Tuesday 26 February 2008

The Box

Rainbow in the Grey Sky recently wrote on her blog about her struggle to decide whether or not she should have a television in her home.

When my husband and I moved into our first home together seven years ago we thought we should do one good thing that we could stick to in our new life. We decided that this would be not having a television. As my life previous to marriage revolved around school and home only, and my only entertainment was books and TV, this was something very different and (curiously) exciting for me.

I had a number of reasons at the time for deciding this and there have been a number of outcomes.

I felt that a lot of things that are haram – nudity, bad language, music etc just didn’t bother me, because I had gotten so used to them by seeing them on television all of the time. This was despite my parent’s reaction of spluttering and jabbing away at the remote control every time the littlest bit of skin was on show and all of us suddenly finding the ceiling or carpet or our dinner very interesting.

In contrast, my better half grew up in Pakistan and TV was peripheral to his life. TV in Pakistan at that time (Zia al-Haq’s era) also had very strong restrictions against pop music, dealing with taboo subjects, obscenity etc (a woman could not come onto TV bareheaded at that time, nor did male and female actors touch each other), although this is not the case now at all.

Because of this he did not become inured to some of the things I did. Even now these are things that do not bother me in the way that as a Muslimah they should, but do offend him. I worry that this is a dent in my iman.

I believe in this way I have been socialised by the TV to an extent, without my parents even realising. I don’t want the same thing to be thrust upon my children, for them to feel ok about what is haram. Now we have an age where the media in this country has taken to scare-mongering against Muslims at every turn. Sometimes obviously, but more often insidiously in the guise of fly-on-the wall documentaries and programmes with biased editing. I don’t want my children to grow up thinking Islam is bad or it’s weird, that Mum wears hijab, so she can’t be cool or she must be oppressed, that Daddy has a beard so I have to embarrassed around him.

There is also the issue of hayah (modesty). As hubby asked me “Do you think a brother and sister or a father and daughter can sit together and watch TV, even the Pakistani channels, for an hour and not see something that embarrasses them?” I had to agree with him, for those with any sense of hayah; this would likely be difficult - short of watching only Baby TV (addictively watchable actually).

I do worry that they will miss out on part of their childhood/cultural heritage as for my generation TV was big part of that, with the decline of the cinema in the 80’s/90’s and before the internet phenomenon. My age group relate to the A-Team, Punky Brewster, Transformers, He-man and the like, which is incidentally a link I don’t have with my husband.

At the same time I don’t believe in banning something (and making it more attractive perhaps?), but replacing it. Offering an alternative. So we go for long walks most evenings, read lots, go visiting and invite people over to share meals two or three times a month (despite my unpredictable cooking). We also talk, over our meals, during our walks, whilst we cook and I find myself concentrating a tad better during prayers because I don’t have the latest Bollywood song running through my brain in techni-colour. The children spend more time in the park, where they and hubby get exercise, their grandparents make friends and I can read some more.

My children still watch cartoons like demons when they are at my mums and love to see old MGM cartoons on Youtube as a treat. When they are older they may make choices to watch TV, but I hope by then they will have iman strong enough to recognise and withstand what is haram inshallah.

Monday 18 February 2008

How to Raise Good Muslims?

I am coming to realise that I am facing one of the biggest challenges I will ever meet. I have always found progress very easy in my academic and working life and have enjoyed the feeling of sailing through these spheres most of the time. This leads a person to the feeling, especially when you are young, that you are the bee’s knees and oh-so-clever - Kooky Little Sis and Fasionista Sister take note.

Having children puts that whole mindset into perspective. They run rings around you. They ask questions you cannot possibly answer. They knock a hole through your little pre-children day dream of little angels who start learning Al-Quran at five and complete hifz at 10, who manage to complete an Alim’s course by 15 and then go straight to University to become a Doctor or whatever happens to catch your fancy.

In reality I am finding that even raising a good human being and a good Muslim is an enormous and scary challenge: teaching Al-Quran, giving a child good tarbiyyah, teaching them to love Allah (SWT) and His Prophet (SAW), encouraging good and honest behaviour. That’s just as a Muslim. As parents we have the usual ambitions for our children to achieve academically and in their careers and lives. Where to start?

I find that the best place to begin is with yourself – you want your children to be good? Behave well yourself, be conscious of what you say and do – oh and how you earn. I’ve come across religious people who have never worked and raised their children on state handouts whose children are tearaways and people who are not so religious but raise their children with money earned through real hard work, whose children have turned out to be good Muslims.

I believe in praying Salah as if it is a part of life, like eating, drinking and sleeping. We make sure that no-one in our house neglects it and I hope when the time comes our children will engage in it naturally.

Little Lady has started on Al-Quran and Little Man has caught on with Kalimah Tayyibah which is a start, although I am finding it very difficult to get him to repeat anything – he just grins at me as if I am a fool. I guess I will have to learn as I teach them, just enough to stay one step ahead. In this it seems that my children have become my teachers in a way.

Learning to recite and memorising Al-Quran is part of every Muslim child’s training, but what of Tarbiyyah? I find that this is the time when gaps in my own knowledge become apparent and lapses in my own behaviour can have serious consequences (No-one can work out where Little Man has learnt that naughty word which he just will not stop repeating). I can only teach what I know and so have had to return to the books: Translation of Al-Quran, Stories of the Prophets, Lives of the Sahabah and books like Bukhari (thanks Kooky Little Sis), Riyadh-us-Saliheen and Fazail-e-Amaal. This may sound like I am engaged in some great studies but to be honest I barely get a few moments to pick these up between work, prayers, children and home.

This is one of my greatest worries, that I use the time I have in the best way for my children and not leave things too late, that I keep putting it off because I am tired, or have to cook or because we have reading homework from school to do. At the same time I have to try and avoid panicking – “so-an-so’s child is five and has already finished Quran and memorised 20 surah’s” and go at a pace that benefits my children.

Any good ideas about correct up-bringing and teaching children from other sisters, teachers, mothers and anyone else who knows what works are very welcome.

One thing that seemed to work for a friend was a daily reminder to her children at bedtime that “Allah is with you, he can see you and hear you, he takes care of you”. She soon found that her children would own up to things they had done. When asked why, her seven-year old daughter declared that “even if you can’t see me, Allah will know what I did.”

As for academia and careers and life in general, I have come to the conclusion that I will leave that to my children to guide me; that we are born with a purpose and their hearts, their faith and their trust in Allah will guide them and that it is for me to help them pay heed to those instincts.

Book Review: Annie Proulx - Bad Dirt: Wyoming Stories 2

In this selection of short stories Proulx (pronounced Pru according to Wiki – it’s been bugging me) offers just the kind of prose that I can lose myself in. Clear, colourful, yet to the point. This book feels like an ode to the huntin’ fishin’ shootin’ men and women of the Old West, casting a spotlight on their stubbornness, backwardness and sometimes foolishness.

When you think of the Old West, you think of cowboys in Texas. Here we have the lesser-known Wyoming as a backdrop with a cast of settlers, farmers and hunters struggling to hold onto their traditional way of living and resist modernity and inevitably failing as rich city-folk and poor rednecks in trailers move in.

Native Indians playing polo, a beard-growing contest, exploding hay, poachers landing up in hell, a heavenly kettle and almost too strangely, talking badgers (I didn’t quite get that story).

I found this book very hard to describe, almost Old West meets the Twilight Zone in some places. Proulx’s clean prose, wry humour and eccentric characters reminded me of the novels of Steinbeck, especially Cannery Row and Tortilla Flats.

I really did enjoy this book and went straight to the library and picked up Heart Songs and Other Stories (which I am reading now), That Old Ace in the Hole and Accordion Crimes. So that should keep me distracted during my daily commute for now.

Thursday 14 February 2008

Good-bye to Dado-Mummy

Mother-in-law returns to Pakistan today after a five-month stay. She left us with tears in her eyes and having extracted promises that we will come to see her soon inshallah. She took our naughty little brother-in-law with her (He is 20, but my children love to call him baby uncle as he is the youngest of my husband’s siblings).

This was her second stay with us and what a world of difference between the two periods of time. Last year she visited for four months whilst I was expecting Gorgeous. I was used to running my home as I wished and was also very ill and grumpy because of the pregnancy. She was used to running her home as she saw fit and used to obedience from her sons. This meant that there were a number of grumbles and sulks – over the kitchen most often.

This time I am well and healthy, in contrast she has learnt that she has Hepatitis C. She wishes to leave the world at peace with everyone and without having hurt or upset anyone. I want her to spend whatever time Allah has willed her in peace and without anything upsetting her. This has meant that we have spent the last five months trying to appease each other, with her acceding to me and with me trying to do things as she prefers. Peace has reigned in this house alhamdulillah and we are like mother and daughter at this time.

I have learnt from her the sacrifices needed to gain the loyalty of your children – she has given her life and her youth to the care of her husband and children, to the fulfilment of their wishes and wants. She has worked hard to make sure that her family have what they need within whatever means available to her (at times little).

I just hope Allah gives her enough time to see the rest of her children married and see more grandchildren come into this world inshallah (two more due soon!! – not me! – both sis-in-law’s).

Sunday 10 February 2008

A New Renaissance

From my journal, 20 May 2006:

I have come to notice recently, more and more Islamic art, artists and it seems, an explosion of creativity. There seems to be a global emergence of Islamic nasheed artists (Zain Bhika (SA), Sami Yusuf (UK), Dawud Wharnsby Ali (Canada), Mesut Kurtis (Macedonia) etc), recitors of the Quran (Hassan Rasool, Kamal Udin), media (Islam Channel, Emel and Salaam magazines, Building Bridges TV), artists (textiles, sculpture, fine art). Most of these people appear young, talented and best of all in love with their deen.

There is a common notion that out of pain, oppression and chaos comes creativity. It seems to me that as we turn to Allah with love and hope, He brings great beauty into our lives.

From Saiqa Aslam’s column for the February 2008 edition of Emel magazine:

Islamic art, a vast and hugely diverse body of work spanning fourteen hundred years, has always had the veneration of God as its central focus….Islamic art is, clearly, enjoying a renaissance and it is an extremely exciting time for Muslim artists and art lovers in Britain.

Tuesday 5 February 2008

Why I Love Books

I absolutely loved this article (http://afrocentric-muslimah.blogspot.com/2007/12/what-books-have-taught-me.html ) on Sister Saaleha’s blog AfroCentric Muslimah and it totally inspired me (I agree with her comment about Dan Brown).

Books have always been my window on the world. I come from a conservative South Asian background and grew up with restrictions on most places I could go alone as my parents were very protective of their girls (though funnily enough not of their son). That left school, library and family, and a happy but potentially somewhat stunted childhood and teenage. My saving grace was books. Apartheid in South Africa? Holocaust in WW2 Austria? Disappearances in South America? Cowboys with learning difficulties? Murderous Scottish thanes? Cheerful traditionally-built aunties in Botswana? For someone who is not well-travelled I have had the chance to gain insight into a host of different worlds, cultures and lives.

I also believe that reading so much has made me more understanding of people who are different to me and more receptive to diverse people I have met as I journey through life. My community can often be prejudiced against others and I have found these prejudices inherited by some of my generation despite growing and mixing with other communities. Narratives and stories from different places have helped me to see and distance myself from this thinking, and in doing so opened my heart and outlook to friendships and relationships with people whom otherwise I might have misunderstood and even disliked.

It has also meant that I can sit with people and talk about things and places and people with confidence. It has raised my expectations about what I want from life and also about what a human being can achieve.

I hope I can do the same thing for my children, teach them empathy and valour through the lives of the Sahabah (RA) and the Prophets (AS). Widen their cultural outlook through the stories of Aesop, Ananse, Sheherezade and Erik the Viking and open the door to pleasure through the kind efforts of Mr Dahl, Mr Pullman, Dr Sues and their friends.

Little Mahram’s

I was asked recently by a friend about Mahram’s: who counts as one and how we behave with family members who are non-mahram. This got me thinking about the issue of Mahram’s and living arrangements.

Recently my mum- and dad-in-law were staying with me, which is not a problem because dad-in-law is Mahram (he’s gone back to Pakistan today anyway). However, two of my brother-in-law’s are also staying with me, and they are not Mahram.

My youngest brother-in-law is 20 and I have been friends with him since he was about 10 and there is a lot of affection and respect between us. Now he sees me as a big sister and is very comfortable around me (in traditional Pakistani-Punjabi culture, the oldest son’s wife is like a second mother to the family and I am treated accordingly by my brother-in-laws and their wives – even though I am younger and dopier than about half of them). What is new for me is that he is now ghair-mahram. Although I still feel comfortable around him, I have to cover in front of him and really shouldn’t be alone with him, although he still feels like a kid brother. He’ll be going back to Pakistan with his mum soon, but till then it’s still a strange situation for me – this transition from little brother to stranger. I am experiencing it again, on a more intense level with my favourite cousin, the lovely Dan, who has grown up under my gaze and is now 15. We can talk about most things and he will always be my fave little bro, but he can’t come to my Eid parties or sit close to me like when he was little anymore.

My other brother-in-law lives with us permanently and is the same age as me. Here I feel that the dynamic is totally different. We don’t speak or even make eye-contact unless entirely necessary and are never ever alone together. I think this is partly because he is a very quiet person and quiet people make me nervous and partly because I have grown up without any young men around me (like male cousins) I have always been more reserved around men. His presence means that I have to dress modestly and cover my hair with a shawl at home as well as outside. The only thing that makes this easy for me is his decency and hayah (modesty). His long working hours keep him out of the house anyway, but if he finds that I am alone in the house, he will go back out to a friend’s or for a long walk until my husband or his mum are back home. Hopefully he’ll be getting married soon inshallah, so it won’t be a problem any longer as his wife will be around (I think we just have to find him one…).

Narrated Umar ibn al-Khattab that the Prophet (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasallam) said, "Whenever a man is alone with a woman the Devil makes a third." - Ahmad and Al-Tirmidhi 3118

Sayyiduna Uqbah ibn Aamir (Radhiallaahu Anhu) reports that Rasulullah (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasallam) said, “Beware of mixing with women” An Ansari Sahaabi enquired, “Oh Rasulullah (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasallam), what about the brother-in-law” At this, Rasulullah (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasallam) replied, “The brother-in-law is death!” - Bukhari Hadith 5232; Sahih Muslim Hadith 5638.