Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Reesh (A Happy Muslim Mama Sponsored Post)

  • Free international shipping on many products
  • Wide range of products including abaya's, kaftan's, scarves and bags with new items being added
  • Fantastic give-away with entries accepted worldwide.
Reesh is an online store based in Australia, selling stylish, high quality abaya’s kaftan’s and scarves in vibrant colours and rich fabrics in timeless designs.

Their kaftans are soft and flowy chiffon with silk body lining.  The embellishments include beads and sequins in a range of shades, not just silver and gold.

They currently offer free international shipping on their abayas and kaftans as well as discounted shipping on scarves.  All products are ready to ship, there are no pre-orders needed and no waiting period.

Reesh's scarves are maxi-hijab size providing plenty of coverage and flexibility for how you want to style them.

I'm particularly keen on their beautiful bags and clutches which are going on my wishlist.  All of the bags are hand-crafted with high quality embellishments to ensure durability

You can find their products at their website: http://www.reesh.com.au/
Their Facebook page is here and they are currently running a free kaftan giveaway with entries accepted worldwide.

Happy, Healthy Pixie

I had some nice news today. After months of fretting about Baby’s weight and wondering if I am doing something wrong, got her checked at the hospital to find out that she has grown at a steady weight and height for the last three months and there is nothing to worry about. It seems that she has taken to weaning and all the food I have been shovelling down her, regardless of protests, has done her good.

I enjoyed my fourth baby Darling so much and found being a mum to her so easy that I thought my fifth would be a cinch that we would sail through her first year and have a big, bonny happy baby at the end of it. I underestimated the task and found myself at the baby clinic week after week being asked why the baby was gaining weight at such a slow rate that she was dropping lower and lower on the health chart each week and threatening to drop straight off it. I tried nursing on demand, nursing by the clock, shorter times between feeds, introducing formula milk sooner than I would have liked, adding fennel seeds to the kettle when boiling the water for formula to avoid trapped wind, offering infacol between each feed to relieve wind (I don’t think she ever even had any wind, but one of the health visitors suggested it). One health visitor suggested I started waking her up twice every night for a feed when she was sleeping through and another told me I should stick to formula.

They referred me to the doctor who checked her over, found her alert and didn't think there was anything to worry about but gave me a hospital referral long enough in the future to give me a chance to get her to gain weight. I stopped going to the baby clinic because I was at my wits end with different health visitors and different advice each week and a week was hardly enough time to show a decent weight gain. I also didn't like the feeling of being interrogated and judged. In the end a good friend of my husbands who is a doctor advised me to give the baby clinic a break too.

That was three months ago, in the intervening period, I dropped everything else going on in my life and concentrated on getting as many feeds, formula as well as breast milk, into my little doll. We started weaning as soon as we hit five months and that seemed to make all the difference.

After her check today, the doctor declared she was beautiful, healthy and there are no concerns. So I am going to stop being anxious now and relax a little.

She is six months now and because of her neat features and big eyes, has been nicknamed pixie. She is trying to crawl and manages to roll all over the place. The kids have a game where they put something just out of reach and try and get her to wriggle her way to it. Mash’Allah she is my soul twin more than any of the other children – quick, full of energy, happy and always smiling and a chatterbox.

Subhan’Allah I look at each of my children and imagine them all grown up, I wonder what Allah (SWT) has in store for them and pray He will use every good thing He has blessed them in the path of His beautiful religion.

Like Darling before her (who managed to pick off some of my laptop keyboard keys) Baby is obsessed with my laptop and keeps chasing my mouse across the bed.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

The Organised Muslimah: Clarity and Motivation

Quite a few sisters have asked me in the past how I manage my time or structure my day to get the most out of the day, or to even get everything done. This is something I have been thinking about a lot recently as I experiment with ways to get things done at home and with my children.

Baby number five really pulled the rug out from under my feet and it took me a long time to get to grips with all that I have to do. I had to reset my family’s routines, re-think my approach to worship and revisit how I use the time management tools available to me. I also needed some inspiration and motivation, which can be half the battle sometimes.

I wanted to share some of the tools and techniques that have helped me to feel more productive and get more done, in the coming weeks. But I believe in starting with first things first, so I’d like to share some resources and the thinking which really encouraged me to start trying to make the most of my time. The first is a quote from Imam Al Ghazali’s (may Allah have mercy on him) book ‘The Beginning of Guidance’:

“You should not neglect your time or use it haphazardly; on the contrary you should bring yourself to account, structure your litanies and other practices during each day and night, and assign to each period a fixed and specific function. This is how to bring out the spiritual blessing (baraka) in each period.

But if you leave yourself adrift, aimlessly wandering as cattle do, not knowing how to occupy yourself at every moment, your time will be lost. It is nothing other than your life, and your life is the capital that you make use of to reach perpetual felicity in the proximity of God the Exalted."

The second is a reminder from Hassan al Basri (may Allah have mercy on him):

"O son of Adam! You are but a bundle of days. As each day passes away, a portion of you vanishes away."

Both are reminders of the value of time and the importance of planning how you intend to use the limited time you have been allotted.

My first approach was to try and do everything and diarise it into my day in detail – right down to meal times, nursing times, prayer times, with all of my chores, cooking and to-do list allocated time. Then I tried to squeeze in any hobbies, recreation, projects and just about everything I wanted to do. I very quickly realised that this wasn't realistic and trying to do everything is not the same as making the most of your time. It’s also a short cut to feeling as if you are running against the clock and feeling exhausted and burnt out from trying to do everything.

Instead I did two things. The first was to think about my priorities – which activities are most important and need to have the most time allocated to them? How many of these are genuinely as important as you make them? In the wider scheme of things will some of them even matter? Most importantly which can you let go of? In writing the answers to these questions, I realised that there were lots of things that people expected of me or that I had taken upon myself that I no longer wanted to do. It felt very liberating and empowering to make the choice to just stop doing some of these – for example minimising computer time, minimising trips to the supermarket or shopping centre and asking hubby to make smaller shops in between the main family one and not checking my e-mail every day.

This started to free up pockets of time but I didn't want to just squeeze in more things that I thought I should probably do. Instead I thought about how short life is and how many things we want to do but put off until another time, especially as Muslimah’s sometimes we have spiritual ambitions to gain religious knowledge, to improve our prayers or to develop our relationship with the Quran (i.e. through memorisation or trying to understand the meaning). But time passes and those ambitions remain as ambitions, lost in the busy-ness of housework and the demands of our family.

There is an exercise that self-help books and life coaches sometimes use. They ask you to imagine your ideal day in detail and create a vision of everything that would include – from the moment you wake up to the time you fall asleep.

I decided to ask myself what my dream life would look like. I am a day dreamer, so this wasn’t hard at all. The hardest part is sometimes putting aside your rational viewpoint that says, “no don’t include that, it’s not realistic” and really being honest about what the life you long for looks like.

Once I decided that this is what my dream life would be like, I reminded myself that we get one shot at each day, once it’s gone, it’s gone and that there is no day better to implement our plans than today. For me my ideal day was not about wearing amazing clothes and spending every day on the beach doing nothing. I want my ordinary, everyday life to be blessed and full of beauty, not run away from the life that I have because I am dissatisfied with it.

My ideal life included all of the good intentions we have and never get round to fulfilling – reading Quran daily, memorising some surah’s, praying our nawafil and sunnah (non-obligatory) prayers alongside our fard (obligatory) ones each day. I decided that from the present day I would make these my priorities and start acting on them. This meant that the house would not be spotless, the kids would have to wait until you are done and there would be some things that wouldn't get done. I didn't care. I was tired of rushing my prayers or shortening them because I had to get dinner going or the babies were crying. The routine of my ideal day is built around my prayers at the beginning of their allotted time and with my full attention.

My ideal life also included eating properly, having breakfast, and making my meals look good as well as taste good. This means expanding the time I give to preparation before each meal and trying new things. Most importantly, no mobile phones or books when we are eating and we will all be sitting together.

Finally my perfect day would include spending some time doing something you love and which gives you immense joy. This one has made me think deeply about what leads to real gratification and satisfaction and why and this is one that I have promised myself I intend to explore every day.

Being clear on what your priorities are and what you would like your life to look like is the first step in planning your time. If you are not clear on these you risk your days being full of activity but lacking in achievement or productivity. Insh’Allah, next I want to go through some of my planning tools and what I learnt and changed over time.

There is no intelligence like planning, no ability like good character, and no piety like restraint. (Bayhaqi)

There is a video called Imam Al Ghazali Advice on Time Management by #SpiritualPsychologist here that I found very helpful.

Taking the Strengthfinders Test

I have been thinking about what I will be doing when I go back to work. I work as a Performance Officer in local government, but by the time I started maternity leave, I was well and truly done with that. I am not a statistics person by nature and this job requires me to look at data and interpret it with a lot of detail – something that I don’t enjoy.

I have been looking at alternative career paths and options for an income and non have appealed enough to pursue them.

Years ago at university and again early in my career in Central Government I did the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Test, both times I was an ENFJ (Extrovert, Intuitive, Feeling, Judgemental) with the following traits:

ENFJs are natural-born leaders, full of passion and charisma. Forming around two percent of the population, they are oftentimes our politicians, our coaches and our teachers, reaching out and inspiring others to achieve and to do good in the world. With a natural confidence that begets influence, ENFJs take a great deal of pride and joy in guiding others to work together to improve themselves and their community (source).

Hence the reason I don’t like analysing statistics in my current role and occasionally want to thump someone, anyone, at work but could spend all day encouraging people to go for that job or try a new course.

After I had Darling I fully intended to go back to work and find another job, but I found myself expecting Baby. I then thought during maternity leave I would try a few short courses, learn to drive and pick up some skills that would help me make a career change.  Yeah that was happening with five kids. I'm impressed if I'm dressed by midday some days.

So whilst I thought about work on and off, I decided to take the Clifton Strengths Finder, an online personal assessment test which identifies your top strengths (based on the book Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton).

The test cost £10 for the basic top five strengths test and asked me to answer a set of 177 questions which took about 20 minutes. I have to say that the cost was worth it and the test was an eye opener for me. My top strengths were:

Positivity - People exceptionally talented in the Positivity theme have contagious enthusiasm. They are upbeat and can get others excited about what they are going to do.

Strategic - People exceptionally talented in the Strategic theme create alternative ways to proceed. Faced with any given scenario, they can quickly spot the relevant patterns and issues.

Achiever - People exceptionally talented in the Achiever theme work hard and possess a great deal of stamina. They take immense satisfaction in being busy and productive.

Communication - People exceptionally talented in the Communication theme generally find it easy to put their thoughts into words. They are good conversationalists and presenters.

Woo - People exceptionally talented in the Woo theme love the challenge of meeting new people and winning them over. They derive satisfaction from breaking the ice and making a connection with someone.

Positivity has always been my default attitude to life, but I never viewed it as a strength because of the way some people can see you as being naive and unrealistic or Pollyanna-like, but the test report describes how this trait can be really useful in certain careers.

The trait that really interested me was Strategic. I have written strategy documents at work and found this type of work interesting and not too difficult and have been praised for it. I think because I can see the whole picture and work out how all the disparate parts fit together across the organisation.

I used to get annoyed at my husband, my in-laws and just about everyone for doing things without thinking through the consequences. I used to complain that no one thought even a few hours ahead, especially when we were making plans, for travel for example. I realise now it’s the strategic trait that means I see all the potential eventualities and pack and plan for everyone. The test has made me understand how I think and not expect everyone else to think in the same way and this stops me getting annoyed.

I will be mulling over the test reports and thinking about which direction I need to take in April when I go back to work. What strengths tests have you tried that were eye-openers? How have they changed the way you view yourself?

Friday, 6 March 2015

World Book Day 2015 Costumes

It was World Book Day yesterday and this year we decided we would create costumes from we had or could wear again rather than buy them.

Little Lady goes to an Islamic school, so the girls took part but the school stipulated that there should be no witches or vampires - which probably rules out two easy costumes you can build around an abaya.  Girls were allowed to wear their costumes under their abayas if they come on public transport.  Little Lady pulled out an old bridesmaid dress she had, white shoes and this fur shrug which she matched with diamant√© jewellery and a white hijab to create a Snow Queen costume, from the beautiful book of the same name by Hans Christian Anderson.

Little Man went as Charlie from Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, a book that we all love.  He needs a hair cut, so his wavy brown hair was just right and he found a check shirt to wear with jeans.  I made him the ticket with gold card which I cut with scissors that had a scalloped edge and attached it to a large Dairy Milk chocolate bar.  He was very happy to get his hands on the chocolate.

Gorgeous' costume was my favourite  - Burglar Bill from the book of the same name.  He moaned at me that he didn't want a home made costume but one from the shop.  I told him that I was not willing to spend money on something that he only wore once.  The only thing I bought was the hat for £3 and I suspect he may wear it again and the sleep mask for £1.50 which I cut holes in.  Thankfully he absolutely loved it.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Gorgeous Umrah Cakes

Our family has always been reserved  and quite proper in the way we do things - part of this has been shying away from showing love and affection.  That doesn't mean we don't feel it, we just struggle with showing it in conventional ways like big hugs, declarations of affection and general cheesiness.

Instead we try to show our love by taking care of people, trying to do things for them, help them in some way or give them something.

Recently Fashionista's husband's uncle became very, very sick and the whole family were in immense pain seeing him in this condition.  Fashionista is very close to her in-laws mash'Allah and was in tears too when she told me (mash'Allah her in-laws are some of the loveliest people I have ever met and truly understand what it means to hold onto the ties of kinship).

One of their uncles dearest wishes was to see the house of Allah SWT again, so the whole family set off for Umrah (pilgrimage) to Makkah.  They came back this week and Fashionista made these beautiful cupcakes as a welcome home gift.

I can imagine all of the love and care and concern she poured into these and I'm so proud of her.  I love the details and the beautiful combination of light green and gold (although I have no idea how she made black icing).

Her husband's Uncle is still very unwell, please remember him and his family in your dua's.

If you like the look of these, you can see lots more of her creations here.

Aaila the Muslim Family Magazine - January/February 2015 Edition

The latest edition of Aaila, the Muslim Family Magazine is now online alhamdulillah with lot of useful content. Top of my reading list are:

Would you buy your 10 year old a SMART phone? By Farhat Amin - an issue that is often discussed in our home.

Nurturing the Next Generation to Pray By Hafsa Waseela - an issue that every conscientious Muslim parent will consider at some point.

Yasmin Mogahed: The greatest quest: Steps towards an everlasting marriage By Sumaiya Umm Imran (Editor) - I found so much inspiration in this post mash'Allah.

The milk of love By Nabila Fowles-Gutierrez - about the role of the human emotion of love in breastfeeding from a midwife.  I'm nursing at the moment so I loved this article.

6 things you should know before you buy your kids a kitten By Farhat Amin - another ongoing point of discussion in our house!

My contributions are here, here, here, here , here and here.

As well as the magazines book club and series of reviews. Please do take a look and if there is something you find beneficial, please do leave a comment to say, every comment or piece of feedback is very much appreciated. If you would like to contribute something for the next issue, please contact the editor Sister Umm Imran at: editor@aaila.org

You can visit the lively and engaged Facebook page here.

You can follow the magazine via Bloglovin (which is what I use to keep up with my favourite sites) here to make sure you catch new articles as they are published.

We would also love to hear from you if you have any expertise around marketing, advertising or photography. We are always looking for ways to make the magazine more beneficial and vibrant.

If you want to advertise your business, service or product, Aaila might be just the forum for you. You can contact Sister Umm Imran at the above e-mail for further information.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Little Man's Ameen Party

Little Man actually finished Quran last year, but with a new baby and my little sisters wedding, we pushed his celebration to a few months later instead.

We had considered a day out for the family instead or a boys day out with his dad to somewhere like go-karting, but the horrible weather and cost put us off.

Being a quiet, modest boy, I thought it would be nice too for him to get some of the attention that the others manage to monopolise most of the time.

We picked an easy blue and silver space theme and made the banner and frame a few days before.  The stars are the type used in shops and stalls to show prices and we just spray painted silver.  (I have no idea how the banner got hung so wonky and I am just realising from looking at these pictures how funny they look).

I love to dress my boys up and this outfit was one that Shutterbug Sister bought the boys on their birthdays last year.  They have matching trousers but I liked the way the shirts and waistcoats looked with jeans, they remind me of the 90's for some reason.  Gorgeous refused to wear them saying he would look silly, until I showed him some pictures, then he agreed to try the clothes on.  He looked in the mirror at himself and declared "hmm not too bad".

Little Lady, Darling and my niece all wore matching outfits that my mum had bought back from Pakistan recently.  Darlings bangles were too big, but as soon she saw them she had then on her arm and there they stayed.

Fashionista Sister made cakes for the occasion to fit into the theme.  The thing with this type of cake is that sometimes they look good but taste average, but these were delicious and really moist and disappeared really quickly.

I always think if nothing else is right, but the food is good, an occasion is saved.  This time we made nuggets and fries, macaroni salad, green chutney, potato and chickpea chaat and chicken sandwiches.  My mum brought lamb kebabs and my neighbour kindly made some yummy pakora's.  My aunt made us chicken biryani.

For games we had everyone guess the number of sweets in the jar to be able to keep them.

All of the adults joined in and I was just happy that my kids didn't win.

The other games required the kids sitting in a circle with straws around a plate of sweets.  Whoever sucked up the most sweets and dropped them into their bowl was the winner

It was like a rugby scrum, only more vicious with everyone trying to push their head into the middle of the circle.  Very entertaining for the mums.

Little Man's favourite part of the party was getting new trainers from Fashionista's husband, who my boys adore and look up to.  No chance of losing my son with those shoes on.

As ever the little girls made our day.  Baby hijacked Fashionista's little sweetheart's giraffe

Although Sweetheart then seemed to think Baby was a toy.

My favourite bit of the occasion was when we got all of the children to recite a bit of Quran starting with Little Man who recited Surah Yasin which he is memorising insh'Allah.  Even the smallest kids recited a little which was lovely.

I make dua that my dear son has an enduring, life-long relationship with the word of Allah and benefits from its wisdom and beauty in this life and the next insh'Allah.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Picture of the Day: 23.02.15 - Signs of Spring

It's still cold here, but we are seeing signs of spring.  It was so energising and uplifting to wake up to bright sunlight this morning.  Something that we don't get here for months at a time.  It made such a difference.

The garden needs tidying up and the flower bed needs to be weeded and turned over while we plan what goes into them this year.  But I'm leaving all of that until a warmer day.  The camellia always flowers first and it's beautiful big rose like blooms are just the thing to make you hopeful that warmer days are on their way soon.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Book Review: Sahar El-Nadi – Sandcastles and Snowmen

In Sandcastles and Snowmen, Sahar El-Nadi tells the story of how she grew up in Muslim countries but truly found her religion as an adult through her travels, life experiences and subsequent deep reflection. 

The book starts with an accessible introduction to the key tenets of Islam which is straightforward enough to make sense to non-Muslims.  It then asks some of the really big questions – Why am I in this world?  Why is there suffering in this world? As well as some questions that will pique people’s interest: What is shariah law? What is the ultimate goal of a Muslim?  The rest of the book covers Islam’s place in the modern world regarding just about everything:  art, science, trade, diversity, gender inequality, human rights and politics

I enjoyed El-Nadi’s way of explaining some Islamic concepts.  When faced with a liberal audience who could not understand why some things were halal or haram and how they could be assigned labels of good or bad, she replaces the terms good ad bad with healthy and unhealthy – concepts that her Swedish friends were more familiar with.

I was a little uncomfortable with her way of explaining how we get reward points for good deeds, it almost felt a little as if the faith is being explained very methodically without the spirituality behind it, however the Chapter on Reward and Punishment (Chapter 4) does take this further and explains rewards for good deeds, rewards for the intention as well as the deed and the reward for encouraging others to do good deeds.   The explanation is taken further with the understanding that heaven is for those who consistently make good intentions, try to act on them and try to make the world a better place.

I was moved by the section which described the authors experience of visiting the Kaaba in Makkah and I think many people would be able to relate to the powerful effect this has on her.  For those who are curious about the pilgrimage Muslims make to Makkah, the authors description of the  transformational nature of this journey should be of interest.

The chapter on manners and ethics included some good reminders and reasons on why Islam is a religion of peace, with emphasis on encouraging good and preventing evil, showing compassion to others and particularly the importance of good manners in faith.

The chapter on Islam and human rights is essential reading for all of those people horrified by the cruel things happening in the name of Islam.  The religions actual commands regarding the rights of women, children, parents and even animals are laid out, using short stories that Muslims will be familiar with as examples.

The book also offers some opinion and insight into a number of political issues such as identity and prompts us to consider how often we questions concepts such as middle east and third world?  There is an explanation of the true meaning of Jihad, a term much bandied about at the moment and some thoughts on the role of religion in the Arab Spring.

The chapter on gender roles and equality I found particularly insightful, especially the section on polygamy, as well as the authors beautiful description of hijab and her husbands reaction to her hair on their wedding night of all things.

The book did jump around a little from one topic to another, partly because of the sheer breadth of what the author tries to cover.  My first reading of the book was a slow and careful reading which took me plenty of time, just so that I could digest and weigh up what I was reading.  Definitely a book I would keep hold of and come back to, although probably more to dip in and out of and to provide food for thought.

With recent events in Pakistan, Paris, Syria and Nigeria making headlines and capturing the world’s attention, this book is a good one to help people who have become curious about Muslims and Islam to answer important questions.  It is also a useful guide for Muslims who want to help non-Muslims understand them better.  An ambitious, interesting and accessible book that I will be recommending to friends.

You can find out more at: Amazon, Goodreads, the website for the book, the Facebook page for the book and the authors YouTube channel.

“I discovered another analogy in the legacy of Prophet Muhammad that immediately clicked with me: that the angels put down their wings in humility for a person who seeks knowledge, and that all living things, even the ants in their anthill and the fish in the sea, pray for a person who teaches people good things.

When I read this, I literally felt the goodness flow out of my heart for all creatures. The beautiful mental image it evoked resonated with my concept of the universe as one unit, and of all living things seeking to live together in peace and harmony, and being grateful when humans tried to fit into the circle of life, instead of working so hard to disrupt its equilibrium”  
Sahar El-Nadi, Sandcastles & Snowmen

Monday, 9 February 2015

My Sartorial Wishlist

I have been taking a break from blogging for the last month in an attempt to simplify my life and create new routines as a mother of five that allow me to fulfil my most important responsibilities, stay sane and hopefully sneak in some fun.

So in the spirit of fun, I want to ease back into blogging with some eye candy.  Most of what I wear at the moment is either mismatched or the wrong size.  As soon as I manage to find something nice to wear, it has to go back in the wash because "someone" has either thrown up on me, exploded their nappy and leaked on me or wipes dirty hands on me.

Thankfully, there is Pinterest, with it's wishlist board acting as my imaginary dream wardrobe:

I love long coats and jackets over an abaya - modest, warm and elegant I think.

Love this bag, it would probably end up full of nappies and bottles, but it would still look so good.

I think this has to be my dream bag - I have a thing about green, have loved almost every shade of it since I was a kid, and the size -the sheer amount of tissues, wipes, bitten lip balms, pens and junk I could cram into it.

I have a thing for pomegranates - and the smoothness of those stones!

I have a jacket just like this one, love how it looked over my abaya, but suspect it might not fit any more when I go back to work.  Hankering after a dark red version.

(originally found here)

I can just imagine this tote with my journals, filofax and reading books and stationary, probably some chocolate sneaked in there too.  That green obsession showing again.

I doubt I could wear heels like this any more - but that colour...