without being pulled away by what seems urgent all the time.

At the same time, the idea that salah could be the coolness of my eyes is something that seems so beautiful, but so far out of reach:

The Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) said “Coolness of my eyes lies in Salah” (Ahmad, An-Nasa'i)

To be able to pray five times a day, to truly enjoy it and find such an intensity of happiness in it that you call it the coolness of your eyes, seems like such a blessing and something to truly aspire to.

There are a number of things that I want to do to improve my salah and through it my life insh’Allah:

Learn about salah – I want to review my recitation in salah and whether the movements and positions are accurate. This may seem very basic, but I have run through salah a number of times in halaqah’s (study circles), and every single time there has room for improvement, whether in the detail of the position or the pronunciation of a single word.

I would also like to study a little more about the benefits and virtues of salah, examples from the sunnah and also the punishments for salah. I believe that these are the things that will help to inspire and motivate me insh’Allah

Reflect on salah – I want to spend a little time reflecting on the words and the meanings in salah.

Dedicate more time to salah – I often miss the nawafil part of my prayers and sometimes when I am harried the sunnah part. I keep reminding myself that our purpose here and the most important thing for us to prioritise and allocate enough time to is worship:

And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me. ~ Quran 51:56

With this in mind, I want to try and pray my sunnah and nawafil. I want to take a deep breath and let go of the daily to-do lists and household tasks and let the children wait for what they need when it is time for prayer.

My older two children pray, but Gorgeous has been a bit more averse to salah, saying he is too young and that I can’t make him until he is 10, which he is this year. So I hope to bring him on this journey with me and get him to see prayer as an opportunity and a way to connect with Allah (SWT).

What would your word or phrase for 2017 be?

The Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) said: “Prayer is the best thing to be occupied with,, so perform as much of it as you can.” (Ahmad)

The Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) said: “The first thing for which the slave will be held accountable for on the day of Resurrection is his prayer; if it is good (by performing it properly and on time), then all his affairs will be good, and if it is ruined (by neglecting it), then all his affairs will be ruined.” (At-Tabaraani)

The Messenger of Allah (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) said: “When any one of you stands to pray, he is conversing with his Lord, so let him pay attention to how he speaks to Him.” (al-Haakim, al-Mustadrak, 1/236; Saheeh al-Jaami’, 1538).

The Prophet of Allah (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) is quoted to have said to Abu Dharr: "Two light units of Prayer offered with contemplation are better than a whole night spent in worship." (Bihar al-Anwar, Volume 74, Page 82 and Wasa'il al-Shi'ah, iv, 686)

Review of Word of the Year 2016: Health

My word for the Year for 2016 was Health. I have used a word of the year (WOTY) to focus on something I wanted to change or improve in my life and this was one area that was really important to me. I felt that if I got this right it would impact so many areas of my life – my energy levels, my confidence if I lose weight, my long-term health, my budget, my conscience – I wanted to get my family eating as healthily as possible and to enjoy cooking good, healthy food. 

I wanted to look back and review how I did with my word of the year and how much change or improvement I made. I described the intentions I made at the start of the year: 

"My intentions are not to diet but to try and increase the amount of fruit and vegetables in our diet, drink more water, walk regularly, be kind to myself and allow myself to enjoy my food without feeling guilty but also to put the effort and discipline in to make the right choices more of the time. I have tried meal planning before with varying success, so hope to experiment further with this. I want to enjoy cooking more insh’Allah, for me this means trying new recipes, fresh, colourful ingredients and food that doesn’t take a very long time but that tastes very good". – January 2016 

One year one, I haven’t lost as much weight as I wanted to and I still need to exercise more and eat less of the wrong types of food. But there were some things I did and learned that have really helped me: 

Getting in the right mental space – I moved slowly from feeling guilty, embarrassed and ashamed of the extra weight and overindulgence to accepting myself as I was and being positive about my body and the way it has served me. I stopped judging myself and instead focussed on the fact that I was healthy, had energy and that my body had gone through so much and deserved care and respect. I stopped cringing when I looked in the mirror at the extra weight and started to tell smile at myself and see the good. 

Getting your facts straight – this was about taking an honest, non-judgemental assessment of what you are doing that is impacting your health. The first thing I did was to get weighed properly. My own scales were unreliable so I got myself weighed at the pharmacy and found that my accurate weight was higher than I thought and my score on the BMI (Body Mass Index) was higher than it should be. I also spent a few weeks counting calories and steps and offsetting them against each other using the My Fitness App. It was an eye opener to see how some small snacks (chocolate biscuits) really packed a punch when it came to calories and how many steps you had to take to offset it. It was also useful to understand how many steps I was taking daily and how many more I needed to make my daily target. 

Finding motivation – I have come to the conclusion that this isn’t just about discipline. Trying to diet or deprive yourself of the things you want is not a long term measure for good health or losing weight and keeping it off. Instead of negative actions: stop eating chips, stop eating chocolate etc. I moved to positive actions: eat fresh fruit and vegetables, eat the foods that nourish and energise you, enjoy your daily walk. 

One of the things that really brought this home to me was a talk by Jon Gabriel in which he described the way we can overeat and still be in starvation mode because the food we eat is not providing the nutrition we need. Rather than cutting back junk immediately, the focus with this approach is to eat as much healthy, nutritious food as possible, thereby losing your cravings and changing your habits over time. 

Over the course of the first half of the year, I lost weight, felt great and could feel my mod and energy levels improve. Then the second half of the year felt more stressful with building works at home, a ramped up pace at work and the kids all going back to school with one starting secondary and another starting nursery school. I found myself eating without thinking and resorting more often to take away food. 

So by the end of the year I felt like I was almost back at square one, except it is not square one. I feel motivated and positive. I feel empowered with tools and techniques to get healthier and lose weight insh’Allah. I am in the habit of having breakfast which I stopped doing in my teens and that gets my through my morning and stops me going for the chips at lunch time. I am focussed on creating healthy meals for my family and will keep learning about food, mindful eating and nutrition insh’Allah as well as the sunnah of food and eating insh’Allah, as I believe this will set my children up with good habits for life. 

Did you have a word for 2016? Did it motivate or encourage you? Did you hope to achieve what you intended? 

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Free Download: The Muslimah Life Planner 2017

I created the Muslimah’s Life Planner 2017 by taking the best of the techniques, tools and planners and journals I have used over the years to try and manage my life better. I am sharing in the hope that sisters find it beneficial in helping to set wonderful goals and feeling inspired to achieve them. I hope it gets sisters thinking about how 2017 could be an amazing year for them full of clarity of purpose, gratefulness and creativity insh’Allah.

If there is one thing I love to do it’s to get organised and plan ahead. Over time I have come to realise that there is great value in thinking through what you want in life and setting out practical steps to achieve what you want to achieve.

“There is no intelligence like planning.” ~ Hadith Ibn Majah (via Provisions for the Seekers - Zaadut Taalibeen)

This planner will help you to work through listening to your inner voice (Vision Board exercise pages), deciding what the most important things are for you in the greater scheme of things (Life Planning pages) and then focussing on the parts that you can realistically do over the coming year (Daily Pages for 2017). 

The Daily Pages will give you lots of space to dream, explore, plan and review how you will make these things happen. The act of setting them down on paper will mean that rather than vague ideas that come to the fore every now and again along with millions of others, they are laid out in black and white where they can be prioritised at the start of your day, included with your days work and reviewed at the end of your day.

I hope the journal also offers a safe space for introspection and for reviewing ourselves each day in order to learn and improve. I also hope it helps sisters to find something in every day to be grateful about and to help cultivate a deep sense of gratitude in their everyday lives.

“And when your Lord proclaimed, 'If you are grateful, I will surely increase you [in favour]” ~ Quran (14:7)

Please do download and print, you can keep the journal in a ring binder folder. I have tried to keep the formats simple so that they are print friendly. There are some parts where you may need more than one copy of a page because you have lots of goals to plan out or because your vision is so expansive alhamdulillah. Simply print the extra pages and slot in where you want. This format is also conducive to adding in drawings, cuttings, art work, collages and articles you might want to save to inspire you.

I published the last version of this Planner in 2014. During the week that I was finishing it off for publication, I found out that I was pregnant with baby number 5. It was an enormous reminder that everything that happens does so as Allah (SWT) commands and as he decides. Only He can know what will happen next. At the same time, good intentions count for so much in Islam and planning ahead to maximise our good deeds is the first step in making those intentions.  After finding myself overwhelmed with everything I had to do with five children, a busy household and work, in the end it was using a daily planner that helped me to start managing my time better and understanding where my time stealers were.

If you find it useful, please make dua for me and my family. If you find the Journal useful or have suggestions for improvement I would love to hear from you at or in the comments and perhaps I could incorporate some of them into an updated version for next year.

Friday, 30 December 2016

Morning Bliss - Starting the Day Peacefully

I have always been an early riser and I have always found myself having better, more productive and more satisfying days when I wake early, particularly during that part of the year when I can stay awake after Fajr (dawn) prayer easily.

During the current break from school and work, the whole family have been sleeping in late. This has been good for catching up on my sleep, but it also mean that we all wake around the same time and I don't get any quiet time during the day at all.

So today after praying Fajr, I determined not to go back to bed, but to get a few hours of peace before everyone else woke up. 

There was plenty to do and sometimes I use this time to get a head start on housework and chores. The sink was full of dishes from the night before (this lot is from after I have already washed up the dinner dishes):

There was a load of letters and filing to sort through:

The view into the garden was not much better. The recent building works on our house are pretty much finished now, but the garden has paid the price.

This morning I decided to leave all of the mess and chores for later and take the early morning hours for myself. I made some coffee and got to enjoy it in one sitting, whilst it was still hot.

I wrapped up against the frost we have been having the last few days in my beloved, ugly and very warm giant wrap cardi. I bought this new at a boot sale for 50p from a lady who said it had cost her a lot of money but she never got to wear it. It really has kept me warm over the years.

I used the time to update out family calendar for the coming days and my Filofax too which I used to keep myself organised.

I even managed to take a look at my beads.  I have finally made a set off brown wood and glass bracelets that I was planning to make for months and a few colourful bracelets.  At the moment I am trying out combinations of these black beads as I would love to have something in black that went with most of what I wear.

In all I managed to get about two leisurely and peaceful hours this morning before the kids started to wake up.  Because I had some time for myself, I was so much more relaxed as everyone else got up and so much happier taking care of them.

Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) asked Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala) to bless us in the early morning hours, he said: “O Allah, bless my Ummah in its early hours” [Tirmidhi]

Monday, 19 December 2016

Some Space and Time

I have had the sincerest intention every day for many days – to write, to blog, to answer e-mails to catch up with the various things that go with running a blog (like broken links, editorial calendars and queries about reviews and advertising).

But life seems to conspire to distract and obstruct me. We are still living and sleeping in the downstairs two rooms of our home. This means that there is nowhere for me to sit comfortably for an hour or so without putting pressure on my back. We mostly sit on the floor and I can’t quite find a comfortable position with the laptop.

My laptop surrounded by mess.  I sat cross legged on the edge of my mattress on the floor to access it.

A few months ago our van was rammed whilst we were sitting in traffic and alhamdulillah although we are ok, my back took some of the impact and I am trying to be careful not to strain it.

I have been working on updating my Annual Planner to publish on the blog for 2017, but have only been able to do it in fits and starts. This was supposed to be followed by the Inspirational Journal for Muslimah’s, a project dear to my heart, which also remains a work in progress.

The good thing about stepping back from blogging a little, is that every time I do so, I find tons of inspiration and motivation to come back to it.

Except I caught a nasty cold which left me drained and light headed. Then today the kids appear to have come down with nasty colds, so I have three of them with various aches and pains sleeping all day and me pestering them to eat and take their medicine.

Sleeping Babies

So in the end, I have decided to give myself a few days of grace.  No writing, no feeling bad for not having answered e-mails, no worrying about anything.  I will give myself a few days to see if it is enough to get my home and life in order and some space until everyone feels well again.  To find a place to sit comfortably to write regularly.  To not be surrounded by things.  To fall into the gentle rhythm of family, holidays from work and school and unrushed prayers that I am looking forward to for the next two weeks insh'Allah.

Insh'Allah I will get on with posting more blog posts and answering e-mails as soon as I can, just not in the next few days. xxxxx

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Is Raising Good Muslim Children in the West Impossible?

Even as I write the question in the title I have to admit that I am a little biased. I was born and raised in London and I am trying to raise my children here. So what prompted the question? I went to pick up Darling from nursery this morning and said hello to some of the mums I meet there sometimes. One of them mentioned her daughter was Darling’s best friend, and I told her that her daughter’s name was mentioned daily in our home often alhamdulillah.

Another mother asked Darling’s besties mum how long before she was moving to Pakistan. She explained that they were still setting up a factory there and would move the family back there as soon as production had started. The other mum asked her why she wanted to go back and she replied that she couldn’t see a future here, that no matter how much you worked it wasn’t enough to live comfortably and the kids turned our strange here. She did mention too that they had no family here.

A tiny part of me did feel like exclaiming “we aren’t all messed up!!” Over the years, I have heard stories of families, including one of my dad’s friends, selling up and moving to Pakistan either because they thought their money would stretch further or because they thought their kids would get a better upbringing. Some stayed, many came back once their money ran out and they realised no one wants to know you if you are penniless, even all the relatives that helped you spend the money. Sometimes their children grew up and insisted they wanted to come back to the UK. One of my friends moved for the benefit of her daughters’ religious education, she struggled with the change in the environment, but stayed long enough for both daughters to become alimah (scholars) and then returned here with them. Then there are numerous friends and acquaintances that talk about moving to places like the UAE to provide their families with a more halal environment.

So are kids raised “back home” in Muslim countries better brought up? Do they have better manners? Are they more religious? My own thought on this matter is that it depends on the way they have been brought up and how you define well brought up. From my experience of my family and the families of friends, there is no shortage of spoilt, ungrateful or messed up kids back home. We also hear about the ones that have turned out well.

I do think it is a little bit easier back home in some regards: some values, such as care of the elderly and respect for your parents are ingrained into society and internalised in a way that they are not as much in other parts of the world. The way our children talk to us here is much more familiar and can be taken for rudeness. On the other hand the things that are influencing our children here: internet, mobile phones, social media etc. are now present in Muslim countries too and the children there are as up to date on the trends as the ones here are.

At the same time, I questions what we consider as well-brought up. There are some things that I think are universal: respect for parents, respects for teachers, and kindness towards your extended family, there are others which I think are not. My mum would often tell us how good our cousins are, massaging their mothers feet when she would come home from shopping. We would just go “eeewwwwww, we’re not doing that!” and think how good our cousins were at playing the grown-ups.

My kids are comfortable in disagreeing with me and debating an issue with me. In Pakistan, this might be considered as bad manners, but I don’t see it in that way. I have always said they can disagree with me as long as they do so respectfully. Here we are taught to question and be critical as part of our education. In Pakistan, I haven’t seen this in the past, certainly my husband’s generation was educated through rote learning, I suspect this may have changed now.

I hope this lady is happy if she moved to Pakistan, I hope her children are raised beautifully and she is pleased with them. In contrast I love the approach my husband has taken. He believes that you get what you strive for. If you are here to make as much money as you can, then perhaps you will. If you are here for your children to get the best upbringing, whether that means academic schooling or Islamic upbringing, then perhaps you will achieve that. In doing one, you may miss out on one of the others, who knows. But if you are here for your faith, as a da’ee, one who shares and teaches the faith and who’s biggest anxiety is that of our beloved Prophet (saw), to share the message of Islam, then, again, you can hope to get what you have worked for: a life filled with the beauty of faith, and perhaps the same for your family. My husband would say that you either influence your environment as a da’ee or you let it influence you. I you are a da’ee, then I think there is no East or West for you and I believe that Allah (SWT) will take care of the tarbiyyah (correct upbringing) of your children and safeguard their iman. I am reminded of a beautiful poem by the Pakistani poet Allama Iqbal, which was left in a comment on this blog:

Tu woh Yusuf hai ke har Misr hai Kan'aan teraa
You are the Yusuf for whom every Egypt is Canaan

(from jawab-e-shikwa, by Allama Muhammad Iqbal)

For the da’ee every Egypt is Canaan.

I would love to hear from readers about their views and experiences. Is it better back home?  Is environment too big a factor to ignore? Are children better brought up there? Are we doomed to messed up kids in the West? Or do you think it’s less about where you live and more about how you bring them up?

Friday, 9 December 2016

Things That Make Me Smile - 10

I haven't done one of these posts in ages (no. 9 was in 2011!), but I thoroughly enjoy doing them and when I look back at them, I really enjoying reading through them.

At the moment, the things that make me smile are:

A Sindhi Ajrak shawl.  I had one and wore it until it was in tatters.  My mum has the same and has worn hers carefully and keeps offering it to me.  I can't bring myself to take it, but would like to get myself another, perhaps the next time my mum-in-law comes over from Pakistan...

Pomegranate - these are in season somewhere and we are getting loads in the local shops - cheap and so sweet.  I am taking advantage and peeling and de-seeding a couple every day for everyone to share.

Colour - The days are so short here, that we barely get any sunlight on days where we start work before it is light and find it dark by the time we leave.  I have always been besotted by colour, but at the moment even more so, whether my favourite green, jewel like colours, complementary palettes or rainbow spectrum's of colour.  I can't get enough of them.

After living in our home for almost 14 years, we finally saved enough to get it refurbished.  I am thinking about the children's rooms and for the boys there is one thing that I love: maps!  I will see where I can incorporate them: trunks, bedding, wall art etc

At the moment the short days and the cold clear weather have meant that we are getting spectacularly colourful sunsets and sunrises and skies full of stars with the moon in full clear view.  I am thoroughly enjoying the beauty of it all.  Something like this most days:

I have been looking for a boxy bucket-type bag for some time to carry my snacks, journal and Filofax to work or my mums place.  Something I can see into easily and that will keep things organised, a bit like this:

These last few weeks I have been obsessed with goal setting, life plans and journaling.  I have looking at all sort of planners and journals and ways to organise my to do lists and thoughts and various goal and plans.  The bullet journaling method has been on my radar quite a bit during the last year and some elements match the way I use my Filofax.  I love the effort and art that goes into these.

Friendly Strangers and Your Children

I took my youngest, Baby, for a stroll to the shops today. She is quite small with a petite pixie face and I often get comments from people saying she looks like a little doll, obviously they can’t see that she has a temper like a little wasp. It’s always nice when people stop to coo over your little ones or say hello to them or make a nice comment. It’s even more gratifying when you live in times that are not very child friendly or even Muslim friendly. A kind comment can make your day. 

But where do you draw the line? It’s one thing when a smiling elderly lady says a nice word, but often people can come into your space or touch your child. I recall one occasion when Little Lady was two or three years old and a very elderly, quite frail, gentleman approached us in the shopping mall. He said hello to Little Lady and started to talk to her. I thought it was quite sweet until he took hold of her hand and started to walk away with her. He walked a few metres with her and then said goodbye and left us there. I had followed, but I had absolutely no clue what to do. The man was about 90 or so and looked so fragile. He was also from a generation where there seemed to be less of a terror of stranger danger or child abuse. I am embarrassed even now writing about it, but I could not bring myself to say anything to the man and was utterly relieved when he said goodbye.

I think part of it was his frailty, another part was his age. We have been brought up to respect and think well of our elderly and to indulge them. 

Today, Baby got cooed over by two men in the charity shop I went into. They kept commenting on her smile and her face. Both appeared to have mild learning difficulties and it seemed to make them happy to say hello to her. One reached over to tickle under her chin which made me a little uncomfortable, but he then walked away. When I went to the till, he strolled past again and kneeled down to talk to her and tickled her knee, which made me reaaalllyy uncomfortable. She pulled a face to show she didn’t like it and I mentioned that I didn’t think she liked it. He didn’t seem to notice and did it again until the other man on the till told him to go and do some work. 

I couldn’t bring myself to tell him bluntly not to touch her. He wasn’t frail or elderly either. Perhaps it is the English habit of being too polite and not being direct about things, certainly I didn’t want to be rude. I think if he hadn’t stopped then, I would have said something, or just swung my pram around away from him.

Curiously, some other countries are known to be more child friendly, and it’s not a big deal for a passing stranger or fellow traveller to engage with your child. Certainly in Pakistan people will randomly start talking to you or want to pick up or even kiss your child. It’s not as much of a big deal I don’t think, although people have become more wary and protective over time.

I’m curious, what would readers have done? Would you have been very clear and told the man not to touch your child? Would you not mind if the other person had become offended or embarrassed? Or have you dealt with these things differently? Do you come from somewhere where this is normal behaviour from strangers? Do you routinely interact with people’s children and feel that there is no harm in it, or that parents are too protective these days? Would love to hear people’s thoughts.

I have no idea why she decided to sleep like this...

Sunday, 4 December 2016

How to Deal with Difficult In-Laws

A sister recently left a comment on the blog describing problems she was having with her mother-in-law. You can see the original comment here and a truncated version below:

I am also a daughter in law. I made the intention to live and look after my mother in law who is currently in her 40’s and so her son can also do so. 2 weeks after my marriage I overheard her tell my husband; Leave her, you can get better from your back home country; He of course did not agree to that. She then started to lie to him and say I tried to punch her. I had a lot of house work being heavily pregnant straight after the wedding but she hardly helped with anything. When I asked, I was ignored. When her son asked I got told off by her. She is not a very honest individual and keeps cursing me. She threatens me by saying she will make her son divorce me. She has made me cry and laughed in my face saying I act like a baby. She turns the water switch off so neither I and my husband can have a shower in the morning which we of course need. I did everything to please.

Over time I have had a number of comments and e-mails on the theme of struggling with in-law’s. It seems to be a recurring issue for so many people at different level – from disliking each other’s way of doing things to physical abuse and neglect. I think there are a number of issues at play: different backgrounds, cultures and lifestyles colliding, a difference in values, personality differences, and a lack of understanding of how a family unit can work from an Islamic perspective. I think another part is that a lot of fear, anxieties and insecurities can rear their ugly heads and influence the way women behave towards each other. 

I don’t believe in women being martyrs and enduring cruel behaviour or abuse because they should “just be patient”. I don’t believe in turning the other cheek if it is only to offer it up for another slap and not to resolve the matter. I think a lot of the time we internalise behaviours that we see in our families and around us without knowing it: putting up with bad behaviour and not speaking up, not answering back to our elders, having a desire to please. We internalise values and an understanding of how women should behave and of how a daughter in law should behave: helpful, patient, sacrificing, submissive even. Which is very noble alhamdulillah, but not if it is not appreciated and not if it means putting up with unkindness or unfairness.

One of the biggest lessons I have learned in life has been that you cannot change others very easily or sometimes at all. You cannot choose how they behave. But we can change ourselves and we can choose how we want to behave. I think Muslim women should work to become confident and empowered. We should find our voice and share our opinions. We should value ourselves, our dream and our needs. We should stick up for ourselves and others. I don’t think these things are un-Islamic. I think they are an essential part of being a Muslimah who is strong enough to be positive and live according to her faith in the best way.  So my first advise to this sister would be to look at yourself and ask the question: if you truly see yourself as one of Allah SWT’s blessed, beloved creation, would you settle for this behaviour? Would you put up with it if this was happening to your sister or best friend? Why is it so important to please someone who doesn’t care to be pleased by you? Why not please yourself?

I don’t mean to sound harsh when it feels like the problem is not yourself, but someone else. But the other person is unlikely to see it that way or change any time soon. There is no easy solution. Another life lesson alhamdulillah: when you are clear on what you want and don’t care what others think, suddenly people’s behaviour towards you changes. When you stop looking to them for approval, they start looking to you for approval and agreement. To stop caring what others think is the hardest thing in the world for me, but some things you can do are:
  • Become clear on what you want out of life, how you want to live and your plan to get there
  • Understand what internal measures of success you need to set for yourself, such as achieving a goal or feeling accomplished. These should slowly start to replace any need to please others
  • Work on building your confidence and sense of self-worth in the face of those who do not value you.
It seems as if you are not what your mother-in-law envisaged in a daughter in law. That’s not your fault. It does seem that you are what your husband required in a wife, hence he is with you despite your mother-in-law’s opposition. I find in many families parents overstep their limits in finding a spouse for their child. They will look for someone that fits their requirement and values and matches their view of what a son or daughter in law should be like. They forgot that the purpose of our spouses is to fulfil our own needs in a partner: emotionally, spiritually and physically. Only we can know what we need, which is why Allah (SWT) gives us the right to choose who we want to marry. I think a lot of parents are still some way from understanding this concept.

Perhaps when we find ourselves in situations like the sister who commented, we need to re-evaluate our roles as a daughter-in-law. Is it to cook and clean? To exclusively take care of all of the care of parents and elders? To mould ourselves into what someone wants us to be? If we choose to help with the housework and care of parents, then this is a kindness on our part, it should be done for the pleasure of Allah (SWT) and not to please our in-laws or others. No matter how much we do, there will be a time when they will seem ungrateful and hurt us. But when we do things for the sake of Allah (SWT), He will never let us down, we earn the reward no matter how small the good deed.

In traditional families, this kind of thinking is scary and takes courage. To step back, assess and decide to change how we behave or react and what we tolerate from others. To make a decision to accept and deal with the consequences of doing this – which are usually not as much as we have allowed ourselves to imagine. 

At the same time, it can be challenging to deal with the range of behaviours you find yourself up against: misunderstandings, arguments, passive aggressive behaviours, emotional blackmail etc. You need to be able to recognise them for they are and armour yourself against them. When I see a grown women who is old enough to be a grandmother, resorting to passive aggressive behaviour or emotional blackmail, it tells me she feels powerless to deal with things directly, she either lacks the courage or be lives that her views or decisions do not hold enough weight to stand on their own without resorting to this kind of behaviour. I think I would feel very sorry for a person who even at this age feels so powerless.

When I have had to deal with this kind of behaviour, on the first few occasions I felt stressed, anxious, guilty and helpless. Over time, I decided that I will be the adult, carry on behaving in the best way I can and carry on doing what I have to (the bit about having a clear vision and plan). This was met with sulking, refusing to eat and hypochondriac type behaviour (saying they felt unwell). Throughout I carried on speaking to the person as normal, which confused them. I behaved as normal and was polite. In the end the person realised there was no point in playing games and went back to normal.

I know this is easier said than done, but at some point we are no longer young girls, new brides or 

We must take the difficult steps to becoming strong Muslim mothers, wives and women. Women who fear Allah (SWT), strive to do the right thing, fulfil their responsibilities, but also respect themselves and inspire respect from others.

May Allah (SWT) have mercy on the many sisters I have come across that struggle with this issue and may he reward their good intentions and resolve misunderstandings and bad feeling that develop between them and their in-laws insh’Allah.