Saturday 31 May 2008

Mince Kebabs

My mum’s mince kebabs are well-known amongst friends and family, people can’t get enough of them. I had a go at these last night and they were easy to make and tasted scrummy. To make them even easier I peel and quarter the onions and top the chilli’s and give them to the butcher to put through the mincing machine with the mince. These are traditionally shallow fried, but we have been cooking them on the grill and they come out softer and are much healthier as any fat drips out. This recipe makes about 40 kebabs.

1 kilo Mince
2 medium onions minced
6 green bullet chilli’s minced (can substitute for preferred chilli or reduce for less heat)
5 tablespoons gram flour (to bind the mixture)
1 heaped tablespoon salt
1 heaped tablespoon chana masala (if available)
1teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon chilli powder

Mix all of the ingredients in a bowl with hands.
Take small chunks and roll into a ball, then flatten into a burger shape.
Cook on a grill at low/medium heat till both sides are deep brown.
(It’s usually a good idea to check one to see if it’s cooked through before taking them all off and putting the next batch on).

These are great between a bap as a spicy burger, with curry and chappati or nan bread, in a sandwich or on their own with tomato ketchup or chutney. I cooked half of the batch and froze the other half in the freezer for later in the week.

Dinner at Mum's

We had dinner at my Mum's today after a very long time. Her cooking is truly soul food for me as it satisfies in a way that no other food ever has alhamdulillah.

Had pilau rice with lamb, thick creamy chicken curry, lamb curry with potatoes, roast tandoori chicken, mince kebabs, fresh salad and okra curry. Desert was slow-cooked rice pudding. We were happy, she was exhausted.

Friday 30 May 2008

Judging Non-Muslim Women

When we talk about the rights and respect Islam gives to women and the benefits of hijab, some sisters and brothers will sometimes compare our lot with that of non-Muslim women, whether Western or not. Oftentimes I have heard a note of disdain and disrespect creeping in to these discussions. Non-Muslim women are deemed to be fettered by the sexual demands of men and considered lacking in morals and self-respect.

We have to be careful with where this thinking leads us. We must all have met women who are not Muslim but are still modest in behaviour and dress, kind and of good character, I know I have. Then there are those who like to dress in clothes that make them look and feel attractive but are still good, kind-natured people who would never hurt another person.

What we forget sometimes when we rush to judge, especially born-Muslims, is the amount of protection we often have had. I was born in a large family and had my uncles, parents and grandparents to watch out for me. As a teenager I had my brother and dad, now I have my brave beloved and my brother-in-law as well as the rest. It is easy for someone like me to sit in my home, safe and secure alhamdulillah and pass judgment on the behaviour of others. The events that got me thinking this way were the serial murders of the five women in Ipswich in 2006. They had all worked as prostitutes, mostly to feed drug habits. As news came in of each murder, there were pictures of them as children and the sordid details of their descent to the street: care hostels, run-ways, homelessness, the loss of their children to social services.

They were all someone’s child. Their parents must have had the highest hopes for them and they were dashed in the cruelest way. Must they have been that much different from the hopes I have for Little Lady?

I don’t mean to digress, the point is sometimes as Muslim’s we sit in our comfortable lives, sure of our deen and quick to judge others without thinking about the fact that they are not that different to us. Sometimes they have fallen into the path that they have because they have not had the protection, safety and ease that we have had. I was born into a Muslim family with all of the benefits that brought for me. If someone doesn’t follow my faith how can I look down on them as they didn’t have that advantage.

The issues that women face of poverty, discrimination, misogyny and exploitation affect both Muslim and non-Muslim women. I would have thought the humane thing to do would be to have sympathy for one and another and also provide help and support where possible.

We can look at all other women as sisters who we wish better for, or the deficient "other", devoid of faith. I don’t think that the second mode of thinking benefits anyone at all. Reaching out is always better than cutting off, especially if we are to fulfill our duty of encouraging good and discouraging what is bad and stepping forward to act when we see something wrong. If you judge a person even before you speak to them, they will know it and not take in a word you say.

In the end it all comes down to respect. Even as a Muslim woman who covers, I still believe that a women has the right to remain unmolested and to be respected regardless of what she wears. This is less a reflection of her character and more one of ours. Are you the brother that sees and has contempt, or the one who lowers his gaze and makes dua? Are you the sister who scowls and gives a dirty look or the one who smiles and shows her kindness?Who knows the lady who is dressed sexily today might be the one wearing hijab tomorrow.

Inshallah these words are first and foremost a reminder to myself and for my betterment. If it makes others think, then alhamdulillah.

Blogging with Children.

I while back Brother Abu Sinan re-started his blog. Previously he had shut it down just around the time I discovered it. I vaguely recall him saying that blogging was taking up too much of his time and that he was giving it up to dedicate more of his time to his family (apologies brother if I am getting this wrong).

But the reason he gave stayed with me. Modern life is so busy that many of us can’t give our children, partners and homes the attention we want to sometimes. Being a working mother, sometimes you are doubly conscious of this fact and the time you have available feels very precious.

I have also noticed that the internet can be as much of a time-stealer and distraction as the television if you don’t police yourself.

With this in mind, when I started blogging, I laid down some house-rules for myself. I promised myself that I would not do it in the time that I should be spending with my husband or children (although I am more than happy to write when I should be doing housework). So I write during my lunch hour and sometime in the morning when I get to work. I publish posts when I get home or when the kids have gone to bed, and I check my comments while I have my breakfast and everyone is still asleep.

I’ve noticed the few times that I am on the net when the kids are around me, I don’t pay enough attention to them ("mum, mum, mum, mum, mum" "oh, huh, what, huh honey?"), so I am trying to avoid this.

I suppose the point is about priorities. I blog because I really enjoy it and because I wanted to see if other people share my situation and can guide or advise me. Also I had hoped to present a positive representation to Non-Muslims of a Muslim family. To help reassure people that we are normal human beings just like them (whatever normal means). My time and energy is first and foremost for my husband, children, family, home and community. Somewhere in that list comes some "Me" time and I suppose blogging slots into that.

Also, although I have been posting regularly at the moment I like the "blogging without obligation" idea that says that if you blog only when you want to and feel inspired to, then your blog will retain its integrity and you’ll carry on enjoying it. I think this thinking works great with the prioritising I’ve described above.

Thursday 29 May 2008

Heer Ranjha

You would assume that literature reflects what is going on in a society in any given time. The ballads, epics and legends that emerge mirror the norms and behaviour of society and perhaps also its hopes.

I am starting to realize thought that the way we view a story also changes so that the story isn’t a plain reflection anymore. Instead our reaction to the story varies with the zeitgeist of the times.

What made me think this is the folk tale of Heer Ranjha, the most famous of the romantic tragedies of Punjab. Immortalised in Waris Shah’s famous poem, the tragedy of Heer Ranjha has been told time and again as a celebration of love. One of my great uncles memorized Waris Shah’s version and it is regularly recited or sung at festivals and competitions. There is a great deal of affection for this poem amongst lovers of Punjabi language and culture as it celebrates both in a country where Punjabi is often looked down in favour of the more genteel Urdu. The tragic Heer herself is celebrated as the archetypal heroine: loyal, brave and beautiful with her big eyes, straight nose, full lips and dark skin. Her uncle Kaido, who poisons her at the end, is the classic villain seen again and again in later stories and films.

The strange thing is, not long ago I heard a cousin of mine in Rawalpindi talking about how he thought Kaido was in the right. That Heer and Ranjha’s behaviour was lewd and amoral and that Kaido’s concern had been with the honour of his family (a moot point, because at the end Heer’s family agree to the marriage – and does’t this thinking condone honour killing?) This was similar to something I had heard on Urdu television on a discussion about the love-story.

Usually it’s our old people who are strict and the youngsters who fight against their restrictions. But this change in thinking reflected to me a change in religious conservatism. Our older generation had more involvement with the sufiana side of Islam. Faith and its practice was generally a private thing. They often accuse the youngsters of becoming "Wahhabi’s" for disagreeing with many of their rituals and customs.

I agree with many of the things that the youth are objecting to: the unquestioning and often uneducated reliance on shrines and pirs (saints) and the superstitions and customs borrowed from other faiths.

There is a lesson in the change in our reaction to the story of Heer Ranjha. We scrutinize our faith and reject what we deem to be um-Islamic. In doing so we have to be careful that we don’t reject our culture wholesale too. Islam does not tell us we cannot enjoy our language, our stories and poems, our dress, food and celebrations as long as they don’t contravene the guidance of Islam. When we are old and set in our ways sometimes we are not willing to see something wrong and change it. However when we are young sometimes we don’t see the depth of a matter. Waris Shah’s Heer is a love story, but on a deeper level it talks about the love of God. The message of Allah’s love for us is conveyed much more beautifully to a people who were once illiterate in the main and would have had no time for a lecturing mullah, but had all the time in the world for a well-told tale. I can relate entirely to that.

P.s. maybe thats whats called serendiptiy, but I visited the library half way through writing this and found a translation of "Laila Majnun" the great Persian love tragedy. I'm not really a fan of romances, but this looks interesting. Will have ago at reviewing when I am done.

First Sleep-over.

Little Lady had her first sleep-over yesterday at my Aunty’s house. All the kids are on holiday and both Little Lady and my little cousin have been using their pester-power to get us to dial each other’s numbers so they could invite each other over. In the end my Aunt took pity and asked Little Lady if she wanted to stay, she was off like a shot and now my house feels empty.

Daughters are the laughter and chatter and joy of a house (sons are its chaos and mischief and mini bulldozers). Yesterday evening I was home with my husband, sons and brother-in-law and though I had a lovely evening chatting away with Little Man who got centre stage for a change, something felt amiss. I called my Aunt’s house to check up on Little Lady and tell her to go to bed now and she said she would when she finished watching TV. I told her I missed her, she said "OK, talk to T (cousin) now, I’m busy"

Wednesday 28 May 2008

Children and Enriched Environment

I sometimes worry that I do not do enough with my children, especially as I work full-time, I am sure I am not the only one. I usually manage to fit in an Arabic lesson, a bedtime story, some play time and lots of "talk time" discussing everything under the sun with them whilst I am in the kitchen cooking. Aside from that we visit friends and family on the weekend and sometimes the countryside. Hubby tries to take them to the park most days that it isn’t raining and sometime they’ll wait till I’m home so that we can all go.

What I did miss out, partly because of lack of time and partly because we’d lose interest in it, was any kind of conscious learning such as practicing numbers and letters.
Something that made me feel much better though was coming across Maria Montessori’s philosophy of enriched environment. Montessori believed that children do not have to be "taught" but are born with an innate craving to learn and gather information from their environment. The key for her was to create an enriched environment which would stimulate the child and also give them the tools to satisfy their curiosity.

I realized that over time, our family area has become that environment to a certain extent. I have picked up good quality books and toys cheaply (second-hand) and my craft supplies and drawing and art stuff are stored in the same room. So there are always toys for them to use in their make believe and books for them to look at and think about. For a change or when I need to keep them occupied their box of chunky beads gets brought out or I let them have my glue and spare bits of paper and bits and bobs that I won’t be using for my cards (postcards, old cards, magazine or catalogue cut-outs, bits saved from old jewellery, toys and gift packaging). They think this is absolute treat because mum’s letting them have a go with her stuff. Little Lady sometimes is allowed to have my craft scissors and scrap paper to see what she can come up with.

A level of interest is added to our home by the odd gifts my husband temporarily brings home from his removal job: a green recliner that rocks and swings around like a fair-ride, a children’s toy kitchen that the kids kept hiding food to rot in, a giant beanbag that took up nearly the whole room, a collection of old gift bags that we could cut up etc.

Charlotte Mason also talked about the quality of the tools used when educating children. First and foremost she mentioned nature with its numerous benefits for children (see 2. here). She also advocated the use of classic literature, poetry and fine art as opposed to "dumbed down" books (I try to keep an eye out for old discarded books from the 1920’s onwards as they have a great feel to them although I would vet them first).

I think you don’t have to be rich to give your children an enriched environment with the best educational toys and the best books. I think the key is creativity: finding a bargain, using what you have, being resourceful when your purse can just about manage the basics, as is the case for many young families. I think if you have that creative spark in your thinking (even if you are not artistic) it is something that your children will pick up. If they have the creativity and resourcefulness within them, then you would hope that they could deal with any situation no matter what the difficulty or resources to hand insh’Allah.

Little Lady's scrapbook

"Fathers and mothers have lost the idea that the highest aspiration they might have for their children is for them to be wise . . . specialized competence and success are all that they can imagine." ~ Allan Bloom

"I hear, and I forget. I see, and I remember. I do, and I understand."
-- Chinese Proverb

"Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire."
-- W. B. Yeats

Tuesday 27 May 2008

Our Languages of Love

As someone who loves to write and to read, a love of language and words seems to fit naturally. My family is of Punjabi origin, hailing from Jhelum, and therefore speaks a Patwari dialect of Punjabi. Growing up I spoke this with my mother and grandparents, this was the language they scolded us with (dangar!! – animals!) and loved us in (rani thi – princess child). The dialect they used is exactly the one they brought with them from Pakistan forty years ago. This being the case, they have passed it on to me and my brother and sisters in its preserved form. We had guests recently from Pakistan who could not get over my and Little Lady’s Patwari. Their own children had moved to the cities and only spoke Urdu and their own Patwari was somewhat diluted. Our Patwari had been picked up in a vacuum of sorts and not evolved. They couldn’t believe that we had been born in England and spoke like their old people. For me this has become the language of motherhood, family past and the stories of our elders.

At the same time, my dad and uncles spoke to us in English, the language of our schooling and our favourite kids TV (the era of the A-Team, Punky Brewster and the Smurfs). This became our dominant language, the one we used to engage with the world, to learn and to dream about the future in. This is also the language I love for opening the doors to the wide world through its literature.

My better half is from Lahore and in contrast to our gentle Patwari, speaks the traditional Punjabi spoken in central Pakistan and Indian Punjab. To me this is a purer and more assertive Punjabi, passionate, bawdy and blunt; the language of Lahore’s wide-boys and sassy girls. Funnily enough, it reminds me of cockney English (one of my brother-in-laws’ friends saw me and asked who I was, he said "My brothers old lady" – I was 20!). When I try to speak it I can hear myself getting louder.

As a teenager my dad taught me to read and write some Urdu, I also overdosed on Indian films and so became fluent in speaking Urdu, the national language of Pakistan spoken by the "educated" people. People are surprised by my Urdu as an English person and praise my dad at his good teaching. I avoid owning up to the fact that the films taught me a lot more.

Because of our different dialects of Punjabi and because of our nerves as newly-weds, we ended up speaking Urdu which feels more formal than Punjabi. Urdu is a very polite language, even arguments are lined with convoluted equivalents of "kind sir" and "pray explain". It is also the language of romance and poetry. My husband is the corniest man ever and so I love his terrible flattery and bad couplets. When I speak this, I can feel myself becoming haughtier and I can hear my voice getting softer.

They say that a person’s true language emerges when they are angry. My aunty lives in Karachi where everyone speaks Urdu, everyone thought her a native Karachi-ite until one day she lost her temper at her son and picked up her shoe to chase him around their apartment. The neighbour’s were shocked to hear all manner of Punjabi swear words exploding off the walls.

For myself, I call upon the words to suit the situation: English at work and with my sisters, Urdu with my husband and guests and Punjabi with my mum and gran. I have often thought that Punjabi is the language of my heart and English of my head. My truest expression of feeling or deepest communication is achieved with a mixture of all three. There are words in one: serendipity, ji ayan noo (a very sweet Punjabi greeting), kaash (a longing for something in Urdu) which don’t exist in another. The problem was that I was the only one who spoke this mix of the people I knew. My sisters don’t speak good Urdu and English is not my husband’s strongest language. Not long ago though I found another speaker of this language of my heart – a certain Little Lady. My daughter speaks Patwari Punjabi with my mum, Urdu with my husband and English with my sisters. And so I can speak to my own rani thi in a language that can truly convey what I want to say.

Sunday 25 May 2008

An Organised Muslim Home

One thing about being a working mother and a Muslim mother is that there is always plenty to do. First and foremost is the time that we have to devote to Allah, at the very least our Regular prayers. Then there is the duty to our children our partners and our community. On top of this there are the hours blocked out and dedicated to the work we have to or choose to do.
All of these things leave us in a position to be exhausted, confused, harassed or…exhilarated by the intensity of our lives? For me the difference between rushing and fruitfulness is having a routine and being organized.

We are helped in maintaining routine by the cycle of our prayers: dawn, afternoon, late afternoon, evening and night and part of our day is often blocked out by our working hours. The rest of our work and duties are then woven around these milestones of our day. So in my home the evening meal isn’t at 7pm, but after Maghrib in winter and before in summer. Our evening walk isn’t at 9pm, but after Maghrib in summer and after Esha in winter. It’s a simple, natural, more flexible cycle.

The trick for me is to slot in all the big things and stick to the timing for them. Internet and herbal tea before work. Cuddles with the kids and catch-up with the better half as soon as I get home from work. Arabic with Little Lady before prayer and mealtime. Playtime for the kids and internet-time for me. Followed by the all-important bed-time routine for the kids and prayer and walk time for the grown-ups. Key for me is the absence of exact timings. There is nothing that induces an adrenaline-rush in me quicker than trying to race against the clock. This is fine for work or an exam, but not where children are involved. Children need to go at their own pace, and the only way to get them to do things promptly and in good time is not to hurry them, but to incorporate things into the routine of the family so that they do it as habit.

The other part of staying calm in the face of all we have to do is by being organized. I am rubbish with housework (poor hubby often ends up doing more than his share of scrubbing) but I try to have different days for different tasks. Some are influenced externally; so if the bin men come on Friday morning, then all of the bins and recycling are put out Thursday night and the kitchen, fridge and garden are cleared out Thursday too. Other tasks are by routine; Saturday for chores and visiting, Sundays for gardening. In our home it’s important that we try and do as much as we can through the week, so we can enjoy the precious time we have together at the weekend and allow ourselves to be refreshed.

My mum has also had a weekly menu for years, so for any given day of the week you know what will be cooked in that house (Monday is lentil night, so all the kids know to get take-away, Fridays is chickpea curry and kebabs so that’s my fave day to visit, Saturday is rice and chicken so it feels like there is a celebration going on). All of this means, she can shop according to what she needs for the week (or even the month) and never has to think about what she will cook.
I also try to make sure that there is a place for everything. When Little Lady came along, we child-proofed our home (no candles, ornaments, cleaning products, make-up or bitty things below four feet), it’s still that way and will remain so until our youngest is much bigger. This in itself makes for less work (i.e. less picking up, less breakages and less worry about what the kids will get their hands on), but what helps the most is just having a fixed place for everything. This makes it harder to lose stuff and easier to tidy up. So at the end of the day all of the kid’s toys get thrown in two boxes, their books onto two shelves. Their coats go into the pram.

Finally, the thing that helps me the most is being prepared. My work clothes and bag and Little Lady’s uniform, bag, lunch money and water bottle are ready the night before. The nappy bag stays packed and sits by the pram and car seats and the baby bottles get washed at night.

Saturday 24 May 2008

Bank Holiday Weekend Clean Up

I woke up this morning with the intention to enjoy this bank holiday weekend and do some of the things I enjoy (visit mum, watch Dr Who on her TV, go to market, blog, garden, play with the kids, read something totally unworthy but fun, make something with the green beads I picked out).

Instead, by the time I got back from Chigwell Rise Boot Sale and the dentist, I was a mess, the kids were in various stages of dress (thanks to their dad) and the house was a tip. So I decided to engage in some domestic therapy. I've spent nearly the whole day cleraing up the store cupborads, my closets, the spare room (and the left over junk from various guests) and the kids toy shelves.

At the end of that I was pooped, thirsty, hungry but felt much more peaceful knowing where everything was and that extra stuff was ready to go to either a charity shop, relatives in pakistan or a boot sale stall of our own later in the year. Now I'm off to my good friends house as she's invited me to try her Sindhi Biryani, will take a box of mango's (the first Pakistani ones are turning up) as the two seem just right together.

Chigwell Row

We managed to visit Chigwell Rise boot sale this morning. I only had an hour to browse because I had to get back home for a dentist appointment , but managed to find a few things. Only saw a small chunk of the market which was enormous because of the nice weather.

Managed to pick upa few craft supplies and two very good books for £1 (the Childrens Encyclopedia is by Dotrling Kindersley who is a favourite of mine, their illustrations and quality just stand out).

Green is my favourite colour and the shades in the ink-pad just make my heart sing. I have a few of these in different colours now, but not sure how to use them, will have to experiment.

I was all out of gift bags, so this batch for £2 will come in useful. there are a couple of new baby ones (which always get used) and the rest will come in useful next Eid (good thing about gift bags is that they need minimum storage space). At £2-£3 each for nice ones, I don't think I would buy them new. I especially love the green and pink one with the diamante buckle on the right. I think I'll save that one for someone special.

This came in a little back-pack and cost £2. When I opened it, it just unpacked itself. The kids were delirious. Only thing is, I can't get it back in the bag now.

Friday 23 May 2008

Cooking and Dhikr

I heard an interesting story from my husband (who knows I am a sucker for a good story), who in turn heard the story during a Ramadan talk at his masjid. It involved one of the imam’s hifz (Quran memorization) student’s who spent months and months learning and still had not memorized one chapter. Eventually the imam complained to the boy’s mother that he was making no headway. He asked her questions about TV habits, the parent’s religiousness and how often the boy practiced what he learnt at home. Then he asked a seemingly irrelevant question: do you eat out often? The mother confirmed that yes they did. The Imam asked her to try and get the boy to eat more home-cooked food. She did her best to implement the change and the Imam found that the boy started picking up his lessons much better.

The Imam giving the talk indicated why he thought this was. When a Muslim mother cooks she does so with care and concern for her children. Often she engages in Dhikr (remembrance of Allah) whilst she prepares a meal, many time she will be in a state of wudhu (ablutions) and have read her Salaah (prayer) or be preparing to. In any case her Dhikr and concern influence her children through the food she cooks for them. The food from the restaurant would not benefit from this. Even where the cook is Muslim, there is no guarantee that he prays Salaah. Even if he prays regularly, he will not have the level of concern for the one eating the meal that the mother would have.

I am not sure how true this story is, but something in it resonated with me. Think of the care we put into the preparation of food. We begin with Bismillah al rahman al rahim (In the name of Allah, the most Merciful, the most Beneficent) and pick each ingredient for its quality and benefit. We take care that everything is clean. We make sure there is nothing that will cause allergy or illness. We avoid the things that our families dislike (often even when we like them) and try to use the things that the beloved Prophet (SAWS) used or liked.

Subhan’Allah, this isn’t cooking, it’s ibadah (worship). Allah’s greatness and beauty is such that when we do it for him, a simple act becomes Dhikr in the beautiful hands of a mother.

"If there is any dispute between two persons and one of them repeats this Name [Al-Wadud] 1,000 times over some food and gives it to the other to eat, the disagreement and unpleasantness between them will come to an end." ~ Nintey Nine Names of Allah by M. I. Siddiqi.

Thursday 22 May 2008

Day Dreaming

I seem to be getting worse not better. I can’t take a walk without forming a scenario in my head and I don’t take in anything around me as I walk along. As soon as I have a lie-down I am somewhere else. Half of my meals get burnt because I forget I am in the kitchen with a pot on the stove and my poor kids now make me to look at them before they say something. My mind zones in and out through important meetings and seminars and I am getting absolutely no work done today because my brain has taken leave. But I have visited Mauritius, the Seychelles, Lahore, Texas and Cambridge and its only 9am. Oh, and maybe hubby thinks I am a bit mysterious (poor mother-in-law thought I was useless because I kept burning the food she left me to watch – "Oh, I thought that might happen again…").
I defo think I should get an Olympic medal for day-dreaming, might just get behind in my work instead though.

Wednesday 21 May 2008

Five Brothers from the Land of Five Rivers

As I looked out from the rooftop of my grandfather’s house, I could see that others from surrounding houses had also climbed up onto their rooftops to watch. We all looked down to the main road and the jeep with the five straight-backed old men sitting in the back facing each other. All dressed in white with waistcoats of grey or brown and with white turbans with crisp starched shamla’s. Solemn, proud, unified.

One of those men was my grandfather, the rest were his brothers. They were gathered to travel to the funeral of a “panchara”, the Punjabi term for a friend and ally on the local Council. They were all in their 90’s, with one approaching 100. People had come out to see the five brothers together, knowing this would likely be the last time.

They were known to be the five fingers of one hand. Watching each other’s backs and fighting each others battles as young men. No-one dared to mess with these brave but harsh brothers, who would watch each other’s homes and land and dare anyone to take them on.

The oldest was Muhammad Sher. A man who spent his whole life drifting along in a dream-like state, a poet who traveled to Jhelum to see Allama Iqbal, Pakistan’s national poet and memorized all of his poems. He fought in Burma for the British and spent years in a jail in Malaysia. On his return he made best friends with my husband’s grandfather and the two became known as the local likely lads. He died aged 104, slipping away as quietly as he lived

Lal Hussain, was the second son, the leader of the pack and my beloved grandfather. His whole life was about struggle. His powerful spirit meant he lived life on a larger scale. He fought in Burma alongside Muhammad Sher and came back decorated (my gran sold his medals to a traveling Pushtun as scrap metal for a handful of dried dates.). He fought against poverty through farming the land, through trade and eventually through migration to Britain. Like his brothers he was trained by his father in the use of the gandhasa (long stick with axe on the end) and never stepped back from a good punch-up including one on Eid day at aged 88). I just remember him as my hot-tempered, loving, generous wada-abba (big-dad). He went back to Pakistan and died sitting at his table aged 92 after a walk round the village he so loved. More than 1000 people attended his funeral. We all pray for him everyday still.

Saudager is the quiet brother, doing his duty, watching the families and homes of those abroad. He spent his life watching his children like a hawk, tilling his land and getting by. If you visit him now, you’ll find him sitting in his yard engaged in an intense game of Ludo playing for all four sides, getting up to change position with each throw of the dice.

Shafi is the fourth brother, the master politician of the family; a petite man with a big intellect. He and Haq Daad were the two that got sent to school, a rarity in those days. He served as a Councillor and people were quick to say that he had the Police in one pocket and the Panchayat (village council) in the other. He’s even littler now and stooped, but still walks with a swift stride despite the stick in his hand, and if you look him in the eye, his sharp intelligence still shines through. He is a successful farmer now living his last days out on the land he loves.

Haq Dad is the youngest, the baby of the family. Best friend of Lal Hussain, he has always been a trader at heart, regularly visiting Peshawar and Quetta. His home has always been full of children, hustle, animals and friends. The ladies have always had an eye for him and he has married three times (two of his wives died) and has thirteen children. Despite his strictness, his children are loyal and love him and have been blessed the most in terms of deen.

The five brothers also had a sister; Rasulan Bhi. A simple old lady that died a few years ago after a life of difficulty, sacrifice, poverty and childlessness. I remember her feeding her chickens used tea leaves. Sad but serene.

The brothers fought the world and sometimes each other, they lived through poverty and separation but let nothing in this world beat them. Despite their arguments and sulks, they stood together in the end. They taught me that the ties of blood are so powerful that they pull you back in the end wherever you are. We call this khoon ki kashish (the attraction of blood). The image of the old men in white sitting in the jeep will forever stay with me.

Allah Grant them all peace.

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

Why did I start crying when I wrote this? Why do I still have tears in my eyes?


Mr Removal Man aka Better Half has been bringing us more gifts recently. He recently did a house move for a lady who had an enormous leather recliner that she couldn’t get into her flat so let my husband have it. We stashed it in the back room and were using it is a playground ride (it swings round in a circle and rocks), for hubby to nap on and to plonk the baby on when he wouldn’t let go of our legs.

We put it up for sale for £60 and sold it to a man for £30 who wanted it for his sick mother to rest on.

He was given a new mattress, a double bed and a pair of leather sofa’s which he is flogging. Thankfully one of his friends is allowing him to use his garage so we have managed to get some of this stuff out of the house, although we still have two dozen children’s chairs in the garden and various other things jammed into the cupboard under the cellar (I think everything but the ladder in the pic was free).

I could complain about the mess, but its kind of fun, you never know what he is going to come home with and a lot of it has come in useful. A lot of it has also gone to friends and family – washing machines, cupboards, fittings and fixtures, sofa’s and other furniture, proving that one mans rubbish really can be another’s treasure.

Now I just have to make time to take pictures of it all and start sticking it on gumtree as quick as he’s carting it in.

Tuesday 20 May 2008

Allah’s Abundance and Mankind’s Wastefulness

I recently heard a seminar for Muslim Teachers on Islam Channel and was interested to note that the speaker raised the theme of abundance mentality. This is where we have two ways of looking at the world in terms of resources. One is the scarcity viewpoint that says that there is only so much of anything to go round; a finite number of jobs, wealth, property - or anything else for that matter. A person espousing this way of thinking keeps their cards close to their chest. If there is a job interview, they won’t tell anyone, if there is a bargain to be had, they won’t pass the information on until they have had their fill. They are loathe to pass on opportunities and they can’t compromise their own advantage for the benefit of others. People who think this way justify it by putting it down to survival.

Then there are those who think there is plenty in this world for everyone. That there is no shortcoming in what Allah provides for us. These are people who may be applying for a job but tell others who are looking for work too so that they can have a go. They pass on every opportunity and bargain, confident in the knowledge that there are plenty of jobs, resources, chances and prizes out there and that if they hope for abundance for others, they can expect it themselves too. This can be a relief when you are used to the feeling that you have to compete and fight for everything and the anxiety that goes with believing that there is not enough to go around.

Critics would point to food shortages and the way endangered animal species and big business are competing for land in many parts of the world. I would ask them to look back to the way we waste so much of what we have. WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) states that an estimated 6.7 million tonnes of household food waste is produced each year in the UK, most of which could have been eaten.

My high school humanities teachers told me a story about a visit to South of France. He walked past an orchard of the most beautiful golden delicious apples, ripe and ready to be picked and stopped to have a look. He walked past the same spot the next day and all of the apples had been sprayed purple so that they could not be picked or eaten. I think this is called keeping the supply limited so that prices can be kept up.

“O you who believe, partake of the good things We have provided for you as sustenance (rizq) and give thanks to Allah, if it is truly Him that you worship.” ~ Qur'an 2:172

“And when the prayer is ended, then disperse in the land and seek of Allah's bounty, and remember Allah much, that you may be successful.” ~ Qur'an 62:10

Book Review: Khaled Hosseini - A Thousand Splendid Suns

This is the second, much-awaited novel by the author of The Kite Runner. Longer and covering an even longer span of time in the history of Afghanistan, this book is different in the first instance from The Kite Runner due to the fact that it is written from the viewpoint of women. Where the semi-autobiographic Kite Runner is dominated by its male characters, in contrast this novel carries us through the last 40 years of upheaval in Kabul via Mariam and Laila.

Mariam is the illegitimate daughter of the richest man in Herat and a reclusive epileptic mother who grows up in an isolated valley outside of the city. The loss of her mother means marriage to a much older man and moving to exciting, vibrant Kabul. What follows is the story of the struggles and sacrifices of a woman who buys into the traditional thinking of what an Afgahani woman should endure.

Twenty years later we see the arrival of beautiful, spirited Laila in their lives amongst a backdrop of civil war, loss and poverty. Her entrance awakens Mariam to another way of being and thinking. Although Laila is less submissive and more ambitious than Mariam, the women find each other friends and allies.

The novel takes us through the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, civil war amongst the War Lords and the arrival and departure of the Taliban. Sweeping themes and a worthy history lesson. But the thing that bought this book to life for me was the unlikely detail: the way “Titanic-fever” takes hold of Kabul, the strange terminally ill red-haired Mullah at the end, the description of the Bhumian Bhudda's

One of my few criticisms would be in the creation of Rasheed, Mariam’s husband. Whereas the male characters in Kite Runner were more complex, Rasheed feels a little one-dimensional at times. Although the story is from the point of view of the women, you would still hope to gain insight into why Rasheed behaves in the way that he does. Instead you get a ready-made violent, abusive, slimy husband with the predictable outcome that you can see the walloping coming every time. Perhaps the only redeeming quality of the characterisation of Rasheed is the way his son pines for him.

As with the Kite Runner and Saira Shah’s The Storyteller's Daughter, religious people in this book are generally of the mad, bad Mullah type. The exception is the gentle old Mullah Faizullah who is kind but whose brand of faith (read Quran, have faith, pray etc) is portrayed as ineffectual and not really an answer to anything – Mariam prays and suffers in equal measure.

The book is still an absorbing read though and in the end, what stays with you is the pain of Mariam’s sacrifice. Her choice is haunting and hangs over the rest of the book and over whatever else Laila does. It also stays with you after you have finished this book.

Book Review: Saira Shah – The Storyteller’s Daughter

Book Review: ├ůsne Seierstad - The Bookseller of Kabul

Monday 19 May 2008

Encouraging Creativity

I find that one of the hardest things in my life should be one of the easiest. That is to stop. If I’m not at work, I’m preparing for work. If I’m not at home, I’m planning the time I have with my children and husband. I don’t just go home at the end of the work day, I stop off for groceries we don’t need or something for Little Lady or have a peek in the charity shop to see what books have come in. I don’t just sit and have lunch, I surf the net a little, write a little or catch up on chores or visit the library. When I need to go have a lie down, I take a book or my notebook with me.

I have written before about this incessant need to DO something all of the time. I only write about it again because I find it interesting how in doing so much we end up doing less of what is worth doing and productive. I’m coming to the realization that this mind-set is counterproductive.

I was flicking through a few books on creativity this weekend and I found the same essential message in each – that if we stop and have some down-time the creativity kicks in itself. As Abraham Maslow puts it:

“The key question isn't "What fosters creativity?" But it is why in God's name isn't everyone creative? Where was the human potential lost? How was it crippled? I think therefore a good question might be not why do people create? But why do people not create or innovate? We have got to abandon that sense of amazement in the face of creativity, as if it were a miracle if anybody created anything.”

This indicates that creativity is not only innate, but not so much something that you have to work at as something that is always there if you don’t inhibit it. A good example is in child’s play. We see children exercising their creativity through role-play and imaginary friends. Their ideas, made-up words and questions are endless – and it flows naturally without any prompting or trying too hard. The point is that when we stop doing and rest or play, we give our brain half a chance to process all of the ideas, knowledge, images and thoughts we have been cramming into our head and make some sense of them.

That’s when the idea’s start to flow – things to do with the kids, things that I just have to write about, recipes, an idea for a card or bracelet, a new way to organize something in my home, a new approach to work issues. I just need to make sure I have my trusty little notebook somewhere not too far away.

Sunday 18 May 2008

Tandoori Chicken

I had my favourite Aunty and Uncle and their kids round for dinner so thought I would try this as its fairly easy and the kids love it.


10 chicken legs cut in two(into thigh and leg) to make 20 peices - without skin
Live natural yoghurt (approx 1000g)
4 tablespoon tandoori masala powder/paste of choice (I had all of the ones below so just threw in a spoon of each)
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon sunflower oil

Mix all of the ingredients in a bowl except the sunflower oil and use to marinade the chicken. Line an oven tray with foil and spread the oil all over the foil. Place the marinaded chicken in the tray and leave to sit so that the chicken can soak up the flavour (ideally this can be left overnight in the fridge). Heat the oven to full (gas mark 9 on mine) and leave the chicken to roast for 30 minutes. Remove tray from oven and turn over chicken and pour out any oil/sauce. Place back in oven for further 40 minutes or until cooked through and sauces have dried up. I added potato wedges half half-way through, roast new potatoes are also good.

Sunday Morning at Barleylands Farm

Alhamdulillah I had a lovely Sunday morning spent at Barleylands Farm market in Essex. We go there a couple of Sundays's a year and it is a great chance to give your lungs a treat and get in touch with nature. Oh, and to shop for next to nothing. I bought myself lots of plants, flowers and garden accessories and tomato plants for my mum.

The kids have had a good run around and the fresh air seems to make them extra hungry and extra sleepy. Plus they managed to fill our car up with enough toys to last them all year (Little Man is putting his new keyboard to good use by giving me a headache).

I've got toys too; some craft goodies and some boxes to put them in. I also found some good reads. I'm particularly pleased with the Gerald Durrell book which has all of his books in (I read his My Family and Other Animals as a teen and just loved it). Little Lady got some Charlie and Lola books which I have been keeping an eye out for ages as kids just love them.

I would reccommend anyone to visit, Dunton boot market is also very near by and absolutely enormous, although you have to get there for about 7am to get the real bargains (I think I spent about £20).

Now that we've had dinner the perefct thing to do would be to have a nap and then have ago at a bracelet I have an idea for. But I'm going to get the kids to have a lie down and get into the kitchen as we have guests for dinner alhamdulillah.

Saturday 17 May 2008

Fashion and Misogyny

I have often wondered why so many women convert to Islam and it seems respect, justice, fairness and truth come into the equation. I also think though it is because women love beauty and Islam is beautiful.

A quick look around the Muslim Blogosphere and the Muslims around you would confirm that many of my Muslim sisters love pretty things and there is no shortage of Muslim fashionista’s.
I love fashion, but I don’t love what I see around me described as fashionable. The catwalks all seem to be full of creations touted as high couture and art, but which kick of my BS sensors big time. Why are so many of the biggest fashion houses led by gay men? What could they possibly know about what women want? Perhaps not enough is my answer when I see the amount of clothing on the catwalks and in shops and magazines which is uncomfortable, unflattering, rip-off expensive and sometimes even downright ugly. It leads me to question, do they hate women? These clothes not only don’t cover and protect, often they don’t flatter and make women look foolish. Magazines are full off photos of women that look submissive, child-like, naked and vulnerable. Think of the “heroin chic” look for example. There is a complete absence of the best facets of femininity – strength, energy, dignity, the curves of a mother, the radiance of an older woman.

When I look at the exceptions to the male-dominated fashion industry such as Donna Karan, Diane Von Furstenberg and Missoni I find some compensation. I see less impossible shoes and pointless ball gowns and more functional, wearable work clothes. I strongly believe that fashion should be a celebration of femininity, individualism, comfort, colour, creativity and ease of movement. What also gives it an extra edge for me is where it explores different cultures and traditions, helping to link what our grandmothers wore and loved to what our children will treasure.

Fashion should also be accessible, being a mother, older than 30 (or 90), being bigger than a size8 should not mean that you are relegated to the BHS granny-cardies section. The only way that this can happen is for women to be more involved in the process, to design and create more of what they like and to vote with their purses for fairly-priced clothes that make you feel GOOD.

This is something I love about my fashionista sisters. They take the best bits of what is out there, make them modest, add their own twists and create something unique and beautiful that’s inspires others. My favourites include:

Kima at We Love Hijab
Alixianna at Beautiful Muslimah
Hayah at Hijab Style

Naeema at The Covered Lady
Samah at Islamic Fashion

Habayeb Hijabi Fashionova
at Hegab Rehab

“O Children of Adam! We have bestowed raiment upon you to cover yourselves (screen your private parts, etc.) and as an adornment, and the raiment of righteousness, that is better.” ~ Al-Quran 7:26

Narrated 'Abd-Allah ibn Mas'ood: the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “No one will enter Paradise who has an atom’s-weight of pride in his heart.” A man said, “What if a man likes his clothes to look good and his shoes to look good?” He said, “Allah is beautiful and loves beauty. Pride means denying the truth and looking down on people.” (Muslim 131)

And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except that which is displayed of itself; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands' fathers, their sons, their husbands' sons, their brothers, or their brothers' sons, or their sisters' sons, or their women, or the slaves, whom their right hands possess, or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. And O ye Believers! Turn ye all together towards Allah that ye may attain Bliss. ~ Al-Quran 24:31

Narrated by Aisha, Ummul Mu'minin: Asma, daughter of AbuBakr, entered upon the Messenger of Allah (SAWS) wearing thin clothes. The Messenger of Allah (saws) turned his attention from her and said: ‘O Asma, when a woman reaches the age of menstruation, it does not suit her that she displays her parts of body except this and this’, and he (SAWS) pointed to her face and hands. (Abu-Dawood 4092)