Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Word of the Year for 2016: Health – One Month On

As it is one month into the year already, I thought I would review myself against my word for the year: health.

My intention for this year was to focus on all aspects of health, diet and self-care for myself and my family.  My reasoning for this is that I feel that I have focussed so much on other aspects of my life that I have neglected my health and self-care to the point that it has an impact on all of the other areas of my life – worship, creativity, work, confidence, because of lower energy levels. I was also getting worried that the kids were picking up some bad habits regarding their eating.

A month on, my first reaction is that not enough has changed.  A kinder assessment would be that I have started making changes and need to build on that.

What have I done so far:

  • I have been having breakfast every single day – one slice of brown bread with butter and a skinny latte or coffee
  • I have been having a healthy salad for lunch most days, although on days I have been tired and not made it the night before, I have slipped and had whatever the canteen is offering.
  • I am drinking a 2-3 glasses of water at work and about 3-4 a day, which still sounds terrible, but is better than no water and lots of soda I was drinking at one point. I also have to manage my water intake because I make ablution for prayers at lunchtime and try not to go to the loo again until it is time to go home (as this invalidates the ablution).
  • I have been taking the stairs at work a few times a day instead of the lift
  • I have been power-walking 2-3 days a week with my husband for about 20 minutes
  • I have come to a place where I like myself as I am, don’t feel lesser in any way because I am heavier than I was and refuse to berate myself; but at the same time I know I will look better and feel more energised if I get fitter.

What hasn’t changed (yet!):

  • I am still eating too much!!! My potion sizes are too big , I am eating out too often and I am still defaulting to take-away when I am tired and being too quick to reward myself with chocolate.
  • I am spending a little too much time on my phone or laptop in the evening. Mealtimes are slightly chaotic with trying to get both babies fed, which means that I am slightly less mindful of what I am eating and how much I am eating.

What I would like to be doing:

I think a big part of trying to make a change or achieve something is knowing what the end point is and being clear about how that looks and feels like. I have focussed a lot on what I need to do and not as much on where I need to get to. The vision of where I want to be should also serve to motivate and encourage me. So for me this would look like:
  • Having a healthy breakfast of fruit, yoghurt, dates or wholemeal bread and green tea instead of coffee
  • Having a salad for lunch with lots of greens and drinking plenty of water
  • Taking a longer lunch break and making time after I pray to meet with friends or go for a walk every day
  • Feeling more alert and awake through the latter part of the day
  • Thwarting the 4pm munchies I get every day with a healthy option like dates, nuts or fruit
  • Having an early dinner which includes protein, healthy carbs and veg, but with a sensible portion size – and enjoying my dinner guilt free
  • Going for a walk every day with my husband
  • Being able to have and enjoy chocolate and stop at a small, sensible amount
  • Going gadget/smart phone free at least one hour before bed and spending the time reading
  • Sleeping early, as soon as I can after Esha (the night prayer)
  • Taking my suppements every day (Royal Jelly, multivitamins, vitamin D and slow releasing iron)
Reflecting over the last month has also given me time to ponder over some of the things I tell myself when I am making choices about what to eat and how to spend my time. It is easy to say that with the kids and work that I don’t have time to make healthy lunches and exercise, but as always you have to prioritise what is important at the cost of something else. So I know I have to make the time and most likely it will be at the expense of writing and creative endeavours.

Another excuse is too much information but not enough of the right information. I feel as if I am bombarded with information about health and diet and some of it is inconsistent or contradictory. So my intuition at the moment is to go with the elements I am confident about: less sugar, less salt, less of the wrong kinds of fat, more natural and whole foods, more water, keep moving and get enough sleep. I also aim to focus on the sunnah as a guide for the right way to approach diet, rest and sleep. Finally I will aim to read or study a little every day and develop my understanding and knowledge of the different things that contribute to good health, using some common sense as a filter for the multitude of information that seems to be out there.

I am finding the right kind of encouragement can also really help – for instance something we do with our children is model the behaviours we want to see, as the saying goes: children do what you do, not what you say. In this context, being told I have put on weight in a really judgemental/negative way didn’t really help me. It makes me feel indignant or like I just want to hide away. Being in an environment where everyone is trying to do the right things and succeeding has really helped me. In my team at work, everyone currently has a gadget called a Fit Bit which records the steps they have taken. They are all in competition with each other and it has made them work really hard to get the most steps each day including taking the stairs instead of the lift, which also makes me want to take the stairs instead of the lift. I am finding having everyone around me trying their best has really made me want to raise my game. The Fit Bit is out of my budget at the moment, but the reason I have not bought one yet is that I want to take a more natural measured approach, based less on competitiveness in short bursts and more on creating a natural rhythm that works for my daily life in the long term. For that I believe I need to listen to my body and try out different things until I find the right approach for myself.

I don’t find it easy to share my journey where it touches on health and weight. It don’t have any trouble admitting to myself and others my flaws and weaknesses, but it feels embarrassing to admit to what feels like a lack of willpower. Even if this is perhaps disguised as: I have better things to do, or I don’t have time or I’m completely happy as I am. I also hope that I am not boring you – there are plenty of people who are not interested in this topic and I remember during all of the years that I could eat what I wanted and stay slim, I would find it boring when women started talking about their weight and diets. At the same time, I feel as if writing about this helps me to unpick and get to the heart of where I am going wrong. It brings me back to what I need to do and it helps me to hold myself to account and not make excuses. I also think there are a heck of a lot of women that will be going through the same journey of finding their way back to being fit and healthy and I would love them to share their experience and what has worked for them and perhaps even gain a little inspiration or learning from my journey insh’Allah.

Monday, 8 February 2016

One Muslimah's Career Path: Tales of Work and Woe

A sister recently left a comment in a blog post asking for career advice on whether she should take up a position that she felt that she might not be up to.  From her writing on her blog, I can tell she is intelligent and insightful, I have no doubt that she could do what was asked of her and undertake what learning she requires to rise to the occasion.

What is it about perfectly capable women that makes them doubt themselves?  It made me think about my own progression in my working life and how I have held myself back at almost every stage through lack of self-belief.  I wrote the post below a few months ago and at the time I didn't feel ready to post it, but this sisters comment brought it to mind and I thought this might be the time to post:

I have had my ups and downs with work the last few years, but I am really enjoying my job at the moment. I am six months into an eighteen month secondment to a programme team that is trying to design what our organisation should look like in the future. This involves lots of research, planning and learning at quite a fast pace. The working day goes by really quickly, which is how I like it and I feel like I am stretched and challenged continuously.

The change has been more than welcome after doing spreadsheet based performance work for the last few years. I felt that I was bogged down in the detail of work I didn’t fully believe in and that I was learning nothing new. What this did give me was time for my mind to wander elsewhere and really spend the time thinking about what I wanted to do with my life.

Looking back on the last almost 20 years of my working life, I sometimes wonder if I could have achieved more and ask myself if I should have taken a different path and made different decisions. Sometimes I feel as if I should have been at a different place in my career by now and then I question if that is really realistic. Sometimes it has felt a bit like climbing through an obstacle course with numerous deep pits and high walls blocking my progress. I don’t believe in looking back with regrets if you have tried your best, because I accept that each outcome was meant to be. I also believe that each time there is an opportunity to learn and grow. I think that learning becomes even more valuable when you share it with others who may be treading the same path and asking some of the same questions of themselves.

My first block came when I graduated and had to think about what to do next. I studied psychology at university because it fascinated me and I knew I would enjoy my three years of learning. At the end of the course I had some ideas of what I wanted to do, but no realistic idea of how to get there. I also learned that the to do something with my degree I needed to study further. I learned that I should have dome some thinking about what to do with my degree and have a plan in my final year to guide me on what to do next. I also felt that when choosing a degree its good to go with something you are passionate about and would enjoy, but it really helps to identify where the professionalism is with your subject – do you need a post graduate or years of experience at the end of it to be able to use it and is this something you can commit to?

Once I started looking for work, I found employment in the Civil Service fairly quickly.  This came after navigating lots of thinking and advice around what people in my family considered a suitable job for a Muslim woman (teaching, teaching and maybe…teaching?). I had to make it clear that I didn’t like the idea of zoo-keeping other people’s children and I didn’t want to be a teacher at all. That still left me trying to work out what could be appropriate work – nothing that required me to work late hours or travel away from home, not vocations that typically had a male-dominated environment, something family friendly. An admin job fairly low down in the civil service seemed to fit the bill. I spent eight years in the civil service and enjoyed much of it, proceeding through the grades fairly quickly. I also got bored and frustrated enough to start writing this blog. I learned that what people say, what they think is appropriate for you – it’s all noise. It blocks out what is important – what you think. What you really believe is your purpose and what you desperately want to be and do. I also learned that there are benefits to being bored and miserable – the discomfort gets so bad you are forced to search for meaning and purpose and direction and take some step towards them.

Whilst I was in the Civil Service I was encouraged by my manager to apply for the fast-stream, the service’s fast track development programme for future leaders. I assumed it would involve long hours and travelling from one job to another. I decided it wasn’t appropriate as I was a Muslimah and a mother and turned down the chance to apply. I was asked to apply a few years later by another manager and did the same. I look back now and think it was a mistake to talk myself out of it without even trying. I realised you have to get your foot in the door before you can start negotiating things like hours, location and family-friendly working practices. By not even applying I didn’t even give my self a chance to see if there was any way I could have made it work for me.

After eight years in the Civil Service, I felt that I was stuck in an operational role when I was interested in strategy and policy. I couldn’t see a way to get from one type of career to the other, so took a random sideways move into a managerial post. I did this for a year, having my third baby Gorgeous right in the middle of it and decided that it felt like a dead end and left to work in local government, starting again in a low post. I realise now if I had been patient and stayed a year or two longer I would have ended up in the corporate centre where I wanted to be anyway and possibly ended up doing something more interesting. After much thought on this I came to the conclusion that these choices were neither good nor bad. I gained managerial experience, I gained experience of working outside the civil service instead of wondering what else the world had to offer and I moved from working in operational posts in the outer reaches of an organisation, to working in the corporate heart and learning how organisations worked.

Throughout this time I had to contend with a long line of well-meaning, but sometimes very judgemental, sisters and aunties telling me that I should be at home with the kids. I was told that my priorities were wrong and I must be money hungry, that my children would suffer, that it was neglectful and bad for them. Lots of sisters encouraged me to stop working so that I could stay at home and wear niqab. One lady even told me that a woman who works wages war on God and his Prophet (PBUH) – that one really hurt. For years I worked hard, spent everything on my family, juggled all the elements of my life and then just felt guilty and selfish. Every time I had an opportunity for growth or development, I asked myself if it would suit my family. It took a good seven or eight years as a mum for me to come to the conclusion that I hadn’t ruined my children’s lives or brought them up terribly. I came to understand the thing that has the biggest influence on your children is the kind of person you are yourself and how you conduct yourself, regardless of whether you work or not. I learned that you should not hand your power, self-respect ad dignity as a mother into the hands of others who have absolutely no understanding of your circumstances. I also realised that some people are so busy looking at others and judging them, that they have no time left to look at themselves.

After a year working with residents and elected Councillors I moved into the performance service and learned business planning, performance management and project management. Various re-structures meant that scope of the role was narrowed down to just performance work, leaving me bored to tears.  Despite working for short stints on interesting projects like the boroughs planning for the the Olympics and the use of the Olympic Stadium, I was coming to the conclusion that I was at a dead end and something had to change. I left work last year for a stint on maternity leave with my fifth baby, with lots of gentle teasing and some pointed rude comments about going on maternity leave “again”. While I was away I spent most of the time trying to find my feet and stop feeling so lost and overwhelmed with baby number five coming at the same time as trying to sort out my oldest daughters secondary school.

I had no time to think or plan for the future. Instead I prayed for a breakthrough. I asked Allah SWT to guide me towards work that was fulfilling, satisfying, would let me learn and move me closer to my purpose. I returned from maternity leave to be told that I would be working on a new high-profile new programme. I have to say at that point I felt slightly mind-blown and very, very grateful.  I felt as if my dua's had been answered. I am really enjoying my work at the moment and learning so much. I also found that all of those years of tedious, thorough work - detail, thoroughness,  are standing me in good stead now. The skills and techniques I picked up are really coming in useful in this project, a bit like the kid in The Karate Kid – he had to do the wax on wax off before he could actually bust the karate chop moves.

So in answer to my sisters questions - don't let others dictate what you are capable of doing.  We grow into the roles we find ourselves in and we grow as a result of being challenged.  There is nothing like being thrown in at the deep end to make us learn quickly and find solutions to make a situation work.  The only thing I would do differently if I was starting my career again would be to aim higher, not to doubt myself and to always step outside of my comfort zone.  Of course istikharah is a big help and should guide your final choice for the most barakah, but if it is positive, then never underestimate how much good you can do.

And We have certainly honored the children of Adam and carried them on the land and sea and provided for them of the good things and preferred them over much of what We have created, with [definite] preference. ~ Quran 17:70

“[Then] when you have decided on a course of action, put your trust in Allah: Allah loves those who put their trust in Him. If Allah helps you [believers], no one can overcome you. if he forsakes you, who else can help you? Believers should put their trust in Allah. ~ Quran 3:159-160

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” ~ Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of "A Course in Miracles"

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Free E-Book - The Happy Muslimah's Bucket List Guide!

I love making lists
I love making plans
I love dreaming about all the places I would love to go and all of the things I would love to do.
So of course I love the idea of a bucket list.

I have a list of things that I wanted to do that I write in 2006, long before I knew what a bucket list was. It included things like Hajj, Umrah, writing a book, learning to drive, planting a tree with my children and visiting Istanbul. The funny thing is that when I wrote the list ten years ago, many of the things on my list seemed out of reach or impossible, but ten years later I can tick some of them off. There is a magic of some kind in writing things down, in taking your dreams and making them tangible by putting pen to paper.

I think having a specific, clear list of goals or aspirations concentrates the mind and helps us to identify opportunities when they come up or even actively pursue them.

I wanted sisters to set goals for themselves, but in a way that was fun and without putting limitations on themselves, I think the idea of a bucket list allows you to do that because after all they are just pipe dreams, there is no pressure to be realistic or include things only that have a chance of happening, but those that capture your imagination and make you smile.

Bucket lists abound across the internet, what is different about this one is that it lists those things that are halal for Muslims and specifically Muslim sisters. So I have omitted many of the items found on conventional bucket lists (music, dance, sex, alcohol etc. related) and replaced with destinations in Muslim countries as well as non-Muslim, spiritual practises and goals that exist in Islam and places like Masjids.

I had soooo much fun researching and writing this e-book. I now want to do everything on the list. It was an eye-opening reminder of how amazing Allah (SWT)’s creation is, the oceans, the mountains, the beautiful landscapes – they inspire awe and remind us of His greatness.

There is a worksheet at the end of the e-book which allows you to list your own bucket list items, as many as you like.

I hope you find this list inspiring and enjoyable to go through. Life is short, as Muslims we are aware that we are not even guaranteed the next minute of our lives, this should encourage us to make good intentions to make the best use of the limited time we do have. I hope this guide is merely a starting point and that your list is amazing. Most of all I pray that Allah (SWT) guides you to making excellent intentions and gives you the time, resources and opportunity to fulfil them all in the most beautiful ways, Ameen.

You can download the free e-book here or by clicking on the image above.

If you enjoy the e-book, find it useful or beneficial, please do leave your thoughts in the comments or e-mail me at the address on the right-hand side bar. If you have additional ideas to add, please leave them in the comments. I hope to update the e-book in a few months with another few hundred ideas and would love your input.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Gorgeous's Ameen Party and our Superhero Theme

At the end of last year Gorgeous finished his first full reading of the Quran.  I was over the moon as was he, if for different reasons (he thought this might mean he doesn't have to study Quran anymore - think again little buddy!)

I had promised him a party when he finished and picking the theme with him was so easy:  superhero's.  I stuck to a simple colour scheme of yellow, blue and red and had a mixture of printables and home-made decorations like the banner below:

The kids and my lovely neighbour helped with the balloons and the wall art:

The night before we got the idea for this selfie-corner with a cityscape as the background.  I think Shutterbug Sister must have had to put this back up about half a dozen times as it kept falling down:

On the day Harlequin Sister set up the dessert table as I was still busy cooking (I learned my lesson about using a paper table cloth, it got ruined).

The selfie accessories were printables with the little wooden skewers people use for barbeques attached to them.  We had sooo much fun with these and I have some great pics of everyone doing silly poses with these.

For me, if I have guests, my number one priority is to feed them properly.  I ended up making pilau rice, lamb curry, chicken pasta, macaroni salad, chicken sandwiches, and this baked chicken which always goes down a treat.

We had prizes for the most well-behaved, well-dressed and most helpful children as well as one for the one who recited Quran the most nicely.

We got Gorgeous to recite some Quran for everyone.  Usually he is the loudest one in the room and likes to play the jester, but on this occassion he suddenly got very shy.  Then all of the other kids had a turn to recite.  Mash'Allah even the little ones had a go at reciting what they knew.

Gorgeous was quite happy with his gifts including this crazy one from my mum.

Baby enjoyed being let loose on the dessert table while I was busy.

The most fun was when I brought out the pinata's I had filled earlier:

The kids went slightly mental and screamed the house down, thankfully both of our neighbours were invited to the party and had a good laugh, although I don't think any of the mums were impressed with the amount of sweets the kids ended up with.

We are now back in the routine of him practising what he has learned, improving his tajweed (pronunciation) and memorising parts of the Quran.  I make dua that my cheeky, beloved son has life-long relationship with the Quran and benefits from its wisdom and beauty in this life and the next insh'Allah.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Lamb Curry Recipe

I posted the recipe for my simple chicken curry a while back and I got positive feedback from sisters who had tried it.  This is my version of a simple lamb curry.  I usually make this when I have a bit more time or for special occasions and I always get lots of compliments for it alhamdulillah.


1kg lamb or mutton - washed
2-3 onions - chopped
3-4 tomatoes – pureed or chopped
1-2 tablespoons tomato puree
½ tablespoon ginger paste
1 tablespoon garlic paste
½ teaspoon cumin powder
½ teaspoon coriander (dhaniya) powder
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon black pepper
2-3 green chilli's – chopped
½ to 1 teaspoon red chilli powder or Pakistani style bassar masala (if available)


Add all of the above into a cooking pot with 3 glasses of hot water.

Let it cook on full heat until the water has evaporated and the meat is tender enough to break with a spoon but not falling off the bone. This will take 1-2 hours approx depending on the meat. Lamb cooks quicker (about an hour), mutton takes longer (2 hours or so) but I think it has more flavour.

If the water evaporates and the meat is still not cooked through, add another half a glass of water at a time and cook for longer.

Once the water is dry, add a little oil and fry/saute (or as we call it bhun) the meat for about 10 minutes until any smell of raw meat disappears. If you like at this stage you can add half a spoon of ready-made masala such as Shan or Laziza achar ghosht for added flavour.

Once the meat is cooked through, add 1-2 cups of water and simmer for about 10 minutes on medium heat (1 cup for dry curry for roti/nan, 2 for saucy curry for rice.

Once the sauce is done, shut off the heat and add a handful of chopped coriander and leave the lid on for 5 minutes for the coriander to infuse through the curry.

This dish is fairly easy and you initially just put everything into a pot and let it cook, it is just a little time consuming, but I think worth the time and effort.  The secret to getting it right is to make sure the meat is bhunna/fried properly once the water evaporates.  This tastes lovely with rice, naan or roti.

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Fan Mail

I often receive very warm or interesting e-mails from sisters who have read my blog. Yesterday I received this:

Asalam ulaikum sister, I am a huge fan of your blog, happy muslim mama. Please write a article on your amazing daughter. You could write about all the times she washed the dishes for you, hauls the laundry up and down the stairs, changes stinky nappies and helps potty-train ungrateful siblings, or maybe even how she goes downstairs in the middle of the night when shes tired just to switch the lights off or get some more toilet roll for someone *cough*you*cough*.
Yours faithfully, just another fan.

I didn’t have to wonder who my daughter had been complaining to, because I recognised the cheeky tone of the complaint straight away.

I have been giving Little Lady a bit more freedom with using my laptop for school work, her art work and leisure when I think she needs more down time (she works hard like her mama, so I encourage her to play and rest a bit more when she can). She recently asked me if she could create an e-mail address to e- ail a friend who had moved to a different school. I agreed as long as I have the password and she is okay with me keeping an eye on her account. She e-mailed her friend, then me and them her aunt Fashionista. I was surprised at how different her tone was in each of the e-mails, she adapted it to her audience and was warm and friendly (except for her fake fan-mail above, which just sounds bossy).

Anyway I’m still not going to stop asking her to go switch the light off downstairs at bedtime after someone has gone down for a drink of water and left it on again. She’s the only one of the kids not scared of the dark  :)

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Thrifty Haul January 2016

It has been quite some time since I found a good thrifty haul (like this, this, this or this amazing craft haul), especially as the boot fairs I enjoy so much don't start until near the end of March. So instead I made do with a trip to my local charity shop to hang out by the book shelves and see if anyhting caught my fancy.

I found a few treats for myself and the children and came away happy.

The books below were £1 each and two of them: Social Butterfly by Moni Mohsin and Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston were ones on my reading list. The Leapfrog Leappad toy was discovered by Litte Man for Darling. It usually costs about £25 with the books for about £8, this one cost £3 with the batteries included. I am a big fan of this brand and she has really been enjoying playing with it.

The rainbow box sets below caght my eye immediatey and turned out to be Coaching Academy training DVD's (costing £3 per set).  I have long had an interest in coaching, so if I can make the time to sit through these, insh'Allah I hope they will benefit me personally and also help to determine if this something I want to pursue in the future.

The little set of books was new and nice for Darling and Baby to share.  I usually avoid ornaments or anything that is slightly chintzy or has no function, but this little bowl of fruit caught my eye and just enchanted me as I love miniatures.  The fruit is made of stoneand I can't tell if it is dyed in some way or the marble is coloured.  I have found a few similar on the internet (Etsy, eBay and antique shops) variously described as vintage Italian alabaster, onyx marble or dyed quartz carved fruit and selling for anything from £15 to £50. This little set cost £3.

I was quite happy with my finds and I am thoroughly enjoying the Social Butterfly book, this should keep me happy until the boot fairs start again.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

New Blog Design

If you visited this blog in the last few days you may have noticed some silly business with the blog header changing and the words on it dissappearing.  This was my attempt at trying out a few different things in an attempt to update this space a little.  I have felt for some time that the design was outdated and some of the format and content of the sidebars had outlived their use.

I initially spent a few weeks looking at branding, blog themes, designs for headers (that's where the title is at the top) and fonts.  Despite searching I could not find what I wanted even if I was prepared to pay for it - the colours were not right, or the image looked great, but once up, didn't look right.

After hours of searching for the right colours, themes, images and almost going mental and wanting to throttle someone out of frustration, I gave in and got the kids watercolours out to experiment.

With a little help I painted some washes of colour and some swatches.

I simply took photo's of these and cropped and edited them to create my new header and elements

The swatches I used to crop and create labels like the ones below.  The whole process took about half an hour from painting to cropping and resizing the image.

I really enjoyed making my own and it has really inspired me to try out other things like posters with quotes and blog design elements.

I would love any feedback on the new look and any ideas on what else could be changed or added.  Your thoughts and ideas are really important to me!

Harlequin Sister: Keeping Our Hijab

I enjoy reading my youngest sisters two blogs - Curly Fries for the eye candy and colour and Harlequin Teaset for the art, humour and quirkiness.  Her most recent post: Keeping Our Hijab was a lot deeper and darker, exploring what it is like to wear hijab in todays world and the perceived change in people's attitudes towards women that wear hijab or niqab:

"In the last few months, or even perhaps year or so, I have felt a little unease – not with my own self-image or internal struggles, but with the external pressures – world events which have increasingly put the spotlight on us, the attitudes of people around us and even the growing islamophobia and fears a lot of us have begun to come across.

These days, I’m feeling a little differently. I think the recent Paris attacks, the ‘Charlie Hebdo’ incident and various terror incidents around the world have caused some sensational headlines and reactions, which is understandable but also a little scary. I’ve noticed it, as I have said, in the small things – the rude comments when going home on the train from white, male strangers, the dirty looks from an older couple who don’t know who I am or what kind of person I am, even the younger generation who have perhaps heard their parents talk about ‘Pakis’ and what we ‘do’, and feel that it is okay to call someone a name. It doesn’t happen a lot, but it has happened. I think my sister described it best – sometimes these people think that it is okay to treat someone like this because they don’t know how to express themselves, and they don’t know how to say to someone ‘I am scared of you because you are different.’ Perhaps too many of them have read dramatic headlines from The Sun and think that because it is printed, it must be right, and perhaps, some of them just need an excuse to channel their frustrations."

You can read the whole article here.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Ease After Hardship or My Best Friend’s Wedding

I often get comments and e-mails from sisters which reveal the hardship they are going through. This has included violence, emotional abuse, loneliness, empty or dysfunctional marriages and problems with in-laws. Sometimes I feel so unqualified to respond in a way that is helpful and not patronising. Recently I watched my bestie, my beloved soul sister go through something similar – alone with two small children and minimal help, I saw some of my deepest fears – being alone, having to handle work alone with no childcare, struggling with money present themselves in her life. I listened to her pour her heart out as she had to find the strength each day to plough through the practical and physical difficulties as well as navigating the casual cruelty of family and community in such situations: unkind remarks, blame, cold shouldering and petty comments.

I watched her go through the darkest days of her life with one problem after another pile up on her and I prayed to Allah SWT to find a way out for her, to give her the peace, security and love this big-hearted sister deserves. I still wondered though, how things could better, it seemed impossible, everything that could go wrong had gone wrong and it was hard to imagine her in a the life that I wished for her: wealthy, happy, successful and in love. Yet Allah’s promise is without doubt:

"Verily, with hardship there is relief" (Qur'an 94:6)

I had one message from her that broke my heart and left me bereft for her: talking about how sad and alone she was and how hard things were. I had a message shortly after telling me that she had found someone wonderful and that she was about to marry. I have to say I nearly had a heart attack when she told me. But I was overjoyed for her. She has had her nikah (Islamic marriage ceremony) and has two beautiful stepchildren to be big brother and sister to her beautiful little boys. She always wanted a daughter and I always prayed she would be blessed with one but used to worry that her body would not be able to handle another baby. Allah (SWT) has blessed her with a daughter that is crazy about her and has yearned for a mum for so long.

Another thing that made me happy was the flipping enormous ring on her finger mash’Allah. Not because I have any love of gems (my husband knows that food and books and good company are the way to my heart), but because it tells me that her husband was serious enough about her to firstly gather together his family and do the nikah and secondly to spend the money. I remember also that she never had a nice ring before like all of the other girls and I knew she would have liked one.

So alhamdulillah instead of seeing my friend in distress and worn into the ground, I am seeing her navigate her new life with a kind man who cooks for her and two new children she adores. She is learning to fit into another family and another culture (she is Moroccan and he is Bengali). It is still hard, there is still so much to sort out – accommodation, difficult parents, a wedding reception. But married life is not about ease and contentment, but about facing the hard things as a team and not feeling as if you have to deal with everything the world throws at you alone.

I used to see what a loving person my friend is: affectionate, tactile, big-hearted and full of praise and kindness for others and think what a waste for her to be alone when there are so many people who need love and kindness. Now I am so happy to see her with a man that adores her and kids who needed a mum. I am so looking forward to meeting them this weekend and I am excited about her reception.

The point of sharing what she went through was to offer hope to sisters (and brothers) who are suffering right now. I could not see how my friend would find a way out of her agonising situation. When she did, it all happened so quickly. It was such a reminder for me that Allah (SWT) can change our situations whenever he wants, no matter how bad things are and how impossible a solution appears alhamdulillah.

"...Bear with patience whatever befalls you...." (Qur'an 31:17)

"Be not sad, surely Allah is with us." (Qur'an 9:40)

"So do not become weak, nor be sad..." (Qur'an 3:139)

"And grieve not over them, and be not distressed because of what they plot." (Qur'an 16:127)

Our Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "Verily, if Allah loves a people, He makes them go through trials. Whoever is satisfied, for him is contentment, and whoever is angry upon him is wrath." [Tirmidhi]

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Growing Up Online: Pinterest Story

Little Lady was using my laptop this week and she wandered onto my Pinterest page where she had a board.  Her immediate reaction was embarrassment at what she hah pinned in the past.  She immediately set about deleting her old pins.  I stopped her to take some screen shots before she got too far.  Her oldest pins are from about two years ago and a world away from what she has been pinning recently.  Another reminder of how much she has changed and grown.

Her oldest pins seem to have a lot of pink:

Then she had this fascination with Faberge eggs, she didn't delete these, she still likes them:

Still lots of pink, but a bit more emo/manga, a little edgier (oh my gosh, she's still about 11, not 16 here):

Then suddenly madam gets all glam:

She remembered having  a cat phase:

Her joke phase, she still got the giggles when she saw the fart joke and says its her favourite, I suppose her goofy sense of humour hasn't changed at least:

Her recent pins reflect her fascination with art and design:

I think I have a 12 (almost 13!!) year old hipster/trendy Generation Y-er on my hands

I am just so blown away by how much she has changed and grown in such a short time.  I am reminded that 13 year olds today are nothing like what 13 year olds used to be like when I was a kid, 13 today seems more like 23.  Of course I am handling this in the same manner I have been since Little Lady was about 9.  Completely freaking out, trying to protect her, trying to hold onto her childhood, worrying away while she rolls her eyes and tells me to chill.  Alhamdulillah I can't believe how quickly she has turned into a young lady.  I am so proud of this girl and so in awe of her alhamdulillah.

She has spent today deleting pins and splitting her board into two new boards for the things she loves and for art and design inspiration.