Saturday, 28 May 2016

Dreams of a Little Orchard

My garden is very small but I love it to bits.  I love being creative with it, trying out new things, watching things grow and gardening with my children.  It's a buzz to see things grow and then to bring them into your kitchen and use them.

I have been looking for a small cherry tree for some time and found one unexpectedly at a local florist.  Little Man's apple tree was growing crooked and taking up a lot of space in our small flower bed so I wanted to pull it out and replace it with the cherry tree.

I sent the boys out with the cherry tree and told them they would have to help me pull out the apple tree.  By the time I put my bags away and got to the garden, they had made short work of the apple tree by digging around it and yanking it out.


I did consider putting it into a pot, but it was too big and bent and they had broken too much of the roots.








We replaced the apple tree with the little cherry tree, some tomato plants and a small kiwi-like vine called "Issai" or Chinese gooseberry which the florist assured me tastes delicious.


The little lemon tree I had bought had finally shed most of its flowers so was also ready to be re-potted into a bigger tub.  I managed to bring home three large pots and two bags of compost by hanging them off Baby's pram.  Both bags of compost got used up pretty quick.




I love looking out of the living room window in the morning and seeing all of my flowers and plants.  The azalea is blooming and the black pansies are also doing well alhamdulillah.






The white geranium is from last year and the soft pink and white looks so pretty




The other thing my mum advised me to do was the cut back the mint I have been growing in the tub as it had grown quite back and would flower soon.  Mint is quite a strong aggressive plant and will spread through the flower beds quickly, so I grow it in a large pot instead.  If you are new to gardening or manage to kill everything, this is a nice herb to start with because it grows anywhere with little effort or care and can be used for so many things in the kitchen.

The variety I have is called Chocolate Mint and smells amazing.  Sometime mint has a strong earthy undertone, this one just reminds me of mint choc chip ice cream.  This pic is after I cut it down to the stems.  Mum told me that if I cut it down it would grow back fresh young leaves in time to use for Ramadan.




So this is my first little harvest from my lovely little garden.  I picked the leaves off and the soft top part of the stems with the leaves still attached and washed, dried and froze them for use in my next batch of mint chutney.




What are you growing in your gardens this year?  What kind of things would you like to grow?

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Preparing Your Kitchen for Ramadan: Making Space, Meal Planning, Grocery Shopping and Prepping Ingredients

I wrote recently about some of the things I do to prepare for Ramadan with less than a month to go. One of these was preparing the kitchen for Ramadan and some meal planning.  This can seem daunting, especially if you have small children, fussy eaters or limited space as can meal planning for the whole month. This post outlines some of the things I do and intend to do. Please do add your own suggestions in the comments so that readers can benefit:

Making Space

A week or two before Ramadan I will:

  • Go through each of your kitchen cupboards and clear out anything this is out of date. If it has a short date left, prioritise using these items up first.
  • As you go through each storage area, list what you are short on or what is finished and needs to be replaced.
  • Stock-take your freezer and see what you can use up to make space. My children made short work of the ice creams and ice lollies, so that helped.
  • Organise your freezer so that similar items are grouped and stored together and it is easy to see what you have left. 

Meal Planning 

Once you have made space, you can consider meal planning. You can plan your meals for the whole of Ramadan in one go, but it is a little easier if you do a week at a time and just spend some time looking at what is in your kitchen and what your week is going to be like so that you know how much time you have for cooking each day.

One thing that really helped me with meal planning in the past during Ramadan is to have recurring themes throughout the week, so Friday was the only day we had fried food. Saturday I tended to cook to share with neighbours or send to family (if the fast was not so long, then this would be a good day to host iftar’s also). Weekdays I had more time to undertake food preparation and cooking, so this was the day I was most likely to try complicated or special dishes. Weekends is also when the kids are most likely to fast, so I will be open to taking requests (basically cooking anything they ask for because I am anxious that they are fasting such long days). This means that your household knows what to expect and you have some guidance about what to cook on what day.

You can start by looking at what you already have in the kitchen and thinking about how you can use that. A good way to decide what to cook is also thinking about how you can vary your diet and how often you can eat what type of food. So in our home fish is a rarity and meat is eaten once a week or fortnight. Chicken and veg are used more often. I also try to alternate veg and non-veg so that we are not consuming too much meat.

This year I have been listing all of the things I want to try and saving recipes, so I can just pick items off and add them through the days of the month in advance. Then when I look at my meal plan a week at a time, I can decide if I want to keep or change the dishes I have suggested.

Another option is to add a day for leftovers so that everything left in the fridge can be used up. I like mid week for this rather than at the end when I have more time to cook. If I serve up leftovers, I try to make them appealing by presenting them nicely or using them in something else such as shredding leftover tandoori chicken and using it in sandwiches, shawarma, chicken pasta or stir-fried veg and noodles.

Once you have plotted on which days you would like to make which dish, you can add any additonal items you need to your shopping list for the week or month. You can also prep some of the ingredients in advance if they will store well through the week, e.g. chopping and freezing spinach, or marinating and freezing trays of baked chicken or lamb chops if you know you will be hosting that week.

The main thing with meal planning is to be disciplined and stick with what you have planned and shopped for. I find that on the day I will have a hankering for something other than what is planned and then run to the shops for ingredients I don’t have and then probably spend longer in the kitchen than planned. I am going to allow myself to do this on one or two occasions if I really crave something, otherwise I will try to stick to what is planned insh’Allah

Grocery Shopping

In the past I used to find myself coming from work, deciding what to make and then running to the grocery shop to buy the ingredients. Some weeks I would be at the cash and carry across the road every evening. This is ideally time when I should be having a nap because I get so sleep deprived or praying or reading Quran or. Doing my bulk shopping before Ramadan and then sticking to use what I have planned for, definitely cuts down on my shopping time during Ramadan. The things I buy in advance, usually in larger amounts than normal include: cooking oil, olive oil, trays of chickpea can, bags of onions (5kg), bags of potatoes (2kg), dates (the 5kg ones are too expensive, so usually 1-2 kg boxes at a time), gram flour, tomato ketchup, mayonnaise, Greek yoghurt, Indian natural yoghurt, pasta, tomato puree, garlic and ginger both fresh and paste, salt and spices, especially chaat masala, which we use on our fruit everyday.

Our usual staples of rice and chapatti flour are used less than normal during Ramadan as we all lose our appetite so much that we barely have proper meals by the end of the month. So I might buy these before Ramadan, or I might wait until closer to Eid if there is enough to get by.
















Prepping Ingredients:

I mostly use fresh ingredients and cook from scratch, but there are some things I do that help me:

Mint and coriander green chutney (my recipe here) – I make this and freeze it in small pots. Then I can take it out on the day I need it and either use it as it is, or add yoghurt and turn it into a raita. My mum-in-law also likes to add some to her channa chaat.

Home-made tamarind sauce - I use this recipe by Halima Saleem which is amazing and freezes really well. Once I haver made it, I freeze in the little tubs you get for baby food. An ice cube tray would work well for this too. I use it for her Meethi Malai Dahi Phulki recipe as well as on anything else that requires tamarind sauce (such as gol gappay, channa chaat etc)

Spinach – My husband loves to have spinach in his pakoray (onion and potato fritters – my recipe here). So I buy two or three bunches, chop into strips, wash well and freeze in small bags. I just take out a bag when I need some and dump it into the batter and it defrosts quite quickly.

Coriander – I usually buy two or three bunches and chop off the ends and then wrap in newspaper to make them last longer. If there is a lot, I will wash, chop and freeze in food bags.

Mint – I grow this in my garden and take it as I need it, but when it reaches its peak and is threatening to flower, I will pick off the leaves, wash and freeze. Then I trim down the plant and let it grow back with a fresh batch.

Chicken and lamb kebabs
– I make these and freeze them raw in trays with sheets of plastic (such as clean carrier bags or food bags) between them. Once they are frozen, I drop them into a food bag and write the date and what is in the bag. I can take these out as I need them and stick them straight onto the grill to eat in burgers or as sides with our normal meals.

Baked chicken – this is a life saver for me. I marinade the chicken with the sauce of my choice (this recipe is my favourite), put it in the baking tray I will make it in and stick it straight into the freezer. Then when I need it, it goes from the freezer into the oven fuss free. I allow a little longer for it to cook than usual, but it doesn’t take much extra time.

Insh’Allah I hope you find this useful, you can find more helpful advice at the following websites:

Monday, 23 May 2016

Annual Ladies Meeting at the Masjid: Simplicity, Environment, Knowledge and Consultation in the Home.

Last week the annual ladies meeting for the masjids in the local area took place. I attended with a group of other ladies from our masjid, they usually ask the men to encourage their wives to go if they have been involved with the masjid for a long time, and as it is a Tablighi- Jamaat focussed masjid, if the ladies have spent time out in jamaat (learning and teaching Islam).

There is a reason that they ask for experienced sisters. Usually the talks for women at the masjid focus on things like building up iman, establishing good deeds etc., they tend to be gentle, motivating and inspirational. The talk for the experienced sister is couched in stronger terms – a reminder of our responsibilities and re-visiting the basics and making sure we are building on them. For instance rather than calling on us to establish salah, the talk would focus on ensuring we are not neglecting our nawafil (non-obligatory) salah and are making the effort to establish prayer in our families, i.e. building on the foundations.

The meeting lasted two hours and included a talk, time to make dua and time for sisters to discuss what the key needs were in terms of husbands and couples spending time in jamaat where there was a demand and how sisters could help or accommodate each other.

The talk was conducted by one of the local imams and he focussed on four key things that I took away from the talk:

1. Adopting Simplicity

The speaker was clear that chasing wealth and material possessions would never lead to happiness. Instead the more we adopted simplicity in our lives: in our dress, in our homes and in our lifestyle, the happier and more contented we would find ourselves. Simplicity in these things would also reflect the sunnah of our beloved Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wasallam). The alternative; to chase material comfort and wealth would leave us in a position where no matter what we had, it would never be enough

2. Environment 

Our environment matters so much as Muslims. Having the right environment for ourselves and our children means the difference between practising as Muslims and neglecting our faith. Being in an environment where you are surrounded by people who support you, provide good role models for your family and make it easy for you to practise your religion. Also trying to place yourself in the company of the scholars and those with knowledge. This included encouraging the men to spend time at the masjid and engage with the life of the masjid and the women to attend the weekly halaqahs or study circles in their area.

3. Daily Taleem – Providing Knowledge and Motivation 

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). With Ramadan coming up, books about the virtues of Ramadan were encouraged to help us prepare and get motivated for the scared month.

4. Mutual Consultation (Mushwerah)

The speaker emphasised that the Muslim home should be run by mutual consultation. Everyone in the home should have a say in decision making and the family should work to come to an agreed decision, or everyone should have their say and the head of the household should make a decision which the rest of the family should support. The important thing is not the decision that is made but the unity of the family. Where the family is united, Allah SWT will place barakah (blessing) in what is decided and make it successful.

The speaker mentioned that often people came to him and asked for help when they felt that their children were running off the rails. He was clear that the biggest cause of this was discord in the home and the family not coming together and making decisions through mutual consultation and agreement. The husband and wife did not respect each other and the children saw no reason to treat either with respect or listen to them.

The talk also discussed raising our children in their religion and providing a good upbringing, but these were the four things that were really focussed on as practical things that sisters could do in their homes on a daily basis to establish a good environment in their home and bring up their children as good Muslims.












Saturday, 21 May 2016

Choosing Your Dates for Ramadan? Check the Label

With Ramadan fast approaching, it’s coming close to that time of year again when many Muslim’s bulk buy dates as part of their preparations. As with every year, the people at Friends of Al-Aqsa kindly remind us to be mindful of the dates we are buying and #CheckTheLabel

Their campaign kicks off today:

“The #CheckTheLabel campaign is about ensuring consumers check where produce is coming from. This is extremely significant during the month of Ramadan because of the soaring numbers of dates that come from Israel, illegal settlements in the Occupied West Bank and the Jordan Valley. These dates are built on stolen Palestinian land, which further oppresses the Palestinian people.”




Having spoken to a number of local grocers and traders in our neighbourhood in East London, my husband has found that their highest sales of the year are during Ramadan and Eid, regardless of whether the grocers are Muslim or not. That suggests to me that we can have a lot of influence as consumers.

In previous year all of the grocers have stocked dates from a number of countries, but by far the biggest displays are for the expensive medjoul dates and most of the brands I have seen are the ones that have roots in illegal settlements. What really bothers me is the large numbers of Muslims I see buying these without a second thought. I think some will not know of the issues surrounding these. Others will see that they are cheaper than fair trade Palestinian dates and buy them only because of the lower price.

This year I have seen more dates from Palestinian sources appearing in my local shops. I find this really heartening, I suspect that more people have become aware that where you buy your dates from matters as the 
#CheckTheLabel campaign has been active in masjids and online provoking discussion and hopefully action.

I haven’t seen Palestinian dates in supermarkets so far (although some carry American ones as an alternative and may have dates from Israel that are not from illegal settlements – I have not been able to check). I hope that this year they see a demand for them and start to consider stocking them.

So insh’Allah please lets 
#CheckTheLabel
 - I would rather have less, pay more or go without than buy what is not acquired legally or fairly.


The labels to look out for (image source)


You can buy Palestinian dates from Yaffa or Zaytoun Fait Trade (please do add any reputable suppliers you are aware of in the comments if you know of any).



Image from the London Muslim Lifestyle Show in April 2016 (courtesy of Shutterbug Sister)

Nelson Mandela “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians”.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Preparing for Ramadan: Less Than a Month To Go

With less than three weeks to go to Ramadan, I am trying to take my own advice and prepare for the sacred month as well as I can. The main things I have been doing at the moment are:

1. Getting my Kitchen Organised

I have been organising my kitchen and trying to make some space in my freezer. I am trying to use up what is there and stock up on things that I know we use. I am being thwarted a little by the sheer amount of ice lollies and ice creams that end up back in there because of the warmer days we have had, but I suppose I can use the ice cream in smoothies. I am not keen on going crazy making hundreds of samosa’s, but I do want to avoid spending every evening cooking, so if I can freeze some healthy options beforehand, I will do so. If I make a few different meals or recipes to freeze I will share insh’Allah.









2. Deep cleaning, de-cluttering and organising my home

I am an enthusiastic de-clutterer at the best of times. Yet there seems to be so much barakah in our possessions that for every big I fill to give away, another one appears. These last few weeks I have been re-arranging the children’s bedrooms so that the boys have their own little room and the girls and their grandmother will have the other room. I have been de-cluttering every cupboard before I move things with items sorted so that some go to the charity shop and other will be sent to family in Pakistan. 

I am finally starting to get to grips with what we own and how we store it, but with a big family, minimalist style doesn’t seem an option. I will carry on going through cupboards, wardrobes, and draws one at a time.



3. Eid Preparation

I always think Ramadan is the worst time to go clothes shopping, so try to get everyone’s Eid shopping out of the way beforehand. This year my mum brought us all back nice outfits from Pakistan, so my life just got easier. At some point I might log onto Amazon, look through my Pinterest gift idea and wishlist boards (although I doubt I can afford anything on there) and go through my Eid gift guide and see if there is anything there that I might like to gift.















You can find Umm Salihah's Eid Gift Ideas here.

The other thing we always do, is give the option of gifting an experience, such as a barbeque, party (like Harlequin's wonderful gift to us last year) or picnic instead of a material gift. Less clutter, just as much fun and if you are smart it can be just as kind on the budget. This year I note that there are Eid festivals in Trafalgar Square (9th July) and Dunstable Downs (10th July)  which are nice options, as is making a family day of the Kite Festival at Dunstable Downs (30th July), we went last year and had an awesome time.

I will also put together my ideas for my Eid day and Eid party décor, so that I can buy and stash away.


4. Meal Planning

I am going to try and map out my meal planning for the month. I am terrible at meal planning simply because I always want to cook what I fancy rather than what I have planned. But I am going to try and be disciplined this time. There are meal planning sheets with space for listing ingredients and also recipes in my Ramadan and Eid Planner 2016/1437. Hopefully this will mean I don’t have to run out for ingredients every day because I will buy them for the week or month and have them in my kitchen. I won’t have to spend half an hour on the internet or my cookery books looking for recipes, because I hope to spend an hour or two this week and get it out of the way. That’s the good intention insh’Allah anyway.























5. Reviewing my daily routine

Most years I try to organise my routine with the children so that they are fed and asleep by the time the fast opens so that the fasting adults can have some peace. This has yet to successfully happen as the older kids super excited and want to join in with our meal. This year the time to break the fast will be very late into the evening, so we will have a serious talk with the kids about giving us a break and some peace.

As the day is so long and the night so short and our sleep broken, another thing that I felt really helped me in the past is to nap for a short while after I come home from work. Doing so leaves me in a better position to pray during the night without falling asleep on my prayer mat.

Last year I had a horrid headache on the first day of Ramadan because I could not drink my daily morning coffee. This time round I will be cutting down to a single-shot coffee (with much less caffeine) and then stop a few days before Ramadan starts. I will also be planning how to use my lunch times so that I am not killing time. So far I am considering reading, power-napping if there is any chance of finding a quiet spot or gentle walking if it is not too hot.











6. Ramadan Crafts

I am debating whether to just put up last years decorations, or make new ones with the children. But either way it really creates a beautiful atmosphere in our home to welcome the sacred month and my children can really feel that something special is happening. Other options are Ramadan baskets which I have done in the past and which were well-received and children’s crafts.

























…and most importantly


7. Preparing Spiritually 

If I could only do one of the actions on the list, it would be this one. The preparation is to get us in a good place to make the most of this month, but everything we do is useless if we don’t have the right intentions. There are two conditions for the acceptance of every good deed: having the right intention and doing it in the right way. Really coming to a clear understanding of why we are fasting and who we are fasting for is essential. Understanding the right way to fast, what we are commanded to do and to avoid is also paramount. So to this end, my preparation will include doing some reading and listening to some talks to inform and motivate.

Some that I have found useful include:

Books

Beheshti Zewar (The Heavenly Ornaments) by Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi (RA) - for the section on Fasting (Saum).

Fazail-e-Ramazan (Virtues of Ramadhan) by Maulana Muhammad Zakariyya (RA)

The Month of Ramadan by by Mufti Taqi Usmani.

Lectures

The Month of Forgiveness: Ramadan 2016 - Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan

Welcome Ramadan
Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan

Ramadan 2016 Action PlanUstadh Nouman Ali Khan

Ramadan, a gift for Muslims Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan

Ramadan 2016 Around the Corner - Mufti Ismail Menk 

Welcoming Ramadan Into Our Homes - Mufti Ismail Menk

Welcoming Ramadan 2016 - Mufti Ismail Menk

Towards An Outstanding Ramadan - Sheikh Muhammad Alshareef

Ramadan Advice, Fasting & Taqwa - Sheikh Hamza Yusuf 

The Blessings of RamadanSheikh Hamza Yusuf

The Benefits of Fasting in The Month of Ramadan for Muslims Sheikh Hamza Yusuf

Virtues of Ramadan (Episode 1~10)  - Dr. Abdullah Hakim Quick

Virtues of Ramadan (Episode 11~20) - Dr. Abdullah Hakim Quick

Virtues of Ramadan (Episode 21~30 End)Dr. Abdullah Hakim Quick

Other Resources




Productuve Muslim: The Ultimate Ramadan Tools Review: Worksheets, Planners, Apps and Doodles!



You can find information and links in the Resources section of my Ramadan and Eid Planner 2016/1437. 

You can also find resources on my Ramadan Resources page here and my Pinterest Ramadan page here.





















An Unexpected Visit

A strange thing happened to me yesterday (I love it when I get to start a post that way). I was just finishing up my chores and getting the kids to bed when the doorbell rang. It was an elderly lady I see sometimes going past my house or shopping nearby with her husband.  She asked if she could have a drink of water. I invited her in, gave her some water and she decided to sit for a while.

She asked me how many children I had, how many were girls (I think she only has sons), how my parents were and whose running machine was in our living room. If anyone else had walked into my home and asked so many questions by now, I might be a bit worried about what they were up to. But I like nosy old ladies who ask lots of questions, and it is a different generation, they don’t see the harm in their questions. Or maybe they have become disinhibited enough to ask the questions the rest of us think about but know better than to ask.

I asked if she would like some dinner. She said that she had made diner and just needed the flour for the chapatti’s which her husband was picking up down the road. Then she told me she knew my dad and my grandmother. Her husband had worked at the Ford motor factory with my dad and they used to live nearby my parents and grandmother many years ago. I might have thought she was a bit nutsy, or mistaking me for someone else, but she named each of them in turn.

Then she eased herself up and said she needed to be off. She asked me to tell her husband she had gone home if he stopped by to pick her up and headed out of the door.

It was a slightly surreal encounter, it made me think though about all of the people my grandmother knew. She was such a sociable lady, everybody called her Aunty and I remember a constant stream of visitors to see her when we were children. She lived with me when I was a newlywed and we were never short of guests who would come by and sit to hear her stories, or tell theirs when they needed a sympathetic ear. Better still was when we got to witness one of her occasional and wonderfully acerbic, truth-telling, scolding’s when she thought someone needed to be taken down a peg or two.

When she died, we had people coming to pay respect for weeks, friends, family and then people who we didn’t know but who gran had met over the 40 or so years she lived here. It’s nice when every now and again someone else pop’s up who knows her. Seems like a person’s welcoming nature and kind words can live long after the person themselves.

























image source

Friday, 13 May 2016

SATS: Why I Disagree with Too Much Testing

My older son is sitting his SAT’s this week and as every year the debate has kicked off about whether the SAT’s are a good idea or not. These are Standard Assessment Tests that are given at the end of Year 2 and then again in Year 6 of primary school. The children are tested over the course of a few days in maths and English (reading and spelling, punctuation and grammar). The tests started out in an attempt to gauge how well teachers and schools are doing and grew into the tests we have today where schools are under pressure to push the children to make them do well at the tests.

My daughter did hers two years ago and my advice to her was relax and try your best. With my son, I noticed his teacher was really pushing the kids to prepare, so I asked him if the results were used anywhere (I know a bit naïve). He confirmed they were used by high schools to determine which ability streams/levels children should be working it. I arranged for a few hours of tuition for my son and encouraged him to have a go at some practise books. Beyond that I was not keen to put pressure on him.

The whole process of testing young children and then using results gained at a young age to determine the child’s learning in completely different subjects seems entirely wrong to me. The children get tested again when they start high school (CAM tests), but both sets of results are taken into consideration.

At the same time there are the changes in GCSE’s which children take at age 15-16 at the end of high school. We were recently invited to my daughter’s secondary school for the teachers to give us a run through of the changes and what it will mean for my child. It means tougher subjects, for instance part of the maths A ‘level curriculum will be in the GCSE and you will have to memorise passages of Shakespeare for English as you can no longer take your books into the exam. There will be no testing at the end of Year 10 (4th year of high school) and no coursework to spread the marks out so that children with different learning styles can have a chance at a decent grade. Five years of intensive study and then one test at the end of Year 11. These poor kids better have good memories for their one shot at getting the grade they need. Oh, and the grades are also changing to numbers instead of letters.

When I look at the wealth of learning and knowledge around us today, it makes me wonder why we have to learn and retain chunks of knowledge. Google can tell you anything in seconds, YouTube has tutorials for everything and there are numerous experts, free courses and coaches for whatever you need to learn. So what makes someone stand out as an employee, an entrepreneur or an activist is not the knowledge they have, but how they use it. Their innovation, how creative they are, their confidence in coming forward with their ideas and collaborating with others, even their self-belief will propel them forward into the world.

I believe that these tests are stifling our children and creating stress for them unnecessarily. The GCSE’s will leave us with kids trying to cram their heads with knowledge, but not able to challenge what they have learned or be creative with their learning, two truer signs of real learning. Then we will have the inevitable complaints from employers and industry saying that young people are leaving schools unfit for work.

More and more this is why approaches to learning such as “unlearning” appeal to me: less structured, allowing the child to take the lead, learning as something you do constantly, not in set periods or with a set curriculum. I also believe that a happy childhood sustains you for the rest of your life. The opportunity to play, to investigate the world, to let your curiosity lead you teaches you how to behave as an adult. The memories sustain you through the toughest times. 

For these reasons, I have been supporting my son through this week, asking him how his day and the test went, but allowing him to enjoy his evening relaxing and reminding him that if he gave it a good shot, then that is enough for me.











London Mayoral Elections 2016: My Hopes for the Future

This is the second opinion piece I have written today, the other being about my son SAT’s tests that took place this week. I can’t help it. As someone once said to me “Shut up! You have to have a b****y opinion about everything”.

I have been watching the going’s on around the London Mayoral elections with interest and some unease. The level of racism and islamophobia I have seen in recent years has made me despair sometimes. To then see it more and more openly, even by politicians leaves me with a queasy feeling. The recent Conservative campaign attempted to smear the winning Labour candidate as some of kind of extremist when I think he is fairly liberal (he supported gay marriage for instance). Where does that leave the rest of us more conservative Muslims? 

I also thought the tactic to target certain ethnic groups and play them off against others was pretty disgusting:

The prime minister has been criticised for sending out letters targeted at London’s Gujarati Hindu and Punjabi Sikh voters, calling on them to back the Conservative mayoral candidate, Zac Goldsmith. The letters from David Cameron suggest Goldsmith is the only sensible choice as mayor for London’s south Asian communities, at a time when we need “to be keeping our streets safe from terrorist attacks”. – The Guardian 28th March 2016

Seriously? The term “divide and conquer” comes to mind. I do think some communities have become more polarised, as a child and teenager I identified as an Asian as an adult I identify as Muslim. That doesn’t mean I hate the Sikhs and Hindu’s I grew up with. I still wish them nothing but well and as a Muslim still believe I need to fulfil their rights over me as a neighbour, a community member or someone who comes to the Council I work for, for assistance.

I did think that this campaign didn’t feel like something I would have expected from the Conservative candidate.  He has always come across as a fairly decent type of person with a passion for environmental issues (always a plus in my book). I thought that this campaign was something that came from the Party leadership although now they are trying to distance themselves and have turned on their candidate. I thought that they had tried to do in London, what seems to be working so well for Trump in the US and it turned out that Londoners were not going to put up with this nonsense.

Even if there seems to be a blame game going on now, I do think that the Conservative candidate had ample opportunity to decide that he was not going to allow his name to be tied to a campaign like the one we have just witnessed. Instead it seems he resigned himself to it and went along with it, making him just as culpable as his party.

Sadiq Khan being voted in should mean that all people and sections of the city have their interests fairly represented. At the same time, there is a sense of relief that Muslims can be envisaged as something other than extremists, terrorists or “other”, entirely different from everyone else.

We spent a few hours in the city centre last week for a trip to the Pakistani High Commission to sort out some paperwork. Driving through the city it struck me how beautiful and prosperous the city was and at the same time how intimidating and cold. There are enormous new glass and steel buildings going up everywhere, new cycle superhighways full of cyclists and bizarrely numerous joggers. Everywhere there are expensive shops full of beautiful things. There is an enormous sense of energy and bustle and prosperity wherever you look.  You can see why London is considered such a world-class city.

I hope the New Mayor can look beyond this and help the most vulnerable in our city. London has become a very, very expensive city to live in, rents are beyond ridiculous (£1,400 upwards on my road for a three bedroom house, in a very ordinary suburb of East London) and the landlords will state from the beginning “no DSS” –i.e. no Council tenants. This coupled with the reform of the welfare system and the recession had left ordinary people struggling to get by. At the same time the prices of things have gone up ridiculously – not just house prices and rents but charges for services, the price of food. I have gone from not looking at the price of things and shopping at my nice local supermarket, to checking the price of everything and shopping at budget chains. At the same time my pay as a local government officer has been frozen for the last few years. I don’t say that to complain, I say that because it makes me wonder how an earth honest people on ordinary wages can afford to survive in this city.

London’s Poverty Profile 2015 by The London Trust cites statistics that tell us that 27% of Londoners live in poverty after housing costs are taken into account, almost 700,000 jobs in London (18%) pay below the London Living Wage and the number has increased for five consecutive years. At 860,000 there are more private renters in poverty than social renters or owners, a decade ago it was the least common tenure among those in poverty. There were 27,000 landlord possession orders last year.

Admittedly, the new Mayor doesn’t have much of a record to beat. I still haven’t worked out what the previous Mayor achieved apart from winding me up every time I saw him in the media (1 and 2), but there is still an enormous task at hand.

View of London from the Docks in the East