Tuesday 29 April 2008

Zen Parenting: Naughty Step or Chappal?

It’s very in vogue now to say that we won’t smack our children; this is probably a good thing. In the UK there have been attempts by various groups to bring laws into effect that ban smacking, although they have been defeated by the Peers in the House of Lords.

My parents and grandparents grew in Pakistan where it was the norm to be smacked by your parents, extended relations and anyone else that happened to be around and in a bad mood. It was also okay to be given a smack round the head for doing something you shouldn’t have, for watching someone else doing it, maybe for not stopping them or maybe again because someone was in a bad mood. In contrast, my parent’s generation has not quite realized that simply transferring the parenting methods of rural Punjab/Gujerat/Dhaka/Sylhett to East London might not be sufficient to bring up your child in the best possible manor – although this is not for want of trying (I have so many happy memories of being chased by my mum flip-flop held aloft).

There is also the thinking that a good child is an obedient child, smacked and yelled into submission to a parent who knows best. How do you tell that parent’s about feeling left out because you dress different, weighing up the way you feel about clothes, boys, life in general as a teenager with the need to please your parents and be a good Muslim? Who do you talk to about peer pressure, or bullying or all the other things that confuse kids?

This is not to denigrate my parents or all the others out there who have struggled to reconcile two cultures, their faith, modern life and all of the issues that face immigrants, with bringing up their child in the best way that they could. At the same time they have also had to try and square Western and Eastern concepts of what a well-brought up person is supposed to be like. Is it any wonder that they and we were so confused?

What we have to keep in mind though is whether the absence of smacking has left a vacuum with respect to disciplining our children. If we don’t smack, how do we get our children to listen to and respect us?

I love the Islamic concept that when we do things with the aim of pleasing Allah (SWT) we engage in ibadah (worship), even if they are just everyday actions. So cooking a meal is a chore, but cooking with the aim of pleasing Allah by feeding his creation and eating to take care of the body he gave you as an Amanah (trust) becomes an act of worship.

Similarly childrearing can be hard work, but when engaged in with the intention of pleasing Allah and carrying out the work he has assigned to us, it becomes an act of worship from beginning to end. The waking in the night, the cleaning of stuff that makes other people leave the room, the difficulties of breast-feeding, the tiredness, the duty to be mindful of what you say and do, having to constantly watch your little ones – living, breathing, walking, waking worship. Through our words, our soothing, our chores, all of the small kindnesses of a mother, Allah (SWT) elicits from us worship and forgives sins. With this thinking in mind, it becomes much harder to smack a child and much easier to take a breath and act rationally.

I also like the idea of peaceful parenting, less friction, more kindness. I like Sandra Dodd’s idea that it’s okay to indulge your children sometimes and say yes to them. We don’t have to behave like tyrants, its okay for the house to be a mess, for your kids not to be reading Shakespeare by six and joining Mensa by eight, its ok not to be perfect. Motherhood is a learning process; we are scared because we only get one chance with each of our children. But I realized sometime ago, thanks to Little Lady, that when we make a mistake, we can stop, apologise and agree to try again, that every day is a new day and a new chance at doing things in the best way we can.

So when we need to discipline our children, we could hit them, but how would it feel to make a mistake or disagree with our employers or spouse and be smacked for it? How do we prefer to be told? Discreetly, gently, with patience surely.

My parenting style? Like my parents, a little confused. When I ask nicely, explain and let things go, my sisters call me English mum, when I lose it and shout and issue orders, they call me Punjabi mum. I guess I am still learning.

Abu Salmah (RA) narrated that Abu Hurayrah (RA) said, "The Prophet of Allah (peace be upon him) kissed Hasan ibn 'Ali while Aqra' ibn Habis was sitting nearby. Aqra' said, 'I have ten children and have never kissed one of them.' The Prophet (Peace be upon him) looked at him and said, 'Those who show no mercy will be shown no mercy.'" ~Bukhari (No. 91) and Muslim

Narrated A’isha (RA) the Prophet (peace be upon him) said to me, "O A'isha, be gentle, for gentleness has never been used in anything without beautifying it; and it has never been removed from something without debasing it." ~ Abu Dawood

“Instead of saying "Come on, let's go!" maybe you could have picked him up and twirled him around and said something sweet and by the time he knows it he's fifty yards from there, but happy to be with his happy mom.” ~ Sandra Dodd

“What would be a better gift to our kids,...the aching urge to break free from the nest because theyr'e so confined and disciplined at home, or lots of freedom NOW so that that home is not something they want to push away. I don't know about all of you, but I want my kids to take their time leaving...my rejection of another hateful cliché that kids should be pushed out on their 18th birthday...phooey”. ~ Nancy (CelticFrau)

“We were all born with a drive to learn that is more compelling than almost any other instinct. If we step back from the power struggles we can be allies with our children in learning, solving problems and creating what John Holt called ‘a life worth living and work worth doing.’ Unschooling is deprogramming, healing, regenerating. It is remembering to relax and trust our own and our children's innate ability to choose ideas and activities that promote lifelong learning and growth.” ~ Luz Shosie

Monday 28 April 2008

27 Ways to Cheer Yourself Up

1. Pray
2. Make Dhikr – “…Verily, in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find peace and satisfaction.” (Al Quran - 13:28)
3. Have a nap
4. Meditate
5. Halal music – always lifts the heart
6. Write things down – analyse (navel-gaze)
7. Clear out your clutter, room by room, draw by draw
8. Have FUN – games, comedies, joke, parties, dress-ups
9. Create something – card, craft, bag, sketch, plan your garden or room decor.
10. Keep a gratitude journal, add to it every day.
11. Talk to someone
12. Catch up with your friends
13. Imagine your perfect life – now take one little step to live that way.
14. Go outside, get some fresh air (walk, jog, garden)
15. Make a list of things you enjoy doing – then pick one.
16. Take care of yourself, fruit, water, exercise.
17. Drink water; maybe your sadness is really dehydration.
18. Eat a bowl of fruit, maybe low blood-sugar is making you blue.
19. Play with your Children
20. Make plans, plan your life, your day, your career.
21. Write a long letter to someone. Maybe write a love-letter to your other half.
22. Write a list.
23. Do something for someone else.
24. Find a party dress and just wear it in the house.
25. Day dream
26. Light a scented candle.

27...add your own idea.

We only get one chance at this day, it will never come again. So we can make a choice between spending it in a state of joy or unhappiness.

"... joy and sorrow are inseparable. . . together they come and when one sits alone with you . . . remember that the other is asleep upon your bed." Kahlil Gibran.


We in the western hemisphere have what most of the world do not, health, wealth, spouse, children, education, family, home, employment and freedom. We take for granted things that our grandparents would never have dreamt existed. Death and pain are often so far from us and so sanitized for us that we think ourselves invincible.

I should remember that our wealth is a very great test for us. I should ask myself what do I share of what I have with others? How do I avoid arrogance, pride and snobbery?

I need to overlook the faults I see in others, especially those that have less than me. I need to learn to forgive, to forget, to be patient.
I have to thank my Rabb at every turn, in every moment and in every place. I can never thank him in enough.

I have to behave as the grateful behave – with joy, kindness, generosity and humbleness and by sharing what I have.

I also have to learn to behave as a grateful slave of a beneficent master should; by obeying Him and His word.

“If you are grateful, I will certainly give you increase, but if you are ungrateful, My punishment is severe.” Al-Quran 14:7

"Therefore remember Me, I will remember you, and be thankful to Me, and do not be ungrateful to Me." Al-Quran 2:152

The Messenger of Allah (SAW) said, "Strange is the affair of the Mu'min (the believer), verily all his affairs are good for him. If something pleasing befalls him he thanks (Allah) and it becomes better for him. And if something harmful befalls him he is patient (Saabir) and it becomes better for him. And this is only for the Mu'mmin "

Book Review: Jonathan Trigell - Boy A

Winner of the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and Waverton Good Read Award, I first came across this not as a book but a TV drama. Although I didn’t see the programme, I read the glowing reviews in the newspapers. The other thing that attracted me to this book was the subject matter. Not long ago I had a heated e-mail exchange with a friend of fashionista sister about the tragic James Bulger case and the release of his killers, which inspired this book.

The book is a look at the childhood, crime, imprisonment and release of Boy A written from his perspective. His crime is the murder of a child whilst a child himself. The book charts his entry back into the world and how he learns to interact with the world again with a new name - Jack, a new past and a job.

The book is not a long one, but the themes that Trigell touches on are varied enough to fit many psychology and sociology books. How do we deal with child offenders? What causes a child to murder? What about the abusers of that child, where is their punishment? Do such people deserve to be rehabilitated into society? The style in contrast is almost informal; cheeky in the way it phrases the writer’s observations.

When reading this book, you hope, for a change, that the story fades away to normality. Instead there is a terrible ascent to an ambiguous climax. It left me feeling that the write had copped out a little rather than be brave enough to show us how things turn out.

This book is not easy to read. There were moments when I was reluctant to finish the book. The task of reconciling your sympathy for the protagonist and your awareness of what he has done, influenced by the sheer horror of the original Bulger case, is difficult. Personally, I would be as interested in people’s reactions to the book as the story itself.

Tuesday 22 April 2008

Positive Hijab

I looked at my profile and saw hijab-loving as part of my self-description. It made me wonder why I put this first. Perhaps because it has become so central to who I am and because of all of the benefits I have received from it.

Mainly this has been the amount of time I save in the morning from not having to fix my hair. I have suffered bad hair days from age 11 to about 19 when I started wearing hijab, so the world and me have been saved from any more of these. Unfortunately my family still have to witness these (especially first thing in the morning).

Most important has been the peace that comes with knowing you are obeying Allah (SWT) and in a small way living the way that you are supposed to. When you go against Allah (SWT) commandment, you go against (nature or innate disposition towards virtue) and the unease penetrates every part of your life.

I love the fact that I am a visible part of this Ummah and the local Muslim community, whether that means

As a Muhajibah I am also a da’ee. When my every action is interpreted not as Umm Salihah’s action, but that of a Muslimah, you have the opportunity to represent your community and faith in the best light possible. When you hold a door, smile, give up your seat, it is a Muslim woman doing those things. I have heard a French convert say that the thing that attracted her to Islam was the absolute gentleness she saw in Muslim women. There are times when you don’t feel like being on your best behaviour – when you want to lose your temper at the shop assistant, the bus driver or a colleague, or you are very close to using bad language or one-upmanship. Whenever I feel like this, I remind myself I am wearing my hijab and if I behave badly, the next Muslimah to come along will automatically be seen in the same light – rude, grumpy or mean. If on the other hand I rise above it and be gracious or respond with kindness, people will assume that Muslim women really are as elegant as their dress. I do think that sometimes people also start to want to be like you.

It’s also FUN! I used to love dressing well and receiving compliments and when I started to dress more modestly I felt very frumpy. It took me till the birth of my third child and a little help from We Love Hijab to get my groove back and once again I am in the office best-dress list. If nothing else, the abaya and shayla cut a very dramatic and elegant figure. I recall one Englishman’s letter to a newspaper saying that in comparison to all of the bare bellies and pants poking out of the top of jeans seen now, he found the dress of Muslim women very elegant and graceful.

It helps me to be taken seriously. I am not very big or loud and I have worked in offices where some of the men don’t take pretty women too seriously. Because of my hijab people assume I am a serious person (I so am not) and that I mean business. Some people even find it a little intimidating if I choose not to smile or talk too much (for a change)

After 9/11, working in the city was kind of scary. People would be terrified of you and you would be terrified of people. Seeing a sister in hijab was like finding an ally. A smile to each other was enough to reassure you that you were not alone in this situation or this city.

There have been times when wearing abaya has felt difficult (like tripping up stairs or when a pretty colleague turns up dressed to kill) but I have never regretted the decision to start covering my hair.

Monday 21 April 2008

Desi Nuske for New Mothers

Because of the number of new mums and mum-to-be around me, I thought I would put up some of the recipes (or home remedies - desi nuske as we call them) that my family and many people from the subcontinent use around this time..

The most important are the following two and can be adapted to suit taste and preference, but the last one is also very useful. As always, keep in mind your personal dietary needs and quirks (i.e. nut allergies) and avoid if in doubt (or better still ask your doctor).

Saffron Milk.

When I started to go into labour with my first child, my lodger put this on the hob for me. The only problem is keeping it down as it can threaten to come up later in labour. One of my friends tried this before me and just threw it up. I think it did help me as the baby slipped out fairly easily. I forgot to drink this with the second baby and he took much longer. A Trinidadian colleague told me that their equivalent is eating Okra as its slimy and I guess the English version is castor oil (which doctors tend to discourage).

I cup of milk
A teaspoon of saffron – for strength
A good tablespoon of ghee (clarified butter). If this is unavailable then olive oil, but I think this is very hard to get down.
A small handful of nuts (almonds, pistachio, cashew) – for strength
A few dreid dates (3 or 4)

Let the milk cook on low heat for a while (15-20 minutes), then sieve and drink a while before you leave for the hospital


This is something my mother made for me and every women in Pakistan who can afford it makes or has made for her. Its benefits are supposed to include helping your body heal, helping your milk come in more abundantly, increased strength and stronger bones and joints. One of my great aunts used to make two buckets of this, one for the last months of pregnancy and one for after the birth. She had 16 children and still looked young and fit. I personally would not recommend this before the birth as its ayurvedic property is Heat and it might even induce the birth. Please keep in mind the amounts are approximate and can be changed to suit. The ingredients can be found in an Indian food store

1 cup ghee (clarified butter)
1 cup ground almonds (not too fine)
1 cup ground pistachio (not too fine)
1 cup ground cashew nuts (not too fine) all for strength
½ cup grated coconut if desired
1 tablespoon finely chopped dates if desired
2 tablespoons chopped raisins if desired.
2 cups semolina (suji)
1 large chunk (approx 400 grams) gur/jaggery (raw sugar) ground roughly– for taste and heat
Handful of char magaz (mixture of dried pumpkin, melon and watermelon seeds), ground roughly.
100 grams gaund (edible gum crystals)
1 heaped tablespoon of ground ginger root – for heat (this is a key ingredient, but if you hate the taste you can decrease the amount. Also, the raw sugar can mask it)
3 tablespoons cous-cous (poppy seeds)
50 grams phool makhane (dried lotus seeds) – these are supposed to help the milk kick in and keep it plentiful.
1 teaspoon ground ajwain (carom seeds)
2 tablespoons Kamarkas (Butea Frondosa). The Indian name means “fortifying the back” and that's what it’s for.
1 tablespoon saunf (aniseed) ground
1 teaspoon green cardamom (chotti elaichi) ground

Use the heaviest cooking pot you have and melt the ghee on a low heat. Fry the gaund in the ghee, first over high and then over low heat, till cooked through (i.e. when it has puffed up). Remove and grind. Fry the suji and makhane on a low heat till golden. Add the rest of the ingredients and continue to fry until golden. Stir well or use hands to rub the ingredients into each other. The mixture should stick together but can be slightly crumbly. Can be poured into a tray and sliced into small squares (inch squared) or formed into small balls if sticky enough (inch diameter approx) or eaten with a spoon – two spoonfuls is plenty. Too much is not good because the formula is so strong; also if you are breastfeeding and you’re baby gets heat rash, it’s probably too strong for you.

Chicken Soup

1 litre water
1 small chicken pieced
1 onion, peeled and quartered
2-3 cloves of garlic – as much as you like
Small chunk of ginger (peeled) if desired. Salt to taste
2 tablespoons mixed masala – whole not ground. This is a mixture of coriander seeds, bay leaves, black cardamom pods, peppercorn, cloves, cinnamon and available from Indian food stores.

Place all of the ingredients in a pan and bring to boil, then let simmer for further 15-20 minutes. Drain soup.
The chicken is removed and can be eaten as is, cooked in a curry, coated in a tandoori masala and grilled.

Sunday 20 April 2008

Garden Project Begins

I recently said I was going to have a go at creating something pretty and useful out of my garden insh'Allah. Accordingly I have spent the last week digging, weeding and doing more digging. . We are still in April so they should get plenty of rain, I'm just worried we have another cold snap and everything I've planted dies.

So far the garden is still a tip, and I will have to sweet-talk (or sulk at) better half to remove the rubbish sometime soon, but if I get the green stuff in the soil, at least its a start.

My front garden is bricked over (sacrificed to lack of parking on the road) but my pot plants out fronnt are starting to show some flair at last. I am just grateful the old silver banger out front has been shifted and the flowers are visible from the front of the house.

Tomato plants

Strawberries from last year. These took over more than half the growing space, so I pulled a lot of them out and threw them back in their corner.

I pulled the roots for this mint from my favourite uncles garden last year and it took in a pot, but only just. So I have pulled it out and put it into the main border. By the end of the year the strawberries and mint will be at war to take over the whole garden. I've lightly crushed some coriander seeds and scattered them in the other border so in about two months time we should have plenty insh'Allah. I did this two years ago and the fresh coriander from the garden made every meal so fragrant. I've also planted potatoes (maris piper and charlotte varieties from the 99p store which is a no-brainer, so I'll see how they go). I have seeds for cayenne peppers, bell peppers, beans and sweetcorn, but have run out of place, so will have to be creative.

These are the anemones I planted last year, I left the pots outside and the few left popped up - I'm just stunned they survived the snow. When they die, I'll put something else out.

These azaleas are also from last year and have grown back despite the snow this month. They are one of the most difficult plants to grow, so I was very surprised.

I got these chrysanthemums from the local 99p store, which was a bargain and an easy jump-start to brighten the place up.

These are my husbands kind contribution (he confiscated them off Little Lady, who took them from best friends house). I was a bit annoyed that they ended up in the garden, but my friend just visited and she thought they were real. His other kind involvement is calling me farmer's girl (as both my grandparents are farmers - but so are his).

So far my fuschia's are having no luck and just look like sticks, so I might do some research and see how to bring them back to life. The same with last years chrysanthemums which just got left in the pot and are now growing but haven't started to flower yet.

Gardening can be expensive, so the best things to do are to propogate from cuttings of friends plants, try planting from seeds and my big help has been the 99p store and Poundland which have plants (including roses), seeds, plant food, ornaments and compost for the above prices. This is also great for the kids to be involved in as they love getting their hands dirty and the idea that something they planted is growing. Plus it compliments Little Lady's school lessons as they have been learning about sun, rain, plants etc.

Who’s Rooting For You?

In 2006 I attended a diversity conference via work with my best friend, amongst various speakers at this conference was a gentleman called Richie Dayo-Johnson who spoke about his past failures and difficulties in life and how he overcame them and then found ways to help others.

One thing stood out at that conference though. He asked for a volunteer from the audience (of about 200) and best friend volunteered and was picked. He pinned a £10 note high-up one of the stage walls and then told her if she could touch it she could keep it, but she gets three tries. So she jumped and couldn’t reach, then the audience started cheering her on and she jumped higher, then the audience starting shouting solutions out. On someone’s advice she pulled a chair over, got up and took the £10 note. By this time the audience, best friend and Mr Dayo-Johnson were all in high spirits.

Before she left the stage, Dayo-Johnson pointed out to her how many people were cheering her on. He said to us that we cannot imagine how many people are out there rooting for us. Even people we do not know or have never met.

Think of our Ummah. How many people we have never met must pray for us? Maybe even cry for us? During prayer, during hajj, during their own difficult times. Thinking of us as their daughters and sisters in Islam, as the little mothers of this Ummah?

Friday 18 April 2008

Things That Make Me Smile 3

Book Review: Åsne Seierstad - The Bookseller of Kabul

This book was the best-selling non-English book of 2004 in Britain and Seierstad the best-selling Norwegian author ever, so I had high expectations.

Despite the fact that my family hails from Pakistan originally, next-door Afghanistan has always come across as quite mysterious. The only influences on my impression of the country have been news reports in the English media, my husband’s stories of the way Afghan’s settled in Peshawar treated their women (from his travels around Pakistan) and the general image I have grown up with of the noble, brave and beautiful Pathan (or Pukhtoon) people living on both sides of the border.

This book resulted from the author’s stay with a bookshop owner and his family over a period of time in the year after the Taliban left Kabul. It recreates the home and lives of the bookseller of the title – Sultan Khan, his two wives, his mother and siblings and his children.

Seierstad gives us insight into both the everyday squabbling and also the life-changing events which happen within this very dysfunctional family. What we also get is a woman’s perspective of life in Afghanistan and a unique insight into the inside of a burqa – the large over-garment many Afghan women wear. At the same time she shadows the men of the family and details the way they deal with the aftermath of war, the trials of everyday life and the new freedoms they are gaining.

I found myself rooting for Sultan Khan’s younger sister and feeling very annoyed at her lapses into despondency, the rest of the female characters are infuriating in the way they sometimes perpetuate the misogyny of the society portrayed, however the reader has to keep in mind that their reading is from a very Western perspective and that this behaviour results from years of war, patriarchy and abuse. On the other hand I found it difficult to have sympathy for Sultan Khan or his eldest son Mansur who seems to be made in the same mould as his father but with a streak of malice and spinelessness running through him (which made me want to wring his neck). Although we have to keep in mind Seiergard’s admission that “…maybe it's not possible for a western woman to write an honest account of an Afghan patriarch, one that he would like. Maybe our worlds are too far apart."

Although this book is meant to be documentary-like in style, it is unusual in that it is not written from the author’s viewpoint, but from various family members. This leads the reader to question how Seierstad could possibly know what the person was thinking and she says herself in the book’s forward:

“Readers have asked me: “How do you know what goes on inside the heads of the various family members?” I am not, of course, an omniscient author. Internal dialogue and feelings are based entirely on what family members described to me”

Despite this, there were often times when I stopped reading mid-sentence and thought “Is this how it really happened”. The individual that Sultan Khan is based on asserts not in this interview, although not always convincingly.

Overall I enjoyed the book and it was finished in no time, leaving me wanting to know more. There is a chapter near the end that has little bearing on the rest of the book and seems to have been slipped in for the sake of it. Also if you are looking for a happy ending this is not the book to find it in as the last pages leave you hanging somewhat. In any case this is a fascinating read.

Book Review: Akbar S Ahmed - Jinnah, Pakistan and Islamic Identity: the Search for Saladin

I recently re-read this book having enjoyed it so much in the past.

The book explores exactly the themes listed on its cover: The life of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, founder of Pakistan, the birth of Pakistan and the emergence of Islamic identity in the Indian subcontinent.

Although it looks back as far as the appearance of the first Muslims in India, its focus is on the period preceding the creation of Pakistan, the movement which lead to it and the legacies left behind by the key players involved.

I grew up in a home which revered Jinnah as Quaid-e-Azam (the Great Leader) and which had Allama Iqbal’s anthem for Pakistan on the back of my Urdu lesson books. So after seeing only biased, demonised portrayals of Jinnah, such as that in Attenborough’s film Ghandhi, it was a pleasure to read a book which tries to delve into the intelligent, passionate, humane, yet flawed nature of the person that he was.

The writer raises the issue of bias in historical reporting and how most of the well-known writing about Jinnah uses sources which were hostile to him – the British and the anti-partition camp. On the other hand all of the books published about Jinnah in Pakistan (almost an industry in itself) are almost sycophantic in nature. The writer attempts to prove all of his arguments using sources traditionally hostile and this is the only thing preventing this book from becoming a biased diatribe against Nehru and Mountbatten.

At times this book does seem to engage in point-scoring and smug finger-pointing, but these moments are always balanced by the critical eye Ahmed casts over the Muslim’s of India and later Pakistan and their in-fighting and at times indolence.

The book provides a fresh contrast to the very negative view of Muslims, Pakistan and its people held by many. Well written and accessible for a history book, Ahmed’s writing gave me real insight into the history of my people, what they suffered and how they persevered despite being short-changed at partition and the breaking away of Bangladesh.

Wednesday 16 April 2008

Lady of The House Having Fun

I was shown a quote recently by a friend. I can’t recall the book or the exact words, but it was by Mel Brooks and it said: “When I hear my wife turn the key in the door, I think great, the party’s come home”. What a lovely think to say about his wife and what a great thought regarding how you would want your family to perceive you.

It sounds a bit like having delusions of grandeur, but I have always envisaged myself as the lady of the house and to me that means being responsible for the welfare of the people of the house including guests and trying to behave in a manner that befits a Muslim woman and mother. When you put this thought and the quote above together it puts the role under a new light.

A long time ago I read a book called Women by Naim Atallah which contained interviews with women about all aspects of their lives. In it was a section where women recalled their relationships with their mothers. Some complained about coldness or how their mothers had no positive impact on their lives at all. The interviews that stood out though were from those women who remembered their mothers being glamorous, fun or kind. The mother who knew when you needed a hug, the one whose style just entranced her child and the one whose child just loved being around her because there was always joy in her wake.

When you put this and the quote above together it throws the role under a new light. Yeah we have to scrub, nurse, clean, listen, kiss hurts better, cook, work, commute and who knows what else, but we have to have fun too. When my kids look back I don’t want them to see their young mum washing dishes and scrubbing floors and shouting at them not to bring the dirt in, nor do I want them to remember me as too tired to take notice of their little achievements (“look mum I’m standing on the computer”, “listen to my abcglm song mum”). I want them to recall a mum who knew how to have fun, loved the outdoors, loved playing with them, loved taking them to the park, loved hugging, kissing and rough-housing with them and just generally was grateful for what Allah gave her. I want that gratefulness to show in everything we do together.

You don’t have to be a mother or wife to be the heart of your home, in traditional Pakistani culture, people say that daughters bring “raunaq” (joy and laughter) into the house with the noise of their chatter and the sounds of their bangles, the colour of their clothes and henna and their small celebrations (my mother-in-law always complained that she had six boys, but no “raunaq” in her house, just plenty of broken furniture, and she credits her daughter’s-in-law with bringing this blessing to her). Any woman has the power to bring joy and pleasure to those around her.

When I go home in a mo, I’ll announce my arrival with a big assalam-alaikam, hugs and kisses for all and maybe suggest to better half we all go to the park as the suns showing its face again today. I hope they all think the parties started.

"Why worry about the future, when you can enjoy today" - Emma Parkes, mother of Freddie aged 13 suffering from muscular dystrophy (expected to die before 20).

Saying No to Working Mother Guilt

One of the baby girl card’s I made came in useful yesterday when I went to see the first of the expected newborns that had landed. Bubba was gorgeous and her mother was fine, so we talked and she asked me lots of questions about health visitors, babies and recovering from birth.

Then the topic turned towards how my job was going and she mentioned whether it was difficult to work with children. I said yes and no and explained my arrangements – better half and brother-in-law have them during the day, and book their jobs for when I got home or the weekends, no matter how much you do, whether you work or not it still doesn’t seem enough as they grow so quickly. She insisted that this was terrible for the kids and looked at me pityingly. I had to consciously stop myself from feeling like a villain when I explained the kids were fine and actually when I spent a whole day with them I was usually much more exhausted, and often a bit more irritable than when I was at work for part of the day. The way we are organised, both hubby and I get part of the day with them. She wasn’t very convinced; despite being educated and “modern” she still believes as a Muslim that it’s shameful for the father to be doing things like changing nappies. She’s not the only one. Family and friends have made snide comments about my husband pushing prams that is beyond pathetic as I am so proud of the fact that he is so involved in his children’s lives.

I keep returning to this topic of raising children and guilt because it is something that is always with us no matter how good a mother you are and it affects us all Muslim or not.

I had a conversation with my neighbour, who could not understand the idea of a woman working if she could at all afford to stay at home – “It’s just sheer greed isn’t it?” I recall meeting a lady during hajj who asked me about myself, how many children, what I did. When I told her she slapped her wrist and said “You have your priorities sorted then”. I spent half of my Hajj moping and feeling terrible and thinking I must leave my job. Later during the Hajj I met an amazing businessman from my hometown, I talked with her about what was bothering me and she gave me a ticking off. She had five daughters, a doctor, a lawyer and three at university, all lovely girls (three were with us). She had worked since she came to the UK doing tough market work and had her daughters working with her, even re-building her business following bankruptcy. Her lawyer daughter had faced the same dilemma as me and left her job after the birth of her first child only to realise she couldn’t sit at home. She found employment again, but not at the same level she had left. The love and respect her daughters had for her and their good manners were enough to convince me that there was nothing wrong in working.

Funnily enough I get the most support from older women like my grandmother who warns me against leaving work. To rural women like her raising children was not the intensive endeavour we have made it, it was something that just happened alongside everything else that had to be done – bringing in the harvest, taking care of the livestock, taking care of the community. They worked alongside the men and took care of the “women’s work” as well and this earned them the respect of the men-folk.

In comparison, to them, the idea of staying at home as a mother is something they had not envisaged. Even my mother who my dad didn’t want working outside the home, spent 20 years working at home as a machinist. This is not to denigrate those women who stay at home with their children at all, it’s just an affirmation for this who chose to take care of their children and work, whether through necessity or choice. Even many of those who do term themselves as stay-at-home mothers are busy with home-businesses, studies, community work or halaqa’s (Islamic study circles), after all our brains don’t suddenly switch off when we have children; our creativity and talents remain and our faith doesn’t say that we must lock them away. Nor do I intend to live through my children, I have my dreams, they have the right to theirs. The guilt seems to be not just because we leave our children, but because we want to do something for ourselves. Why do so many of us not think we deserve this?

I think its time to change my attitude. Next time I get asked if I still work (which is often), I wont say “umm…yeah…” like I’ve been caught doing something dirty, I’ll say “Oh yes, absolutely, of course I do”.

Tuesday 15 April 2008


I mentioned in an earlier post that the family might visit Pakistan for a holiday in December. My main worry was Little Lady not having enough school holiday (one week off and you lose your place in school – the Head Teacher is adamant that nothing short of a death certificate from a close relative will lead her to authorise an absence for visits abroad).

That was until yesterday when Mr Removal Man came up with the idea that we could go during the school summer holidays. My first reaction was AAAAAAAAAAGH!!!!, panic. Passports, visa’s, no money for tickets, shopping, vaccinations, I’ve got nothing to wear, they’ll think I’m weird for wearing an abaya to a wedding, its too hot, we’ll all get sick!!!! When I had calmed down, my husband dissuaded me from starting a list (best cure for panic) and tried to explain that a suitable lady had been found for brother-in-law 1 and a prospective wife was being considered for brother-in-law 3 (No. 2 is already married and sprog 2 is due to be delivered around the time of our visit as is other sister-in-law’s sprog 2).

So now we are trying to get ready for a month in lovely Pakistan which I have been looking forward to for a long time. Two wedding and two babies insh’Allah, a whole lots of parties and shopping, a month of free baby sitting for the kids from doting relatives and best of all riding around on a motorbike with hubby like newly-weds again. Was also hoping to hire a bus and take the whole family to nice cold Murree in the north and will have to spend three days in my grandparents village (with the electric rationed to two hours a day) so will get a chance to find more about my family tree and history.

What’s worrying though is its usually 45 degrees Celsius or thereabouts in summer in Lahore (around 110 degrees fahrenheit) which means you can’t do much but sit still, and as the other two ladies of the house are in “confinement”, I’ll have to do all the wedding prep. Although there is the benefit that it gets so hot that the mosquitoes just disappear. I am very scared for the little ones though. On our last visit when Little Lady was 10 months she got very bad diarrhoea and ended up on a drip and I absolutely hated myself for letting her get so ill despite better half’s exhortations that illness and health are from Allah (mothers are entirely irrational creatures). I also got very painful food poisoning and came back a slim size eight.

Just need to keep the image of the motorbike in mind and ignore the jitters…where’s my list!!!

P.S I would welcome any information and advice regarding: holidays/travel with children, dealing with hot weather, preparing for a wedding in Pakistan/Lahore, avoiding food poisoning, keeping the kids healthy, it would really help.


One of the most enraging and satisfying thing about growing up has been being one of four sisters (although we have a brother too) – all so different, all strong-willed and all forging their own paths through life.

I look back at our childhood years and at us now with a smile. We always used to compare ourselves with the four sisters in Little Women, but I think a book about us would be more interesting in a different way.

I’m the oldest and have always been treated like the golden child according to long-suffering sister, a bit like the oldest son and surrogate parent say I. I am the only one that wears hijab. I’m also the only one who is married with children. I’m loud, opinionated, but also have a strong sense of responsibility for my family and community. My faith is at the centre of my life although I am far from the Muslimah I would like to be. I’d call my style a mix of frugal luxe and new-age bohemian (in an abaya). I pass for Gujerati, Bengali and once Moroccan, although I reckon I look like a typical Punjabi. I care about Islam, our Ummah, the environment, rampant consumerism, dawah and family

Next up is Long-suffering Sister, I call her that because she has a bit of a martyr complex (not the religious kind, the slightly doormat kind). Of all of us she is the kindest and most conscientious, but also the most stubborn and at times highly-strung (just a tad). She’s the one that rolls her sleeves up and does what has to be done: cleaning the loo, paying the bills, taking good care her of her friends, shopping for gran, disciplining my kids when it is needed. Although she doesn’t wear hijab, she seems to be a dawah-magnet as people feel comfortable asking her 101 questions about Islam, which she is getting real good at answering. She passes for Bengali and I would describe her style as smart urban and she hates pink which speaks volumes.

Then comes Fashionista Sister. You know those soaps where the heroine wakes up and sits up in bed with her make-up perfect and every hair in place – that’s FS. No matter what she wears she looks great, her hair always shine, and she seems to get away with murder effortlessly. She can be work-shy and moody, but has an amazing gift with children, which should come in useful as she is training to be a teacher. Her style is Fashionista with a bit of cutesy chic thrown in. She’s been asked if she is Bengali, South Indian, Sri-Lankan and Spanish.

The youngest is Kooky Little Sister. She is intelligent and moody, friendly but a bit shy, sometimes very assertive and occasionally rude. Currently reading English at university, she is at the first door of knowledge and thinks she is very clever – which she is (the second door is when you realise you don’t know so much and the third door is when you get to the end of your life or the peak of your learning and realise we actually know nothing about the mysteries of the world). Her style is eclectic, a mix of ethnic, outgrown punk/goth and prom girl – i.e. she is still finding her fashion feet. She usually passes for Gujerati, but looks very Pakistani to me.

Throw in cosmopolitan London, a conservative Pakistani family, marriage, life and work and we have the makings of a very cool novel. Go on then KLS, are you going to write this one or shall I?

Don’t Wanna

I am finding that as I get older (into my grand old late 20’s) rather than doing the things I should do dutifully, I am having a hard time doing things I don’t want to do. As a teenager and young adult, I always thought about what others want and I assumed that as I could older this would become the case more so, after all it’s a child that pouts and refuses to do what he is told only on the basis of “I don’t wanna”.

What I have found though is that as I become more comfortable with who I am and more aware of what I want, I just feel disinclined to do the things that are not of interest to me. The problem arises when these are things I have to do get done.

I am sitting at work with a big batch of typing in front of me to get done today with another lot coming my way shortly. Only thing is I just cannot get my brain to understand I have to do this, it’s just not interested in listening. Every time I start, my brain rebels and I end up back on the internet or typing posts for this blog.

I am going to have to do something about this. I could look for another job (and start all over again with probation, looking for a place to pray etc), but in the meantime the typing is not going anywhere.

Monday 14 April 2008

Mother, Ummi, Induk, Maman, Mummy, Maa, Matka, Majka...

I was feeling a little bit whimsical and self-indulgent (not to mention broody) this morning so decided to put this post to celebrate motherhood. This is dedicated to all my expectant sisters (pregnant women make me feel all tearful) especially Hijabi Apprentice, iMuslimah, Jilbabble and hopefully soon Big Sis.

I found this article and it sums up motherhood so elegantly:

What Motherhood Really Means:

We are sitting at lunch when my daughter casually mentions that she and her husband are thinking of starting a family. 'We're taking a survey,' she says, half-joking. 'Do you think I should have a baby?' 'It will change your life,' I say, carefully keeping my tone neutral. 'I know,' she says, 'no more sleeping in on weekends, no more spontaneous holidays...'
But that's not what I mean, at all. I look at my daughter, trying to decide what to tell her. I want her to know what she will never learn in childbirth classes. I want to tell her that the physical wounds of child bearing will heal, but becoming a mother will leave her with an emotional wound so raw that she will be vulnerable forever.

I consider warning her that she will never again read a newspaper without thinking: 'What if that had been MY child?' That every plane crash, every house fire will haunt her. That when she sees pictures of starving children, she will wonder if anything could be worse than watching your child die. I look at her carefully manicured nails and stylish suit and think that no matter how sophisticated she is, becoming a mother will reduce her to the primitive level of a bear protecting her cub.

I feel I should warn her that no matter how many years she has invested in her career, she will be professionally derailed by motherhood. Her own life, now so important, will be of less value to her once she has a child. She would give it up in a moment to save her offspring, but will also begin to yearn for more years - not to accomplish her own dreams - but to watch her children accomplish theirs.

I want her to know that her relationship with her husband will change, but not in the way she thinks. I wish she could understand how much more you can love a man who is careful to powder the baby or who never hesitates to play with his child. I think she should know that she will fall in love with him again for reasons she would now find very unromantic.
I wish my daughter could sense the bond she will feel with women throughout history who have tried to stop war, prejudice and drunk driving. I hope she will understand why I can think rationally about most issues, but become temporarily insane when I discuss the threat of nuclear war to my children's future.

I want my daughter to know that everyday decisions will no longer be routine. That a five-year-old boy's desire to go to the gents rather than the ladies at McDonald's will become a major dilemma. That, right there amidst the clattering trays and screaming children, issues of independence and gender identity will be weighed against the faint possibility of a child molester lurking under the urinal.

I want to describe to my daughter the exhilaration of seeing your child learn to ride a bike. I want to capture for her the belly laugh of a baby who is touching the soft fur of a dog or a cat for the first time. I want her to taste the joy that is so real, it actually hurts.
'You'll never regret it,' I finally say.
Then I reach across the table, squeeze my daughter's hand and offer a silent prayer for her, for me, and for all of the mere mortal women who stumble their way into this calling.

"We have enjoined on man kindness to his parents; in pain did his mother bear him, and in pain did she give him birth" (Al-Quran 46:15).

The Prophet Muhammad said, may Allah's peace and blessings be upon him: Your Heaven lies under the feet of your mother (Ahmad, Nasai).

"The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world."-- William Ross Wallace

Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.
~ Elizabeth Stone

Saturday 12 April 2008

Why I Love London

I was born and grew up in this city and unlike all of those that complain about England having gone to the dogs, I love living in this city.

London must be one of the easiest cities in the world to be a Muslim in, or whichever faith you choose to follow. I feel comfortable in my hijab and there are big Muslim communities in the city. Pakistani’s, Bengali’s and Indians in the East, Arabs and Persians towards the West, North and East Africans in the North of course and the Turkish towards the South. This is without counting the growing number of Indonesian, English and Caribbean Muslims spaced out across the city.

Its also a good place to be a woman of colour – the diversity of this city is such that whatever you look like: Hijabi, Punk, Hasidic, Rastafarian, City Gent, Hare Krishna devotee, Sloane Ranger, you don’t stand out all that much.

With the mix of communities come the different villages. As those who live here know, London isn’t a city really, but a series of villages which have collided with each other. China Town in the middle, Brick Lane (little Bangladesh) and Green Street (Little Pakistan) to the east and Southall (Little Punjab) and Wembley (Little India) to the West. Brixton and Peckham for a taste of the Caribbean. The sizzling South American contingent is based mostly in Kensington and the Lebanese dominate Edgware Road. Greeks in Wood Green
The American’s and French have taken over Kensington and Chelsea and the East-enders have all moved eastwards to where London meets Essex, their “locals” following in their tracks. Canning Town struggling back to its feet (if Uncle Ken and the Labour government manage to stay in at the next election) and bohemian Camden sliding into decline. Elegant Hampstead, flashy Knightsbridge and intellectual Bloomsbury lift the mix (well its prices anyway). No, I’m wrong, London isn’t a city, its a little cosmos, a whole world.

Regency House and Canning Town

I love the mix of old and new, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Gherkin and the Wheel all in one skyline. Walking through the city you wander between the old Tower of London, slick glass buildings, elegant Regency houses, 1950’s tower blocks and tall Victorian town houses.

It’s a city with such great strength of spirit. The 7/7 attacks happened in London on a Thursday and the city was back on its feet and back to work on the same tube system on Monday. No whinging, no shutting the place down, two-finger salute to the perpetrators and back to business. The Blitz Spirit was alive and well and I felt so proud that Monday.

Notting Hill Carnival, the biggest in Europe, the Visakhi Mela, Eid in the Square, St Andrew’s day parade, Chinese New Year in the city, the Olympics heading our way in 2012. Now, no-one knows how to party like London when it’s in the mood.

The city of my childhood; walking down to Green Street Market with my mum where the traders wouldn’t let you touch and the West Ham Football Club supporters marching by in their Doc Martins and bald heads in the 80’s. Going to Oxford Circus nine to a car to see the Christmas lights, getting your pictures taken by the lions in Trafalgar Square, seeing Ginger the mummified man in the British Museum and getting into Tower of London free as under fives because we were such midgets (we were 8, 7 and 5)

Green Street Market

Yes it’s dirty at times, expensive, feels rude to outsiders and also slightly mental, but even if I travelled the world, I probably would still end up in colourful, manic, amazing London.

“London's Muslim population of 607,083 people is probably the most diverse anywhere in the world, besides Mecca” (What the maps don't show – The Guardian Friday 21 January 2005)

Thursday 10 April 2008


One of the things I spend lots of time doing is picking up toys. Last thing at night, as soon as I get home and constantly in between despite exhortations of “you played with it, you put it back” and “we put one back before we take the next one out”. My kids seem to have learnt the art of selective hearing from my grandmother.

Many of the toys I see sold in shops and indeed given to my children take up space in my house, yet don’t seem to benefit my children at all. These include a clutch of Barbie’s, a medley of McDonald’s give-away toys and assorted pound-store toys which assuredly could not have passed the Kite Mark or Lion Mark (British toy standards).

You can see the difference in toys that are made with the child’ s learning and enjoyment and not profit in mind, and hand-made and wooden toys particularly stand out in this regard.

I am acutely aware that some children in this world do not have the luxury of good toys, or even any toys and that many of my generation, as the children of struggling immigrants and those older did not often have many toys to play with this – to what extent did this hamper our development? I would say not at all as there is nothing more playful than a child’s imagination.

Saying this, when we do buy our children toys I think we should be a bit more picky. Many of the educational theories (including the Waldorf and Montessori methods) focus on the quality of toys as learning tools.

The toys that I particularly like are those that are simple and encourage the children to be active – a simple rag doll dragged around and babied seems better for role-play than a hi-tech crying, drinking, wee-ing super-doll which you just sit and watch.

The following are the best toys I have come across for learning, role-play, creativity and physical development:

Lego (voted the world’s best toy), Stickle-brix (I bought some for my girl when she was little and they are still being played with) or Mega Blocks – depending on the childs age.
Box of Beads (for older children)
Cardborad Boxes, egg cartons, cereal boxes
Instruments. I am fairly conservative when it come to music, as I take a fairly traditional approach, but I don’t percussion-type instruments like shakers (although Little Lady has asked for a guitar which I am not too keen on)

Rag-doll or simple doll
Dolls-house – I’ve always wanted to have a go at making one and I am keeping an eye out for just the right-sized box. If I do get round to it, I’ll put the project pictures up for people to see.
Your old clothes, shoes, scarves and dress jewellery for playing dress-up
A clothes-line tent. Just drape a big old sheet over you clothes line and ties the ends to rocks. When I was little we used to put the sheep over the back of a sofa and all get in. Kids love hidey-holes.

Scrap paper, crayons, pencils.
Board games
Magna-doodle type toy
Jigsaws (for the really creative, this is something you can make with your children)
Meccano for bigger kids
Skipping Rope­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­
Kite – again something that’s fun to make as well as play with.
Swings, slides and roundabouts are good too, but that’s what the park is for.

I like the fact that none of these classic toys are too expensive or hi-tech and most already exist in people’s houses. My only condition for any of these would be that they should be lots of fun. One that doesn’t fit into any of the above, but is great fun and cheap is bubbles:

For those on a budget, it can be difficult to buy the good quality toys that Montessor mentions. The following guides might be of help:

Cheap Toys For The Frugal Family
How to Make Toys From Trash
Inexpensive Toys My Kids Love

Baby Blues

I look at my children’s good health and the kindness of my husband and say alhamdullilah, but there are times when it is hard to have this attitude.

For me one of these times was when I had my youngest child. I have always been lucky in having a kind, helpful better half and a useful family who were involved with my children from day one. This along with trusting my instinct as a mother has made me feel confident and competent as a mother. This changed when I had my littlelest one. At birth he suffered from and which required physiotherapy and at a week old he developed jaundice. This meant that both of us had to stay in hospital longer than usual. I’m not sure if this contributed or whether it was just hormones, but within a few weeks of bringing the baby home, I felt utterly, totally miserable.

I found it almost impossible to get up each morning and face the day. The task of changing, feeding and playing with my children seemed Herculean. The thought of getting up tortured me, and I often lay and though about why the ground wouldn’t open up and swallow me to put me out of my misery. The thought of finding a dark corner where no-one could find me felt like bliss. I found that the mood lifted a little as the day progressed, but didn’t dissipate entirely. I have since read that this is sometimes a sign of post-natal depression – the improvement of mood during the day.

I studies psychology at university and one of the things I remember, when learning about depression, is thinking – “Why don’t people just get help – drugs, therapy, whatever and stop being so miserable?” I realised then that, depression is not just sadness or feeling down, these are normal feelings. Depression is the feeling that you just cannot do anything, a very powerful feeling of disinclination towards activity of any kind and a sense that there is no point in anything.

I look back now and think of what got me through. Family and friends, even my beloved, were at a loss, except eventually suggesting I might want to see a Doctor – it seemed odd when the person who tasked themselves with creating fun and bringing the family together, now bored everyone with her inexplicable misery. One person stood out though – Gorgeous. I have never come across such a happy baby. Mash’allah for the whole four months I was down, I hardly ever heard him cry. Whenever I was at my lowest, his sweet giggling would bring me back a little.

As the feeling of depression lifted, Gorgeous became more spirited and I truly felt, that Allah had made taking care of this baby easy for me when things were difficult. As I write this he is refusing to leave my lap and insisting on shutting the computer down and pour milk on the keyboard, and I just can’t feel cross at him.