Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Keeping on Going: Little Man and Hifz

Little Man and I are having a daily moan-fest at the moment. He wakes up and moans at me, I listen and try not to get annoyed. I come home from work and he moans at me a bit more, I’m a bit more wake at this point (marginally) and listen and try to be encouraging.

He isn’t usually a whingy child but at the moment he is enrolled in before school Quran hifz (memorisation) class. This means he has to go to bed a bit earlier so he can wake earlier. At this point we have been waking him up for fajr (dawn) prayer for about a year and then letting him go back to bed for a while. After about three months of hifz class he is still moaning that “It’s not fair”, “I hate it” and “I’m tired”. The fact that Gorgeous isn’t going to the class yet is another sore point and we had to spend a few weeks calming him down when he was getting really angry with his little brother over seemingly trivial things.

Usually I make my children try something at least once before I let them write it off completely. This has been the exception and we have kept on going through the whinging, despite feeling sorry for him at times. We went through something similar with Little Lady a few years ago when she used to do sports before school and was adamant she hated it, hated the boys who wouldn’t pass the ball to her and didn’t see the point. I asked her to persist for the rest of the term because I had paid and at least she could say she gave it a go and was sure she didn’t enjoy it. It turned out she loved sports, got very good at being assertive about knocking boys out of the way to get the ball and ended up playing for her primary school girls football team (the “Lightning Bolts”), who were pretty terrible but had sooo much fun. I’m happy she still likes sports as I think this is something that will benefit her for life.

It’s the same for Little Man, I firmly believe that memorising the Quran , or even some of it, will bring comfort and guidance to him for the rest of his life. I know as a child I did not enjoy studying Quran and would do anything to get out of it. As an adult I am grateful for what I learned and the little I memorised, my only regret would be to not have done more as a child.

My youngest brother-in-law has memorised the whole Quran mash’Allah, and I remember him as a child trying to get out of lessons and getting in big trouble with his madrassah teacher for it. As an adult his mum is so grateful for the fact that one of her sons is a hafiz (person who has memorised Quran). A neighbour of mine was telling me how her mother was gentle by nature but had to be tough with her youngest son to get him to complete his memorisation and felt sorry for him because of the discipline it took. As an adult he is grateful to his mother for making him stick to his studies and puts his achievement down to her.

So for now, despite the moaning, the early mornings, the tears, I am encouraging him to stick with it. I think he will find a point where it no longer feels like a chore and becomes an achievement. At the same time as trying to be firm and answering his complaints without getting annoyed, I am trying to explain why we are doing what we are doing. At the same time as being a sounding board for him to absorb some of his annoyance and let him vent a little, we are continually reminding about the benefits of memorisation.

It’s making me understand a little, why the rewards and benefits of memorising the Quran are not just for the memoriser but also the people around them, because it requires everyone involved to have discipline and to be motivated to make it happen.

It is narrated from Hadhrat Abdullah ibn Amr (RA) that Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alaihi wasallam) said: Allah will say to a Hafiz (upon his death and on the day of Qiyaamat) 'Recite the Quran and (upon reciting each Verse) climb (a stage in Jannah) and continue reciting as you used to in the world as your abode in Jannah is upon the last verse you recite.' (Mishkaat vol.1 pg.186; Me'raaj)

“Mu'aadh al-Juhani narrates that Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alaihi wasallam) said, 'Whosoever recites the Quran and practices upon its injunctions, the reciter's parents will be given a crown on the day of Qiyaamat. The brightness of that crown will be more intense than the brightness of the sun in your actual house.' Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alaihi wasallam) further said, 'What do you think will be given to the Hafiz (reciter) of the Quran himself?'” (Mishkaat Vol I.)

“Hadrat Abu Hurairah (RA) says: In the house where the Quran is read, the household members increase, virtues and blessings multiply, angels descend upon the house and Shaytaan quits the home.” (Fazail-e-Quran)

A person who memorized the Quran, adhered to that which is permissible, and refrained from that which is forbidden, Allaah will admit him to Paradise and allow him to intercede for ten people of his family, all of whom deserved the fire." (Tirmidhi)

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

Today is the United Nation's International Day for the Elimination of Violence against WomenThe Day is to raise awareness and announce the start of 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, with a focus on strategies to prevent violence against women and girls. The UN's website states that:

35% of women and girls globally experience some form of physical and or sexual violence in their lifetime

As a woman and a mother, that is a frightening and depressing statistic.  You would think that technology, education and globalism would have changed the world enough that people understand that it is just not acceptable to abuse a woman.

As a mother I am very clear with my children that it is never okay to hit a women or to accept being hit as a woman.  I support that with the guidance from my faith (from the Quran and the sayings of our beloved Prophet PBUH) that says:

O ye who believe! Ye are forbidden to inherit women against their will. Nor should ye treat them with harshness, that ye may Take away part of their dower ye have given them,-except where they have been guilty of open lewdness; on the contrary live with them on a footing of kindness and equity. If ye take a dislike to them it may be that ye dislike a thing, and Allah brings about through it a great deal of good. - Quran (4:19)

Retain them [women] in kindness or release them in kindness. But do not retain them to their hurt so that you transgress (the limits). If anyone does that he wrongs his own soul. Do not take God’s instructions as a jest“ (Qur’an 2:231).

“The Believers, men and women, are protectors one of another: they enjoin what is just, and forbid what is evil: they observe regular prayers, practise regular charity, and obey Allah and His Messenger. On them will Allah pour His mercy: for Allah is Exalted in power, Wise.” (Qur’an, 9:71).

"The most perfect of the believers in faith are the best of them in morals. And the best among them are those who are best to their wives." [Narrated in Mosnad Ahmad, #7354, and Al-Tirmidhi, #1162]

A companion asked the Prophet of God what is the right of a wife over her husband?’ He said, "That you feed her when you eat and clothe her when you clothe yourself and do not strike her face. Do not malign her and do not keep apart from her, except in the house." (Abu Dawud).

In his last sermon Prophet Muhammad, peace be on him, cautioned the believing men to "be kind to women-you have rights over your wives, and they have rights over you." He also said, "Treat your women well, and be kind to them, for they are your partners and committed helpers."

That is not to say that Muslim's always act on Islam as they should or that violence against women is any less a problem for Muslims.  I think that's why its important for us all to be clear on our stance on it and for brothers to be clear in their position, as the white ribbons pledge says:

To "pledge to never commit, condone, or remain silent about violence towards women"

I love the Muslims for White Ribbon campaign here that offers resources and a khutbah (Friday sermon) campaign to help promote the issue.

image source (original infographic here in large size)

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Bookshelf Therapy

I have a thorough tidy up of our bookshelf every few months and sort through all the books that are in the wrong place and all of the random junk that accumulates on the shelves.  We are planning a party for the weekend, so that was a good excuse as any to tackle the latest mess.

I recently came across this picture and was intrigued.  I love order and neatness, I am very visual so I love things in colour order to.  The way this book shelf had been arranged really appealed to me.  I could never do this to my bookshelf though, how would I ever find anything again?

I roped the kids in and spent about two hours pulling all of the books out, cleaning the shelves and taking out the ones I knew I wouldn't read again.  

I have held on to my university books for the last fifteen years with the intention that I would study for my masters at some point.  I figured that the books would be outdated now as there are newer editions and that if I do study further, pretty much everything I need I could find online.  I ended up filling three big bags of books to donate and feeling lighter for it.

It's funny, with giving away that many books, you'd think I would suddenly have lots more space.  But when I tried to put them all back in, I gave the kids two more of my shelves for their books and still couldn't fit all of their books in without most of the shelves holding books two deep. 

I tend to group my books my theme: self-help, cookery, parenting, politics, sci-fi next to horror, even books from the same country go next to each other, like the Dewey Decimal System used in Libraries but more intuitive rather than by exact categories (yes I know I am a geek and proud of it).

By the time I finished the kids had disappeared and I had hardly noticed as I obsessed over which book to put next to which, I was covered in dust and I realised it was way too late for everyone's bed times.

I am so happy with my (comparatively) neat and tidy shelves that I want to put a big fence up in front of them with a guard dog.  Failing that I have been watching it like a hawk and making whoever is nearby put back whichever books Baby has just pulled out before running off.

Feels so good to have neat bookshelves.

A book is a dream that you hold in your hand. –Neil Gaiman

"The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go." ― Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!

"Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home." ― Anna Quindlen, How Reading Changed My Life

"Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counsellors, and the most patient of teachers." -- Charles William Eliot

"The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man. Nothing else that he builds ever lasts. Monuments fall; nations perish; civilizations grow old and die out; and, after an era of darkness, new races build others. But in the world of books are volumes that have seen this happen again and again, and yet live on, still young, still as fresh as the day they were written, still telling men's hearts of the hearts of men centuries dead." -- Clarence Shepard Day

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Yearning for Peace

There are no words for what happened in Paris this weekend, I cannot imagine the terror those poor people went through.  I have been mulling over the attacks and the multiple responses the last 24 hours or so: the anger, the fear, those trying to rise above it and reach out on all sides.  I am an innate optimist, but with the events of recent years, I sometimes find it harder and harder to be true to my optimistic self.  Yet it seems even in times like these humanity prevails.  There is that spark of goodness in people that pushes through: the Parisians in the wake of the attacks that immediately offered their homes to strangers to stay the night, the non-Muslims that took the time to remind people that this is not Islam and that most of us are just the same as anyone else.

Then this morning it occurred to me that London had already been through this.  London experienced its own terrorist attacks in 2007, I was on maternity leave at the time and due to go back to work in the City the following week.  I remember being  so worried that day because one of the bombs went off near my sisters university (SOAS in Russell Square) and one went off at Edgeware Road where my brother worked at the time.  We accounted for my sister and spent hours trying to confirm my brother was ok, to find that he had taken the day off that day and been in bed asleep.

I remember feeling heart broken that this had come to the city I love and call home and hurt so many people (52 died that day and over 700 were injured).  I also remember being scared about going back to work the following week and travelling on public transport and how people would react to me.  

London can sometimes feel like a hard-hearted and cold city, where people have no time for each other.  But I remember that following week when people were back at work, they harnessed what we call the "blitz spirit" and just carried on.  I also remember that people that week smiled at me and offered me their seat, something you normally wouldn't even get in London if you were pregnant.  I remember feeling proud of my city and more than a tad relieved.

I hope human kindness and understanding prevails again.  I pray that we all show understanding towards each other and don't let these events divide us.  

For those that think that this terror is part of Islam, I would like to join my voice to the throng of voices saying this is not who we are, this is not what we believe, this is not our Islam.  The Muslim world has had its own share of terror and suffering from both the war on terror and the antics of terrorist groups.  Figures compiled earlier this year (by the Physicians for Social Responsibility and by Physicians for Global Survival and International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War) put the total number of civilian casualties from US-led counter-terrorism interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan at between 1.2 and 3 million dead. The New York Times puts the death toll in Syria at more than 200,000 people having been killed in the four-and-a-half-year Syrian civil war, with four million fleeing the country leading to a refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe.  I still can't forget the children that died in the school shooting in Peshawar last year that killed 145 mainly children - they looked just like my young cousins and nephews in Pakistan and I still think of what their mothers must be going through.

Muslims Around The World Rally Against Extremist Antics Of Islamic State by Lori Hinnant in the Huffington Post

Muslims around the world condemn terrorism after the Paris attacks by Heather Timmons for Quartz

Paris terror: Muslim leaders around the world condemn 'heinous' attacks by Rose Troup Buchanan for the Independent

Paris attack: As a Muslim I'm disgusted how Isis can carry out this violence and claim to represent my faith by Miqdaad Versi for the Independent

What Muslims Are Saying About The Paris Attacks by Haytham Soliman, Muhammad Wajid Akhter and Hena Zuberi for Muslim Matters

Je Suis Muslim by Hamid Dabashi for AlJazeera

Muslims Around The World Condemn Paris Attacks Claimed By ISIS by Jack Jenkin for Think Progress.

Muslims Globally Are Condemning Islamophobia By Tweeting Support For Paris With “I Am A Muslim” - Andre Borges for Buzzfeed

I thought this talk by Sheikh Hanza Yusuf about ISIS and how they are far removed from Islam brought some real light to the matter:

“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible but in the end, they always fall – think of it – always" - Mahatma Ghandi

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.

Friday, 13 November 2015

World Kindness Day 2015: Small Actions and Big Ripples

Today is World Kindness Day. I do find that there seems to be a day for everything whether serious, frivolous or just commercial, but this is one that I really like. When I look at the world today, I think there cannot be too much kindness and perhaps it would go a way towards solving a few of our problems too.

For Muslim's kindness is part of good character and good behaviour.  The first we are told will weigh heavier on our scales when we account before our Creator than anything else.  The second comes under good deeds and actions which we are supposed to spend our lives performing:

Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Every act of kindness is a Sadaqa (charity)” (Bukhari, Muslim).

Kindness is sometimes associated with weakness, but sometimes the ripples of a small act can be so far-reaching as to be life-changing. An incident from my own childhood comes to mind. For a school trip, I had to take the bus and meet my class at the train station. I found that the bus driver would not take the £10 note my mum had given for the day. I started to panic, thinking that I would miss my trip and be left behind, the only child in school. A lady getting on behind me stepped up and told he driver not to worry and paid my (at the time) 20p fare for me. A small thing that anyone might have done but as the late Maya Angelou once said:

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

I went from feeling panic and embarrassment to relief and gratefulness. The lady who paid the fare probably never gave it a second thought, but what she did stayed with me. As an adult I resolved to pass the same kindness forward to anyone I came across who needed it – whether a bus fare, letting them jump the queue in front of me at the supermarket, offering my seat on the train or bus or offering money if they are slightly short to pay for their tea or coffee in the work canteen. Small things that take little effort, but small things that let people breathe a small sigh of relief, or help you to look at each other in a new light of understanding or create the opportunity for connection. In my case a small thing that I never forget and taught me to “pay it forward” when it came to kindness.

"And what will explain to you the path that is steep? It is: freeing the bondman; Or the giving of food in a day of privation, To the orphan with claims of relationship, Or to the indigent (down) in the dust. Then will he be of those who believe, and enjoin patience, (constancy, and self-restraint), and enjoin deeds of kindness and compassion." (Quran - 90:12-17)

"Those who are kind and considerate to Allah's creatures, Allah bestows His kindness and affection on them. Show kindness to the creatures on the earth so that Allah may be kind to you." (Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi).

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Simple Chicken Curry Recipe

Sister Susan from Stockholm left a comment not long ago, asking me to share my chicken curry recipe. I often think if you can get the masala or base for this right, it will give you a good foundation to make other curries.

In the beginning when I use to cook, my chicken curry never quite hit the spot, it seemed a bit too pale and the sauce was too runny. I asked a few good cooks what they did and this is my version for where I am having improved it over the years.

- 1 chicken with the skin off and cut into pieces or 1 kg chicken breast cut into cubes
- 2 onions – diced finely
- Ginger paste – ½ teaspoon
- Garlic paste – 1 
- 3 tomatoes – blended or chopped finely
- Green chilli’s – 2-3 (or increase if you want spicier)
- Tomato paste or puree – 1 tablespoon
- 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
- ½ teaspoon cumin (zeera) powder
- ½ teaspoon coriander (dhaniya) powder
- ½ teaspoon – 1 teaspoon black pepper (I use coarse pepper because I find it has more taste)
- ½ teaspoon – 1 teaspoon of basar masala spice mix (if available from your local shop)
- ½ teaspoon – 1 teaspoon of chilli powder if you need more chilli or the basar masala is not available (I use kashmiri chilli powder as it has a brighter colour but is less spicy than regular chilli powder)
- Salt to taste
- Boiling water
- 1 teaspoon dried fenugreek (methi)/handful of coriander chopped

Heat some oil and sauté the diced onions until they are gold. The more you brown the onions, the better they will incorporate into the sauce, otherwise the sauce will feel as if its not fully cooked through. Add the ginger and garlic pastes and cook further until the onions are a deep gold. Add the turmeric, cumin, coriander powders and black pepper and the tomato paste and stir fry for about a minute further so that spices can release their taste and flavour. Add the salt and basar masala if you have it, I find it gives curries a really nice smell and taste. It includes some chilli, so I add it instead of chilli powder, but you can add either/both.

Blend the tomatoes and green chilli’s together and add to the onions and spices. Cook the mixture until it is almost sticking to the bottom of the pan (but not quite). The oil should start to separate from the mixture and you should no longer be able to smell the tangy scent of the tomatoes. This is the bit I find makes the difference – the base of the curry is best when the tomatoes are cooked through completely.

Once the tomatoes are cooked through and the oil starts to separate, add your chicken pieces and stir fry on high heat until the chicken is cooked through. Then add 1-2 cups of hot water and let the sauce cook for 10-15 minutes or so. Keep the hob on medium-high heat as if you lower it, the chicken will start to break.

At this point you can add the fenugreek or coriander (not both). If you are using fenugreek then crush the dried leaves and drop them in just after you add the water and put the lid on and leave to boil. If you are using coriander then wait until the 10-15 minutes are up and sprinkle the chopped coriander onto the food, switch off the heat and leave the lid on for 5 minutes or so. Whichever herb you use will give the curry a lovely smell. Albeit both quite different.

You can use either a whole chicken cut into pieces or chicken breast. The first will have more flavour but the latter will cook more quickly.

You can add potatoes if you like, do so just before you add the water so that you can stir fry them with the chicken for a minute. Once you have added the water, let it boil until the potatoes are cooked through.

If you want to use two chickens or more chicken breast, you don’t necessarily need to double up all of the ingredients. I usually just add a little extra salt and red chilli if I think its needed.

I usually serve this with chapatti’s or my favourite way to eat it is with pilau rice. Even simpler, you could have it with bread, nan bread or boiled rice.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Parenting: Over-Protectiveness and Independence

I had an interesting conversation with some work colleagues last week about how much freedom children should be allowed at what age. My colleagues were younger than me and agreed that children should be given more freedom when it came to things like going out with friends, having mobile phones and access to internet and computer games. Their experience had been that those of their friends that had the strictest parents, were the ones most likely to go off the rails and exhibit the most extreme behaviour when unsupervised.

As parents we walk a thin line between protecting our children and allowing them to become more independent as they get older. Of all of the things that I have experienced with my children, this has been one of the most anxiety-inducing and difficult. How do you allow the most precious people in your world to go out into the real world which seems so full of threats and danger? It reminds me of the quote:

“Making the decision to have a child - it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ” ― Elizabeth Stone

I try to explain to my children why I do the things I do and I am open to negotiation with them. When they were younger I would never let them out of the house without adult supervision – we live near a busy road and have a petrol station on the corner. We also have drunks and vagrants in the area, a lot of people passing through as it is becoming an area with a high churn of people moving in and out and one neighbour who seem to be selling something to the teenagers that live locally. This meant that even if I had to cross the road to get milk, I would have to go myself and take the children with me rather then leave them at home alone. Now they are older, I send the older two out to get things from the shops. I initially insisted that they go together, walk down two blocks to cross at the proper crossing and then walk back up on the opposite side to the shop. I soon realised that they were not bothering to walk down and back up and were just crossing the road right in the middle to get to the shop quickly. So far I have not had heart failure and this Ramadan I even let them go the few blocks to their Nan’s house to deliver food for iftar (meal to break fast).

Another example is Little Lady’s journey to school. Her school is in a neighbouring borough with a bus journey through a busy London main route. This meant we went from dropping her and collecting her from the school gates of her primary school, which is eight minutes walk away, to her taking a bus journey of about 20 minutes alone. I remember when I used to commute early in the morning and used to endure occasional obscene comments and stares from men at the bus stop. This only added to my worry, so in the end we decided to drop her at the bus stop further from home and let her get the bus that stops right outside her school. I had a good week or two of stress and clock-watching until I got used to her coming home herself. This doesn’t mean that I don’t worry, she has told me about occasions when she has seem people looking at pornography on their phones in the morning, or the time a drunk man viewing pornography tried to grab one of her classmates. I used to take the same bus route to university and remember some of the unhinged people I sometimes came across, including one crazy old lady who started screaming “Coolie b***h!!” at me again and again and scared me enough to get off the bus way before my stop. Alhamdulillah Little Lady is a fierce and resilient girl and she comes home with a group of other girls from her class, but my worry isn’t completely irrational I don’t think.

A different area has been letting them go to friends or play outside by themselves. This is more around providing an appropriate environment than trying to hide them away or wrap them with cotton wool. Some of their school friends are Muslim, but not practising, so they have Bollywood films, music and non-stop computer games and unsupervised internet access at home. I am wary that they are being exposed to things and potentially thinking these are normal and we are not normal for avoiding them, after all their friends are Muslim too. So I have compromised by letting them go a few times and asking them not to miss their prayers. As Little Lady now goes to Islamic school, her friends come from environments more like ours and I am more comfortable with her seeing her friends at their homes if she wants to, but at 12 still think she is too young to be hanging out at the mall with her friends alone as she wants to.

One area which has been very trial and error with us is computer use and internet access. I have been quite strict with how much time they are allowed to use the computer and what they can access. I am starting to re-think if a different approach would be better. Once Little Man starts playing games, nothing will stop him, no-one else gets a turn and he starts to get very frustrated. The more I tried to manage their internet use, the more I felt like they were trying to sneak round me and not be entirely honest. I feel that perhaps my strategy of trying to strictly control their usage has led to these behaviours. A good friend offered an alternative way of approaching this. In her home there is a shared computer and everyone has the password, as long as they use responsibly, they are not too closely controlled or monitored. This has encouraged them to use the computer and gadgets in the house more sensibly and in effect they are self-managing their use. I am inclined to change my approach on this one and try giving them a little more independence and increase this if they show they are sensible in how much time they spend and doing what online.

So I am letting go of my children in small steps that we can both manage, perhaps, me more than them. I have tried to lay the foundations by including them in our decision making as a family (i.e. what shall we do this weekend?) and where I have not given permission for something by explaining why (do you think I would be a good parent if I let you spend hours playing computer games when you still have to do your homework?). As they grow older I find myself growing more confident in their ability to navigate the world for themselves and it is helping me to become a little more confident in granting them more independence.

A good reference marker for me remains a very sweet-natured friends of mine from university who has since passed away. I remember how strict my parents were and how scared I always was of getting home late, staying out in the evening even for work or studies or being seen so much as talking with a guy. This lovely friend of mine could go out in the evenings, see friends for dinners and talk to boys. I felt as if she had so much freedom, yet she was the first of us to wear hijab and went to the masjid every week almost. Her parents trusted her deeply and she was clear that she would never do anything that would hurt them. They would let her go out and then drop her off or collect her to reassure themselves she was safe and to make her feel as if her family was available should she need them. The relationship between them was loving without being stifling. I hope I can find the right balance with my children also insh’Allah.

I’m curious – what age did sisters start leaving kids at home alone? What age could they go to the shops or friends by themselves? Do you have an approach to internet access and time spent online that you feel is fair or has been successful in getting your children to spend their time sensibly?

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Remembrance Sunday: Just One Muslimah's Perspective

It was Remembrance Sunday in Britain and the Commonwealth today a day marked out to remember the sacrifices of those who fought in the two World Wars and in later wars.  The sight of the elderly selling poppies and the sight of elderly veterans paying their respects at the cenotaph each year never fails to move me.

I think the thinking around Remembrance Sunday can be less than straightforward for some people, especially Muslims.  It is easy to agree that those that fought in the World Wars, including members of my family deserve to have their sacrifice remembered and for them to be shown our gratitude. (I write about those of my family that fought here and hope to learn more about what happened to them one day if I can insh'Allah).  However the later wars, particularly the Iraq war and the Afghanistan war has left people angry, confused and frightened.  They have been fought on an illegal basis despite the protest of many poeple in this country, have left us to watch the slaughter of people we consider our brothers and sisters in faith and they have left many Muslims feeling like they are unwanted in a  country they love and are committed to.

This means that our feelings towards commemorating Remembrance Sunday or wearing a poppy can get wrapped up in what has happened in recent years. Personally I think we should separate the two.  We should be angry about the decisions of politicians who never had to see a front line, or feel the repercussions of going to war in their own lives and we should never stop speaking up about it.  On the other hand we should never lose our empathy and respect for those who left everything they loved and walked onto the battle field, people of all faiths including the numerous Muslims who fought in both World Wars.

One thing that made this very clear to me was something my dear dad-in-law once said.  He served in the Pakistani Army and was in active service during some of the wars with India, although not during the Bangladesh civil war.  As an old man he was sitting in a masjid one day talking to an elderly Bengali man, who said to him: "We are Muslim brothers, you wouldn't have shot me would you?" - To which my dad-in-law replied "Order is order" much to the gentleman's astonishment.  These young men and women did what they were told without question.   It reminded me that it is those that give the orders that should be held to account.

This week I was out shopping with Little Man and walked past a very elderly gentleman in his regalia selling poppies.  I gave little man some money for a poppy, but seeing how frail he was and thinking he may not be here next year made me turn and look the other way to hide the tears in my eyes.  It reminded me what a stoic generation he was from, one that sacrificed so much and then quietly carried on with their lives.

For those that think Muslim's have no place in their country and have never given anything to this country, the following might be of interest:

"Up to 40 percent of the Indian army were Muslim, even though they only made up about 25 percent of the Indian population.  Winston Churchill summed up the Muslim contribution in his letter to U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt. He wrote, "We must not on any account break with the Moslems, who represent a hundred million people, and the main army elements on which we must rely for the immediate fighting". (source)

Muslims that fought were not just from India, but included the North Africans, the Senegalese, the Nigerians, the Muslims of Soviet Central Asia, Palestinians and many others.

Cimetière de Saint-Claude à Besançon, a French Military Cemetery in the South of France, with graves of Muslim troops who died in both World Wars (image source).

Dulce et Decorum Est, by Wilfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! - An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime ...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under I green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, --
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori.
[How sweet and honourable it is to die for one's country]

Monday, 2 November 2015

The Pleasure of Letting Go

A lot of the last year and a bit since my youngest daughter came along has been about finding my feet, learning to be a bit more realistic about what I can do and taking a step back from trying to do everything. I think I probably moaned a lot on this blog, or at least vented a little. But on reflection all of the talking (or writing, but it always feels like I am talking to you), has slowly helped me to find my way and put the ground back under my feet again.

As the year draws towards its last months, I am starting to feel as if this year has been about letting so much go and finding that in the end that has been the most productive and pleasurable thing for me to do. I recently came across this quote which mentions a story from Steering by Starlight a book by Martha Beck, a writer I much admire:

Does this option taste of freedom? Martha Beck tells a story about how you can tell if any body of water originated from the ocean because it tastes of salt. Likewise,enlightenment always tastes of freedom. So to find out if you’re steering by starlight in your own life, take any element of your day (it might be today’s To Do List or a party you’ve been invited to) and ask yourself how you feel. Is it a “shackles off” (freedom) feeling? Or is it a “shackles on” (prison) feeling? Which decisions are you going to make more of?
(I can’t find the source at all – if you come across it, or these are your words, please let me know so I can acknowledge, I would not normally post without an acknowledgement, but I just had to share this).

I stopped blogging, keeping on top of housework, trying to cook new things every day, crafting, writing, travelling so much and stressing about the pile of fifty or so books I wanted to read but never got round to.

I let go of all of the things in my life that I used to enjoy or take pride in: a clean organised home, solid routines for everyone, time to blog and craft, my social life. Every single thing I let go was painful in some way. It meant I had to let go of the high standards I set myself. I had to accept I was only human, had the same 24 hours as everyone else and trying to rush through numerous activities and to-do lists was in no way meaningful or useful anymore. I had to accept that we can’t have and do everything we want by trying to just go faster. At first it felt like I was giving up, failing in some way or admitting I was not smart enough to do it all.  I felt like I was missing out and letting opportunities pass me by.

I pared my life back down to the things that were essential and that would make life feel easy and simple: praying on time without feeling hurried, making sure the babies were cared for, my older children were being listened to, my husband had my undivided attention and ensuring I gave my mind and body the rest it needed. I found that this was such a relief. It taught me how blissful and easy it can feel to live in a way that is simple.

Then I started to build back up slowly and thoughtfully asking myself – can I live without this? What does this add to my life? Does this distract me in my worship? What is the real reason I want this?  I took note of things that even in my quietest, calmest moments would speak to me and say that they needed attending to: the need to keep reconnecting with my faith and refreshing my iman, the desire to study the Quran, the siren call of blogging and writing which never goes away. Also the need for a clean and organised home, I am a visual person, so clutter and mess distracts me, I also find a clean, tidy home easier to relax in. Beyond this was the yearning to travel with my children and husband when the chance arose.

This time around, I didn’t feel like I was trying to do everything.   I was trying to do a few things which really called to me and I could take pleasure in and only if I had the capacity. I can comfortably let them go when it all gets too much and focus back on the essentials: worship, family, self-care.

Picture of the Day: 02.11.15 - Overindulging and Weight Loss

I did go to lunch with the best of intention.  Something light, low calorie and sensible was the plan.  Once I was down there the poor collection of sandwiches, which I knew wouldn't make much of a dent in my hunger, were enough to lead me to the chip counter.  Chips and cheese, cola and a chocolate bar - everything I had intended to avoid.  I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

I have been trying to lose a little baby weight over the last year, except I can't really blame Baby, only my love of food and my habit of overindulging.

My best efforts in the last year of being good haven't worked and I have come to realise that I have far less willpower when it comes to food than I used to.

I am not too hung-up on the way I look, I have always had good body image regardless of size and despite the occasional comment about my weight gain from others, my husband has always made me feel like the most beautiful woman in the world alhumdulillah (may Allah (SWT) reward him and bless him for the kindness and love he has always shown me).

I am mindful of the impact of the extra weight on my health in the long-term, especially in terms of diabetes and heart disease which are endemic in my ethnic group in this country.  As a mum I want to keep healthy for my children and set a good example.

What has worked for sisters who have lost weight?  Is it only good old fashioned willpower?  Cutting out sugar or flour?  Avoiding carbs?  Going vegetarian? Calorie counting?  Being strict with yourself?  Being kind and gentle with yourself?  Replacing certain types of food in your diet?  Educating yourself about diet and health?

I would love to hear if anything worked particularly well for someone.

Picture of the Day: 01.11.15 - Gems and Minerals

This weekend we took the kids to the Natural History Museum and Science Museum in central London, we had a great time (more of which in separate posts), but one of the things that certainly caught my eye was the gem collections in the Natural History Museum.  These were a collection of minerals, crystals, replica gems and semi-precious stones.

Anything green or sparkly tends to stop me in my tracks at the best of times, green and sparkly both?...

This is the Aurora Collection, of 296 naturally coloured diamonds on display at the Museum's The Vault' room, I could stare at these for ages.  You can see more pictures here.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Trip to Colchester Zoo - Art

I love outdoor art, especially when it is unexpected and unpretencious.  Art that s colourful, fun, that you can get near to and don't have to worry that your kids will touch and get you told off.  Good examples have been at Kew Gardens or one of my favourite places, The Eden Project in Cornwall (Harlequin Sister also collects images of street art that I really like on her blog here).

Colchester Zoo had lots of examples of art in different mediums both sculpture and paintings, some with facts for kids.  I enjoyed spotting these and they also made good backdrops for photos of the kids to send to their grandparents. (including when they climbed up to sit on the cheetah).