Wednesday 25 June 2008


I was rushing through my evening as usual, when Little Lady and Little Man asked to pick strawberries. I'm amazed how much joy they got from something as simple as picking strawberries, helping wash and prepare them and then gobble them down. Our patch is so little that we get three or four red ones a day (which Little Man harvests), but as we hadn't had a look in a couple of days, lots had accumulated. Straight off the plant, the smell was so intense and they must have tasted great - I say must because the kids gobbled them down before I got anywhere near.

The lovely Umm Habibati has a great way of preparing them here which I will defo be trying.

Mum's Garden

My mum loves gardening and she loves beautiful things, so her garden is full of flowers, visitors always love a stroll and you can see kids itching to pick handfuls. Her garden is a kind of sanctuary for me - clean, organised and peaceful, overlooked by the kitchen where mum cooks the most gorgeous food. We bought the swing for her one Mother's Day and she adores sitting on it with my little ones.

Scatty Mama

I rarely get stressed, especially never about work. What happen happens right? I love everything to be orderly and in its place. I can think straight when my desk is straight and my craft materials are in order. I know what to cook and what chores need doing when the house is in order.

Funny how things turn out then. My better half is almost my diametric opposite. My attempts to get him to organise his diary, his accounts, his wardrobe, his life have gotten nowhere and that’s saying something considering I usually get my way. It’s just the way he is and I accepted that a long time ago with a resolve not to nag him about it.

This disorganised side to him also has its good points – he can be very spontaneous. If I want to go somewhere I want to pack food, stuff for the kids, make sure I am dressed exactly right and have all eventualities covered. He’ll just get us all in the car with the plan to see what unfolds. This being the case, I have been planning for a year for my trip to Pakistan in December. Better half has announced that he is booking tickets for us to go to Pakistan for his brothers wedding …NEXT WEEK!!!. No ticket’s, no leave booked from work, no time allowed off school for Little Lady. My first reaction is to absolutely PANIC. My next is okay, if you can arrange it, we’ll go. To compound things, we applied for the baby’s passport ages ago and it still hasn’t turned up, so if it comes we go, if it doesn’t we can’t (our calls to the passport office have been to no avail). It’s one of this situation’s that makes you resigned to fate and just wakes you up to the fact that everything isn’t always under your control, that you can’t organise, straighten and put everything in boxes.

This coupled with the first time I have ever lost control at work (I have never been faced with such volume of work before) and my house being half way through building work (we packed everything up, then decided we couldn’t afford both Pakistan and building work so stopped – plus the builders went AWOL in true builder fashion).

I keep feeling like I am at the edge of a scream, the constant thinking about passports, travel, packing, weddings, home and work is making my brain overload to the point it trips out if I think too hard. The only thing keeping me sane at the moment is the thought that none of this is in our hands. That what Allah (SWT) wills, will happen and that Allah loves sabr (patience). So I am trying my best to let go and go with the flow of things, to see what Allah plans for me and where the journey will take me.

Monday 23 June 2008

Everyday Dhikr

"Remember Me and I will remember you." ~ Al-Quran 2:152]

"Those men and women who engage much in Allah's praise. For them has Allah prepared forgiveness and a great reward." ~ Al-Quran 33:35

In what I have learnt of my faith so far, one of the thing that seems most precious to Allah seems to be Dhikr, or remembrance. When we think of Dhikr, we think of people in seclusion, sitting up through the night remembering Allah and reflecting on his greatness. I love this thought, but as a busy mother the reality is far from it. I am mortified by the thought that I might meet my maker tomorrow and then sorely regret the fact that I spent all my time being busy instead of remembering my Rabb.

"O ye who believe let not your riches or your children divert you from the Remembrance of Allah if any act thus, the loss is their own." (63:9)

My response to this has been to make dhikr a part of my everyday life. This sounds very virtuous, but I can be very absent-minded and lapse from dhikr into day-dreaming astagfirullah unless I work hard to be present. A lady once told me that making dhikr whilst cleaning your home is equal to cleaning the Kaabah, I don’t know the source of this, but the thought is nice. I also try to walk part of the way to work in the morning, so in good-old working mother multi-tasking fashion I try to do my dhikr at the same time.

What has also helped me is another woman’ advice to learn the small everyday prayers. The book I use is called Fortress of the Muslim, a small pocket book with dua’s (supplications) for every occasion. I tried to remember the ones pertinent to being a mum, such as the one for drinking milk, or bed time – you’ll find that if you get the children to repeat them, they will pick them up quicker than you. Then there are the prayers for waking, eating, looking in the mirror, for when it rains, going to the bathroom and visiting the ill just to name a few. Before long it becomes second-nature (insh’Allah) to make some small dhikr before every act and in doing so we become aware of the presence of Allah in our lives which leads us away from what displeases Allah insh’Allah.

As well as all the supplications is the recitation of Bismillah al-rahman al-rahim (In the name of Allah, the most Merciful, the most Beneficent) which every one of us knows. When I do not know the dua for something, I turn to these seemingly-small and simple words, which are so immense in stature as to turn our everyday actions into worship. Our small necessary acts become dhikr and we too can hope that when we meet our makers our scale will weigh a little heavier with words that pleased Allah (SWT) so much.

"Truly Allah leaves to stray whom He will, but He guides to Himself those who turn to Him in penitence -- Those who believe, and whose hearts find satisfaction in the remembrance of Allah, for without doubt in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find satisfaction. [Qur'an 13:27-28]

Abu Huraira (RA) narrates that the Prophet (PBUH) said Allah, the Exalted and Glorious, stated: "As my servant thinks about Me so will I be for him. I am with him if he will remember Me. If he calls on Me by himself I will call him by Myself, and if he calls on Me in a group of people, I mention him in a better group in My presence. If he approaches Me one handspan, I will approach him one arm's length; if he approaches Me one arm's length, I will approach him by a cubit; if he comes to Me walking, I will come to him running." [Bukhari and Muslim]
Abu Hurairah (RA) reported:The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said,"He who recites in the morning and in the evening the statement:'Subhan-Allahi wa bihamdihi' (Allah is free from imperfection and I begin with praising Him) one hundred times, will not be surpassed on the Day of Resurrection by anyone with better deeds than one who utters the same words or utters more of these words.'' [Muslim].

Saturday 21 June 2008

Jewellery Inspiration

About two weeks ago I visited Barleylands farm market again and get my hands on an enormous haul of beads, boxes and wire for £5 from an old lady (I felt like I was robbing her as it was and she kept giving me more things for free). I spent last Saturday and this Saturday sorting them out. Previously, I had lots of ideas and a very random mix of beads.

Now I had lots of beads and I didn't know where to start. As better half has decided to go wholesale with the building work and try and half demolish our house, my stuff was all packed up so I didn't have anywhere to work.

I packed my stuff into my book bag and went over to my mums. All of us sisters adore my mum's taste in clothing and she loves her jewel-like colours, so I thought I'd have a look at her suits for some inspiration. Her wardrobe inspired me to crack in to the pretty crystal beads I had been saving.

In between trying to stop Gorgeous eating the beads and flinging them across the room in a fit of temper, I made Little Lady the anklet and bracelet that she has been pestering me for. She promised to look after them and then promptly misplaced her bracelet.

Little Ladies bracelet inspired me to make the anklet I promised one of my work colleagues but couldn't get up the nerve to make, I couldn't get a clear picture (need to get a proper camera), but I used large white and thin saucer-shaped hot pink and purple swarovski-type crystals. I used silver tibetan spaces in between to give it some weight and make it a bit less childish looking. I hope she likes it.

Now I've got a few more ideas, but not much time to make them. I think once the work on the house is complete, I will try and make myself a nice little craft corner something like this one which is just lovely.

Friday 20 June 2008

A Deeper Beauty

Had another one of those light-bulb moments today in the middle of one of the most frantic work days I’ve had this year. Half way through answering non-stop phones, visitors turning up, running down to the local high street where our team was running a recycling awareness event to drop off tables, stationary, goody bags and giant green wheelie bins (which I had to drag over there one by one because the porters took one look and went AWOL) I was called to reception to speak to a member of the public. It was an elderly disabled gentleman with his disabled son who wanted to see someone from the Mayor’s office. The issue was just a parking fine, we deal with so many serious issues every day that it didn’t feel important, yet this man sat next to me and cried over a parking ticket. He explained that he was 86 and had arthritis, his wife had arthritis and was losing her sight and that he had been passed round various offices all day. He didn’t have the money for this fine, (which it turns out was wrongly charged by an overzealous jobs-worth) and the anxiety was making he and his wife ill. I took details of his problem and promised to do what I could.

I then rushed out to pray my zoher late as usual. I came back to my desk calmer than I’d been all day to start work on his enquiry. Maybe because I was in a different state of mind I could look at this gentleman’s predicament differently. He had apologised for crying, saying that when he was young things didn’t bother him, but now everything made him so unbearably anxious. He was young once, he had the same carefree attitude that young people are blessed with. Where had he ended up? Ill, disabled, poor and feeling helpless. So many of my whinges felt insignificant at that moment and I am glad they still do. I have been sulking because I have to wear glasses again after ten years, I felt like a plain teenager again. But this man didn’t care how I looked, he was grateful because someone had listened. I’ve been annoyed because my husband wants to go to Pakistan for his brothers wedding – everyone would be in their brightest, loudest best and I’ll be in a plain old abaya, because I can’t afford the fashionable ones.

In that moment after my meeting with this man, then with Allah (SWT) and after a little reflection, I realised that the way I looked and my hang-ups about it just did not matter. People will not love me for the way I look but they will love me if I shower my love and affection on them, if I serve and comfort them, if I am sincere and caring in my dealings with them. My better half won’t love me more if I wear more make-up and trendier clothes but he will if I hold his hand and say a kind word and look him in the eyes and smile my deepest smile, the one that comes from your heart and lights up your eyes (and the room) and dazzles people.

The elderly gentleman taught me a lesson today. It’s hard to be old, Allah (SWT) tests and forgives us with the trial of old age; he reminded me we will not always be so robust and invincible. But I also thought so many in his position are dignified and have so much peace – why? Because of the faith that lives in them, that gives them hope and holds out a beautiful promise to them if they are patient just a little longer. I felt good today about myself as I am and about my beautiful faith alhamdulillah. I pray that Allah (SWT) bestows his hidayah (guidance) on others in the old gentleman’s situation insh’Allah.

I am still going to try and make myself one mad funky abaya for that wedding though.

Happy Jumah all.

Thursday 19 June 2008

Indian Films Saved Me

I know that’s an odd thing to say. Let me explain. When I was a little girl, the main entertainment for us kids was television. Other than that I read everything I could get my hands on. At that time Asians on TV were limited (Network East is all I remember) and non-existent in school books (although the time of Enid Blyton and her gollywogs had long since passed). Think Rainbow, Button Moon, A-team, Punky Brewster, CHiPS, Knight Rider, He-Man, Dynasty and Happy Days. Until recently, every time there was an Asian on the telly, it was a family event, with everyone running in to have a gawk.

I distinctly remember when I was about 10 watching Darryl Hannah in Splash and deciding that when I grew up I would be blonde (as opposed to a police woman, teacher, doctor…). The heroine (She-Ra, Daisy Duke, Miss Piggy) was always blonde and good-looking and that became the definition of all that was good and beautiful.

This was until the start of the 90’s, when my mum secretly bought a video recorder and hid it in the cupboard. Every day for the next ten years, we waited until my dad went for his night-shift brought out the video player and watched an Indian or Pakistani film (that’s three-hours long on a school night). After the first few months he clocked about the video player and went ballistic, but once it’s in the house, it’s not going anywhere. If you ask me about what we watched on television during the eighties, I’ll give you a list like the one above. Ask me about the 90’s and I can’t remember much apart from Timmy Mallet and Beavis and Butt-head. What I can remember is every Indian and Pakistani film from 1990 to 2001, each with its own array of glamorous, beautiful brown-skinned virtuous beauties: the incomparable Anjuman from Pakistan, Madhuri Dixit, Rekha and Sri Devi from India. The possibility of being Asian and beautiful became a reality and I was suddenly happy to have brown skin and black hair.

I know this topic isn’t very Islamic and I don’t want to encourage people to watch these films (I do so no longer and don’t allow my children to watch them – they seriously rot your brain), but it does make me think about who our children’s role-models are. My children are at the most impressionable age they will ever be, who is it they want to emulate? I worry a little as with my daughter it is the Disney Princesses, but I know it’s also my cool sisters. Little Man long ago decided he would be his dad when he grew up, which is fine by me. I’m trying to find a replacement for the TV for them (although Asian faces are more common on the box now). There are excellent books from around the world now, including the Islamic world. Then there are the stories of the Prophet and Sahabah. The hard part is making sure the correct influences get through and that the highest values are adopted by our children. I suppose the example starts with us doesn’t it?

Wednesday 18 June 2008

Garden Project: Latest Update.

Alhamdulillah, the garden is blooming and has come leaps and bounds from where it was at the start of the project.

The flowers have really taken and every time I take a peek into the garden, the beauty of Allah’s creation just lifts my spirits immensely. The potato’s mint and tomato’s are doing well, the beans are a little slow, perhaps because of my experiment with putting them in boxes instead of the ground. Little Man is watching his strawberries like a hawk, as soon as one turns red he nabs it, I’m just trying to keep the slugs off them. The coriander was choked by weeds and grass (I have no idea where that appeared from), so I have picked most of it and will prepare the soil (tempted to take the whole top layer off) to throw some new coriander seeds in as we use it in almost every meal. The never-ending fight with bellbine and a kind of stinging nettle with thorns (!!) continues and I WILL overcome it insh’Allah.

The holes in the fence are still there from where Little Lady and the neighbours Little Missy have tried to dismantle it so that they can play through it (yesterday they were putting lipstick on each other through the gap). I’m not sure what I can do about that as this is the second fence they have broken. Better half wants to put up a wall, but I can see my borders getting murdered in the process. I STILL haven’t managed to get the junk out of my garden. I might have to do it myself. I’m going to have a go at cleaning the muck off the chairs, the windows and the old bin today and stick them on gumtree. Maybe if I make any money and clear the space I could get this bench I have been after.

Pakistani Mean Time (as Opposed to Greenwich Meantime)

Had a ridiculous evening yesterday. After a fairly easy day at work, I decided to pick up a few things on the way home. I ended up with five big pant pots and a bag of compost I couldn’t carry. I dragged them to the bus praying Tasbih Fatimah (RA) to get me there and somehow managed to drag them home.

I had to get the compost into the pots as soon as I got home because some of the plants were ones my mum and aunt had pulled out of their garden and sent over in carrier bags (they reckon they are weeds, but I reckon the flowers are too pretty.). Just managed to get this done and better half announces that as he is free this evening we can get some visiting out of the way.
So chased the kids round the house to get them ready and made plans to go see my second cousin visiting from Dubai for an hour and then family friends who are going to Pakistan for an hour, then home for hubby’s lovely mince and potato curry.

Best laid plans of mice and men and all that, we ended up staying at cousins for two hours during which Little Man and Gorgeous ran riot pestering her children and sneaking ice-cubes out of her fridge. Little Lady ran out in to the garden in the rain, as soon as she was herded in, someone opened the front door and the whole lot of them ran out that way. The family had a two-month old baby and as usual Gorgeous is following the baby around with the intention of playing "poke the baby in the eye". Eventually, all doors locked we were served pakora and chips and I was presented with a very pretty fuchsia and bronze coloured suit.

We made our excuses and sneaked off to the friend’s house planning to stay for half an hour, say bye and get straight home. Her son is Little Man’s best friend and they behave like a pair of fighting cocks, so I have a hoarse throat from talking/pulling them apart by the end of the night. They have a lovely little eight month old baby girl and again Gorgeous is up to his "poke the baby in the eye" trick so I have to divide my attention between the two sets of children and our host. Of course being Pakistani they had prepared a lovely meal (chicken and green bell pepper curry, sheikh kebabs, naan bread and ice-cream) so my attempt at eating less go out the window.

Half an hour turned into just under three hours and at about midnight we got the sleeping children out of the car and into bed, prayed, put hubby’s mince and potato curry into the fridge uneaten and slunk into bed.

Just recovering quietly at the moment at my desk with a hazy brain and an aching body.

Teal and Chocolate

My little sister Kooky gave me this shawl (which came with a dress) to wear as a hijab. I love the teal colour and although I would have put it with black it actually worked better with chocolate brown.

I didn’t have anything to wear with it, so I found these beads at the last minute and strung them together at the bus stop in the morning to some bemused glances. I really like the coolness and weight of glass and this chunky bracelet has both aplenty.

Sunday 15 June 2008

Muslimahs Speak Up Carnival 2008

I urge anyone who likes a good read to head over to Sister Umm Layth's blog for the 2008 Muslimah's Speak Up Blogging Carnival. Thanks to Umm Layth for going to all the trouble of reminding us to make submissions and for collating the posts.


Giving Account – Accumulating What We Don’t Need

My mum always told me that everything we wear, eat, use and say will be held against us on the day of judgement. She usually meant this in relation to food to discourage waste and to get us to clean our plates, but it has most stayed with me regarding the matter of clothing.

We live in an age where trends change eight times a year and clothing has become so cheap that it costs as much as food sometimes (think Tesco, Asda, Ethel Austin or Primark where you can get a coat for £15 or a top for £2). Many of us are in a situation where our cupboards are so full we can’t cram anything else in and we still feel like we can’t find anything to wear, every time we feel bad, we think we can buy something to make everything better.

Sometimes I think guilt is misplaced and counter-productive, but on occasion it can be an indicator that something we are doing is not right. I always felt guilty buying new clothes, especially knowing that I won’t be able to justify to Allah (SWT) why I have so much. With this in mind, I decided to start an experiment a few years ago. I decided I would not buy any more new clothes unless 100% necessary, i.e. a pair of work shoes or a winter coat. I am often made outfits by my mum who is a talented seamstress. I also often get clothes sent to me by my mother-in-law and in-laws friends and my family in Pakistan. This means that I don’t have to worry about clothes for Eid or something nice to wear on a Friday.

What I found from this experiment is that you can be in danger of losing your sense of style, I am not a fan of scarlet, yellow or orange but my cupboard has plenty of it inside. Mum comes to the rescue with sensible blues and greens and blacks in simple shapes, then I get something from a cousin in black with a chintzy sofa print alhamdulillah.

In return I send my children’s’ clothes to Pakistan once they outgrow them and buy new clothing for my nephews and nieces and husband’s friends children.

You may be thinking "Its okay for her – she seems to have lots of generous relatives", but think on this: If you didn’t buy lots of new clothes, would Allah suddenly decline to clothe you? I think of the poverty of many of the Sahabah and what little the beloved Prophet (PBUH) left behind and their fear of giving account and I realise how much we have and how little we realise the real cost of it.

Friday 13 June 2008

Self-Sabotage and Sulks…and Happy Jummah Day

Why oh why oh why do we do this to ourselves? I know I can’t be the only one. We work hard, we try hard to be good mothers and wives and Muslimah’s. We dress modestly and elegantly and behave gracefully in public. People respect us for our manners, kindness and professional conduct. We get good food reputations for our capability at work, at home and in our communities. Then we decide to throw a wobbly and behave like an ungrateful, selfish child.

Sorry, not we, that’s what I did today. I made dua for something at fajr and alhamdulillah I happened for me in the way I had asked, I thought "great this day is going my way" Then when I went to the optician and things didn’t go my way (I have to wear glasses for another month which I have had enough of), I had a little internal hissy-fit. I’ve been wearing contact lenses for ten years and got told in winter I have dry-eyes and need to wear specs for a couple of months. I expected to get my contact lenses back today, but was told to give it another month. I really had my hopes up, I really wanted to look nice for my other half today and surprise my colleagues at work by looking different. When the optician said to wait another month, I got seriously peeved. First I wanted to punch him; then I refused to speak to him properly. After I left I phoned hubby and whinged tearfully. I’m not sure either of us could figure out what had brought this on, but I wasn’t in the mood to be sensible. He called me again at work and I ended up complaining about looking horrible, wanting to spend more time with him, his dodgy Pakistani-style time-keeping and the amount of junk sitting in my garden and the spare room. Alhamdullilah he was his patient, sensible self and I hung-up feeling better (although my manager walked in on me in the ladies whilst I was yakking away tearfully – she must think I am a quack).

I’ve realised there’s a kind of pattern. I explode in temper/tears about once every three or four months or so. It usually lasts a day or two and once its over with and I’ve had a good vent with my better half, I seem to be happy enough until the next time. I wonder if it’s some kind of pressure release system built into my brain or something. Anyway if you look on the bright side, getting rage four times a year is not too bad going, especially seeing as the timing is so predictable.

Anyway, I feel better now, I’ve just had a lovely lunch of South Asian food (mmm masala dosa ) with some very nice colleagues and managed to blow my work computer up (it went POP! – and the IT bods had to take it away). There was also a dental hygiene fair in the main hall in the town hall I work in, so I got free toothbrushes and kiddies paste for all the kids, plus a little brushing time egg-timer and a chart to get them to brush every day.

It's Friday so I’m going to mum’s later and will sit with gran a while (I’ve bought her vanilla fudge). Jummah Mubarak everyone. Remember to make dua for yourselves on this special day.

On the authority of Abu Hurayrah (May Allah be pleased with him) it is related that the Prophet (Peace be upon him) talked about Friday and said: "There is such an hour on Friday that if any Muslim makes dua (supplication) in it, his dua will definitely be accepted." And He (Peace be upon him) pointed out the shortness of that time with his hands. (Bukhari and Muslim).

Thursday 12 June 2008

Praying with Children

Last year I was watching a call-in programme on the Islam Channel, where you could call in and ask a scholar a question. A woman called in to ask for advice regarding her children who would disturb her during prayer. The scholar indicated that she has brought them up poorly and there must be something wrong with them. That was it, no advice, no sympathy, just judgement, and ignorant judgement at that. I was fuming at this response.

Why does Allah rain so much hassanah (reward) on mothers? Why is care of the home and children our Jihad? Because it’s tough. Praying with small children is not easy. Imagine as a mother taking your full attention away from your child and trying to direct it towards Allah (SWT) only. It’s near to impossible.

Anas (RA) narrated that Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him and his house) said, "I start the prayers, intending to lengthen them. I then hear a child crying so I make them shorter, knowing how emotional a child’s mother gets." (Bukhari and Muslim)

Nope, nothing there about being a bad mother, just a sympathetic acknowledgement of the difficulty a crying child presents to a mother. I’ve continuously struggled with my prayers throughout the time I have been a mother, not just the dividing of attention, but exhaustion, lack of time and the children playing up have all been factors. When Little Lady was 18 months I put her in her cot to pray taraweeh prayer, she managed to get the metal knob off of my bed and throw it at me. She caught me square on my spine. I spent the next few months cringing as I prayed in case she found something else to practice her aim. Little Man used to try and get at my toiletries whilst I prayed, as soon as I said salaam he would disappear, this too went on for months. Now he sits by my side waiting for me to finish so he can get in my lap whilst I make dua – this is the serenest I ever feel. Gorgeous tries to stand on me when I sit in prayer, or climb in my lap and hug me or make sujood (prostration) in front of me. It’s very hard for children to accept that their mother could turn her full attention away from them.

I find the thing that helps me most is routine. Getting them to bed early so I can pray Maghrib and Isha in peace. Getting them to nap in the afternoon so that I can pray the Zoher prayer is another option.

I also keep reminding them each time: "you mustn’t walk in front of mum when she prays", "you mustn’t talk to me when I pray". Eventually the message gets through and you find that the older ones discourage the younger ones from disturbing you.

Little Man and Little Lady also have mini prayer mats and I try to get them to copy me whilst I pray, sometimes this works, sometimes not.

If all else fails and I need peace to concentrate, I shut the door and warn them not to come in for the next 10 minutes. By the end of it, I’m usually calm enough to let them in and deal with them more kindly.

In the end though as a mother of young children you end up accepting that not all of your prayer’s will be as you want them. As always with pleasing Allah, the essence is in the struggle. Allah (SWT) sees our effort and perseverance despite frustration and rewards us for it. One of my Aunt’s use to see me pray and say "it must be hard, I remember when my kids were little how discouraged I would get because I couldn’t pray properly – but then these are the prayers with the most reward" I thought I could detect a wistfulness.

Book Review: Mark Gimenez – The Perk.

This book was loaned to me by a work colleague, who kept asking if I’d read it. I was in the middle of half-a-dozen good books, so this didn’t appeal to me at all. The name, the cover, it all reminded me of a clich├ęd detective story and I really couldn’t be bothered. I picked it up to get it over with and give it back to her and…I was hooked. I could not put this book down. I kept missing my stop on the way to work and I kept getting up after everyone had fallen asleep to start reading it again. I finally finished it at 1.30am with a feeling of satisfaction.

The book centres on Beck a hotshot corporate lawyer who moves with his children from Chicago to a small town in Texas after the death of his wife. The book is superficially a detective novel and description of Beck’s return and settlement to the town he left as a teenager vowing never to return to. On a deeper level it is a political novel about the machinations of small town life.

I’ve read novels before that show the perfect small town, only then to start throwing up all of the nasty secrets, intrigues and deceptions that sit under the surface. (Stephen King often does this well). But this was different. Although the town seems like the perfect down-home, slice-of-apple-pie, 4th-of-July-parade town, right from the outset Jimenez describes the support Bush stickers, teenage girls dressed as if they’re at "a hookers convention", the contempt for outsiders and the lack of coloured faces.

What I felt this book was really about was the prejudices and dreams of Middle America, and the costs of these. This book most reminded me of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, but brought bang up-to-date with references to Katrina kids, ICE raids on illegal immigrants and modern teenage life.

Tuesday 10 June 2008

Contemplation and Stillness

Things came to a strange impasse with me today. I realised that I am not too bothered anymore. I seem to have lost my ambition regarding my career and my aspirations regarding life in general. I wonder if I should be upset at this, but I’m not. I feel like I don’t want to chase things any more, I don’t want to spend, make, impress or try too hard any more. I’m used to always being on the run and doing things at break-neck speed, I’ve never been this slow before.

I think I still want to achieve, to experience and to serve others, especially my Ummah insh’Allah. I think I still want to find what I was born to do, but I am not feeling very motivated in taking any action towards it. Perhaps I am waiting for it to come to me. It’s such a strange feeling I have never been this calm about life before. I feel strangely contented and serene. Except I do feel a little curious, I wonder where it will take me.

Abd-Allaah ibn Amr ibn al-Aas said: I heard the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) say: "Allah wrote down the decrees of creation fifty thousand years before He created the heavens and the earth." (Muslim 2653)

"To he who is still, the whole world surrenders" ~ Loa Tzu

Little Sister’s Hijab

I am soooo proud of my youngest sister (and she’s going to be deeply embarrassed at this) because she has started to wear hijab.

It takes guts and I always knew Kooky didn’t care what anyone thought about her, well now more than ever she will have to remember not to care what anyone but Allah (SWT) says.
So Kooks, say goodbye to your little ears and hello to lots of dumb questions (Aren’t you hot in that? Do you wear it at home? Do you wear it because you’re married? Is your husband making you wear it? Do you wear it in the shower?).

A gentle reminder also, to all those beloved sisters who are making the decision to cover their hair. Kudos to you for your guts, style and attitude; may Allah reward you for submitting to his command. But remember that you are visible as a Muslimah now, a walking, living, breathing da’ee. When someone says something nasty to you, please try not to hit/abuse/scare them. I know it feels good, but the next sister to come along will suffer the consequence. Please try to be kind and gentle in your dealings, please take every chance to hold open doors, smile at senior citizens (nice smile, not deranged shark smile) and give up your seat when you can. It’s not much, but the next sister that comes along will benefit from your actions insh’Allah (and it might be me!).


Got to wear my new abaya today which my mum made for me. Thought I’d let London know summer is here (for now).

Monday 9 June 2008

Punks, Cricket and Punch-ups - East London in the 70’s.

My grandparents came to England in the 60’s and three of their sons (including my dad) followed in the 70’s. It was a time of massive change in the UK with immigration changing the face of London especially and perhaps nowhere more was this evident than East London.
At that time many were not so welcoming of these strange new people with their odd dress and impenetrable languages. My parents had to contend with the East End Dockers trying to beat them up because they were seen as a threat to their jobs and employers and neighbours considering them less than human; a second-class set of humans available for use and abuse.

Green Street in the 70's and today

Our first home was a block of dingy little flats behind green street market (my parents still feel obliged to point it out every time we go past). Only one other Asian family lived there, the rest having been chased out with broken windows and dog-mess through the letter box. The one man that stayed was so resigned to life, his wife’s mental illness and abuse at work that he and his children just suffered the harassment in silence.

The week my family moved in was the same week my gran lost her mother. So even as they moved in, they received a stream of visitors. The Pakistani community in London was smaller then, but still big enough and perhaps more close-knit at that time. The other tenants in the block watched with fascination – some of them had never seen so many coloured people in one place before. My mum always asserts that they would have gone the same way as all of the other Asian families if it wasn’t for the endless guests - the neighbours must have thought the Indian mafia were moving in.

My dad and two uncles went about their studies and work for the next few years, always watching their back and walking in the shadows. But there is one incident my youngest uncle recounts with glee. The three and a group of friends returned to the flat after playing cricket in West Ham Park and ran into a group of punks waiting for them. What they hadn’t counted on was a bunch of bat-wielding Punjabi’s who’s just had enough. The punch-up that followed is now family legend and the kicking the punks received a matter of pride.

(West Ham Park - I remember that pond, cause I fell in it once)

I look now at the three brothers – my dad the imam, my middle uncle the school governor and stalwart of every committee in the neighbourhood and my baby uncle working to build a mosque in his neighbourhood and the gentlest man I know and I think of that ruckus at the bottom of the flat stairs. I just can’t take their po-faced solemnity seriously.

(Oh – I saw that sad man from the flats not long ago, serenely shopping at our local supermarket – everything difficult comes to an end doesn’t it?)

Overcoming Obstacles.

What do you do in the face of a seemingly insurmountable obstacle? Well when I got home from a day at my mum’s to find that the plumber had taken the kitchen and bathroom apart and arranged it throughout the house and garden, my first reaction was to despair and sneak off to bed (I think that’s called avoidance).

In the end I took a deep breath and followed some steps:

First Things First
I got the kids to have a drink of milk, get changed and into bed. Once the most important things are done, everything else is superficial.

Take Stock
I prayed my Maghrib prayer, asked Allah for help and decided where I had to start.

I started with the most important area’s – the bathroom and kitchen (all my cooking utensils and dishes were sitting in the garden) and then some of the living room, I left the garden for another time.

Do What You Can.
I tried to be realistic; there is only so much you can do late on a Sunday night as you have to prepare for work the next morning. So I did what was most important and left the rest for the next few days.

I think these steps can be used for any area of life, perhaps the only thing I would add is to review. Thinking about if there is something I could do differently or better next time.

Saturday 7 June 2008

Sunny Saturday Morning

I am recovering from the night before at the moment - not a hang-over but exhuastion. Better half called me at work yesterday to say guests were coming that evening. He would have tried to re-schedule for the week-end, but the are going back to Pakistan next week. So I gave him the shopping list and spent the rest of the day with my mind on that evening. I picked up a bit more shopping on the way home and then attempted to launch straight into the cooking. Hubby got me to sit down for half an hour and rest, then I rushed down stairs and got started. Made kebabs, chicken and potato curry, tandoori chicken and roast wedges and big bowls of salad for eight of us, plus seven little ones. At about midnight I finally had the woozy kids in bed, left-overs in the fridge, dishes back in the cupboard and finished praying Isha salah. My hubby sidled up looking sheepish saying "Oh, you must be tired" - all I could say was mmm and try to keep a straight face.

So this morning, I slept late, had leftovers for breakfast and then had nothing to do. Oh how good that felt. Hubby also had no deliveries today and the sun was out out, so we visited the library, sat on a bench and had ice-cream in the shopping centre (the old-fashioned soft vanilla kind) and then came across the Al-Noor exhibition which was just the icing on the case.

It was also a nice opportunity to have a talk with Little Lady. She was complaining in the morning about Little Man annoying her and not letting her have a good day. I told her she could make a choice about whether she wanted to have a good day or a bad day, of course she chose good day. During the exhibition I asked her if she was having a good day - "YES!", I reminded her that she chose to have a good day and all of these good things had come to her. She looked a bit dubious at my cod-psychology, but it was worth a try.

Now I'm off to see my mum and gran and then my aunt has invited us to dinner, so I plan to go on as I have started insh'Allah.

Al-Noor Exhibition

We came across this free exhibition in the town hall whilst out for a stroll this morning and I was intrigued. Brothers outside were welcoming non-Muslims from the busy shopping centre with promises of free food and a gift bag. We decided to go and have a look and it turned out to be an excellent event arranged by one of the local Islamic schools, Al-Noor. They had used the Exhibition Islam materials which I have seen before at other events and which are beautifully produced to provide information on everything about Islam: its beliefs, its history, its art and architecture and key Muslim figures such as scientists and mathmeticians. Inside we were treated to a wonderful rendition by Al-Noor students of some of Zain Bhika's nasheeds. This later changed to a brother giving a talk about Islam, which was interesting, but I must say that the people visiting were tending to stop to listen to the singers.

These Quran were all in different languages including Braille mash'Allah.

A large part of the exhibition was given over to Islamic clothing and style and also to art work from the Islamic world.

There was also a henna art and "try on hijab" stalls which were a great idea but also had a great look as that corner of the hall was transformed with low lighting, cushions and throws into a eastern boudoir. A "Medicine of the Prophet" type stall offered beautifully displayed dates, figs, olives and honey. A play-area was provided for little ones with tables for children to paint clay pots and plates and a design a prayer mat activity. There were also Islamic children books and toys on display.

The food was also great and kept us going till we got home.

Alhamdulillah it was a lovely. I saw the goody bags being given away and they included copies of the Quran in English. I asked one of the sister who had paid for the event and she told me that each stall-holder had paid for their bit. All I can say is may Allah (SWT) reward all of these brothers and sisters for all of their effort and may they see the fruits of it insh'Allah.