Thursday, 24 November 2016

Lacking Confidence as a Muslimah at Work

I recently asked colleagues for some 360 degree feedback. This involves my work peers rating me on a number of competencies such as leadership, team working and effective communication, alongside some feedback on what they think I do well and what I could do better. I got some really useful feedback from colleagues, but one person’s assessment really stood out. She mentioned lots of good qualities but suggested they were hidden because I came across as lacking in confidence and holding back in meetings and in front of managers. Her words rang true and it was painful to have a light held up to the flaws that have been plaguing me.

Over the last year I have been thinking a lot about what I want my next step to be at work. But whatever career path I think about, the same issues come up. I have guilt about leaving home to work in an environment with mixed genders. I have a number of friends that wear niqab and stay at home and disapprove of Muslim women working, I think over time, their stance and the things they say has affected me more deeply than I care to admit, with a lot of guilt and anxiety resulting from this. 

I hate expending the energy that goes into trying to avoid shaking hands with men, trying to sit away from men, trying to go to a different site and decline a lift with a male manager or colleague (I always insist I will meet them there and take the train). I struggle with the effort of making wudhu at work and the worry when I have meetings through prayer time and I have to try and find time to get away and pray. 

These things have made me think long and hard about work. How can you strive to do well, when deep down you have doubts about whether you should even be there or whether you should be wearing niqab to be there? How can you network and speak up in meetings confidently when you spend time avoiding handshakes and physical contact and even end up hiding behind your monitor every time a manager comes by?

I decided a long time ago I would not chase money and make do with what I earn. I would try to do work that adds value in some way rather than chase promotions for financial gain. But I found over time, that the sense of ambition never went away. If I want to do something, I want to do it as well as I can. 

After months off anxiety and guilt building up, the feedback from my colleague, really brought all of these things to the fore for me and sent me into a tailspin all day. As always, writing has been the best way to deal with the anxiety and I have been emptying my mind of all of my thoughts into my journal to review. Some truths have been inescapable:

Staying at home would mean more time and concentration for ibadah (worship) – and isn’t that our purpose in this life?

Staying at home would mean a more measured and slower day and less exhaustion.

Staying at home would mean more time for myself and to do things I enjoy.

Not working would mean a massive struggle for us financially in the short term. I believe that many of the sisters who stay at home manage to get by because they claim benefits from the government or are provided with housing or housing benefits. I don’t think many of them are eligible, either because they are able to work or their husbands are working but not declaring it. Which is the bigger sin – benefit fraud or going to work and not wearing niqab?

Working means I have money to contribute towards the household bills and my daughter’s Islamic education. I have money to help others and my parents if the need arises.

I am fully aware that money is not the whole story. When I reduced my hours from five days to four days, it was still enough to make do. I believe that Allah (SWT) provides in one way or another. Perhaps I could leave work and my husband’s business would grow to fill the financial gap.

My fear is that I will step away one day and look back over the years and think, why did I not do that sooner? Why did I waste all those years doing something that does not fulfil our purpose for being here or took up my time and stopped me from reaching out to fulfil another dream?

What If I stop working and feel directionless and bored? If it turns out to be a mistake, how easy would it be to start again?

Is this just a first world problem being blown out of proportion? My mum worked from home as a seamstress doing piece-work for factories. This required long hours on low pay and led to her developing arthritis in her hands. In her view, it is much better to go to work in an office, sit down and do work that uses your mind and get paid properly or it. Both she and my mother-in-law value the independence and choices that your own income can bring and have known what it is to not be able to make ends meet.

How do I reconcile prayer and work so that I can do the first but also do justice to the latter?

All of these questions have been on my mind for a long time. Writing them down made them easier to try and look at objectively. I want to work, but I want to do something that adds value and helps others. I want to gain some expertise in one area, such as health, women or minorities and become an expert on them – when I know what I am talking about I feel confident and speak up comfortably.

I will try to work flexibly, so that I can do more prayers at home.

I want to help my husband develop his business, once our home refurbishment is done he has some ideas to diversify his business that we are really excited about. That will give me leeway to reduce my hours further if I choose to.

Truth be told, I have been feeling overwhelmed and exhausted on some days recently. Cooking and cleaning up after builders after an intense day at work, helping kids with homework and keeping the babies occupied. Listening to my six beloveds (hubby and the kids) tell me about their day as they need to process or share everything that has happened to them that day. At the end of some days I have asked myself if I was foolish for trying to do everything and being left shattered, when there are some women that sit at home all day and get their bills paid for them by their husband or the government or both.

Setting things down on paper and thinking them through has helped me find a little clarity. Now to try and understand how I can get from where I am to where I need to be.

I would sincerely love to hear from sisters about their experiences in this regard, whether working, staying at home or transitioning between the two.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Wudhu Bag for Work

As we move into the shorter days of winter, quite a few of my daily prayers are starting to fall during my work day (midday, late afternoon and soon the evening prayer too).  This means I have to make ablutions for prayers at work.  I have always struggled with washing up for prayers at work. Taking my scarf and hijab cap off, taking my shoes and stockings off, making sure there is no trace of lipstick.  This is coupled with sometimes struggling to find a quiet place to make wudhu without an audience watching you stick your foot into the sink and wondering what on earth you are doing (if that reference makes no sense, there is a video showing the Muslim ablution here).

At the moment I am using one of the disabled toilets which affords me some privacy, but is usually a mess with wet floors, hair and dirty tissues on the floor and usually a filthy toilet.  I usually give the place a quick wipe down before I use it, but I still have to put tissues on the floor, wipe it down afterwards and find more tissue to clean myself off.

My office is trying to save money and go green so the the building has removed all hand tissues or napkins and replaced with dryers.  Which means I have to find paper towels and keep them in my bag.

So last weekend I had a think about what could make it a bit easier for me to make wudhu at work.  I came up with this wudhu bag:

The main components are a waterproof makeup or wash bag, two lots of small towels which I picked up very cheaply.  The darker colour is to put on the floor and the lighter colour ones for me to dry off with.  I take one of each every day and then when I get home drop the used towels into the wash and put two more in my little bag.

I also added deodorant and make-up remover.  You can add panty liners and a small bottle to make istinjah (ablutions after toilet), such as a roll-up type bottle that you can open up to fill, then empty an roll up again (like this one here). 

I have been using my little wudhu bag all last week and have found it such a big help to have everything in one place and have the towels to hand.  I like that rather than throw paper towels away, I can wash and use the same batch over and over again.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Dealing with Bullying

When Little Man started secondary school, I was worried that he would be an easy target for bullies. He is gentle natured, friendly and likes to tell stories. His school is very big with children from a very mixed catchment area. It was my old secondary school and I remember how rough it was at that time, although much less so now. Alhamdulillah his friendly and easy going nature helped him settle in to his school. He knew some of the older boys from our local masjid and has been joining them to pray at school.

In fretting about Little Man starting school, I missed completely what was going on under my nose. Gorgeous had been less than his usual sunshine-y self in recent days. I put this down to his growing up a little and becoming quicker to answer back and argue. I found him becoming sullen at times and angry at others. 

It is my habit to check in with the children to ask how their day was, what they had eaten and what they had been doing. When my older children were little, they would happily tell me about their day. As they have gotten older they have become less forthcoming. It takes longer for them to open up and they need space and silent company from me to start talking. Over time, I have learned to ask and then wait with patience for them to loosen up and make their complaints or share their exploits that day.

Gorgeous is no exception, except he is quicker to tell you what he is thinking or feeling. If you haven’t got round to asking, he will let you know by declaring that clearly no one cares about what happens to him. Then on asking, will vent about how horrible his teacher, the boys who are not his friends and all the girls in his class are.

Over the last few weeks, I reacted in the change in his behaviour by reminding him that I expect him to treat me with respect and asking him to behave kindly to his siblings. During this time there were a few high profile cases in the news where children had been bullied, including one particularly devastating incident that we discussed and which particularly seemed to stay with Gorgeous and which he kept coming back to.

It was only a few weeks ago when I picked up from school and saw him looking utterly miserable instead of his usual chirpy self that I asked him what was wrong. After much prompting, he told me one of the boys in his class had been beating him up. I was taken aback and approached the cover teacher who was in charge. Both she and the classroom assistant were very clear that this couldn’t have happened as the child in question had sat next to them all afternoon. I would have been stumped had a boy in the class not piped up that he had seen the child earlier in the day kick Gorgeous and punch him in the face twice.

The supply teacher said she would mention the incident to Gorgeous’ normal teacher. I took the classroom assistant aside and told her about the change I had seen in Gorgeous and that I was unhappy that this hadn’t been caught. The classroom assistant told me that she had noticed Gorgeous moping and dragging his feet in the classroom. She had told him he should improve his attitude or she would complain to his mum.

On the way home, I gave Gorgeous a hug and told him that we would sort out his problem and that he should let me know the instant that anyone bothers him. The bullying had been going on since the end of the previous year. I remember telling the teacher a boy had hit him and he told me that it stopped after that, but after the holidays it had started up again this year.

The following week I met with Gorgeous’ teacher and talked the situation through. He had met with the headteacher to work out how they could manage the other child’s behaviour. He indicated that the child was an abused child and they were working with the appropriate agencies to help him. I advised that I believe in being understanding and compassionate to those that had suffered, but that Gorgeous could not go into school to be hit every day. He had to agree with that.

In the intervening time there have been a few incidents with the boy, but I have seen him come back to his cheeky, lively self. A few things stand out from this experience. I was so focussed on Little Man who was dealing with the bigger change, I didn’t expect that Gorgeous, one of the biggest, loudest kids in his class could be a target, I could have been more open-minded. 

The other is that I assumed the changes in him were due to his getting older. I realise now that his fundamental nature is upbeat and extrovert. I think in future I might be more sensitive to any departure from his usual self, rather than assume that he is growing out of his usual nature.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Working Muslim Mama: Deciding How Much Energy to Dedicate to Work

I have always been of the belief that being a working mother does not make you any less competent or capable of handling complex and high profile work, nor of handling work that puts you under intense pressure. That sounds like an obvious thing to say but I think working mothers are sometimes considered as not being able to commit to the same level as everyone else due to their children, or that they are conflicted or distracted in some way due to their responsibilities.

When I worked in the Civil Service I was suggested as a candidate for their fast track programme for graduates called the Fast Stream. At the time Little Lady was very little and I decided that the scheme might mean travelling and long hours and I was not willing to commit to this if it meant less time with my little one. One of my colleagues, also a young mum of one, questioned why she had also not been suggested for the scheme and the manager foolishly suggested that it was because she was a single mother – you can imagine the storm that created. But it made me realise that when managers saw you as a mother, they assumed you could not commit or were not able in some way – before you even got the chance to assess whether this was true for you or not.

The last two year as a mum of five children, including my crazy baby, who really does seem to have unlimited energy mash’Allah, have been a major reality check for me. I have had to assess what I can realistically do with the 24 hours I have, without going crazy or falling apart from exhaustion. I have had to give up lots of things whilst trying to retain a little something outside of work and homemaking that feels like it is for myself (being able to write for instance).

I have always operated from the position that if you are taking time away from your children because you have to work, then you might as spend that time doing good, valuable work, rather than just counting down the hours till you leave. I felt that the length of time away from home is the same regardless of what you do, so why not take on the responsibility and complexity rather than an easier option that feels less taxing. But this mind-set did not take into account the fact that work takes energy and focus as well as time. I didn’t think of this before because I always felt like I had unlimited energy and the work was rarely taxing or fast-paced enough to challenge that.

What I have found as I have moved towards doing work that is more pressured is that there is a cost in terms of the energy and focus that you have left for other things. I used to go home from work, get the house work and dinner done and spend time blogging or making cards or jewellery. My brain needed more stimulation. My work at the moment, delivering projects as part of an organisation wide transformation programme, is intense and fast-paced, I have to keep multiple workstreams going and not miss or forget anything. I very often find myself trying to work out how to do something I have never done before. I am also on a learning curve which means I am constantly taking in information, assessing it and trying to understand how to apply it. This means I am no longer bored or under-stimulated. What I had never realised in the past is that mental activity is physically taxing (the Scientific American says that the brain uses up to 20% of the bodies energy). When you work that intensely you go home many days exhausted with a need to wind down and switch off.

Often you will find out that when you get home, this is the last thing your children and partner need. They want to share their day, to vent, to plan for the evening. Often they need your help to process what has happened to them during the day or to wind down as well. I recall there was a time when my mum-in-law spent the summer with us and was quite depressed. I would come home from work every day and spend time sitting with and trying to cheer her up and get her to share what was bothering her. I had the energy to do it then, I don’t know if I would manage that now.

My family demand my full focus in the time that we are together and my heart tells me that they deserve it more than my work does. This means that I am having to learn to manage my energy a bit better through the day. Thing that help include eating healthy food that is not so heavy that it makes me sleepy in the afternoon or taking a proper lunch and getting outside to walk or meet with colleagues who provide good company. I am trying to be honest and say when the work is too much, although this is something I struggle with. I am trying to set boundaries so that I stop work at 4pm and leave without feeling guilty. I try to use the commute to wind down and leave work behind, by reading or making a simple dhikr slowly. Then there is my frenemy – the power nap, I find it helps massively if I can get my head down when I get home for 20-30 minutes, any longer and I am groggy for hours afterwards.

The big question though really is whether we need to take on less at work and delaying doing anything that is very intense until the children are older. I am a definite believer that we cannot have it all – work, home, children, social life, me-time and spiritual and that if we try to, we do it half-heartedly, in a rushed way without any quality to it all. Or worse still we make ourselves ill and miserable. So is the answer to hold back in our working life and take the quiet, slow road that doesn’t demand too much of us? I felt like I have done that to some extent for 10 years and with the babies being little, it seems it will be the case for at least another 10 years, will the time for career have passed? Even then, now that my oldest is a teen and the boys are older, I don’t find that they need me less, but just as much or more, only in a different way (less wiping snot, more being present while they tell you why they are having a rough day).

I don’t feel I have the answer yet, my thinking now is less about work and more about quality of life and balance. My legacy will not be the job I do, but the way I raised my children, any good deeds I did and whatever area of work becomes my “life’s work” – whether academic or community-based.

With this in mind, I don’t plan to go full speed at work and burn out at the expense of my family, but to try and be measured, learn as much as I can as I go and continue to be selective about the opportunities that come up for now.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

The Real Muslim Mama's Manifesto

What a horrid morning. I woke up feeling so miserable today and spent the whole morning veering between rage and sadness, with everyone feeling the brunt of it. The house is still being refurbished and we are still living in two rooms. Everyone has colds and coughs and keeping everyone organised and with a routine seems like an uphill struggle. This morning I lay in bed for a long time with the sound of builders banging and sawing, Little Lady shushing everyone so that I could sleep and the door bell ringing every 5 minutes. For the life of me I could not think of why I should get up. I felt purposeless, pointless and utterly powerless this morning.

I kept telling myself the reason why we are here:

And I created not the jinn and mankind except that they should worship Me (Alone) (Quran 51:56)

But this morning the words were not connecting, the anger kept pushing through and tears kept flowing. In the end I did the one thing I always do when I feel anxious or sad. I tried to move and do something. I believe that action of any kind is a powerful antidote to negative feelings. I started the task of getting breakfast served, getting bedding folded and mattresses put away and start organising and meeting the various people passing through my home during the morning. Throughout the morning, I continued to feel angry and sad. In the end I spent two hours cleaning so that my mind could be freed up to think and tried to think through what was making me feel like such a miserable train wreck.

By this time my family had had enough, my husband took the boys to the builders merchants to buy supplies, Little Lady went with my sisters to “The Cake & Bake Show” and Mum-in-Law got fed up of my moaning, donned her abayah and fled the house, to my mums house I suspect. It finally gave me some headspace to think and reflect instead of rage. It dawned on me that as ever a big part of the trouble was from the internal dialogues I have going on, some that I am barely aware of. 

I felt powerless despite being the strongest person in the house and having the most central role. I felt like my time was not my own despite no one telling me what to do. I felt like life was too short, that I didn’t know what to do and that it was just flying by. This despite being in a place and with a life that meant I could make choices and pursue avenues that are not available to most of the people in the world. It’s strange how we disable ourselves with the stories we spin to ourselves.

The thing for me to do was to take each one of those little internal conversations and turn a spotlight onto it. To decide if it was right or if it needed to be wiped clean and replaced with a more positive way of thinking. This systematic dismantling of my beliefs proved a massive eye opener and left me feeling empowered and as if a burden had been taken away from me. I think we all do this to ourselves, talk ourselves into a corner with doubts and negativity. I share the negative self-talk I had internalised here along with the positive response from myself, because I suspect this kind of thinking affects so many sisters:

Negative Self talk: You don’t need to find your purpose, your purpose is to worship Allah (SWT) and take care of your children and home; everything else is a worthless distraction. This is a first world problem anyway, think of all of the people starving and fleeing from war, they have much bigger problems to deal with.
Response: Every single one of us is born with a purpose, whether to take care of our homes raise the next generation or serve the world in a different way. With the right intention, every single one of these is a form of worship. Every single one of these can help and serve a world full of so much pain and suffering.

Negative self-talk: Your writing is just a distraction. Any action that distracts from your main duties is a waste of time. You won’t make any money from it, you will steal time from your family to do it.
Response: A balanced life requires you to honour and take care of all of the facets of your life: spiritual, family, self-care and development and your life’s work. If you neglect some areas and feel obliged to dedicate yourselves disproportionately to others, this will create resentment. You can’t give of yourself to others if you have let your own reserves run empty

Negative self-talk: I have no control over my time, it is all spent cooking and cleaning up after others, making sure they are taken care of and making sure everyone’s lives run smoothly. I and up doing what my mum-in-law wants, my husband wants or what my kids need to get done.
Response: Errrmm…don’t spend all of your time doing it then. As a mother I am a leader in my home. I can choose how best to spend my time and I can delegate activities to others too. I can choose to let my home get messy or do nothing if I want to. I can choose not to feel guilty and step aside from the anxiety that doing nothing creates. Besides your husband or mother in-law haven’t said a thing, stop imagining what they might be thinking and putting words in their head
Negative self-talk: Life is so short, you will never get to do all of the things you want to. The days fly by so quickly. By the time the kids are older you will be too old to enjoy things like travel anyway. What’s the point?
Response: Yes life feels short, but it has been a long journey getting to today. You may have another day, but you may have another years, only Allah (SWT) knows. But my job is to make each day count by waking early to do something I love, by serving others, by making as much of my life an act of worship as possible and by being mindful and conscious as much as I can each day. Besides half the joy in realising the wonderful things you want to do comes from the dreaming and planning. Then we can take the small steps each day towards our goals in the time and resources we have.

The Real Muslim Mama's Manifesto:

My time, focus, energy and money are mine to spend and invest as I see fit. These things are in my control. Others may have an opinion, which I will respect, but I will choose according to my own priorities.

All of the facets of life deserve to be honoured and attended to in order to live a fulfilling and balanced life: worship, marriage, parenting, self-care, self-development, health, rest, our creative life and yes, even pleasure. There I said it. We can own our pleasure, make time for it and refuse to feel guilty. This will leave us able to invest the time we do in marriage and parenting as healthier, happier people, perhaps even more interesting people. After all, if we don’t respect ourselves, why should those around us respect us?

I will treat worship as a source of connection to Allah (SWT), as an opportunity to recharge and reinvigorate myself. I will spend my life working to improve this worship. At the same time I recognise that worship comes in more than one form and for each of us the spiritual path is unique. Some of us are born to be da’ee (one who propagates the faith), some are naturally inclined to quiet worship and reflection during the night. Some of us serve and help our brothers and sisters and others still fight for the rights of the poor and vulnerable. We all have unique gifts and qualities that we can use to connect to our Creator, the key is to do so with sincerity and the best of intentions.

We will put aside our needs and wants to fulfil the rights others have over us: our parent’s spouse, neighbours and children. But we will be realistic about how far we can do this. We will not serve to the point we become ill or resentful. We will not give up our voice or dreams, but strive to find ways to balance our responsibilities with our needs. The care we mete out to others, we deserve to receive back also.

We will be realistic about our expectations of ourselves as parents and of our children. We will work to inspire those around us through our good example and passion for our faith. We will encourage the best of behaviour from our children but we will keep in mind that the world we live in is a very different place than the ones we or our parents grew up in. The expectations our parents back then will not hold today. The world is violent and oversexualised, we deal with being online and connected 24/7, information overload in soundbites that get shorter and shorter. Materialism and commercialisation is shoved in our children’s faces and the pressure on them to fit in and confirm is unbelievable. We will be their rock, anchor and refuge insh’Allah. We will learn to communicate with our children, to comfort them and teach them to be strong in their faith and values in a messed up world. We will teach them do the right thing when under pressure to do what everyone is doing. But we will also be firm and demand respect – we are mothers before friends.

We will not compare our children to others. We may pray for our children to be scholars or huffaz, or to be Doctors and engineers and work hard to encourage them, but we will accept that our children have their own purpose and journey and that it has nothing to do with anyone else. I have met enough sisters to understand that sometimes what looks like a perfect upbringing on the outside can belie the truth of a household: dysfunctional families, empty marriages, spoilt children, mental illness or domestic violence. Your child may not be born to be a scholar or Doctor, maybe Allah (SWT) wishes for them to live their lives beautifully in some way we have not envisaged. Maybe that perfect child is on the way to self-destruct. 

We will not compare our marriage to others: not to the perfect weddings, honeymoons or dinners that appear on our social media. Not to the siblings spouse who looks like a model or whose husband showers her with gifts. We are less than perfect, our spouses are less than perfect. We will work on taking care of each other, strengthening our communication and taking care of each other’s happiness. At the same time we deserve love, attention, kindness and understanding and it doesn’t hurt to receive a gift now and again, after all: Abu Huraira reported: The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Give each other gifts and you will love each other.” (al-Adab al-Mufrad 594). 

We will be diligent in fulfilling our duties to our Creator, our families and our communities to the best of our abilities. We will be sincere in our efforts. But we will not sacrifice our health and sanity: “Allah does not burden a soul beyond that it can bear…” (Qur’an, 2:286). We will make time to rest, to dedicate to play as well as work. We will invest in our own development and find space for our creativity to flourish without feeling guilty. A mother who is happy and fulfilled benefits everyone and her development means her families development and growth.

Finally, as Muslimah’s we try to be humble, modest and disciplined in our lives. But this does not mean that we should be cold, bored or boring. It is in human nature to enjoy the company of friends, to enjoy romantic love and to take pleasure from beautiful things. We will make space for self-care, play and pleasure in ways that are balanced and halal and that make us happy to be alive and get up in the morning insh’Allah.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Eid-al-Adha 2016/1437: Eid Mubarak

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

I hope everyone had a happy, peaceful and blessed Eid insh'Allah.  

Hajj Mubarak to those lucky enough to be invited by Allah (SWT) to His sacred house this year.  I hope your dua's are accepted and that you attain a complete and accepted hajj insh'Allah.

Hajj 2016/1437: The Day of Arafat and the Last Sermon

I have posted this before, but the last sermon of our beloved Prophet (Sallahu Alaihi Wassalam), delivered on the 9th day of Hajj at the plain of Arafat, never fails to move me to tears. Every time I read it, I find something new in it and every time I read it, I marvel at the beauty, justice and sheer goodness in it.  I make dua that these words enter the hearts of all Muslims and that we all are blessed with the desire to implement with them.

“O People, lend me an attentive ear, for I know not whether after this year, I shall ever be amongst you again. Therefore, listen to what I am saying to you very carefully and take these words to those who could not be present here today.

O People, just as you regard this month, this day, this city as Sacred, so regard the life and property of every Muslim as a sacred trust. Return the goods entrusted to you to their rightful owners. Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you. Remember that you will indeed meet your Lord, and that He will indeed reckon your deeds. God has forbidden you to take usury (interest), therefore all interest obligation shall henceforth be waived. Your capital, however, is yours to keep. You will neither inflict nor suffer any inequity. God has Judged that there shall be no interest, and that all the interest due to Abbas ibn Abd’al Muttalib shall henceforth be waived...

Beware of Satan, for the safety of your religion. He has lost all hope that he will ever be able to lead you astray in big things, so beware of following him in small things.

O People, it is true that you have certain rights with regard to your women, but they also have rights over you. Remember that you have taken them as your wives only under a trust from God and with His permission. If they abide by your right then to them belongs the right to be fed and clothed in kindness. Do treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers. And it is your right that they do not make friends with any one of whom you do not approve, as well as never to be unchaste.

O People, listen to me in earnest, worship God, perform your five daily prayers, fast during the month of Ramadan, and offer Zakat. Perform Hajj if you have the means.

All mankind is from Adam and Eve. An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab; white has no superiority over black, nor does a black have any superiority over white; [none have superiority over another] except by piety and good action. Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood. Nothing shall be legitimate to a Muslim which belongs to a fellow Muslim unless it was given freely and willingly. Do not, therefore, do injustice to yourselves.

Remember, one day you will appear before God and answer for your deeds. So beware, do not stray from the path of righteousness after I am gone.

O People, no prophet or apostle will come after me, and no new faith will be born. Reason well, therefore, O people, and understand words which I convey to you. I leave behind me two things, the Quran and my example, the Sunnah, and if you follow these you will never go astray.

All those who listen to me shall pass on my words to others and those to others again; and it may be that the last ones understand my words better than those who listen to me directly. Be my witness, O God, that I have conveyed your message to your people.”

The beloved Prophet completed his Final Sermon, and upon it, near the summit of Arafat, the revelation came down:

“…This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed My Grace upon you, and have chosen Islam for you as your religion…” (Quran 5:3)

My thoughts today are with my brothers and sisters in Arafat who will have spent the day with their arms raised in dua (supplication) and with hopes of their sins being forgiven. May Allah (SWT) accept their deeds and their dua's insh'Allah. Ameen.

The Prophet (Sallahu Alaihi Wassalam) said: "There is no day on which Allah frees more of His slaves from Fire than the Day of Arafat, and He verily draws near, then boasts of them before the angels, saying: ‘What do they seek?’” [ Hadith Muslim].

Friday, 9 September 2016

Enforced Minimalism

I have long been attracted by minimalism. It is one of my life goals to give away what I have and have next to nothing by the time I die. A nice thought, but in reality I find myself collecting all sorts of things: gifts, stationary, jewellery, craft supplies. Five children bring their own wealth of toys, clothing and school supplies. My mum-in-law visits every year, so keeps some of her stuff here and I still have bags and drawers of things other in-laws have left here. As time has gone by I have found myself feeling as if I am being buried under stuff and as if managing and tidying it takes up all of my time. Continuous attempts to declutter and dozens of bags dropped off to the charity shop or cargo’ed to family in Pakistan seem to have limited effect. My mum-in-law also dislikes waste and is adept at reusing and upcycling items, so I sometimes have to sneak things out to the charity shop before she spots them.

This week we started building work in our home to create bedrooms in our loft. Initially this was mostly external and we were supposed to carry on staying in the bedrooms. My husband decided he wanted to lower the ceilings of our bedroom and gave us a day to pack up all of the bedrooms so that the builders could bring down the ceilings the next day. This was the day before the kids were due to go back to school.

We spent the whole day and a good part of the night packing everything up. I gave the kids two boxes each, one for two weeks worth of clothes and the other for all of their school stuff.  I kept a box for my work clothing and one for the rest of my clothing. The babies got a box each too and one for Baby’s nappies. As we packed one wardrobe or drawer at a time, I took out items to send Pakistan and some for the charity shop, reducing what was left to what we genuinely used and wanted.

The eight of us are currently in the two rooms downstairs. We are sleeping on mattresses and in sleeping bags and I am being very strict about putting things back in our boxes as soon as we are done with them so that the kids don’t lose their school things. It might sound horrible, but in truth I have found it very cathartic and liberating to move most of our stuff into storage and it has been very freeing to have so much less to manage. I and hubby are both clear that we will not move it all back in after the work is finished. 

Our stuff:

My house with the roof off, you can see the stars and the dust flying around:

It sounds ungrateful to complain about having so much when so many have so little. That is not my intention. I feel incredibly blessed and sometimes in awe of the sheer amount that seems to come our way. Gifts from friends and family, freebies that my husband brings home because of his job, some of the amazing bargains we have found for next to nothing at boot fairs in the past, and the more we give away, share and gift, the more seems to come back. What comes to mind is being careful about what we buy, consume and hold on to.

I hope I can hold on to the principle of owning and buying less, giving away the best of what you have and not the junk you don’t want and not equating worth and value with material possessions.

I would love to hear from readers, are you a minimalist? How do you remain clutter free with children? Do you find that the modern world means you are surrounded by unnecessary things?

Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) said: “Will you not listen? Will you not listen? Will you not listen? Verily simplicity is a part of Iman. Verily simplicity is a part of Iman. Verily simplicity is a part of Iman” (Abu Dawood).

You Said it Would Be Awesome

Little Man started secondary school this week. I have been fretting for days about getting his stuff together. His school is so strict that having a missing item of equipment means detention. We also missed his induction evening before the holidays where all of the information we needed was handed out to parents. It was during the last days of Ramadan and I was fatigued and preoccupied. So I have been worrying all through the holidays about what we missed. I could have asked for the pack during the holidays, but the invite was very stern about not missing the event and the head teacher is incredibly intimidating almost to the point of rudeness, so I avoided the issue like a wimp.

On his first morning, I dropped him off, gave him a little side hug (nothing too blatant) and told him he would be awesome. He looked suitably embarrassed. My sisters asked if I had caused a scene, or yelled at him across the car park that I loved him, or whether he had gone toilet. As if I would do such a thing…I left him as his friends from primary school gathered around to see who would be in the same classroom. 

I needn’t have worried. He came home and exclaimed “Mum you said it would be awesome and it was really awesome” I suspect this has more to do with the amount of junk food that is available in the canteen than anything else. Alhamdulillah I’m looking forward to being back in the school routines and rhythms and I am relieved he is settling in.

Picture of the Day 29.08.16 (part 2) – Rochester

The end of the kids holidays found us visiting the beautiful historic town of Rochester. We wanted to see the castle, but as the Cathedral is right opposite it, we decided to take a look inside it too.

Picture of the Day 29.08.16 – Late Summer Harvest

A recent trip to Hewitts Pick Your Own Farm yielded sweetcorn and beans. The plums are from my mums garden which has been ruined following building work at my parents house. My mum’s response is to clear up, dig everything up and lay the ground afresh for next year.

I have washed, chopped and frozen the beans in three portions. The first I cooked with chunky potatoes, the second will be with minced lamb and the third will be with a lamb curry insh’Allah.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Little Muslimah’s and the Teen Dream Life

I am debating whether to turn this post into a full on rant, but I think it’s sometimes more useful to be reflective than angry. We are more than half way through the holidays and the refrain of “we are bored” and “what do we do when you’re not at home” has been ongoing. I have made it clear that it is not my job to entertain anyone and that they must find things to do, although I have been taking them on day trips here and there.

The one thing that has been different this summer holiday has been the requests from Little Lady to be allowed to go out alone, to go to the park unsupervised with friends and to be allowed to hang out….

Up until LL has been so sensible and mature that I was happy to note that growing pains of teenage seemed to have passed us by completely. I was wrong, it lulled us into a false sense of security and then leapt us on fully fledged. Part of this was inevitable and it is only fair we get out share. I believe that there is a second cause also.

Earlier in the year, Little lady achieved good grades and did well in her mid-year tests. Because of this I gave her more freedom and allowed her access to the internet, which her brothers do not get freely. I think this might have been a mistake. She ended up watching back-to-back Vines and YouTube videos, all the time reassuring me that her homework was done. At the end of the year, at her parents consultation day I found her grades had dropped for both Islamic and mainstream subjects and her exam results were not as good, to the point that her teacher questioned if she should continue to study for the Alimah (scholars) course next year. I may or may not have overreacted…I did feel quite devastated. Having a child study to be an Alim (scholar) or Hafiz (Memoriser of the Quran) requires sacrifices. The least of these is financial, there is also the investment of time, attention, effort, changes to lifestyle. In addition there is the full attention on you as a parent of both those that disagree with your decision to put your child in Islamic child and those that wish you well and are considering the same for thier own child. This shouldn’t matter to me, but it is there all the same and people ask regularly about how LL is doing. So yes, I may have overreacted a little and gotten upset.

As a consequence, I have limited internet time and ask regularly what the children want to go online for. I have asked Little Lady to continue revision through the holidays and get herself up to a good level again. I have tried to focus on motivating her and reminding her why we went down the path of Alimah studies. Simultaneously I have this pulling away in a bid for more freedom. 

So is it fair to blame the internet, YouTube and Vines? No the responsibility lies ultimately with me as her parent and also with her to be respectful of my need to protect her even if she doesn’t agree with it. At the same time I think it is something we need to be aware of.

Many people won’t even be aware of what the Vine’s are. They are six-second-long looping video clips, often these are grouped together into a fast moving YouTube video. The Viners and YouTubers are a mixed bunch, but pretty much I am finding them to be focussed on gaming, beauty, life hacks for young people and humour. They seem to be self-aware, have a strong social conscious and revel in their youth and a sense of fun and play. The video’s my children like to watch (apart from the boring gamer ones my boys watch) are the ones where Viners and YouTubers play pranks on each other, gently make fun of their parents (look for “Brown Parents be Like…” videos for an example), undertake social experiments (reactions to hijab, reactions to homelessness) amongst other things. YouTubers and Viners are even the new equivalents of the boyband crushes for young girls.

In itself I don’t have a massive problem with these guys and what they do, although I do think the pranking is going too far in many cases. They seem less vacuous and more clued up than we were as kids. I think what concerns me is the subtle effect they have on children, well my kids anyway. Certainly my children have picked up the language. I heard Little Lady a few time start sentences with “Brown Parents be Like…”, before I asked her how I was a typical brown parents in any way before she stopped saying it. 

They also seem to be enamoured of the lifestyle – the fashion for instance for Van’s (from the “
Damn Daniel, back at it with the Van’s!” vine) and this strange trend of wearing very bright red trainers worn with everything. I am a bit annoyed with this, because bright red ballet pumps or heels with all black is one of my fave signature styles. Then there is the preoccupation with contouring, ombre nails, colouring your hair strange pastel or grey colours and the  re-emergence of the 90’s style, which I remember was completely hijab/modest dress unfriendly in the first place.

I think even that part doesn’t bother me. I think many of the Youtuber’s/Viners, even those that are very young, give the impression that they have a lot of freedom to travel, move around and try new things. Many of the most successful ones own their own homes and are seen spending all of their time hanging out with friends, going on road trips or attending big events. I think this creates an image of a lifestyle that becomes very attractive to young people, and this in part is causing Little Lady to bridle at the restrictions we have on her and is causing her to try and wrangle more freedom.

The Muslim equivalent of the Youtuber’s/Viners are hardly a real alternative, because the level of Islamic behaviour I am seeing is questionable and people still seem to be presenting these perfect lives, these amazing Instagram-friendly homes, and these perfect marriages or relationships which young girls aspire to. Anyone who has lived life will know that it is a learning curve, you improve through your mistakes. You build your relationships through humility, tears and forgiveness, not through banter and the perfect wedding. A life well lived is directly counter to a perfect home without any clutter. Your teens and your 20’s are your time to be confused, mess up and learn things the hard way. Your 30’s are your time to find yourself and become sure and confident. But youthfulness seems to be where it is all at and anything after 30 is about being relegated to the irrelevant Aunty brigade.

All of these things on their own are enough to deal with, but when we have tried really hard to impart religious values such as modest dress, respectful behaviour and respect for parents, it almost feels as if everything we are doing has been undermined. So after weeks of negotiating back and forth, my husband has put his foot down and said he doesn’t want her going out alone to the park or into town. There have been tears, sulks and moody silences. For once I have decided not to try and fix things and cheer people up but to give her space to think about what we have been saying.

It’s interesting how we try to manage one kind of influence (TV) and it gets replaced by another that is even more influential. I can’t see an end to this and I suspect we will be dancing around this issue for a long time, at least until she is old enough to have less supervision. One thing that comes to mind is the 
advice given at a talk I went to about establishing daily taleem in the house:

This is taking time to study Islam with your child every single day, even if for five minutes. There was encouragement for the children to be encouraged to take the lead or for everyone to get the chance to read a little. The speaker emphasised that there are so many routes of fitnah (evil) into our homes and the lives of our children, that there is no way we can stop them. Instead the daily taleem or study is the only way to counteract these. Books like Fazail-e-Amal (the Virtues of Good Deeds) and Fazail-e-Saadaqat (the Virtues of Charity) were given as good examples alongside books that described the sunnah (traditions) of our beloved Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wasallam). The purpose is to inspire the members of the family and encourage them to learn and act on what they learn, so that rather than telling the children what to do, they are concerned for their own deeds e.g. reading salah on time. In our home examples would be books on knowledge (because Little Lady is studying to become a scholar), books on the virtues of Quran (because Little Man attends hifz, or memorisation class) and books on salah (because we are trying to get Gorgeous to pray and it is an uphill struggle). 

Accordingly I have started taleem in the house again which we have stopped and started in the past. I am encouraging Little Lady to take the lead. I am very mindful that this is just the start. My husband used to say that the Sahabah (Companions of the Prophet SAW) are our role models not footballers and actors, therefore we need to dress and act like the Sahabah (RA) (hence his decision to grow a beard at that time before it became fashionable). In the same way 15 year old YouTuber’s and Viners are not our role models and I will have to work hard to convince my children of this.