Monday, 28 July 2014

Eid-ul-Fitr 2014/1435 - Eid Mubarak

Eid Mubarak everyone.  Taqabbal Allahu Minna Wa Minkum (May Allah accept it from you and us).

This Eid is tainted with sadness at events around the world - Syria, Burma, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and most recently Palestine.  The latter especially has brought together Muslims in protest, prayer and charity work throughout Ramadan.

"The Believers, in their mutual love, mercy and compassion, are like one body: if one organ complained, the rest of the body develops a fever." ~Bukhari & Muslim

We are unable just forget what is happening in the world and enjoy our Eid as if the events in Gaza are not a painful slap in the face for this ummah.  The images that have passed in front of our eyes and the stories that we have heard of our brothers and sisters suffering do not leave us.

Alongside this my sister-in-law has been severely ill and we fully expected her to die, although she is recovering alhamdulillah.  A second cousin of mine (who I have not met) who was a good friend of my brother-in-laws died in a horrific accident in Lahore.  My dad-in-law and brothers-in-laws spent the last few days of Ramadan in hospital helping his parents to take care of him and have been quite traumatised by his death and are still dealing with what has happened with my mum-in-law upset herself and trying to counsel them over the phone from here.

Yet Allah (SWT) has permitted us to enjoy the two feast days:

“Anas ibn Malik reported that in the pre-Islamic period people (in Madinah) people used to celebrate two annual days of festivity. When Prophet (PBUH) came to Madinah he said, “you used to have two days of celebration, Allah (SWT) has replaced them with two better days: the day of Fitr and the day of Adha.” (Nisai’, Sunan al-Kubra’, 1, 542; Sunan al-Sughra 3:199).

The Prophet (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam) said: "The days of (Eid) are days of eating and drinking and of remembering God, the Exalted." ~ Fiqh-us-Sunnah, Volume 2, Number 153


So I will share the day with my family, break bread with them and continue to make dua for my brothers and sisters suffering around the globe.

There are some things I want to do differently - I have asked everyone in my extended family to avoid being extravagant with gifts and spend less, especially as the family has grown so much mash'Allah.  I have asked them to spend time with my children where possible or give them something practical rather than expensive toys.

I decided not to buy myself new clothes, all of us are wearing something that has been gifted to us previously.

I am going to cook, but keep the food simpler.  Hubby has often said that he would prefer fewer dishes that tasted amazing, rather than lots of food that took too much work to prepare.

I have been trying to move away from commercialism and constantly buying more things as I feel that this is a sickness in the Western world and inconsistent with Islam which values simplicity, frugality and avoiding wastefulness, especially now when one form of activism that Muslims have been considering is boycotting businesses that support what is happening in Gaza (1, 2 and 3).  I think this Eid is a good time to keep working on simplifying our lives.

So I pray that this Eid is a blessed one for all of my brothers and sisters, full of peace, happiness and Allah's (SWT) mercy and those of my brothers and sisters that are suffering, Allah (SWT) eases their suffering, brings them to safety, brings tranquillity into their hearts and showers his favours and mercy on them.











Eid-ul-Fitr 2014/1435 - Simple Eid Banner in Blue and Gold

I made two banners this year, a pennant one and this rectangle one below in the same colour scheme.  This one is simpler, but I like it a bit more.

I used the same card stock, spray painted letters and blue ribbon as the pennant one.







The only embellishments on the rectangles was a series of gems of varying sizes.








The gems matched a body tattoo I used to decorate the space between "Happy" and "Eid"







I've put this up in our hallway and love how it looks, especially the bold golden lettering.

Eid-ul-Fitr 2014/1435 - Pennant Eid Banner in Blue and Gold

I wasn't planning on making any banners as I haven't felt up to much this year, but Little Lady was on the case and pestered me until I greed to make some.  Once I agreed, she fetched, tidied up, helped choose elements of the banners and generally put up with my moaning and grumpiness.

I wanted to make the banners to complement our Eid theme of blue and gold.  I ended up making one rectangle one and one pennant shaped one, which is the triangle shape I usually use.

I used large wooden lettering which I spray painted gold.








It was only when we started spray painting that I realised that the spray was too old and the effect patchy.  In the end we rubbed the letters in the splotches of paint on the newspaper and got the even gold effect we wanted.








I used two shades of blue from the American Crafts 12x12 textured, solid core cardstock - a really nice bright stack of card.  Three sheets of each colour (you get four of each) was enough for two banners, with a good chunk of the used card left over too.




I strung the pennant shapes onto blue ribbon and used whatever pretty floral embellishments I could find to decorate it.  I originally wanted to try stamping the background with gold ink, but found my gold ink stamp had dried up.











I really like the effect of the gold sprayed lettering, it really caught the light and matches our blue and gold balloons and the frames I made. 

Eid-ul-Fitr 2014/1435 - Handmade Eid Cards

My neighbour made this Eid card using textured card and adhesive paper lace borders.  She hand wrote the Eid Mubarak message on the front and also did the Eid Mubarak calligraphy in Arabic by hand.

She addressed it to my children and dropped it in her letter box.











I absolutely love how she used the lace borders - simple but very effective.  I liked the card so much, she sent me a picture of the rest to share:


















I've had a variation of this lace border in red and teal velvet effect for ages and never got round to making use of it, so plan to experiment with it in this way.

Eid-ul-Fitr 2014/1435 - Framed Eid Posters

The year before last I made framed A4 posters to put up on Eid and everyone really liked them.  I used them again last year but one of them got damaged recently in storage and I thought it would be nice to design and make new ones.

This year we went for a blue and gold theme, with this Moroccan style pattern overlaid with a textbook that says Eid Mubarak in Calbri font.

I ended up making two for our home.  The gold frames were the same ones I used last time.












One was embellished using round gems and the other using teardrop gems both in the same yellow-gold colour





I made this variation for my mum using white gems and jute flowers.  The frame was from Poundland.






Saturday, 26 July 2014

Handmade Eid Cards and Gifts from the Children

This year Little Lady wanted to give Eid gifts to family .  She has been collecting little things in a shoebox that she can give but was a little self-conscious that they were small, simple gifts that might not seem very special to people.  I am trying to move away from an Eid that feels very expensive, commercial and superficial.  I don't want to be wasteful or extravagant, but I still like to make am effort to treat family members.

So I asked her to make something beautiful and functional that she could give and that would be special because of the effort she put in.  She made these book marks and Eid cards from bits of printed card, embellishment and ribbon.  Most of the girls in my family are avid readers as is her best friend, so I think her gift will be appreciated.












She raided my alphabet stickers for her cards, I don't think I have an "A" left anywhere.  I like how pretty they turned out though.





Picture of the Day: 26.07.14 - Baby Henna

I've wanted to put henna on Darling before but previous attempts at very simple small motifs have ended up with the henna smeared or wiped off immediately.  My neighbour is a dab hand at henna art and applied this design whilst Darling was still sleepy after a nap.  She held both her hands and distracted her until the henna had dried a little.







I can't believe how girly this child is - henna, bangles. nail varnish on her hands and feet any chance she gets.  She has destroyed every lip balm she can find in the house and will chase us with any cream she can lay her hands on, demanding we open it so she can rub it in her hands then wipe it into her cheeks.  This week she found my kohl and managed to get it into the carpet, my duvet cover and my face and neck whilst I was taking a nap.

Schools Out – Getting Organised at the Start of the Holidays

The kid’s summer holidays started yesterday, with goodbyes and gifts for teachers and six weeks of rowdy kids for us mums to keep occupied. There are some things I am dreading: Gorgeous waking everyone up early in the morning with his singing and being so loud Darling can’t nap during the day, Little Man moaning about being bored or hungry, both boys eating me out of house and home and Little Lady guilt-tripping me about not taking her anywhere. On the other hand I am looking forward to hanging out with them for most of the holidays for the first time (as I will be on annual leave from work and then maternity leave), not having to do the school run, or iron uniforms at midnight on Sunday night or prepare packed lunches at dawn.

I’m happy to be off work at the end of term as there is so much going on. End of year parties to sort out food and outfits for, school barbecues, Little Ladies graduation, visits to her high school, goodbye gifts and cards for teachers and making sure the kids bring home their school bags, PE kits, lunch bags, water bottles and all of their uniforms.

I find that there are a few things I can do at the start of the holidays that help me be better prepared at the end:
  • I round up all of the bags, lunchboxes, bottles and kit bags an empty them out, wash or wipe them down and put them in a giant sturdy shopping bag and put them on top of the kids cupboard. Anything that needs replacing, I make a note and either put in the textile recycling or give to the charity shop.
  • All of their uniform and PE clothes get washed and inventoried before being put away – anything too small or damaged gets recycled, given to charity, passed to a younger sibling or sent to cousins in Pakistan when my mum-in-law gets back. This means that I don’t buy everyone new things – just what needs replacing. 
  • Shoes are usually ready for the bin by this stage, if I know there is very little of the school year left I refuse to replace the shoes even if they are very battered. Anything still wearable gets cleaned and stored in a tub under the bed. 
  • All of the school books and work they bring home are either recycled or if there are lots of blank pages or unfinished exercises are stored in the children’s room in their own standing box files alongside any artwork they want to keep. 
We also do a big clear and deep clean out of their room on the first day of their holidays. This year it took about four hours because of the sheer amount of junk, wrappers and colouring pencils that came out from under their bed. By the end though I knew what they had and what could be used to keep them occupied in the holidays.

To keep them busy, their stuff is sorted into boxes that they can easily take out and pack away themselves (although sometimes it still takes me nagging them). Boxes for painting supplies, play dough, lego, craft materials and all of their colouring pens and pencils in one box.

So far I’ve done most of the above except all of the school clothes are washed and sitting in the wash basket expecting someone to come and fold them (I’m trying to convince Gorgeous to do the folding). I’ve also made sure that their Eid gifts are ones that will keep them busy in the holidays such as books and comics. It remains to be seen how many hours/days pass before the dreaded call of “I’m booorred!” Of course I’ll only reply with:

a) “So go do the washing up”
b) “It’s not my job to entertain you” 
c) "Only boring people ever get bored"
d) By singing the Iggy Pop song “I’m bored” (“I'm bored, I'm the chairman of the bored, I'm a lengthy monologue, I'm livin' like a dog, I'm bored, I bore myself to sleep at night, I bore myself in broad daylight coz, I'm bored”) which utterly drives them up the wall and makes them leave me alone.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Thank You Cards for Teachers

Today is the last day of school for my children.  They all had fantastic teachers this year (though they might not agree) and all grew so much.

I think it's important to take the time to thank people and show your gratitude, so every year at the end of the school year, the kids take a small gift and a card for their teachers.

Little Ladies teacher had a tough time this year with her class of pre-teens, including 20 boys, some of which seemed to be real horrors.  Not to mention the fact that 11 year old's might not officially be teenagers, but these days it seems as if they might as well be.

This year her teacher guided her through 11+ exams, SAT tests, the process of being selected for a high school which can be extremely stressful for both child and parent and the process of saying goodbye to her primary school and friends - who of course she is adamant will always be her best friends even if they are going to different schools.

This card was made using paper from American Crafts Amy Tangerine Sketchbook 12x12 book of papers which looks like old, stained notebook paper, American Crafts foam lettering called thickers and embellishments from Jolee's Boutique.  I used the graduation themes stickers because Little Lady had a graduation assembly at the end of the school year.  I wasn't convinced of the need for a graduation at the end of primary school, but it turned out to be a really inspiring ceremony encouraging the children to be positive about moving forward and to walk their own path  - a really nice message.






Little Man's teacher is everyone's favourite, she previously taught Little Lady and she has always stood out for how kind and affectionate she is towards her children.  She is leaving the school this year and we are all sad to see her go.  Little Man had a period of playing up towards the end of the school year at the same time as home - not listening, getting angry and not doing his work/chores.  I noticed him getting more cocky as he got older and his confidence grew.  We worked together to convince him that he could do so much better and he seems to be back to his old self.  I was impressed by his teachers caring, gentle approach in dealing with him.






I think Gorgeous' teacher might have had the most challenging job out of my three children. We had to deal with some boisterous behaviour from him when she took over from his previous teacher.  We had to tag team to get him to be on his best behaviour in class. Thankfully he doesn't behave in class in the same way he does at home (like an argumentative, bookworm, football hooligan with serious entitlement issues - "I'm better than anyone less").























I look forward to the holidays with the children, this will be the first time since they started school that I will be spending pretty much all of the time at home with them.  It will be interesting with a new baby, me not being able to get out as much at first and all of them wanting to do things.  I suspect I might change my tune by the end of the summer holidays and be grateful when they go back.

Monday, 21 July 2014

How Do We Discuss World Events With Our Children?

The world is watching the horrific events unfold in Palestine at the moment – the death toll reported today has passed 500 with thousands leaving their home to seek refuge from Israel’s ground offensive. Muslim’s and non-Muslim’s have joined in protest, prayers, activism and charity work.

As we receive news of what is happening and discuss amongst ourselves the injustice we are witnessing, there is one more group who is interested in these events – our children. They see glimpses of the news, they overhear our discussions and they pick up parts of what is happening. Some parents will find they are asked discussions, others will hear their children talking to each other and trying to make sense what is going on.

As children, my generation could afford to be innocent and politically unaware. Although we grew up with glimpses of world events – the Sri Lankan Civil War, the later part of the IRA’s years of the Troubles, the Gulf War, the First Palestinian Intifada and the war in Bosnia, we didn't discuss these with adult and we certainly didn't understand them properly. That doesn't mean we were completely oblivious. In my school, every year we would get a number of students from whichever part of the world was imploding – Somali children in Year 7 (1990) who came via Kenya after their civil government collapsed, Bosnian children in Year 9 (1992) as civil war took hold, Sri Lankan children in Year 10 (1994) as war raged between the Sinhalese and Tamils in Sri Lanka.

We made friends with these children, we were surprised when we realised they liked the same things as - the same music and movies, and worried about the same things – boys, parents, spots. It gave us a sense of how same we are. I also remember thinking that if the Bosnian Muslims were so very like the non-Muslim’s in that country and still faced genocide, what about us who were so different to the people in this country?

Another example of where our school life intersected with events further afield was when we all had oral tests for English where we had to present a short talk on any subject. I did a spoken review of Beam Stokers Dracula, which was one of my favourite books. Some of the boys got in trouble for making up silly stories and not being very serious. One Somali girl took a deep breath and told us about the time she had hid in a wardrobe and watch soldiers burst into her house and drag her elder sister out from under a bed and rape her. You could have heard a pin drop in that class. No one knew how to react. So we dealt with the information in the only way we knew how – filing the story away in a recess of our brain for a time when we could better understand it.

The media also left its impact. The only image I have of Palestine as a child was of the first intifada – not that I knew what that was. It was a scene from a news report and showed a young man flanked by soldiers, being dragged along, with blood pouring down his face. I didn't know what happened to him afterwards or if he was seriously hurt, but the image stayed in my mind and upset me for many years.

A few years later the news was full of nothing but the Gulf war and our parents were engrossed in every bit of news they could get. None of it made sense except a general sense of injustice against Muslims which seemed to be rumbling back and forth in adult conversations and which along with the war in Bosnia and Chechnya seemed to colour the world-view of the Muslim boys I was at school with.

Over the years, the world seems to have shrunk with internet, social media, instant communication and picture and video sharing and increasing international travel. When something happens it’s everywhere instantly and we seem to be oblivious sometimes about the extent to which our children are taking these events in.

When the 3 year old British girl Madeline McCann went missing on holiday in Portugal, Little Lady was also three and was a little unnerved that Madeline had disappeared. She often asked if she had been found and I could see it bothered her. In recent years, even moreso the children are picking up on world events and asking questions – why did someone shoot Malala? Why did they kidnap school children in Nigeria (the Boko Haram)? Most difficult of all – why are they killing people in Gaza? 

In this country death is very much a sanitised process – we are often protected from the pain and horror of death by hospitals that manage the pain, morgues that deal with the processing of bodies and funerals where we are presented with a body that has been tidied up as best as possible for a funeral. This makes it harder for us to deal with when we witness it whether personally or second hand and it makes it even more important than when our children see war and atrocities in the news and hear about it through the discussions happening around them that we don’t ignore the effect on them or the questions that might be on their mind.

My children occasionally watch a BBC news programme called Newsround aimed at children during their school day . It presents a simplified, somewhat sanitised version of the news to help children understand what is happening in the world (the report here on Gaza is very basic and doesn't mention any deaths or the destruction of Gaza, makes Palestinians look like aggressors and focuses on the effect on Towns in Israel). I'm not impressed with the BBC’s treatment of the Gaza crisis at the moment, but some exposure to what is happening on a child-friendly level means that when I discuss these matters with my children, they have some understanding already.

The children also often ask if anything interesting is happening in the news and we have made it a morning ritual to share and discuss a news story at breakfast with me explaining what has happened and choosing what I consider to be appropriate pictures on my phone for them to see and the children asking questions. This means they are not stuck with difficult questions which never get resolved but which leave an impression on them for a long time.

I also believe in sharing these things with my children because I want them to grow up with a feeling that they can do something to make a difference. I believe that Muslim’s by nature should be activists:

Abu Sa’eed al-Khudree (ra) said: I heard the Messenger of Allah (saw) say, “Whoso-ever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then [let him change it] with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart — and that is the weakest of faith.” ~ Muslim.


I want my children to be Muslims who speak up for others, who try to help the weak and vulnerable and who adhere to the Quranic injunction that states: “And from among you there should be a party who invite to good and enjoin what is right and forbid the wrong, and these it is that shall be successful.” (Quran 3:104).

Most recently the Gaza offensive has caught my children’s attention and they have been trying to understand what is happening. My teenage neighbour who is very close to my daughter is fundraising, everyone is discussing what is happening and family members and friends have been attending protests in the city centre. The Gaza issue is not one that is easy to explain and creates such powerful feeling and emotion that it is hard to explain to children in a rational and fair way. There is a risk of people resorting to intolerant or racist views that discourage children from thinking for themselves of taking a compassionate or peaceful approach. There is also the question of how you share the horror and carnage of the situation without traumatising them. There isn't an easy answer to this except that parents know best what their own children can handle and what might be too much information based on a child’s sensitivity, past experience and reaction.

I came across the following video about the Palestinian conflict which I shared with my children:





I felt that it stuck to the facts, tried to avoid being inflammatory and was fairly simple. It inspired anger in Little Lady and Gorgeous, but it was Little Man's reaction that surprised me. He had tears in his eyes. No dead bodies or injured children, no destroyed hospitals or orchards. The basic facts alone were enough to move him so deeply.

Since then we have discussed the situation daily. I have tried to explain that there are things that you can do and that Muslims must never feel hopeless. My brother was at a protest for Palestine and has been posting video’s of the event which I have been showing them. My sister-in-law has been promoting one of the various Gaza appeals which send you cake for your donation. The kids have had some of the cake and an explanation of why it was ordered. At iftar time, they make dua for an end to the difficulties faced by their brothers and sisters.

Our next door neighbour has been promoting her friends fund-raising attempts through Eastern Relief Foundation for Medical Aid for Palestine (both links will let you make a donation). Little Lady has been inspired by her to make loom band bracelets in the colours of the Palestinian flag to sell and has her brothers, my cousin and her classmates making them too to sell for £1 each. They are selling faster than she can get them made.



























I would love to hear how other parents have been discussing (or not) these kinds of serious issues with their children, in particular what is happening in Gaza.

Book Review: Omar Khawaja - Ilyas and Duck Search for Allah

I like to see new books for Muslims for two reasons - one because I think we need to ensure that in the multitude of narratives about Muslims, some of the voices need to come from Muslim's themselves - particularly Muslim's that might not ordinarily get heard - such as women. The second reason is that it is good to see the needs of Muslim’s fulfilled through products and services tailored to us.

This is why I like to support independent Muslim publishers such as Green Bird Books, Gentle Breeze Books, FB Publishing and now Little Big Kids Books. So when the latter asked me if I wanted to review their book, I was interested.












The book is aimed at ages 3-6 years old and inspired by the Quranic ayah:

"Verily, in the heavens and the earth are signs for the believers.  And in your creation, and what He scattered (through the earth) of moving (living) creatures are signs for people who have Faith with certainty." ~ Quran 45:3-4












The book follows 5-year old Ilyas who asks the big question “Where is Allah?” Accompanied by his best friend Duck, Ilyas sets out on a journey to try and find out where Allah is.








It follows the two friends through a range of landscapes asking the animals that inhabit them allowing the answer to be revealed a little at a time.

















The thing I liked the most about this book is the second reason I gave at the beginning of this post - it answers a need.  I remember when Gorgeous was very small he would ask me endless questions about the nature of Allah (SWT): Where He was, how He made everyone, where He came from, how He could be if no one made Him.  I tried my best to answer those questions, but often struggled.  This book is a nice attempt at answering those kinds of questions that lots of Muslim parents will get asked.

The drawings are also bright and attractive and the bright book cover caught my children's attention.  There is a glossary at the end with facts about each animal, explaining how to pronounce it's name and pointing out why it is so special.

I'm looking forward to sharing this book with Darling when she is a little older and has big questions of her own.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Picture of the Day: 18.07.14 - Thunderstorms

The weather here has been very odd, yesterday was the hottest day of the year but the night before we had thunderstorms, lightning and torrential rain.  It was so loud it woke me up at 3am and then again at 5am when a massive thunderclap sounded from what seemed right above the house.

Last night the thunder and lightning started up again, the kids had slept through the previous nights drama, so I let them stay up after iftar and watch the lightning through the living room's glass doors.





They look so chilled out here, but five minutes earlier they had been fighting with each other.

"And the thunder exalts [ Allah ] with praise of Him - and the angels [as well] from fear of Him - and He sends thunderbolts and strikes therewith whom He wills while they dispute about Allah ; and He is severe in assault." ~ Quran 13:13