Friday, 9 March 2018

International Women’s Day 2018

My office marked International Women’s Day 2018 with a series of talks by women discussing success, how they got to where they are today and how they balance the different parts of their life.  The conversations I am hearing around me are about gender parity, career progressions, self-belief and equal pay.  As a believer in fairness and justice all of these seem like noble things.

But when I think of International Women’s Day I think of my nan, a women I never met.  She died in childbirth when my mother was a little girl, her baby having died a few days earlier.  Maternal health and maternity care is a subject close to my heart, having been through seven pregnancies and having had five children.

Perhaps people don’t realise quite the impact that poor maternity care and the death of a mother can have on her family, her children and even the generations that come after.  My mother was never sent to school, no one bothered to send her, if her mother had been alive perhaps she would have fought for her daughter’s education in the way that her step mother ensured that her daughters went to school.  She married young and came to England where she was not always treated well by her in-laws.  Her illiteracy meant that she was isolated and in those days she could not always contact her family easily.  Her lack of a mother meant she was missing the strong advocate that could have fought her corner at such a testing time of her life.

Her illiteracy also meant that she was too intimidated to be involved in our school life and could not help with our school work, although later she pushed us all hard to get to university, even when my dad was against the idea for me.

Another impact on her of losing her mother at such a young age was that she never learned to show affection to her own children or to manage her own anger and pain in a reasonable way for most of her childhood.  It was only later as adults she started to hug and kiss us much to our absolute pleasure.  But it meant that for much of my early adulthood I was certainly a cold fish, being completely clueless about how to behave when friends hugged or showed me affection.

When my mum had her own children she missed out on all of the special care you receive from your mother following childbirth: the special food, the extra rest and care.  When it was my turn to have children, she simply didn’t know what was required of her, asking friends for advice that would have been passed down from her mother.

The point is that the influence of my nans death was felt through two more generations at least, perhaps more as I know I am still mitigating the effects of her death on my life.

People might complain that in the modern world there is no longer the need for feminism or International Women’s Day, but I would disagree.  Whilst there are places in the world that women cannot access decent healthcare or education, there is a need to keep pushing for progress.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Guest Post: Harlequin Teaset and International Women's Day 2018

I haven’t had time to write as much as I like today for International Women’s Day, but luckily my little sister has and I love how she has personalised it with anecdotes from my family.  She shares how precious having sisters is to us despite our squabbles and how we have come so far on the sacrifices that came before us:

Harlequin Teaset: International Women's Day 2018 

Today we celebrate International Women’s Day – a day which honours women’s achievements, their lives and the struggle for equality in this post-modern world. I’ve already heard criticism and grumblings though – some from women saying this day is full of hypocrisy, where companies cash in on a cheesy holiday, before going back to the uncomfortable reality where women aren’t all equal. I’ve also heard some from the men, who feel targeted, pushed out, marginalised and feel that it is unfair (to be honest, there is an International Men’s Day in November, but I’ve never seen it be celebrated).

One of the reasons why I always like to talk about this day is because I know how much the women in my family have struggled in order for me to have the position, and privilege, that I enjoy today. My paternal grandmother spent her life looking after her husband, then her children, and then her last few years with her sons and grandchildren – but we all saw her as the matriarch, the Queen Bee of the family, and have such fond memories of her. We never knew our maternal grandmother as she died very young, but we have always held her in such high respect – the stories we grew up with about her focused on her being the jewel of her family, a much-wanted daughter and sister. One of the stories I remember being told was about her travelling in her ‘doli’ on her wedding day, and asking to stop so she could pray her salah – this for me was such a humble, awe-inspiring thing to do in the midst of a special day, and a reminder to not get too big for our boots.

And my mother. I could write pages about her. Whenever I read poetry about our roots, our struggles, our blessings, (“Our backs/Tell stories/No books have/The spine to/Hold” – Rupi Kaur), I always think of my mum and what she has taught us while she raised us, as well as what she has endured. My mother married young, and spent her life caring for others, where she never came first – her younger siblings, her husband, her children, her in-laws. I’ve heard a lot of stories from friends, colleagues, bloggers and many more about the relationships they’ve had with their parents, difficult or otherwise which all talk about how they impacted them as adults.

It’s harder to explain the more complex things someone who may not have the same upbringing as us – the emotional-blackmail, the cultural-family politics, the superstitions and the ingrained racism, misogyny and general random weirdness that seems to come part-and-parcel with Asian society. One of the things I was always grateful for was that my mother spared my sisters and I a lot of this headache – she realised the value of letting us be ourselves without forcing us to follow the route she had gone through. We spent our childhood running to the parks, riding bikes, dressing in boy-jeans (well, one of my sisters did anyway), wearing princess dresses (me), devouring books and jumping up and down to Bollywood songs (me again). Our parents were not well off, but my mother spent most of her spare time tailoring, and saved money carefully so that when we needed (or usually just wanted) something frivolous, we always got it.

And shall I tell you about my sisters? One is literally Superwoman – she blogs, works full time, raises five children and still has time for a good natter, to cook, to take her children somewhere fun or find something interesting to do, watch or read. Almost every person I know who also knows her ask me how she does it – I’m a little baffled myself. Then there’s another sister of mine – possibly the most humble person I know, and also the most reliable. I always take her shopping with me (because she lets me be rude to her when she picks out clothes) and she’s always my go-to person for taking photos, organising events or just generally random bits of handy-man advise. And lastly there’sthe baker in the family – when we were younger we used to get asked if we twins (we look nothing alike but used to be the same height as kids), and she’s probably one of the few people who loves horror movies way more than I do. I often find that she’ll say something I was thinking, usually the more stupid the more likely! When I was in school, I got told by one of my friends that I talked about my sisters ‘too much’, which I found weird – I always thought I was lucky to have sisters and have always felt sorry for those who don’t.

Having said that, as much as I understand how important it is to recognise and acknowledge the bounds and leaps that women have taken over the years, I feel that it is just as important to understand the issues that women still have. In my workplace I’ve often come across women who have problems, and still have them now. I met a very sweet Afghani women a couple of days ago who broke my heart with her story – she was a teacher in Afghanistan who taught a girl’s schools, but received many threats for doing so. Her son was abducted, his body found a year later. Her husband was injured in an explosion while driving to work, and she fled the country to Britain in fear of her life. When I went to visit her, her landlord took me aside and quietly asked me to be gentle with her – she had just found out her husband died the day before. Yet when I spoke to her I found her incredibly sweet, thoughtfully asking me if I wanted to sit, to drink anything. I found her strength of character amazing – she was in the middle of grieving yet had time to think of others. There are still countries where women do not have access to basic necessities – clean underwear, sanitary items, clean toilets and even basic rights and freedom. Its things like this which make us realise how much we take for granted, and how much the world still needs to go before we can consider ourselves equal or fair.

You can read the full article here and see more of her writing, art and general wierdness here and on her awe-inspiring instagram account here.

Book Review: Its Jummah! by Najia Rastgar and Lyazzat Mukhangaliyeva

Growing up Friday was always a special day in my home.  There were particular rituals and actions  for the day – My dad dressed in pure white salwar kameez for Jummah (Friday), the house scented with his attar and any new clothes we bought were saved for Friday for their first wear.  I have tried to replicate this feeling of a special day of the week with my children. 

It’s Jummah! is a board book for babies that tries to share a few Sunnah and etiquettes of Friday for Muslims. It is the first in a series of books by the authors that’s aims to combine Islamic knowledge and pre-Montessori education (like shapes, colours, fruits and vegetables, etc.), so babies can learn them both at the same time.

The book uses very simple language and beautiful high-contrast illustrations for smaller children. I really liked that it helps us to introduce Islam to smaller children with easy instructions for Friday like having a bath, cutting our nails, wearing our best clothes and reciting Quran.

My little girls enjoyed the book, it is aimed at slightly smaller children than my three and five year olds but it was a nice little resource for me to teach them about the sunnaan of Friday and to test them by asking questions.

The writers say they plan to translate the books into Urdu, Kazakh, Russian, Arabic, Bengali, and other languages in futures, I think these would make nice little books to get started with teaching little ones another language.  I look forward to see what else come forth from this series.

Book Review: The Muslims by Zanib Miah

When my older children were quite small, I used to buy them books with an Islamic theme, not necessary just instructional, but often something to motivate and inspire: colourful picture books with stories from the lives of the Prophets (peace be upon them) and the Sahabah (companions of the Prophet - may Allah be pleased with them).

As they have gotten older they have lost interest a little for more mainstream books which perhaps they find a little more entertaining.  Both of my boys are fans of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, Zanib Miah’s The Muslims is in a similar style.

The book follows our loveable, cheeky but slightly disaster-prone young protagonist Omar, as he introduces us to his very likeable family and moves to a new school.  The book is funny, but not always fun.  Omar gets into plenty of escapades, but unlike the light-heartedness of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, The Muslims touches gently on deeper themes of how children cope with change, in this case with an imaginary dragon that grows and shrinks as his worries do.  The book also deals with bullying, in this case because Omar is a Muslim.

In an interviewpublished late last year on Happy Muslim Mama, Zanib Miah described how she wrote her book The Muslims in response to the surge of faith-based bullying as, reported by Child Line and the NSPCC.

Interestingly it also touches on how children pick up on the worries from things happening around them – for instance, his fear that all Muslims and Asians could have to leave the country.  This was something I have had conversations about with my children in the past after Brexit and other events that they have picked up on.

This makes the book sound very heavy for a child, but in fact these things are dealt with, with a very light touch.  The book is written from a child’s point of view with illustrations that are almost comic-like.

My favourite parts were those that included the neighbour who started off calling the family “The Muslims” (hence the name of the book) and eventually is won around enough to invite herself to their iftar meals and join in the countdown to Biryani (where she feeds Omar alcoholic chocolates)

I like that the book weaves Omar’s faith into his daily life in the way Islam does in real life for Muslims.  Sometimes this centres on their daily routine, like the way they celebrate Ramadan and Eid and sometimes through his actions, in the way he makes dua (supplication) when he is in trouble.

And the important verdict?  Both my boys utterly loved this book and both said they would read more instalments if they could get them.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Good Deed of the Day: Support the Quran Stories with HudHud App

I usually share a charity programme or a good project on Fridays and encourage people to support in any way they can. I haven't in a while and I really like this project, so I am going to share in the hope that others might want to support also insh'Allah.

The project is a free app called Quran Stories with HudHud. The designers of the app, say:

"Through this app, children will be able to build a connection with the Quran and find true role models of Patience, Honesty, Generosity, Wisdom, Bravery, and Good Character.

Children will learn about the stories of the Quran in a fun and engaging way."

I like this because as my children get older, I have come to realise more and more that teaching children about faith has to be interesting, relevant, interactive and if possible fun.  You have to find ways to keep children's interest and keep them motivated or the whole process can become very painful for everyone involved.

The app includes stories told by professional story-tellers, games, puzzles and animations, the creators also hope to translate the stories into a number of different languages.

You can find out more about the app on the Launch Good page here including how to make a donation to the project or raise awareness by sharing on your own social media.

Friday, 23 February 2018

Full Days

It’s just over a month at my new job and I am still enjoying myself. I have been meeting community groups, brainstorming ways to celebrate diversity, learning about community cohesion, writing a guide to prayer room usage, updating internet pages and generally doing what my geeky self considers fun. The people I work with are really nice and the days go by in a blur.

I like that I have the option of dropping the kids off before work and taking a walk at lunchtime. I’ve even lost a few pounds because I am busy enough to stop boredom-eating alhamdulillah.

On the flip side, moving to working five days from four has been a painful transition. I have lost my breathing space, my Friday morning 9am golden hour after the kids have been dropped to school. My days are so full with learning new things that I come home tired and wanting to focus on simple things – housework, cooking, cleaning, children’s homework and bedtime routines. Those are the things that help me to wind down and let go of all of the things I have to keep on top of in the office. My house has never been so tidy.

All of this leaves little room for creativity and trying new things. There is enough trying new things at work and enough space to be creative that I just want to veg out at home. So at times like this I return to what I have always done when overwhelmed: go back to the basics. Focus on gentle routines, try to get enough sleep. The children can often be my biggest source of anxiety, so making sure they are eating properly, going to bed on time, these things help me to feel calm and organised.

It’s taken a month to feel settled including a period where I freaked out a bit in the middle thinking “OMG I can’t do this” before I resorted to making lots of lists and breaking down everything I had to do.
So finally, I feel like I am getting used to the change in hours, routine and intensity of work. Maybe this weekend I’ll venture out and try something new.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Product Review: Sunnah Box by Muslim Box Co

MuslimBox Co. is a Muslim brand which describes itself as being founded on the Prophetic principles of generosity, sharing and gift giving.  They recently contacted me to ask if I would like to review their Sunnah Box, a hand-packaged set of grooming items drawn from the legacy of the Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu alaihi wasallam‎).

I was intrigued by the idea and liked the idea of getting hubby in on the act and getting his opinion for the review.

The Sunnah box came beautifully packaged in old fashioned craft paper and string which I liked.

The box is walnut wood with a smooth finish and a minimalist look.  The hinge at the front is of good quality with an antiqued gold finish.

The website doesn't say which type of miswak (or tooth stick) is in the box, it looks like the same as my husband uses, which is the standard one available everywhere.  I really liked the miswak holder, which is ideal for travel or home storage.  I find miswak dries out once open if left out and people often don’t like to leave it uncovered.  

The smaller comb, or beard comb is a bit like a detangling comb for curly hair.  I loved the feel of it, very smooth and silky and very tactile.  The folding comb is probably hubby’s favourite item.  I have been looking for one for him and this has a pocket clip and folds smoothly.  I thought the comb was too fine to comb a curly beard, but hubby tried it and didn’t have a problem.

The beard oil, black seed oil and perfume come in nicely labelled glass bottles.  They have a plastic seal under the metal lids.  My husband was weary they would leak and would have to be kept upright, but the plastic seal meant that they were fine.

The beard oil is made of sweet almond oil and pure argan oil with cedarwood and lemongrass essential oils for scent.  The smell was quite subtle, hubby wasn’t crazy about it as his usual beard oil is a synthetic one with perfumes, so this one wasn’t as fragrant as he is sued to.

The black seed oil is raw, virgin and cold pressed. I really liked this.  I have had my mother in law bring me black seed oil from seeds that she bought and had pressed in Pakistan, the result was so pungent in taste and small that I didn’t really like it.  This has a milder smell and I may use it to mix with another oil for skin and hair.

The third bottle is described non-alcoholic attar perfume.  I would describe this as almost unisex.  Hubby thought it was pleasant, I really liked it.  I’m not sure how to describe it, perhaps musky, maybe slightly floral.

I thought this was a nice gift for a special occasion, I suspect my dad would appreciate something like this.  It’s also a nice way to introduce someone to some Sunnah practices in a really nice, gentle way.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Small Things that Make a Difference: Wudhu at Work

I have been at my new job a week and a half and I am thoroughly enjoying it alhamdulillah.  The day goes by in a flash, I am learning so much and there is lots of opportunity to be creative and throw around ideas.

One of the areas I am doing a lot of work in at the moment is Equality and Diversity, both internally as a workplace and externally as part of a wider community. It’s funny though, sometimes its small things that can make such a difference as a Muslimah in the workplace.

There seems to be some cultural sensitivity and understanding, in that male co-workers haven’t tried to shake my hand.  My manager is really supportive about my need to pray and best of all, there is a good facility to make wudhu (ablutions) for prayer.

Pretty much in every place I have worked, I have made wudhu in the disabled bathroom for privacy and almost in every case this has a very small sink with a tap that sprays everything and leaves you and your surroundings dripping wet.  I wear a plain abaya, so wearing any colour other than black makes it very visible that you are walking around with the front of your clothes wet.  In the last place I worked the disabled toilets were locked and only those with the pass keep could access them.  One toilet was left unlocked, but on more than one occasion I went to use only to be told off for trying to use a disabled loo.

In my current workplace, there is a disabled toilet on every floor with a shower.  People use the showers after exercise etc, so I don’t feel like I will be told off for using it to make wudhu.  Best of all the sink is big, the taps flow freely rather than spray everywhere. 

I have struggled with praying at work for years, not because of the prayer, but because it always felt like so much work washing up for prayers.  It was always a relief when I was on my period and didn’t have to pray and could avoid the rigmarole of taking everything off, getting wet and messy, then cleaning everything up – all as fast as possible in the hope that no one is waiting outside to moan at you.  I had to remind myself that the ablutions are as much a part of the prayer as the prayer itself.

Now it’s a relief that I can relax when I make wudhu, there is space to put my things and there is a clean space to wash up.  I think it’s something I will raise with my employers to let them know it might seem like a small thing, but it makes a difference and has really improved my experience at work.

My wudhu bag for work

Sparkly Superhero Fun

The children's school recently encouraged them to come in dressed as Superheroes and donate £1 to a charity that supports Rohingya refugees.  I didn’t like the idea of buying a costume to wear for one day and in the past it has been a lot of fun thinking of and making our own costumes.

This time round, I looked for the cheapest plain t-shirt I could find and customised it with a simple logo – a lightning bolt.  I whipped out the trusty answer to all homework problems, spray piant, and cut a template out from plain card to spray through.

In hindsight I should have put more newspaper down around the template as the spray paint gets everywhere… but you live and you learn I suppose.

I paired the messy print customised t-shirts with plain leggings in the same colour and a sparkly tutu.  Little Lady pointed out that light pink doesn’t go with burgundy.  I pointed out the pink tutu’s were the cheapest I could find.

The cape is a good old fashioned pillow case safety-pinned to the t-shirt.

The girls really enjoyed wearing their costumes and enjoyed the kind compliments from their teacher.

Monday, 15 January 2018

First Day in the New Job

After a month long break I finally started in my new job today.  The original plan was to leave my old job and start in the new one the following week.  I think I would have started the new role on a high and full of confidence from my previous job.  As things worked out, I had a month long break and spending a month away gives you time to over think things and start questioning/doubting yourself.  Spending a month with a grumpy teen, warring boys and crazy babies also leaves you wondering if you could string a sentence together out loud that doesn’t involve shouting, cajoling or nagging.

I was a little nervous, but my siblings and friends messaged me in the morning to wish me luck and my friend F had good advice: make friends and play nicely – and that is exactly what I hope to do.  In contrast Little Lady bid me goodbye in the morning and wished me luck in her own way by saying “Don’t get sacked mum!”

So I was grateful to finally get started today.  I was lucky to get a gentle start and spend the day making introductions, understand what everyone was doing, find the prayer room and getting set up with my laptop.  I was surprised how exhausted I was for how little I felt I had done, it must have been the effect of trying to take everything in.

I think the easy start was just for the first day, my second day is already filled almost completely with meetings.  I am grateful though, the work is interesting and touches on things that I am passionate about (like equality and diversity and community cohesion) and will give me the chance to write lots.

Picture of the Day 12.01.018: Memory Jar

It seems to me that Pinterest is a wonderful place for beautiful ideas that I save with the intention of making, baking, trying, and drawing later, but never get round to.  Little Lady in contrast likes to try things out and I wondered what she was up to when she asked for a kilner jar.

It was for this Memory Jar:

Instead of folding her cards she is rolling them up and securing them into little scrolls with washi tape.  I have to say I am super curious what she has written in them, but know better than to try taking a look.

I want to try something similar for myself and the babies.  It seems like a nice way to capture and reflect on the good stuff and an opportunity to focus on the things that I should be grateful for.

Picture of the Day 10.01.018: Good Intentions and Good Luck Gifts

I did have good intentions for the month long gap I have had between jobs: experiment with an online shop, try drop-shipping, finish an e-book, try a few online courses, but when it came to it, I decided that I was unlikely to get another opportunity to forget work so thoroughly and just give myself a break

In the end I did the minimum – getting the house in order, getting systems in place to keep organised (like a system for paperwork) doing some reading for the new job, reading for pleasure, journaling and watching way too much rubbish online.  I spent my time with the children either during their Christmas holidays or doing the school run.  I made elaborate lunches for hubby to take to work much to the children’s amusement Little Lady remarked I just need heels and a little apron as I waved him off at the door, I am sure he has enjoyed the extra attention.

With my break over, much quicker than I could have imagined, I have been getting organised to get back to work.  It was nice to get a little good luck gift from my mum: two scarves and some chocolate, the black scarf is perfect or my first day.  I might save my animal prints and loud coloured scarves for later on.