Tuesday, 21 February 2017

My Interview with Thread MB Blog

I was very happy to find that my interview with Laura Wellington of Thread MB was published this morning, you can find the full interview here and an extract below:

Do you believe you have a “life’s purpose?” If so, share it. 
I believe that each of us is here to serve: ourselves, our families, our communities and those in need. As a person of faith, I think, we are also here to worship and serve our Creator. I think we all have innate qualities and strengths that we can put in the service of others, even if, sometimes, we are unable to see it ourselves. For me, that purpose would include nurturing and inspiring my family, acting as a coach and activist in my community and hoping to motivate and inspire others to live a beautiful and balanced life through my blog and e-books.

Finish this sentence, “The best part about being a mom is _____.” 
The awe of seeing your children grow and the amazing potential unfold in each one; the good qualities and the flaws that make them unique and human; and the things that just surprise you.

What is the one piece of advice you would give to those who may be interested in beginning a blog?
Get started! The sooner the better. I would say to begin by using a free platform, test the waters, and see how it feels to write and share. So many people start blogging and stop after a fairly short period of time, so it’s definitely something you want to try out to see if it works for you. Other than that, be honest, honor your own, unique voice and know that your experience is worth sharing. When you do this, you will eventually find that your words will resonate with people.

You can read the full interview and Laura's introduction 

Monday, 20 February 2017

Picture of the Day 20.02.17 - Business Dress and Abaya Hemlines

I wear my abaya to work, but I try to look smart as well as modest.  There are some small things which I am a stickler for when it comes to dress, such as wearing trousers under my abaya which go with the colour of the abaya.  

This morning I went back to work after a week off for half term holidays. I managed to get dress for work on auto-pilot without thinking too much about I was doing.

I couple of hours later, I noticed this: 

I remember reading somewhere as a teenager the rules of wearing clothes for the office, most likely Readers Digest, because I was that nerdy kind of kid.  From what I recall, you wear black tights with black skirts and nude with everything else.  You generally match the colour of your tights to the hem of your skirt or trousers.

So although I wear an abaya, I wear black stockings with a black abaya and tan with everything else.  I usually wear my back abaya on Mondays as I rotate through the colours through the week.  But my black work abaya was in the wash thanks to someone very small using it as a hand towel while I was wearing it.  So I wore my pink one, but clearly in my head I was still wearing the black one and wore black stockings.

Such a silly little thing, but it bugged me all day. 

Picture of the Day 19.02.17 - Precious Stones

We visited the Natural History Museum with the children yesterday and the mineral and rock collection scattered across different parts of the museum is brilliant.  I couldn't stop taking pictures and this is one of my favourite:

I thought it was amethyst at first, but this is a rare kind of Fluorite called Blue John only found in Derbyshire, England, a source which is almost exhausted.  The banded patterning on it is just beautiful, subhan'Allah for Allah's creations.

Picture of the Day 19.02.17 - Colour Charts

We visited the Natural History Museum with the children yesterday and in amongst the dinosaur bones, stuffed animals and fossils, I came across this lovely colour chart:

It is thought to belong to the Bauer Brothers (Franz and Ferdinand), travelling botanical artists - even the job title is wonderful.  This is one of a series of numbered colour palettes they developed during the 1770's onwards into the early 1800's, for use when they travelled to number their drawings.  Later palettes contained up to 1000 drawings.

Examples of their drawings and paintings:

Page from sketchbook for Iris Germanicus showing numerical colour codes as not all of the colours needed could be taken into the field

Grevillea banksii by Ferdinand Bauer (20 January 1760 – 17 March 1826)

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Three Months to Ramadan 2017/1438

I was writing to a lovely sister this morning who contacted me because of the blog.  Have I ever mentioned that I love, love, love getting e-mails from sisters?  I should also mention that I am awful at replying and might respond in a day or in six months (to my shame).  But this sister’s e-mail reminded me that Ramadan is just over three months away.  

This got me thinking about a couple of things: my husband will probably spend Ramadan away again this year doing dawah, this time hopefully in Pakistan.  He could not go last year due to the refurbishment of our home and I could see it weighed heavily on him.  

I am hoping or both my mum- and dad-in-law to stay with us this Ramadan, usually it is just mum-in-law alone.  With hubby away, this will change the family dynamic in terms of routine, meals and how we plan our days.  It's funny, every Ramadan is different and unique in our home with a different mix of people.  I have to say, I am really looking forward to having dad-in-law here, we get on like a house on fire mash'Allah and it is really funny watching him wind up mum-in-law.

A third thing that comes to mind is that it is about time to update my annual Ramadan and Eid Planner.  I am hoping to do this over the next few days and have had some good feedback from the last version which is here.

 I would really, really appreciate any feedback from readers on any of the following points:
  • Have you ever used the planner and have you found it useful at all?
  • Do you like the design and colours?  What would you change?
  • What else could I add to make it useful?
  • Was there any part that you did not find useful?
Any and all feedback is welcome either through the comments or e-mail at umm_salihah@yahoo.co.uk as I hope to update the planner soon insh'Allah.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Muslimah Mastermind Group: Our Purpose

I recently blogged about the idea of a Muslim Mastermind Group.  The Muslimah Mastermind Group is about being part of a group of sisters who are all committed to improving their lives and achieving their dreams. These individuals each bring their own unique perspectives, resources, skills, and networks to the group. Most importantly, each one is committed to working towards their own goals and also supporting the other members in achieving theirs Insh’Allah. A true win-win opportunity.

The purpose behind this group is:

To Share Resources

There is an abundance of great resources about every topic you can think of in the shape of blogs and websites, e-books, guides, checklists, tutorials and free training. I have added as many as I can to the resource pages and will continue to add things I come across or sisters sign post me towards. 

To Solve Problems and Capitalise on Opportunities

The group will present an opportunity for sisters to share a question or problem. The rest of the group will then have an opportunity to provides answers and opportunities. Examples of questions or problems can be things like:
  • I want to start teaching my child Quran, where do I start?
  • I am interested in starting an online business – which platform is best?
  • I am launching a new product, can anyone help with spreading the word through blogs or their social media?
  • I am coming to London next week, any suggestions on where to eat and visit?
  • I want to increase my Islamic knowledge, what is a good place to start?
  • I am thinking about sending my child to Islamic school, Is this a good idea? Can any sisters speak from their own experience with their children?
  • I am sure there will be others that I can’t even imagine. I am also confident, that there will be sisters in the group that can bring great advice, contacts and suggestions to the issue at hand.
Or even:
  • I've just done this amazing course, here’s the link if you want to try it out
  • I have tickets to an event in New York that I am not attending, anyone want them? 

This idea partly came from my experience with working with a group of motivated women before and partly from Barbara Sher’s book Wishcraft, where she describes an “Idea Party”:

"Whether it’s a 3-hour or 12-hour workshop for public television or a corporation, at all my workshops I demonstrate what an idea party is. All of them are amazing, but one of the most memorable was at a public television show in Memphis.
I asked for an impossible dream and a woman raised her hand to say she wished she could go on a cruise.

“What's your obstacle?” I asked.
“I have three,” she said.
“First, I have no money. Second, my adult daughter is ill and staying at my place, and I'm looking out for her.
“And I'd rather not tell you the third obstacle.”
At that moment a man in shorts ran quickly from the back of the room up the central aisle waving a piece of paper:
“I just won a cruise for one person by running for the heart association, just a few hours ago. I don't want to go on a cruise. Anyway, I'm married.” And he gave the certificate to the women. We were wowed.
She was very moved. “That's so nice of you I don't know what to say, but I can't leave my daughter.”
A few rows back a hand went up. “I'm a public health nurse and I have to give 10 days pro bono every year. Would that help?”
The woman was flabbergasted (so was everyone but me, because I'd seen it so many times before. But this one did turn out to be unusual.)
“I think you'd better tell us your third obstacle,” I said.
She sighed. “My daughter's being stalked by her ex-husband and can't be alone.”
The room fell silent and then a man's voice came from the very last row:
“I'm a cop. What's his name?”
Everyone started laughing and cheering.
She went on the cruise."


From speaking to sisters through my blog, I find that sisters can often feel very isolated. In this big beautiful ummah, why should anyone ever have to feel that way? I also think that success comes when we work together:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has ~ Margaret Mead


I hope that the sisters in the group serve as a source of inspiration to each other. Sometimes we have a vague dream but can’t imagine what it might look like in real life. Sometimes we feel lost and can’t decide what our purpose in life is. One of the aims of this group will be to act as a source of inspiration for one another.


If we feel as if we have nothing to offer and if we cannot do anything else, the least we can do is to make dua for each other and act as cheerleaders for each other:

…Help each other to goodness and heedfulness. Do not help each other to wrongdoing and enmity. Heed Allah. Allah is severe in retribution. (Surat al-Ma'ida: 2)

No sister should ever think she is the least in this group and each of us should encourage and support the others in the good things they hope to achieve, whether through dua, encouraging words, good advice or ideas and resources that we can share or make available.

I hope the reasons in this post encourage and inspire sisters to join and be active in the group and give a feel of what we are trying to achieve and how we can interact and work together.

The Muslimah Mastermind Group will be based around:
A private blog which you can join with a Google account
A private Facebook group
An e-mail list, which I will use to send out messages to the group if required.

If you want to join, please e-mail me at umm_salihah@yahoo.co.uk and I can add you to the above.

Picture of the Day 11.02.17 - Snow

It has been snowing on and off for the last few days here, cold but so pretty.
It hasn't stuck so far, so no snowmen despite the kids crazy excitement (Disney's Frozen has a lot to answer for, Darling was convinced it would be white and wintry like the cartoon outside).

I have been trying to get a decent picture of the snow, but no chance, my phone camera just wasn't picking the snowflakes up.  So I am stealing my sister’s pictures which I thought were absolutely awesome:

images from Shutterbug Sisters everyphototunity blog

Monday, 6 February 2017

Entrepreneur Interview with Osmaan Mahmood, Creator of Fenice Media and Where's Funky Monkey

This Entrepreneur Interview and Inspiring Ummah Interview posts will be a series of interviews with entrepreneurs and social campaigners who are making a difference in the world. I find that Muslim women are particularly interested in both of these areas: becoming entrepreneurs or doing work that benefits society, often both at the same time. These interviews will help to shine a light on the motivation and inspiration behind creating your own product, service, social outreach campaign or charity, how to get started and some of the challenges you may face.

As an introduction, can you please tell us about yourself, your background, and what lead you to create your business/product? 
After having worked in the publishing industry for a few years I set up my own company Fenice Media. We have three core products CorporateLiveWire, the Luxury Travel Guide and iGap Travel Guide. All of these products are geared towards adults and when looking at new areas for the company to expand we felt that we could create a product for children. 

That’s where the idea for Where’s Funky Monkey was born, we publish a great deal of content on travel via our guides and websites and it’s something that I love to do. The aim of Where’s Funky Monkey is to encourage children to want to explore and see the world. 

What made you choose to become an entrepreneur? 
I’ve always looked up to successful business people and love to create new ideas and products so becoming an entrepreneur was something that came very naturally to me. I’m always tinkering and coming up with all sorts of new ideas some sensible and some quite crazy. 

What is the overall aim of your business/product? What problem are you setting out to solve and how? 
The first goal is to teach children that there is a very beautiful and diverse world out there and they should want to explore and experience as much as possible. Secondly with the proliferation of technology more and more kids today are playing games and watching videos whereas my aim with the book is to show children that reading and books are fun and enjoyable. 

What were some of the biggest challenges for you when you were starting your business? 
The biggest challenge was getting our name out there and convincing clients why they should work with us even though they had never heard of our company or product before. Also trying to recruit talented people to a new start-up company is very challenging especially when we used to work from an office that could only fit 5 people at a push. 

What do you wish you had known before you had started your business? 
Being willing to ask for help or advice, no one knows everything especially when it comes to business and rather than trying to do everything on my own or figure everything out on my own sometimes consulting someone with a bit more experience and knowledge in a certain area is the wiser choice. 

What is the most satisfying aspect of running your own business? 
Knowing that we are making a difference in providing our clients with a satisfying experience and product that is good value for money. 

Also to be able to provide work to so many of my employees some of whom struggled to find work for various reasons and were unemployed or in unhappy positions for many years. 

Where do you see your business in the future? 
Hopefully we will continue to grow, we have so far seen 5 years of consecutive growth both in revenues and profits so to keep up this trend while coming up with new and exciting ideas to continue to expand the company and its product range. 

What words of wisdom would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs who may be hesitant about taking the first steps towards starting their own business? 
Just to do it, there is never a right time or a perfect moment you simply go for it. 

Also do not have a backup plan I know this sounds crazy but if you want something to succeed you have to put everything on the line, when I set up my company in the first month I put all my savings into a new house and left my very secure full time job because I believed in what I was doing and you have to be willing to make the same sacrifice, life is too short to play it safe.

Osmaan is currently looking to raise funds via Kickstarter to fund his Funky Monkey book. The goal is to raise £5,000 to pay for editing, printing and to pay illustrators. You can go here to contribute and see what you get for your pledge. The Kickstarter page also has a timeline, risks and FAQ's. It's an all or nothing campaign, so the project will only be funded if it reaches its goal of £5,000 by 23rd February 2017.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Aaila the Muslim Family Magazine – January 2017 Edition

The latest edition of Aaila, the Muslim Family Magazine is now online thanks to the help and contribution of all its wonderful writers and volunteers. Some of the articles at the top of my to-read list include:

Ustadha Maysoon by Umm Ibrahim - I have been waiting for this to be published, an account of an Arabic teacher and what she learned about herself and the parents of the children she teaches.

Review of The Greatest, Muhammad Ali – My Own Story by Salihah Safiyah  - my Little Lady's book review of one of my favourite books about one of our favourite people (May Allah SWT bless him with jannah insh'Allah)

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 Umm Imran ateditor@aaila.org

ou can visit and follow the lively and engaged Aaila Facebook page here.

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 perfect platform for you. You can contact Sister Umm Imran at the above e-mail for further information.

Book Review: Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

This book is often used as a GCSE study text although I seemed to have skipped it at school (I think we studied Z for Zachariah instead, which is also very good). I spotted this in a shelf full of sci-fi books at a local charity shop and it was the first one I picked up.

Flowers for Algernon is the story of Charlie, a young man with learning difficulties, who despite the challenges of life has a sweet and gentle nature. He is selected for an experiment at his local university that aims to enhance intelligence, an experiment initially tested on a mouse called Algernon with great success. As the experiment takes effect, we find Charlie’s intelligence and understanding expand and deepen to outstrip everyone around him. When the mouse starts to behave erratically and fade, Charlie as to question what that means for him.

The book is written in the form of a diary which Charlie is asked to keep as a measure of his progress. The author deftly takes us on a journey through Charlie’s words, portraying innocence, hope, Charlie’s excitement and awakening and then his dawning realisation that the people around him are not always what they have seemed to the child-like version of himself. Throughout Keyes creates the doubts and insecurities that plague Charlie whether his IQ is low or high.

This is not the sci-fi of space ships, aliens or killer robots. This is the kind of book that looks deep into the human psyche and nature and explores the effect of intelligence on the way the world treats you, the way you see it and your relationships. Charlie is lonely and alienated from those around him both when he can barely read or write and when he is considered a genius.

The book was originally written in 1959 and feels very much of its time, with mentions of dance halls and a Strato-jet. But it also shines a spotlight on the treatment of people who were categorised as “retarded” at the time, whether in the community or in hospitals. I recently had a long conversation with a colleague at work who used to manage care homes for people with learning difficulties. She described how at the start of her career she would find people left with no games or radio or any other kind of activity to keep them occupied. They would share communal shower areas and rows of toilets without doors (shared between male and female residents). Most devastatingly, anyone with challenging behaviour that might bite had their teeth removed, the youngest person she saw this done to was 23. So the descriptions of the hospital where “retarded” young men are sent is quite upsetting.

A deeply moving, heart-breaking little book.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

World Hijab Day 2017: Reflecting on the Journey and Questions

It is World Hijab Day today (thank you to my little sister for the reminder).  On reflection a couple of things come to mind: how much animosity there is still in some parts of the world to the concept of hijab, how much easier it seems to wear hijab today than it did 18 years ago and how much more confidently young women pull it off these days.

(awesome image courtsey of my little sister here and here)

The other things that I am reminded of are my hijab journey and how often I still get asked strange questions.

The Hijab Journey

When I look back, there came a point in my teenage years when I questioned my faith and decided that it made sense to me and was something that I wanted to follow.  At that time hijab seemed so alien to me.  I wanted to be like everyone else and not the only one wearing a scarf.  At the same time, there was guilt at the back of my mind and a desire to follow what I believed to be Allah's (SWT) command for me.

At university, I had a dear, beloved, friend, who decided to wear hijab at the start of Ramadan. She inspired me and gave me courage, so I decided I would wear hijab too.  Alhamdullilah, I believe she gave me a real push to come closer to my faith and that she should get equal reward to me for every day I have work hijab in the last 18 years.

I first wore hijab with the ends twisted around the front and tied at the back, a bit like this:

I didn't realise at the time that Jewish women often cover their hair like this.  I lost count of the number of African women who asked me how I tied my scarf and delighted in explaining.  I sometimes look at turban hijab trend today and before I judge, have to remind myself I started somewhere too.

The other thing I recall from this time was how many women, usually not in hijab themselves would either tell me how beautiful I looked in my hijab or defend my right to wear hijab.  It's something that helped my confidence to grow in waring my hijab and I make dua that these sisters are blessed with happiness today.

With my new found confidence, I transitioned to bringing my hijab down from behind my neck and wearing the square Turkish style hijabs for many years:

I still dressed the same way I always did and as I began work, I wore sharp suits and long skirts.  Over time and with the transition to otherhood these became looser and were then replaced with the abayah.  On the first day I wore abayah, I explained to my manager that I would be dressing like this and I hope she was okay with it, I think she was completely lost as to what to say and responded that she thought my long dress was lovely.

At work, I met my beloved best friend and she inspired me to try the long pashmina scarf, showing me how to pin it, which took a little practice.

I am used to this style and feel super comfortable in it.  I love wearing hijab and I am proud of my hijab-wearing sisters.  I am also grateful to those that don't wear hijab but defend our right to wear it and those who stick up for us when we feel scared or vulnerable.

The next step in my hijab, may or may not be to wear niqab, it is something I really respect, but I am not sure I have the courage to take it up as a permanent step with all it entails.  My utmost love and regard to those sisters who do xxx

The Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Do you wear that at home / in bed / in the shower?

No.  Hijab is to be worn in front of non-Mahram men, i.e. those that you would be allowed to marry.  So we don't hav to wear it in front of our parents, husband or children at home or in bed.  Or when we are alone, like in the shower.

Do you wear it because you are married?  Does your husband make you wear it?

No.  Hijab becomes obligatory on a woman when she reached puberty, way before she might be considering marriage or a husband.  It's a command from Allah (SWT), not your husband.

Or as my darling best friend said in response to a very rude colleague who asked me why I wore that thing on my head - because we love and respect piuos women like the Virgin Mary who also covers her head (the lady asking was  strict Catholic, she was left wihtout a thing to say).

Don't you get hot in it?

No more than if I had been wearing regular clothes, when it's hot out, you feel hot.  I always struggled with the heat, despite the fact it hardly even ever gets very hot in England, but I found that when I started to wear hijab and abayah, the heat no longer seemed to have an effect on me.  I beleive when you do something for Allah (SWT), He makes it easy for you.

Or as some sisters woud say:  "Yes, but not hotter than I would be in the fires of hell"
Or as I often say: "Cool is a state of mind" - that often confuses people :)

Do you have hair?  How long is your hair?

Yes and how long is a piece of string?  Sometimes I have fun with this one and try to convince people I am bald.

Why do you wear black scarves?  Why do you wear coloured scarves?  How do you decide which scarf to wear

Depends on my mood, black just matches everything and I love colour.  I tell people I choose my hijab based on what lipstick colour I want to wear, actually I just rotate through my collection.

I'll stop there, because it;'s getting late and I have to iron my hijab for work tomorrow, but I thought the video below from the awesome Secret Life of Muslims was great fun

Monday, 30 January 2017

Spotlight: Where’s Funky Monkey, A Fun Adventure Children’s Book

Where’s Funky Monkey is a new book designed to encourage children to explore some of the most amazing places around the world. Destinations in the book include the Taj Mahal, the Great Barrier Reef, the Great Wall of China, the Pyramids of Giza and Machu Picchu in Peru.

Readers have to look for Funky Monkey, his friends and a series of items in each colourful page spread. Each spread also has facts and references to local culture and wildlife. 

The person behind the idea, Osmaan Mahmood, is currently looking for crowd funding to make the books a reality. He describes the reason why he wanted to create the book:

"I believe stories and tales are one of the strongest influences during our formative years. Everyone has a book that made the world seem exciting and full of possibilities. My aim is for Where’s Funky Monkey to be that book for the next generation."

Osmaan is currently looking to raise funds viaKickstarter. The goal is to raise £5,000 to pay for editing, printing and to pay illustrators. You can go here to contribute and see what you get for your pledge. The Kickstarter page also has a timeline, risks and FAQ's. It's an all or nothing campaign, so the project will only be funded if it reaches its goal of £5,000 by 23rd February 2017.

I often come across projects, campaigns and businesses that really capture my imagination with the amazing work they are doing to support and empower communities alhamdulillah. Every now and again something comes along that make you want to contribute in some way and share so that others can too. Sometimes people will get in touch with me and although they don't have the resource to buy an advert or sponsored post on this blog, what they are doing resonates so much with me that I want to help if I can insh'Allah.

The "Spotlight" blog posts will highlight these projects, campaigns or businesses. Please do share and visit the sites and if they inspire you, see what you can do to help insh'Allah.

Spotlight: Overcome TV