Monday 31 March 2008

Hello Sunshine

After endless weeks of blustery rain, overcast skies and freezing hands at 7.30 in the morning, the sun finally came out today.

So after a long day at work, I went home and cuddled the babies, put my head on Mr Removal Man’s arm and told him about my day, then headed off to the little park round the corner.

The sun was still out, especially as the clocks went forward an hour yesterday. The trees were still bare but the clear blue sky showed through and everywhere buds and blossoms are starting to show. The daffodils are still in full force. How lovely to feel the warmth of the sun across my back and the breeze across my face.

All of the mums were out with their mini-me’s and the few dad were congregating in one corner of the playground on swing-pushing duty. I love watching children next to their parents, the features, the colouring, the mannerisms they have in common. It seems you really can inherit a funny walk or dopey smile.

So we spent a while traipsing after the munchkins round the swing, slide and see-saw, told Little Lady off for picking daffodils and sat and ate oranges and “Ferrari Chevda” (what a silly name for Bombay Mix) with the better half and watched Gorgeous kick someone else’s ball around.

Its moments like these that make me feel rested and peaceful. Oh and the best bit – I had a go on the swings, that made me feel about 10 years old.

Book Review: Alexander McCall - The Good Husband of Zebra Drive .

I reviewed the No1 Ladies Detective Agency series not too long ago and was delighted when I got my hands on the latest instalment.

It didn’t disappoint, despite being the sixth in the series they show no sign of running out of steam. As before the book centres around a number of cases for detection running parallel with each other and with events in the characters lives

Although a fairly big book, the prose is clear and deceptively simple and so didn’t take long to read at all. The main characters: Mma Ramotswe, Mma Makutsi and Mr J L B Matekoni are brought to life with gentle humour and a wonderful sense of humility. On putting this book down, I found it hard to believe that these characters were not real people, so well drawn and three-dimensional are they.

The characters move through the book dealing with the everyday issues of life – marriage, friendship, families, tradition and it often seems as if the cases are solved almost as a hindsight, resolved almost by themselves.

This is very much a feel-good book although tainted with sadness and containing wisdom. Parts of it made me laugh out loud (Charlie and his No.1 Ladies Taxi) and other parts sigh. As with the previous instalments, Botswana is brought to life and you find yourself feeling deep affection for Africa, for Botswana , the Kalahari and the Motswana’s love of tradition values and pride in their country.

I would recommend this book to anyone, it is very hard not to adore.

Book Review: William Peter Blatty - The Exorcist

A funny thing happened to me yesterday…no really it did. I walked into the library at lunchtime and found three of my favourite books staring me in the face: The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty, Lost Souls by Poppy Z Brite and Jinnah, Pakistan and Islamic Identity: the Search for Saladin by Akbar S Ahmed, so of course I grabbed all three to add to the pile growing on my bedside table.

I first read this book in my early teens, my Dad took one look at the cover and demanded I returned it to the library. This came soon after my parents insisted the Doctor referred me to a hearing specialist because they would yell and I couldn’t hear them (I can’t help it – when I open a book the world just ceases to exist). Of course my hearing was perfect, so my parents threatened to put all my books in a black bag and leave them for the bin man much to my distress. So in my house there was no clandestine drug-use or secret boyfriend but covert book-reading. Anyway, this meant that I read this book with one eye on my bedroom door and with every sound making me jump out of my skin and the book being thrown behind my bed. A perfect atmosphere for reading this book.

This famous novel is an account of a demonic possession of a little girl and the attempts of her mother and two priests to exorcise her. The entire book is an exercise in creating and then cranking up tension as the scene is set with a single mum (apparently based on Shirley McClaine) of a sweet and sensitive eleven-year old daughter moving into a big old house. In true horror-book fashion things start small and then escalate. The child is initially referred to doctors and psychologists and you see the mother becoming more and more desperate as no diagnosis is made and her daughter’s condition becomes worse. Rapping heard around the house, claims of an invisible friend, bed-wetting, moving furniture, psychotic episodes with alternate personalities, projectile vomiting and blasphemous behaviour all follow.

What follows is the mother’s realisation that science does not have the answer and her conviction that an exorcism is needed to help her daughter who is near to death. The book also shows the reluctance of the modern Catholic Church to be involved in such things, the loss of faith of one of its priests and how the concept of an exorcism challenges this.

The ending is very dramatic, but also quite satisfying which I usually like, but in this case I would much more have liked an uncertain ending to leave me avoiding dark corners. The book’s portrayal of the possessed girl is absolutely terrifying and is made even more unsettling by accounts that the novel was based on a true story. The book has been considered as the standard for horror movies and numerous copycat novels have followed. But none I have ever read come close in terms of being as well-written or as frightening.

I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone who doesn’t like bad language, obscenity or doesn’t have a fairly strong stomach (no wonder Dad wouldn’t let me read it). But if you like films like Omen and don’t gross out easily, then this might be for you.

Sunday 30 March 2008

Cook Eat Play

Just when I thought that I would have a quiet afternoon before going back to work tomorrow, Mr Removal Man’s friend phones to say that he would be visiting with his family. His little boy is the same age as Little Man and the two are fast friends (when they are not trying to wallop each other). Seeing as I would have to cook anyway, I decided to invite my uncle and aunt and favourite little cousins over as they are great with my children and the littlest one is friends with Little Lady (a five- and six-year old pair of teenage princesses)

Luckily hubby took the little ones to the park as we finally had a bit of sunshine today so I got to cook and day-dream in peace for a while.

It was quite a nice meal and my fave cousin Dan remembered to compliment me as always (which is something for a 15-year old boy). Now I just need to see if I can corner one of my lovely guests to wash-up. Failing that hubby can do it in the morning, I’m getting the munchkins off to bed.

(P.S. Auntie offered to do the washing up, so that was good)

Craft Relief

I have been meaning to clear out my craft stuff and had a free morning so enlisted the kids to give me a hand. (“don’t touch”, “yes, you can have star stickers”, “why are you sticking them on the baby?”, “ok, here draw me a picture on this card”, “noooo that’s super-glue!!!”)

I was surprised at how much stuff I had accumulated for both jewellery and cards and other stuff that I haven’t had time to use. I find the craft supplies in shops very expensive so most of it is from boot sales, old jewellery broken up or stuff I had that got damaged (like old broaches or broken bracelets). Other sources are old cards taken apart, my daughters broken hair bobbles, used gift wrap and tags and bits of the kid’s old toys. I found lots of stuff that went great with other stuff and managed to put them together. Lots of people thrive on chaos, I found that putting stuff in order helped me generate lots of ideas.

I also found lots of half-finished cards that I decided to finish and had a go at some new ones. I'll try and pictures up soon. I also found the stuff to make stunning broach, will have a go if I can find some super-glue (I know very professional) and put a picture up.

Tutti Frutti and Chocolate.

I made these bracelets not long ago when I was due to start working again after having Gorgeous and couldn’t afford to buy new stuff but wanted to look smart.

I like how it goes with my chocolate coloured abaya and this lovely scarf that my little sister’s lovely friend Z brought back from Dubai for me (thanks little sis, that Hijab has got me through so many days when I wanted to impress and never fails to elicit a nice comment).

Saturday 29 March 2008

Looking Ahead

I had some news at work yesterday, which gave me pause for thought. After having worked here for only four months, I was called to see the senior manager with the rest of my team – a lesson in that; senior managers only call staff to meetings for bad news. We were told that our department was one of many across the borough being reviewed and that there was a small chance of us being made redundant.

I wasn’t sure what to think at first, except why have you been recruiting if you knew this is coming? Those of us who started recently could have found work elsewhere instead. As I thought about it I knew I had to decide whether I could take the risk of waiting to see what would happen (the process up to knowing could take around four months) or start job-hunting straight away.

I like the job and save in travel cost as its near to home. The people are great and it was a good place to learn about local government. But it also feels a bit provincial, a bit “out in the sticks” and I miss the scale and kudos of working in central government. Perhaps my question has been answered there. I’m also a bit fed up of being back at the bottom of the heap and having to do things like typing people’s letters and photocopying.

I also know that my background in casework has a limited market value and I am not sure how it stands in terms of transferable skills. I was hoping to work here and at the same time gain some kind of qualification in counselling as my degree was in psychology and I am interested in counselling Muslim women, something I would be able to do independently and would have a lot of meaning for me. I also wanted to start focussing on my writing a bit more.

All of this after reading this article in the Times about impending recession and sitting there thinking, well thank god I have a secure job (when I should have known better that there is no such thing anymore).

It doesn’t help that at the bottom of it all, even as a confident mum alhamdulillah, the guilt never entirely goes. I feel as if I am not a good person or a good Muslim sometimes for thinking about work and career and planning when my whole focus should be on my babies. I think this will be something that will always hold me back from filling my whole potential – but I am not sure I mind too much – that’s the sacrifice you make as a mum, and its not much to ask I guess.

After stewing on the bus home (perfect time to break bad news – Friday afternoon) I sat down and spoke with my husband as soon as I got home. Although I wasn’t too upset, he helped me put things in perspective. I could stop thinking that the whole burden of the world was on my shoulders and that we would end up homeless for starters. I loved how he put it:
“since you were born have you ever had to go through a day without food or shelter”
“then there is no reason why you will in the future too – Allah provides for his creation.”

Allah tests us and even his tests are for our benefit. There is in goodness in everything from him. This is a big chance for me to take stock, to make some decisions, to find direction and perhaps to try something new.

"Know that your wealth and children are a test". Al- Quran, (8;28)

And certainly, We shall test you with something of fear, hunger, loss of wealth, lives and fruits, but give glad tidings to As-Sâbirin Al-Quran (2:155)

"Allah does not burden a soul beyond its capacity." Al-Quran (2; 286)

Tuesday 25 March 2008

Exhausted Hostess Mama

Oooooooooooh look at me, I’m all blissed out.
I got home from work today to find one of my husbands friends at work, as we tend to be segregated at home when there are guests, I ran upstairs to change, pray and breathe. As I planned for dinner with one more in mind, my husband announces more of his friends are coming. In the meantime, my good friend calls and tells me a wonderful recipe for keema muttar (mince and pea curry) that takes 15 minutes and is foolproof.

So whilst trying to practice Arabic with Little Lady and keep Gorgeous out of the bin (his new favourite place, toy, source of food when we aren’t looking – yuck) I decided to try to cook at the same time.

An hour later I am still cooking and the keema muttar doesn’t taste as good as my usual curry does. So I give up and decide to serve it as it is. I get a call from my better half saying his friends are here and one of them has relatives coming down to London from the seaside to visit him and will meet him at our house (what? – does this happen to other people too?) as there will be ladies too can they sit with me? I think at this point better half hears something dangerous in my voice and offers to go and pick up some takeout for dinner. I decline (I can’t remember why, something to do with sudden, foolish, false pride possibly).

So I throw together a salad and put some kebabs on the grill (I always make these in batches of three and freeze two lots for later) and the doorbell goes and guests start turning up. I do love having guests and as soon as they turned up I stopped feeling put-upon, but did feel as if I was being scrutinized a bit (I should have let Gorgeous bite one of them). I asked them to stay for dinner and they excused themselves saying they had to get home as it was getting late.

I dished up for the guys that were left and sat down for a minute; it was sometime around then that my brain fell out of my head and behind the sofa somewhere, and of course when you don’t think too much, you feel happy. So the kitchen is a mess, the house is a tip, my husband is tip-toeing around and its all gone eerily quiet. I’m taking my dinner and one of my fave books, the Exorcist and finding a quiet corner to fill my empty head with nonsense.

Six Word Memoir Meme

I've been tagged for the first time by the lovely sis Saffiyah - I'm sooo clueless, but here goes:

The Rules
1. Write your own six word memoir
2. Post it on your blog and include a visual illustration if you’d like
3. Link to the person that tagged you in your post and to this original post if possible so we can track it as it travels across the blogosphere
4. Tag five more blogs with links
5. And don’t forget to leave a comment on the tagged blogs with an invitation to play!

Spreading the love, loving the faith
My stomach will be my downfall
(I love my food ;))
I tag:

This is too much work!

Monday 24 March 2008

Things That Make Me Smile 2

(The last image reminds me of the view from my grandfathers house in Jhelum, Pakistan)

Sunday 23 March 2008

Living In The Present

Today all I did was cook, clean, tidy and look after the children. Usually I do this in a panic and thinking about what I could be doing instead. But today I just did these things and enjoyed them. I think that’s called “living in the present”. I suspect I need to stay in this frame of mind more often if I am to find peace and true satisfaction with what I have. I do not mean to find myself in a position where I have been so anxious about creating the best or ideal future that I have missed the most beautiful moments of my children of growing up.

Thursday 20 March 2008

Busy Bee Going Nowhere

Have been going a bit crazy over the last few days due to low-lying anxiety. Only realised last night when I stopped to think what was making me so jittery. I realised I have been fretting too much about what to do next. Hurrying to get to work early so I can get more done, hurrying to get my work done so that I can write, rushing home at the first chance to get things done there, rushing through my prayers and fretting about how long till the next one. Trying to spend more time with the children “doing” reading, Arabic, numbers rather than just “being” with them and playing and still fretting that I am not doing enough with them and time is flying by. Fretting that I could be doing other things, but not having the time – learning to sew, learning to draw, cards and jewellery to make, wanting to write. I started a novel last year and then just stopped when I began to doubt myself and lost courage. Encouragement from Kooky Little Sis and others is making me want to return to it, but I am fretting that I don’t have the time. What a ridiculous state of affairs.

I just stopped last night and realised that I was feeling very anxious and couldn’t sit still and that it was causing a kind of permanent background headache. Being the queen of the navel-gazers I had to ask why and I realised that I am trying to do everything without paying attention to anything because I am already thinking about something else.

Something that has really woken me up to this kind of thinking is Ingrid Bacci’s book: The Art of Effortless Living in which she says:

Like compulsive eating, hurry sickness and compulsive effort don’t resolve the underlying feelings that motivate them either. We keep on hurrying or doing because of inner anxiety, but our activity only dissipates the anxiety temporarily. And over the long term it actually aggravates that anxiety. Like other addicts, we need to acknowledge the reality of our pain and fear an allow ourselves to feel them. We also need to own out responsibility for our fear and pain, and instead of reacting to them, learn how to transform them.

Another thing that has on occasion helped me immensely is David Allen’s concept of a “Psychic RAM Dump” which is basically taking pen and paper and writing down every single thing in your head: the mundane, the pointless, the important, things to do, things that are bothering you, until you have a completely clear mind. Then you diarise what needs to be done, deal with what is bothering you and discard the rest. I think I am due a “brain dump” tonight – that should leave me in a better state to enjoy the Easter weekend coming up.

The situation also made me think about what mode of thinking I have as my default thinking as it were. I believe that everything is in the hands of Allah, he takes care of us and sustains us, yet when I am not consciously holding this thought in my mind I go straight to the default mode of “I have to do this, I have to get this done, I have to sort this out”. Is there any way of changing this default setting I wonder?

So this Easter bank-holiday weekend I have promised myself I will drop everything and focus on playing with the kids, giggling with the better half and doing nothing at my mums (except eat her scrummy food).

"... without doubt in the remembrance (Zikr) of Allah do hearts find tranquility"
(Quran 13:28).

This constant, unproductive preoccupation with all the things we have to do is the single largest consumer of time and energy. - Kerry Gleeson

Poem: Martin Newall - Anthem For Essex

We live in the area between the city of London and the county of Essex and as a family love the coutryside of Kent and Essex in summer. Strawberry-picking, boot sales, country drives, the seaside and farm shops and markets are all things I am looking forward to this year (the fresh air also seems to give the little ones a good appetite and help them sleep better). I just love the poem below, it sums up my county very nicely and I just love the rythm of it.

Anthem For Essex

Tilty, Wimbish, Stebbing, Shopland
Chipping Ongar, Ingatestone
All the market towns and hamlets
On the rivers Crouch or Colne
West of Walton, east of Easton
Shellow Bowells to Hanningfield
London 's bread-bin, lungs and love-nest
Beaches, birdland, wood and weald
Essex - seaxes, sheaves and shield.

Here the horsemen met for racing
Here the highwaymen were hung
Here the painter saw the skyline
Here the tide would poke its tongue
In among the samphire saltings
While the sun set sea alight
Here the smugglers moved the malmsey
Up the creek in dead of night
Customs cutter out of sight.

Saucy , sexy, seaside Essex
Driest place in British Isles
Where the robbers took retirement
When the Sweeney shut the files
Home of rock and naughty rhythms
Pirates, Paramounts and Procul
Harum, Hotrods, Ian Dury
Dr Feelgood - they were local
With Lee Brilleaux on lead vocal.

Epic Essex , best for bike-rides
Liberally laced with lanes
Pubs to punctuate the pedalling
Flower-baskets hung on chains
Coastal Essex - secret rivers
Heron-haunted waterland
Where the silver light in autumn
Lingers for a saraband
On the shingle and the sand.

Here are tales of long-dead writers,
Ghostly bikers, missing planes
Council gardens, scrapyards, thatches
Cricket matches seen from trains
Yellow fields in dazzled springtime
Varnished by a Van Gogh sky
Blind the copses and the spinneys
Where the rooks are building high
And the world goes skating by

Where the weather-boarded cottage
Waits in moddy monochrome
Nestling with new commuters
And the future coming home
Envious London , stuck in traffic
Simmering its quiet desires
Senses Essex spanning endless
Hazier than orchard fires
Out beyond those distant spires

Martin Newall
(p.s. all these are real pics of Essex)

Hey Little Lady - You Made My Day

I am pleased as punch this morning after visiting Little Lady’s school for her Parents Consultation Day (at 8am in the morning!). I spoke with her teacher last year about her progress and although she was doing well with learning, her behaviour was causing concern. She was resorting to using her hands to get what she wanted and was aggressive towards other children who didn’t do as she said.

This was around the time Gorgeous had come along and we wondered with the teacher if that had affected her behaviour. Really, I wondered if it was something I had done wrong. I had smacked her in the past, though resolved never to do so again and I shout when frustrated.

This morning her teacher reported that she was a different little girl, happy, well-behaved, assertive, but not aggressive. The teacher had really noticed a maturity developing in her behaviour.

She is doing well with her numbers and alphabet and I have noticed in the last two weeks or so she is trying to write down words by sounding them out (Barbibrts – Barbie Bratz) which is thrilling for me (I know, that sounds soooooo sad) because it means she will be able to read soon and a whole world will open for her.

One thing the teacher did mention though, she wondered if the language we use at home writes from right to left because Little Lady is suddenly starting to write lots of things backwards. I explained about learning Arabic and we agreed we would have to keep an eye on it and remind her to write the “right” way.

Monday 17 March 2008

We’re Getting There!!

Just an update on my Quran lessons (struggles) with Little Lady. After a very difficult start, a few weeks when I wanted to give up (shaytan reeeeeally pushing it) and about two weeks when the thought of coming home from work and doing an hour with her were really getting to me – we’ve had a break through!

Our last lesson was short, sweet and without any mistakes. She has mastered the alphabet and the variations of the letters and how they join together after much practise and has just learned the vowel sounds (fathah, kesra, dhammah or as we South Asian’s are often taught zabar, zer, pesh). I explained the effect of the first vowel sound on each letter of the alphabet, not doing a very good job of it and wondering if we would have to learn each letter with its new sound one at a time. She read through the whole alphabet with the new sound at a stroke and straight through the exercises too. I sat through the whole reading with my mouth open. I think we both really enjoyed that lessons and I am actually looking forward to the next one.

She is also learning the names of Allah (Allah, Rehman, Raheem, Al-Malik, Al-Quddus, As-Salaam and al-Mumin so far), which she seems to manage fairly well. Our sticking point however has come with memorising. I don’t want to overload her, but I am trying to help her memorise Al-Fatihah. She knows audhu-billah and Bismillah, but keeps forgetting the first line of Al-Fatihah. I’m not sure how to proceed. Break it down? One line a week? Or just get her to recite the whole thing once every day. I would love advice or ideas from anyone about what would be a good approach to starting memorising of Al-Quran.

Frustrated Mama

I had a terrible morning today and then had light-bulb moment through my tears. Part of my job involves dealing with all of the services provided by the borough and to help me with this, every service has a representative, most of who are lovely and respond to politeness even when they are grumpy. There is one though who I have to sweet-talk, pester and cajole as nicely as possible every time I have to deal with her. One of colleagues is dealing with her by being patient and understanding; another lost her temper and is rude back. I am not sure I can do the first any more and as a Muslimah I think I have to try and avoid the latter.

Today I received a call from a very distressed member of the public, when I tried to get the relevant service to help, Ms Attitude ends up on the other end of the line. She refused to help, she refused to check within another part of her office for me what was being done for this poor lady, eventually after much badgering, she gave me the name of an officer that might help (who just sounded annoyed that I called). The lady who had the problem yelled at me and refused to give me any more info, the people in the service didn’t know what they were doing. In the end I rang round the offices and got a response and the lady was happy. I was furious. I had a good cry in the ladies, which was unlike me because I have dealt with difficult customers and poor services in different jobs for the last eight years and pride myself on being able to talk people down and talk them around. It was just one of those moments though when I could not get anyone to help and felt very frustrated. After feeling very foolish for blubbering I had a think about what’s important: faith, kids, hubby and my writing (which is really making me happy) - and it all seemed smaller. What also helps me in such times is a) knowing how irrelevant this all is - a moment in eternity that will be forgotten, being aware that everything comes to an end and b) in light of above being aware of your dreams - what is the deepest darkest desire in your heart? If you had the guts to be truly honest with yourself, what would you say you were born to do? Why do you exist? What did Allah put you here to do? When you were an innocent child what was your dream? I truly believe that when you find and do that thing you find peace because then things will be how they are meant to be.

When I start thinking like this, all the little frustrations seem laughable and irrelevant.

I have always been terrible at dealing with frustration, explode, cry, vent, start all over. I realised through my tears that the issue was with setting boundaries and being a bit more assertive so that things didn’t get to the point of my being so fed-up. I think part of the issue too was with gutlessness and not sticking up for myself which is not easy to admit – if you tell the person you don’t like the way they are behaving, then why would you be frustrated?

Friday 14 March 2008

Roots and Branches – a British Punjabi Genealogy

I recently had the most amazing experience with my grandmother. I have written in the past about the problems with youth and identity and Tariq Ramadan’s Two-Parent Theory. I kind of understood what he was saying in that I have never known where I belong. Am I British and that’s all, am I British Asian, Pakistani, Punjabi? In the end I decided I was just a Muslim, that perhaps I belonged everywhere and no-where and that was okay.

I had been meaning for a long time to learn more about my family especially having grown up with the colourful stories told by my mum and gran. I did think it was an impossible task though. Traditional societies often don’t keep accurate records and my family’s history has been recorded verbally by a travelling record-keeper who has now passed away. There is something similar in the book Roots by Alex Haley, where on his return to Africa a griot (repository of oral tradition) recites the family tree of Haley’s ancestor’s all the way back to Kunta Kinte. Reading this scene with our Punjabi tradition in mind sent a shiver down my spine.

I didn’t have high hopes then of putting together a traditional English-type family tree like one created by a colleague who traced his unusual name back to the Domesday Book and found family as far as Canada and Australia. I sat down with her on a Saturday afternoon pen and paper in hand and asked her “Gran who are we? Where did our people come from?” The answers stunned me. She took me back seven generations to the people who travelled across the Punjab and settled in our beautiful little corner of it, through plague, drought, colonialism and partition. She told me about caste and the relationships between people of different religions (she used to get sweets from the Hindu girls on Diwali and Sikh girls on Visakhi, she used to give them flowers and fruit on Eid on the other hand my grandfather worked in a Sikh household and was considered untouchable as a Muslim and not allowed near food or the kitchen). She told me about my grandfathers service in Burma during World War Two and how she traded his medals in as scrap metal to a travelling Pathan (Pukhtoon).

I cried with her when she told me how she lost a brother and sister to Typhoid in childhood and could still remember how pretty they were, she also told me how her father lost his parents and four siblings as a ten-year old to the plague that swept the Punjab in the nineteenth century and how he was raised by a sole living uncle and became the father to a great big family. She cried for the kindness and family ties that she says don’t exist anymore (although I promise myself I wont let them break yet) and then smiled as she told me about the coming of the children and grandchildren and the women that survived childbirth (not always the case in her time).

I couldn’t believe some of the stories about murder, land, war, politics, drugs, saints, jinn and general mischief she told me (so that’s where my little ones get it!). She also knew my husband’s grandfather – so I got the low-down on my in-laws too. She told me about the family’s book of records (shajrah –e-nasb) which I might be able to find on my next trip eastwards and the few old people who still might know our stories.

And then there were the stories of migration and hardship in a foreign place. Of a new home and leaving their children behind and going back home one by one.

It was the strangest feeling after a lifetime of feeling so rootless and not really belonging anywhere. It felt as if she had taken me and rooted me into the earth, I felt like my children and myself were part of something so much bigger – what a story!

"Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day, let him maintain the bonds of kinship" (Bukhari)

'Would you then, if you were given the authority, do mischief in the land and sever your ties of kinship?' (Al-Quran 47.22)

Narrated 'Aisha: (the wife of the Prophet) The Prophet said, "The word 'Ar-Rahm' (womb) derives its name from 'Ar-Rahman' (i.e. Allah). So whosoever keeps good relations with it (womb i.e. Kith and kin), Allah will keep good relations with him, and whosoever will sever it (i.e. severs his bonds of Kith and kin) Allah too will sever His relations with him. (Bukari 73:18)

Things That Make Me Smile 1

Happy Jummah Campaign II

I left the house with Gorgeous bawling because his mum was leaving him, all three of the stars awake at 7am, a terrible journey (waiting 20 minutes for one bus and 30 for another for a journey that usually takes 20 minutes itself) and a very rude e-mail from a very rude person at work.

BUT it’s the precious Jummah Day, so sod all of that. I am happy, the sun has come out as have the daffodils, its pay day and I’ve found the perfect Jummah Day gift to take my parents especially as its Rabi-al-Awal which my dad loves with a passion (I bought them crystal models of Masjid Nabi and the Kaaba reduced from £55 to £17.50).

I hope Allah’s mercy rains down on all of you today and you find the special hour of Jummah that Allah accepts all of our blessings.
HJC Part 1

Wednesday 12 March 2008

Wisdom and Age, Sadness and Beauty

One issue close to my heart is the way we treat our old people. I mean as young people, as an Ummah, as Brits. More and more we are hearing our elderly complaining about not being able to afford to live, of being ignored or treated as fools and of being written-off, of being alone and fearful of dying in a home surrounded by strangers.

My first job after I graduated involved helping families look after the property and finances of people who were no longer able to do so. Many of theses were people who were mentally ill, had learning difficulties or had brain damage, but the vast majority were elderly people who had lost sentience to Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. I will always remember the words of one poor man who was now taking care of his very ill wife. Despite having accounts and property in joint names and having prepared for this stage of life he was struggling. “Mrs, can I give you one piece of advice?” “Of course” “Just don’t grow old”. It really did make my heart sink into my stomach thinking that this is what we have to look forward to.

I think of my grandfather who returned to Pakistan after 30 years in Britain and refused to come back to us, indignantly stating “I’m not going back home in a box”. He tended the land he cherished and took care of the people of his village. He died suddenly, avoiding the long drawn-out illness and slow death our old people so fear.

I think of my grandmother who refuses to go back to Pakistan saying she cannot live there now, she’s too comfortable here and everyone she loves is here, but still adamant she will be buried in her home country. She moans about how terrible old age is and how she is just waiting to die and prepares through her constant ibadah (worship). Then my children walk in and she comes to life feeding and cuddling and squabbling with them. Her children and grandchildren visit and she is vibrant with her scheming again – who needs to be married off? Who needs to be reconciled? Who needs to be kept apart until her plan works out? As long as she is here, she will keep our family together; you can see the razor-sharp lucid mind working away in her broken arthritic body.

I think of my gran’s best friend who died recently, having spent most of her life with a very strict husband, and then caring for a mentally disabled daughter alone. In order to get her to sign her property over, her only son’s wife cut the water supply off from her portion of the house and refused to speak to her until she got her way. She returned to the UK penniless and with a word in her ear from her daughter-in-law about sponsoring them all to come to Britain . But when I think of her presence during childhood and teenage I remember this pious woman’s kind exhortations to “pray, read Quran and cover your hair my child”

I think of an old lady I met at a friend’s house who lived with her son and said that all she owned was her mattress and two changes of clothes in her rented house – this was her choice at how she wanted to live and it freed her.

I think of the old man I see every evening on the way home from work. Walking briskly to the mosque despite his age, his beard purest white and his face radiant.

I wonder what kind of old woman I’ll be (still 21 in my mind I think). Generous like my granddad I hope and lucid like my gran. I often think that by the time I die, I would like to have given away everything I own bit by bit to lessen the burden of what I have to account for and to be nearer to the sunnah of the Prophets. But who gets that much time to prepare? I hope I will still love to play, to have everyone’s children around me and tubs of Lego and play-dough (I hope I’m never too old for those two). I hope more than anything my hubby stays with me and continues to recite bad urdu poetry to me to the rolling of eyes and grins from our children. That we annoy our children with our silliness and provide a heart and base for the family to come back to and rest and recover from this world. I hope the legacy we leave behind is one of love for Allah, love for his beloved Prophet, love for this beautiful faith and love for this wonderful, struggling Ummah.

I have long held a picture in my mind of myself and my better half sitting on a swing chair in a big garden with a horde of young people and children around us talking and laughing. Who knows how we will end up, but it’s a lovely thought.

...And some of you are called to die, and some are sent back to the feeblest old age, so that they know nothing after having known so much... (Surah Al-Hajj - 55)

... and that you be kind to parents. Where one or both of them attain old age in your life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honor. (Al-Israh - 23)
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, "He is not of us who does not have mercy on young children, nor honor the elderly"(Al-Tirmidhi)

Monday 10 March 2008

Prayer For My Brothers.

It is with sadness that I note that Brother Umar Lee has decided to stop blogging. His blog provided an interesting insight into the way brothers might think and also a voice that might appeal to some of our more wayward brothers far better than that of a haranguing or crying sister might have done.

Brother Umar often joked about the soft desi’s (people of South Asian origin) he came across on his travels. Here we have a slightly different problem. Much of the South Asian community in the UK is located in the inner cities and has to deal with issues such as high unemployment, higher rates of poor health and lower rates of educational attainment. Whereas the Indian-origin community including the Muslims have fared fairly well in education, employment and business, the Pakistani and Bangladeshi community have lagged behind in all of these fields and also have the added accolade of being one of the most over-represented communities in prison. Of course there are exceptions and also excellent role models for these communities, but it doesn’t alter the fact that both of these communities (two of the largest groups of Muslims in the UK ) have major problems.

One of the biggest of these has been the way out youth is developing. I am seeing a real “rude-boy” culture emerge amongst many of the young men of both communities. I have seen it at school with my peers showing a lack of respect for education and their teachers and many young brothers feeling that education leads to nothing if you are Asian or black (they think this without even trying?). I also recall a distinct lack of respect for women; you were either ugly, pretty enough to fool around with or nice enough to marry and therefore should be left alone (I had a big mouth and never got my head out of a book so was just intimidating and impossible to understand). This along with the mischief that many young men engage in the classroom and the street, evolving into something a little more alarming.

As an adult, I now look around me and see brothers who have worked hard and created careers for themselves, are active in the community and take their responsibilities seriously whether to their parents, their wives or their children. I do find though, that they are a distinct minority. Ask any sister round theses parts looking to marry and she will confirm this.

What I am seeing though is my young brothers in trouble with the police, having dropped their studies and unable to find a career that is fulfilling enough to stick to for long. I am seeing a desire to copy rappers and footballers but no inclination to imitate the sunnah of our beloved Prophet (PBUH). I am finding these brothers largely absent from the mosques and the imam of the mosque unaware what a massive problem we have. I am also, terrifyingly, seeing that many brothers are turning to drug addiction and when their parents realise that no-one here will marry them they are shipped off “back home” to import an unsuspecting bride.

According to Professor Tariq Ramadan’s Two-Parent theory, young British Muslims have two parents, one is their Muslim community and the other British society. He blames both parents for their problems. Both of them have not and are still not able to develop a British Islamic Identity. Their children consequently do not know where they belong. They are misfits not only for the host society because of the colour of their skin but also for the Muslim community because they are unable to communicate with their parents and elders in their own languages.

So what will happen to our community? What is the future for our young men? How can our youth stand shoulder to shoulder in the mosque and in the community if they can’t even stand up straight for fear of the pants hanging half-way down their backsides falling off? We worry, especially as mothers, but being Muslims we never lose hope.

I performed Hajj in January 2007 and I remember a day when I sat in Allah’s house and cried because I believed that the guys in my neighbourhood were no good and that my community would fall apart. I prayed to Allah to guide us all, but still felt hopeless. I left the masjid to meet my husband outside and we were approached by two young men we knew from my neighbourhood (one in my year at school and one in my year below). I recalled one of them particularly to be trouble. Both were in ihram (the pilgrims white sheets) and complaining to my husband about flights, hotels and exhaustion. Whilst they complained, I stood there stunned and with my heart soaring, trying to hide my tears. I felt Al-Wadud was trying to tell me not to lose hope and that when I pray for something, to do it with the assumption that he will accept my supplication.

British Boy Scouts performing Hajj

Saturday 8 March 2008

The Lazy Muslimah’s Capsule Wardrobe

When writing this I am no way stating that I am an authority on fashion or what constitutes hijab, what is ok, what is shariah-compliant or what anybody should wear. This way of thinking does make my life easier though and I would gain a lot of pleasure thinking it is of any use to another woman.

Whilst expecting Little Man I started to wear an Abaya, partly because alhamdulillah this was the time my iman had been strongest in my life and partly because my confidence was high enough to consider wearing such a thing in public and to work. It wasn’t something I had thought too hard about, it just felt like a natural next step. What it did do though, was simplify my life in some ways.

An abaya and smart jacket covered my baby bump when I was expecting Little Man and helped me through an interview which gained me promotion. Again when Gorgeous was on the way, I attended an interview for a management position whilst seven-months pregnant and no-one realised. I got the job and my new office got a big surprise.

My husband is also deeply relieved he doesn’t have to put up with petulant whines of “I’ve got nothing to weeaar” every morning, because whatever I wear an abaya will cover it.

Of course dressing this way it has its flip-side (I wouldn’t necessarily say down side). Many people assume you are Arab, rather than a Punjabi kurri (girl). Many assume that you can’t possibly speak English (although the charity muggers and evangelists leave you well alone). In fact when you start in a new place people find it odd that you are their manager and not the new temp.

Also there is the fear that you will lose who you are because your clothes say so much about you and because people assume so much when they see you dressed this way. I wore abaya in stages. Wearing hijab at university, then slowly wearing loser clothes, and then eventually wearing the full loose dress-like abaya. A colleague went straight to wearing a very loses abaya and a very big khimar mashallah when she converted to Islam. Two years later she removed it all and went bare-headed and to wearing jeans and a half-sleeve tee. I could see some people thinking she had lost faith or turned her back on hijab – but really she just felt she had lost her identity. She knew she would probably wear hijab again, but she needed to find herself first.

Being a hijabi or wearing abaya doesn’t mean losing who you are as the multitude of smart sisters out there prove. I love what Sister Kima at We Love Hijab has to say: “that the abayah is a Muslim woman's "little black dress” and that a black abayah, a pair of patent pumps and a pretty scarf can take us anywhere.
My idea of a capsule wardrobe? For what its worth:

1 good black abaya in a good material and a comfortable fit is good for work, weekend or evening depending how you dress it. I have two, because my kids love putting their dirty sticky little hands on me.
To supplement: 1 simple basic abaya in each/any of the following colours: dark or mid-grey, navy and chocolate brown. Other colours that can be good are beige, burgundy, dark/khaki green.

One good bag and a good pair of classic black court shoes/pumps with the twist (or not) that shows your style.

The colours above will go with pretty much any scarf and all you need to buy really are shoes or accessories (broaches, hijab pins, rings – oh and a nice pair of leather gloves look great with a smart abaya)

I wear my black abaya with black trainers and a square hijab when on the run playing catch-up at the weekend; with leopard pumps, a large black plain silky khimar and brown beaded bracelets when I want to look sharp at work; and with a pair of smart lady-like heels, and co-ordinating silk scarf and cocktail ring for dinner out or with friends (with no shoes and the khimar round my neck when at my mums). It’s a no-brainer for me, especially when I have to get three dirty-faced angels ready at the same time.

My intention is not at all to turn hijab into something trivial or remove the modesty or simplicity from it. It is to wear it in a way that still covers the shape of the body, still tells people that we are Muslimah’s and to be respected, but also to let our personalities shine through. I love to wear all black as much of the next sister, but sometimes it scares people and as a Muslimah I do believe that it’s our duty to reach out to others and be open enough for them to come to us. If someone is too scared/intimidated to talk to us (even other non-hijab-wearing Muslimah’s), how are they going to ask us why we wear hijab? Why we fast? Why we pray? Ask us to show them how to wear hijab?

Wednesday 5 March 2008

Sunshine on a Rainy Day

I’m just counting the things that are keeping me sane. Defo writing for this blog, my children, Mr Removal Man (aka Hubby) and his offerings of free furniture we don’t need, my reading books, reading the Quran and salah though not in any order.

After the last but one post complaining of boredom, Allah gave me what I was asking for alhamdulillah. I have been rushed off of my feet at work with the phones and e-mails going at a manic rate, the Mayor asking for a huge report from my team ASAP and all of the old ladies in the borough somehow having found my direct line to complain about their flat/benefits/care/blood pressure and how it wasn’t like this in the good ol’ days. I’ve reduced Little Lady’s Arabic lessons to half an hour to make it easier on both of us, but have started Little Man on tracing shapes and letters in preparation to start practising his alphabet. In reality though, I have been struggling to keep everything going and have been resenting having to do so much. This continued until two days ago, when I gave in, put the kids to bed without a kiss or story and just cried through my esha salah. Felt much better, but made the mistake of not saying anything to hubby so was still upset yesterday. He finally got fed-up of the long face and my denials
(you ok?
whats wrong
nothing…long sigh
what’s the matter?
I’m ok…long sigh)
and made me tell him what was wrong and then told me off for trying to do more than I felt okay with.

So this morning decided to give the walk to work a miss and take the bus. Packed a proper breakfast (herbal tea, brown roll with cheese, apple, pear, banana, Clementine’s and little tub of pasta), which I am still working on and had a treat for lunch (traditional fat chips) and have given myself a break to write this as my working day draws to an end.

Might take up hubby’s idea to have a nap till Maghrib when I get home, rather than rush straight into shift two as soon as I get home. He has also kindly agreed to listen to Little Lady go through her previous Arabic lessons and let me take over when she gets to her current lessons.

In reality, Allah has blessed with more than we deserve or could even think to ask for. Sometimes we lose sight of how blessed we are, when so many others are suffering so. I will always recall the morning when I went to work feeling teary because I didn’t feel like leaving my children and the morning paper carried an article about pregnant women in Africa suffering from Aids and waiting to see if the child they were carrying would have it. Of a woman who received the drugs to safeguard her child from the syndrome but couldn’t keep them down and could not get a second dose before she gave birth and passed the illness to her newborn. I felt truly ashamed that day and always think of that woman, who may not even be alive now. I think of how many would go to any lengths to take my place, a young woman with her health intact, with her healthy children and her kind husband, with the opportunities to educate herself and the ability to earn enough for what she needs or wants.

The one thing that always brings me out of my moping or self-pity is Allah’s promise that:

“no burden do We place on any soul, but that which it can bear” - Sûrah 6.152.

Saturday 1 March 2008

Book Review – Enslaved by Rahila Gupta

Published last year to coincide with the 200 year celebration of the 1807 Abolition of Slavery Act, I had heard good things about this book. So when I saw it on a lunchtime visit to the library next door to my office (perfect), I grabbed it.

The book presented as five case studies of five very different people. A young woman refugee from the Somali civil war, A young European woman trafficked into Britain to work in the sex trade, A child fleeing from strife in Sierra Leone brought to the country as an unpaid domestic servant, a Chinese man smuggled through Europe by the snakeheads and a young Bride from the Punjab abused on her arrival to the UK by her in-laws and eventually discarded.

This book made me feel very humbled, considering that these people live in the same country as me yet many don’t have the same basic rights as me. Each case study is in-depth and based on extensive interviews with each person. Rahila Gupta details the (often perilous) journeys people make into this country, the poverty and desperate conditions they find themselves trapped in when they get here and their treatment at the hands of immigration officials. She shows how people are trafficked into various forms of slavery and how immigration laws effectively keep them there.

I felt I could relate to the woman from the Punjab, in terms of understanding how powerful the concept of izzat (honour) can be and how a good woman is one that is obedient to her parents, in-laws and husband regardless of what abuse is being perpetrated against her (I have often noticed how our community sees a good child or woman as an obedient one, a person is acceptable once the spirit is knocked out of them and vowed not to do the same with my children – at the moment I am being rewarded with bare-face attitude)

In recent times the issue of immigration has been major one in the UK , used by newspapers and politicians to further their own ends. This has had major effect on the publics perception on immigrants and consequently, perhaps their treatment of them. The book makes an interesting point about how this country’s concept of Englishness has always been based on the creation of an “other”. A role played by various groups of immigrants through history.

I have found that many immigrants who have been here since the first waves in the 50’s and 60’s now have an attitude of “there are too many people coming in” and “the immigrants are taking our jobs and houses” without the slightest hint of irony and the book does pick up on this.

This book is an excellent reminder of how these people didn’t all choose to come here and are not all “scroungers”. It goes so far as to provide figures to show that they benefit our economy and argues that we might not be able to receive the services and products we are use to without them. It certainly makes a valiant attempt to put paid to the notion that we are being “swamped”. At the very least it should help us to see immigrants, whether illegal or legal as human beings, often in difficult or dangerous situations.