Friday 29 August 2008

Jummah Mubarak

I’m in the perfect mood to celebrate the Sabbath day alhamdulillah. I’m sitting at my desk giggling and entirely not in the mood for walk. You have days when you are bogged down and days when you just can’t be bothered. You have days when you put your nose to the grindstone, meet the resistance head on and just get it done and you have day like today. The sun is hiding behind clouds, my fingers are cold, and its quiet in here except for the tapping of fingers at keyboards – but I feel lyrical and silly and upbeat. There are days when you hate what you are doing, when you have just had enough, when you long to find something you love and do work that nourishes your soul. There are days like today when I feel peaceful with what I do and feel like I am on the brink of discovery.

Then I got to thinking, if Allah (SWT) gives me old age, when I look back what would I like to see? Me and the better half sitting with our numerous grandchildren at our feet and out children at our shoulders. Love and laughter, gratefulness and ibadah (worship) and kindness. Feeding them home-cooked food, passing on my mothers stories, teaching them my faith and learning from them. Playing with them, annoying the heck out of them, giving my silk shawls and colourful jewellery to the little ones to play with. I know why Allah (SWT) put me here. To worship him and to spread his word as a da’ee, but I wonder what the medium for this should be. I know I want to help my sisters and to serve my community. I am trying to be patient, because I know my beloved Rabb (SWT) will make this clear to me.

So now I need to escape, all I want to do right now is walk and daydream and discover (and get a bit warmer and a bit less hungrier).

Thursday 28 August 2008

Bringing in the Toms

Against all expectations my tomatoes are turning red(dish). Mostly every year they turn green and then the plant dies or the slugs eat them. My mum didn't expect them to turn red either so reserved all of the green ones in advance to freeze and use in her delicious veg curries.

Looks like I'll have enough for the next few meals (we use toms in everything). The green ones in the basket have fallen off the vine (themselves according to the kids) so they will go to mum

Wednesday 27 August 2008

Book Review: Donna Gherke-White: The Face Behind The Veil

With its somewhat dramatic cover, I was drawn to this book immediately when I saw it.

Donna Gherke-White has interviewed Muslim women from all over America to get to the core of what it is to be a Muslim woman in America today. Her interviews include professionals, stay-at-home mums and students. She has recorded her conversations with immigrants, refugees and American-born women, with born-Muslims, reverts and even people who felt they had to leave the faith. If nothing else her range of interviewees could at least be called diverse.

I loved that this book gave women the chance to express themselves, often in their own words. Gherke-White is sympathetic and respectful and makes a real effort in this book to understand the answers to the questions she raises.

I also enjoyed reading about my sisters across the pond – their lives, their struggles and how they have fought for better lives for theirselves and their children without compromising their faith. The book gave me a real insight into some of the differences between Muslim communities in America and here in the UK. The real can-do attitude the American sisters have adopted and the way they have really thrown themselves into public life, activism and charity work, much more so than here. The way they have integrated so fully into American life and see themselves first and foremost as American and have a sense of real loyalty to their country, again something that is not as strong here where many Muslims have divided loyalty between Britain and their country of origin. The way the mosque has become a community meeting place for Muslims in America and the level of participation of Muslim women. A few attempts have been made to raise the issue of equal access for women to mosques here but nothing substantial and women do not often attend the mosque in many UK communities.

Another thing that really got me, was I recognised one of the sisters in the book although I have never met her- and my respect for her has only grown.

I would definitely recommend this book for anyone interested in Muslim women and curious to know whether the stereotypes and images in the media hold any truth. It might also be useful to anyone looking to convert to Islam and wanting some real examples of people who have converted and what this has meant for them.

Tuesday 26 August 2008

Whoops! Look What We Did

As hubby was away Saturday and Sunday and because it was Bank Holiday Monday we thought we would spend Sunday morning as a family out in the Essex Markets and the afternoon at my best friends.

It was actually a very nice morning (albeit early - we ;eft after fajr), I picked up a few books, plenty of craft supplies, some baskets for Ramadan gifts and some bits for my Eid party. I also found some really really useful things - some starfish, some glass shells, some colourful stones and a miniature knight in a box (from a charity stall). Oh and I also managed to find a teapot for my mum to replace the one gorgeous damaged (I already replaced it once after Little Lady broke it and it is a very hard to find range).

It was a nice morning, until we managed to bump into another car that is, on the way home. We were coming over a bump on the motorway, when the car in front stopped suddenly and we had to bake. We ended up smacking into the back of it. Thankfully, the kids were in their car seats/boosters and were not hurt alhamdulillah - Gorgeous even slept through the whole thing. Some silly man's car had broken down and he decided to stand at the side of the road with his kids and leave the car in the middle of the road while he waited for assistance, oncoming cars could not see as he was just over a hill. I hope he didn't get anyone killed. The lady in the car in front (I had no idea Mini Cooper's were so strong) panicked and pulled straight out and fled.

Alhamdulillah, whenever something like this happens, I always think that Allah (SWT) in his infinite mercy sent us a small challenge to ward off a bigger one. Even after such a bad bump and the car being written off we were all fine alhamdulillah, apart from being a little shaky. I have been in a worse bump before and it hurt more. This time our little green Honda took the impact for us. It also reminded me of one thing I adore about my hubby and in-laws (brother-in-law was with us). They didn't get in a grump or angry, in fact they laughed all the way home at me for screaming, at the lady who ran off and at the sheepish look on the face of the man who left the car on the road (I was a bit annoyed at this, as I had suggested a few times to hubby that he should go give the man a smack upside the head, but he took no notice).

Alhamdulillah, somones dua's and good wishes are with us.

Saturday 23 August 2008

Latest Batch of Eid Cards

The better half was away this weekend with the brother-in-law so I decided to have some

me-time and do some things I enjoy (i.e. no cooking, no making chappati's and no housework). So I let the kids stay up, we watched Robin Hood Prince of Theives (the very bad but very enjoyable Kevin Costner version), ate gooey chocolate cake bars and I made some more cards. Earlier in the year I managed to drop my gem box and recently spent an evening with the kids sorting it out ("Where does this one go? What about this one? What about this one? This one?"), so in honour of my me-time I cracked open the gem box and let rip.

Friday 22 August 2008

Stories from the Front Line

I was asked to translate for one of the Councillors over the phone this morning when a lady called up in deep distress. I usually put my name forward for Urdu, Hindi or Punjabi speaking constituents because I think of people like my mum and gran who had the same language barriers when they first came to this country.

I spent a harrowing hour listening to this women’s account of marriage at 13, coming to the UK as a teenager, two physically and mentally abusive marriages, losing custody of five children to her first husband because she could not defend herself against (she claims) her husbands untruthful allegations of child abuse and now threatened with the loss of her two children from her second marriage.

She cried and ranted and whimpered through her tears about the suffering of her older children at her first husbands hands – the daughter married to an abusive husband and threatened with the loss of her children herself, the sons dealing in drugs, one son in prison. She spoke about her younger children being bullied in school and teachers not taking her seriously and viewing her as ignorant, the infidelity of her second husband, the allegations of sexual abuse against her children flung around by both parties (in more detail than I asked for or wanted to know).

It took my breath away when she spoke about going to school one day and being told by teachers that she couldn’t take her child home as Social Services would be taking them. I think I would die…I think I would have screamed the place down anyway. This lady says she just collapsed. Ya Rabb, to put your body and your soul through the trauma and bliss of pregnancy, childbirth and child rearing again and again and to have it all snatched in one go.

It was unnerving to hear her pepper her conversation with the most horrendous Punjabi swear words (if you really need to swear – do it in Punjabi, it's enough to make you blush to your ankles). It was also unnerving that she did something one of my aunt’s lovely neighbours often does (a trait I have seen in other Pakistani women too): cry, talk some, cry some more, suddenly stop and comment on the noise of the traffic, start telling her story again, cry some more, suddenly stop and launch into a volley of insults at her husband and then plead and cry again.

That was one side of the story, I have no idea what the other side looks like. It makes me think though. This is Britain, yet the events described by her reminded me of the suffering of women in Afghanistan (post below) and this is not the only call I have had like this (though it was the worst).

I was supposed to remain neutral, but felt like I had to console her. I spoke with her about Allah (SWT)’s promise that after difficulty comes ease and that Allah (SWT) never burdens a person with more than they can bear. I didn’t feel like my words could help much though. May Allah (SWT) have mercy on that women and her children insh’Allah.

My Sisters in Afghanistan

This article has made me feel sick to my stomach. As a Muslim, it angers me that my faith is abused so, as a human being and woman it pains me that people still live like this and the rest of the world turns a blind eye. This is nothing but complete injustice. The way these women are treated reminds me of the time of Jahaliyah – it looks like some people have still not emerged from that time. I cannot see change coming any time soon for these women though. Pakistan has the same problem of treating rape victims as criminals under their Hudood Ordinance Laws.

I know that the Quran says that “Allah does not change a people's lot unless they change what is in their hearts” (13:11), but Allah (SWT) is also just and his mercy and his love know no bounds. How do we allow this to carry on knowing these women are out sisters?

Thankfully there are good brothers and sisters out there that are struggling towards change, more non-Muslim than Muslim, although looking round, there still doesn't seem to be that much focussed on helping women in prisons:

Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan
Islamic Relief
The Afghan Women's Mission
Medica Mondiale
Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission
Support Association for the Women of Afghanistan

"And when the news of (the birth of) a female (child) is brought to any of them, his face becomes dark, and he is filled with inward grief! He hides himself from the people because of the evil of that whereof he has been informed. Shall he keep her with dishonor or bury her in the earth? Certainly, evil is their decision." ~ Quran 16:58-59

"O You who believe! You are forbidden to inherit women against their will, and you should not treat them with harshness, that you may take away part of the Mahr (bridal-money given by the husband to his wife at time of marriage) you have given them, unless they commit open illegal sexual intercourse. And live with them honorably. If you dislike them, it may be that you dislike a thing and Allah brings through it a great deal of good." ~ Quran 4:19

Wednesday 20 August 2008

Book Review: Alaa al Aswany -The Yacoubian Building

Al Aswany’s novel tells the interconnected stories of the tenants of the once-grand Yacoubian Building, now housing a motley mix of Cairo’s citizens: gentlemen who yearn for the "golden era" when Cairo was like Paris, corrupt politician (what other kind are there?), a gay newspaper editor, a student demoralised by corruption and drawn to religious fundamentalism, a young woman finding out that it’s a man’s world and the conniving and desperate poor.
The characters and their lives reflect all of the different aspects of Egyptian life and society and deliver a damning verdict as to the state of Egypt today. Neither the government, the police and the politicians, nor the Imams (both state-sponsored and fundamentalist types), the old-money, the new-rich, the intellectuals nor the poor come off very well in this novel.

They say that one of the things that must exist in a novel is that the characters must arouse sympathy on the part of the reader in order to keep him/her interested. I did find that most of the characters were so corrupt in one way or another or often so self-deluding that I did not feel much for nay of them except a little contempt and occasionally pity. The exception to this is those people who come into the story from outside of Cairo: the politician’s second wife, the newspaper editor’s soldier lover and his wife – all of whom become hateful, angry and deceitful as they are drawn into the lives of the inhabitants of the Yacoubian building.

I was surprised at how openly this book deals with the trials of the young woman who is forced to use her looks to her advantage to keep her job and also the sexuality of the newspaper editor. I have not read much Arab literature, but suspect that this is not the norm (especially considering that this book was a mainstream hit in Arab countries).

There was enough of a plot for me to want to continue reading, but this is a depressing portrayal of Egypt despite some kind of a happy ending for a few of the characters.

I wouls be very curious what other readers think, especially Egyptian's regarding how realistic a portrayal of modern Egypt this is.

Book Review: Jeanette Winterson - The Stone Gods

I don’t often go for science fiction, but some of the best books have read (e.g. John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids and Z for Zachariah by Robert C O’Brien) have been of this genre. I particularly like Post-Acopolypse type books – imagining what the world would be like after nuclear war. This book is a uniquely different take on this theme. The story begins in a world much like ours, but very far into the future. Governments have been replaced by corporations and humanity is mollycoddled and made complacent through ease of living and complete control of the minutiae of their lives by those that govern them (Made me think of all the talk of "Nanny-State Britain" we hear. At the same time the planet they live on is becoming uninhabitable due to pollution and a new habitable "Blue Planet" has been found for the corporation to begin colonising. The explorers sent to lay claim to this planet also speak of other planets which have been rendered unable to support life - it is rumoured by humans in a previous age.

The story is in three parts, the first detailing the journey to the Blue Planet, the second steps back into seventeenth century Easter Island creating a parallel situation on a smaller scale where the inhabitants of the island are destroying everything on the island in their thirst for power and the third part set in modern London post nuclear war.

The book touches on big themes such as the destruction of the earth, the value of freedom, the willingness of people to live and behave mindlessly. But it also hones in on the personal when it philosophises about loneliness and love and asks what makes us unique as humans? Winterson’s writing is often poignant and I read bits with my mouth open in an "oh" and feeling very sad but it is also quite funny at times, dealing with cosmetic surgery, robots, traffic wardens and our obsession with the way we look.

Winterson’s writing is very poetic, describing new planets and ghosts planets, galaxies, nature and the effects of war in the most lyrical manner and this meand that the book often has a very dreamy feel.

I found the book at times a little hard to follow as the story jumps backwards and forwards between different times and I don’t think I understood the ending much at all. But I still found it to be an absorbing read and got through it in two days.

Tuesday 19 August 2008

Lunch in the Park

It's nice to do something different and nature is good for the soul and for inspiration, so I thought I would go down to the nearby park with my colleague for lunch. She jogged like a maniac and I walked and wrote in my new journal and read some. Then I got pestered by some ballsy squirrels. I might make this a regular/daily routine - especially if it means I eat less and sit at my computer less and walk and read more.

Monday 18 August 2008

A Wedding in August

I have spent all of last week trying to work out whether or not I would be going to my cousin’s nikah (marriage contract ceremony) or not. Bride’s mum has had a tiff with my mum-in-law, mum-in-law refused to go to brides relatives wedding and then decided not to invite them to brother-in-laws wedding. My mum was cross because her daughter was being left out as they invited everyone but me and hubby. So I made my mum some gifts (post below) to take with her and asked her to send the bride and her family my love and say congratulations for me (It feels great being on your high-horse).

Didn’t last long, because mum threw a wobbly and they invited me. Hubby was annoyed as he had been ordered by mum-in-law not to go. I was enjoying being all self-righteous and so told hubby that whatever he decides I’ll go with it. In the end he spoke to the imam at his mosque who advised that it would be better to go and end the fighting and bad feeling and then talk his parents round.

So off we went yesterday and had a lovely afternoon. It was our first wedding in the UK for almost thirty years, so no-one had a clue. So on seeing the brides mothers worried look, me and my sisters took over the kitchen and laid out the tables in the garden. It was great fun!! We got the kids busy hunting down chairs from all over the house (they even dragged a load over from the neighbours), laid out the crockery and drinks and got mum and her sister to dish out the food. I got to play hostess (had practice from brother-in-laws wedding) – “drink, drink, you need drink? Anyone need anything?” – and managed to pour coke in someone’s rice. Little lady and my little cousin even cleared up the garden afterwards running around with black bags and a little dust-pan and brush.

I was also on loo-duty and gran and little man kept me busy between them (I counted seven trips in all).

It was absolutely blissful to have the whole family together as this is so rare even though there are not that many of us here and there was lots of laugter and teasing and jokes. Only thing now though is that we have to face the music from the in-laws (I’m hoping they are here for Ramadan and we can drag them to the walimah).

Sunday 17 August 2008

Gift Baskets

Today is my cousin's nikah insh'Allah and alhtough we usually give money to the bride and groom, I thought it would be nice to make something for my mum to take along. Baskets of Indian sweets or mithai are a tradition in South Asia but costs about £30 here, so I thought I'd have a go myself.

I picked up two baskets from the £-shop which only had one enormous size only and filled it with tissue-paper to make a nice base and also because it works out very expensive to try and fill a basket that big.

I then arranged a tray of baklawa and two packs of Sohan halwa to fill up space.

Some of the mithai can be quite soft and/or syrapy so I placed the peices in cake cases before arranging them in the basket.

I filled a second basket with fruit (I tried to use firmer fruit so that it lasted longer - I also added grapes on top after I took this picture).

I placed some stars (the type you stick on presents) in the basket and got my sisters to help me wrap the whole thing in cellophane and tie a bow with ribbon that matched the tissue paper (yelling at each other the whole time - "Duh!! why are you putting the cellotape there?"). I finished off with a label to personalise. I hope they like them.

Thursday 14 August 2008

Shaban and Lailut-ul Bara’ah

Depending on which mosque you follow the night of Lailut-ul Bara’ah is either Thursday or Friday night, so we are halfway through Shaban and approaching Ramadan.

When we were little my parents used to get us to sit up and pray for as long as we could and mum and some of her neighbours always used to send food all of their friends and neighbours. One year we were in Pakistan during Lailut-ul Bara'ah, where it is called Shab-e-bara'ah or Shabrat and there were lights, candles and fireworks.

As an adult I wasn’t too sure why we did this (although Mum said that it was because this was the night that Allah (SWT) sent down the orders for births, deaths and livelihoods for the year). My husband always pointed out that he didn’t see why people didn’t bother to pray their fard (obligatory) prayers all year and then spent the whole of this night in worship – I always think something is better than nothing, but I see his point. So I decided to do some research and I was pleased to read about the benefits for those who fast during the day and pray during the night.

Ummul Mu'mineen `Aishah (RA), says, "Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), would sometimes begin to fast continuously until we thought he would not stop fasting, and sometimes he used to stop fasting until we thought he would never fast. I never saw the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) fasting a complete month, except the month of Ramadan, and I have never seen him fasting in a month more frequently than he did in Sha`ban."

It is narrated that Ummul-Mu'mineen `A'ishah (RA) reported Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said "Surely Allah, the Possessor of Blessings, the Exalted, descends to the lowest heaven on the night of mid-Sha`ban, and forgives more [people] than the hairs on the sheep of [the tribe of] Kalb." [Tirmidhi, Ahmad, Ibn Majah and others].

Sunni Sister has a wonderful article in her archives called Sha’ban & Ramadan Readiness with some interesting thoughts and reminders.

Al-Balagh has an excellent in-depth page on the do’s and don’ts of Shaban by Mufti Taqi Usmani.

Article at the Zaytuna Institute Website byMona Elzankaly called The Night of the Fifteenth of Sha’baan (Nisf Sha’baan)

Pakistan Independence Day

I forgot it was Pakistan Independence Day today until someone reminded me they were going to have a flag-raising outside the town hall I work in and sing the National Anthem. The Civic Ambassador who is Pakistani gave a horrendously bad speech, The Deputy Mayor reminded us, that we may be Pakistani, but really we were British, or British Pakistani at least and that we should be proud of our achievements in education and the way our youth were setting the business world alight – "literally sometimes" the lady next to me muttered. The South Indian Councillor wore a bottle green sari, the Indian and Pakistani councillors green salwar kameez, The Deputy Mayor wore a green check blazer and the Barbadian Councillor wore a green tie. As it’s the school holidays, there were lots of cute kids dressed in green. I wish I’d remembered I’d have made a spectacle of myself and worn my pea-green jilbab and scarf.

The music played for the national anthem and no-one knew the words. Although I did notice that one of the English councillors (Mrs Cockney pie-and-mash and net curtains) did seem to be singing along (a bit like footballers who pretend to sing along when their national anthem comes on at the start of a game). I couldn’t stop giggling and one of the Pakistani councillors gave me some very stern looks.

In previous years I went to Green Street to celebrate as husband misses Pakistan and insisted. It was rowdy and anarchic to say the least and a gentleman dancing on top of a telephone box dropped his coke on me. At least it was in a coke bottle, but stunk suspiciously like something else. This year Green Street is being shut and traffic diverted, a relief for the poor bus drivers who last year spent up to an hour-and-a-half at a time negotiating this road which usually takes 10-15 minutes.

Our local main road won’t be shut though, so I expect to be kept awake at 2am by the noise. My religious, sensible husband has had a stonking horn like the kind on Pakistani busses fitted to his van in preparation and I expect to go home to find my kids looking like Martians (all dressed in green).

But the anarchy, the singing and dancing and the drinking makes me sad. Does anyone remember the bloodbath at the birth of Pakistan? The rape and abduction of thousands of women? My granddad said he saw train-loads of dead bodies going in both directions towards Pakistan and India. At the end of that suffering at least we had a safe place to practice our faith with freedom. Sixty-one years on people are calling Pakistan a failed state: corrupt, impoverished and for most of its history ruled by various dictators.
Dividing up a library at the time of 1947 partition [Photo: Life Magazine, August 1947]
I know this photo is not relevant, but I love books and it just touched me.

I look at the way we celebrate: the alcohol and screaming and hooting, the dancing and singing. Yep, we’re celebrating the birth of an Islamic country. I heard an Imam say when the youth of a country fall to music and song, their hearts are already dead. I don’t know, maybe he’s right.
But then I think of the fight-back: the beleaguered judiciary fighting to do what’s right, the hounded media, banned and taken off air, but not giving up their fight with Musharraf, the youth going back to their faith – the trend for a hafiz (memoriser of Quran) in every other household and I think maybe there is a little something to celebrate. The people are beautiful, the country itself is stunning and there really is no-where else like my Granddad’s village– maybe I’ll pray two nafl and make dua for my brothers and sisters in Pakistan, will you join me? Oh and best wishes to India for tomorrow too – for you were our kinsmen once.

Wednesday 13 August 2008

Islamic School or State School?

A child’s education is always on a mother’s mind and it is something that has crossed my mind intermittently since before the birth of my first child. Of course we want the best for them and we are blessed to have so many options available to us. But how do we ensure we are making the right choice. When Little Lady was three we enrolled her in an Islamic nursery attached to a home-schooling group. The effect on her behaviour was almost immediate (aside from flooding the nursery by opening all the taps on the first day). She was more polite and a lot calmer. She also spent every day pleading with us not to send her back (she was probably way to young for school)

Eventually the nursery was inspected by OFSTED and closed, so after approx two months we withdrew her and six months later she started in her local nursery which she loved. She has just finished reception and is progressing well although she is still adamant that she dislikes school and would rather stay at home. Little Man is due to follow her there in September.

This means that we have to work extra hard to make sure we instil a good tarbiyyah (upbringing/manners) within them. I have noticed she has picked up some naughty words and some cheeky ideas that we have to deal with. However her class is perhaps 60% Muslim, the school serve halal lunches and her teacher has agreed to make sure that any gelatine sweets children bring in at birthdays etc are replaced with a vegetarian alternative. Her teacher is very big on being kind and being nice and respecting each other (for example she discourages them from saying "Oh God" - which I said once and was told off by LL and told to say "Oh beans" instead). I understand this is rare, but I suppose it’s one of the benefits of living in cosmopolitan London. The issue however is environment: what Little Lady is picking up from her peers.

In contrast, my cousin has attended the same home-schooling group mentioned above. The children pray salah together, learn Arabic and Quran and at the same time are studying an accelerated programme of academic learning. My cousin is doing very well and loves his group. One of the differences I have noted in this child is his sincerity and his love of learning, which is not very cool amongst older children in mainstream schools and discouraged. His younger sister spent a year and a half with the group and did not progress at all. Her mum moved her to her local state primary which is quite good and she has progressed better in her reading and writing and is far happier.

Another example that concerns me is a cousin that goes to an all-girls Islamic school. She is doing well academically and in terms of her Islamic scholar course, but I have noticed that many of the girls in this school are obsessed with the way they look: comparing their hijabs, their jilbab’s, their weight, waxing and bleaching their faces at 13 and getting their hair done. This is so NOT what I want for my daughter and I would have hoped that a sound Islamic education would help to move away from this.

I have not ruled out any options (cost permitting). I do feel that the most important thing is to have a strong Islamic environment at home to begin with and set the best example ourselves. The next issue is to make sure that my children are learning about their faith and gaining the knowledge they require to practice it fully without compromising their academic education.
I hope that whatever route we choose that that it leads them to become Muslims with a pride in their faith and people of culture and broad thinking. Finally that they enjoy the process - that a love of learning is instilled in them that colours their whole lives.

Cupcake Crayons

I saw this idea on Um Nour's blog Loving Allah and Raising my Kids a while back and thought it looked like great fun.

So I got the kids to clear out all of the broken bits of crayon from their colouring pencil/crayon box and take the paper covers off (I had to stop them from getting too carried away and breaking the whole ones).

Being very anal, I got the kids to sort the bits of crayons into the cake cases by colour.

We then stuck them into the oven at a medium heat (to Little Man's cries of "when can I eat them!?!"). You have to keep an eye on them as they melt very quickly and I think we left them in too long as they turned very watery. I left them to cool and they turned hard. The colours are not as intense as ordinary crayons, but they were fun and easy to make and the children were very pleased with their creation.

Tuesday 12 August 2008

Being in the Moment.

I sit here at my desk, feeling bored and spaced out, with that underlying edge of panic that comes back sometimes. Nervous energy trapped in a body that’s trapped at a desk. Things to do, always more to do and get done. I take a deep breath and stare at my hands, the band my beloved bought me on our first wedding anniversary, the one I chose in place of a diamond ring we couldn’t really afford. I decide to give myself the gift of a few moments. To sit still and feel and be. The hum of voices lowered to whisper secrets and raised in sharp giggles. The tap-tap-tap of hands at keyboards all around me. The hum of traffic further away. The bangle of smooth white glass on my wrist catching the light in brilliant arcs. The musky taste of chocolate on my tongue. Someone’s sweet but synthetic perfume invading my nose. I feel calmer and the world seems more intense.
Back to work!...If I sneak off back home to the babies you think anyone will notice?

The Essence of Cool by the Queen of the Geeks

One thing growing up that I was NOT was cool. I looked like a geek (NHS specs, braces, frizzy hair pulled back into a long braid – should I mention the adolescent moush?), I also helped matters along by being good at school, having no social life and being middle-aged at 14. Of course things change, the discovery of wax strips, the late oestrogen surge, going to uni and making the most of my geekiness by turning it into exam marks and the one thing that is central to being cool – learning to live withyourself. I am not saying I am cool, but I certainly miss my status as Queen of the Geeks.
When I look at my children I see the opposite. Little Lady is a princess in her class. She had the biggest bear at her school teddy-bear’s picnic (this giant number that hubby picked up at a boot sale for £4 and had all of the kids chasing her round the field). She got picked up from school by her uncle on one of those noisy mini-bikes which increased her street-cred no end (and had me livid). She turns up to school in her tiara every chance she gets despite bans and confiscations and sneaks lipstick into school to lines up all the girls at playtime and does their make-up. She comes home with strange hairstyles which she says she got one of the “big-girls” to do.

Little Man is a geek, but a charming geek. He may wear check shirts with slacks, but he wears them with white high-tops and a white sport jacket. He already had his first leather biker jacket courtesy of my brother-in-law. He likes pretty girls and once asked me for one he saw on the telly (oh dear) and he always notices when I wear something nice. His best quality? When he wants something, he will wheedle, harass, cajole and fight till he gets it, even if it is days later, (much to my chagrin).

Gorgeous is just like Little Lady – sure in the belief that the world revolves around him. Pretty and with a chunky body that will one day be like his granddad’s (heavyset and without a neck – a true boxer). His answer to everything is a humungous cheesy grin that melts your heart and Mash’Allah nothing seems to get him down.

I should be grateful, I know I should. I worry though that my children will take all they have for granted. I think being bullied and at the bottom of the pecking order leaves you with a natural empathy for those less fortunate than you, it also gives you something else invaluable – character. Being in the centre and popular can be good, it can be easy and comfortable. It can also stunt your vision of the bigger picture. Sometimes being on the periphery, gives you the longer view and an alternate perspective on life.

Oh and I almost forgot - the essence of cool? Just being yourself of course. Learning to like and accept the person you are and not trying to emulate someone else.

Insh’Allah I hope my children are successful in everything they do, I pray that Allah (SWT) bestows on them good character, excellent iman, intelligence, health and beauty, I also pray that they use all of this in His path. I wonder though how I will ensure that they remain humble and modest and remember where these gifts come from and why.

Monday 11 August 2008

Race and Beauty

Coming from a British South Asian background, the concept of beauty can often be confused and to my mind very limited. Beautiful is fair, beautiful is large eyes and small lips and long black hair. Anything else is flawed. Black cannot be beautiful, white is better.

I’ve looked over this whole issue with distant disapproval until it was brought home to me by my daughter. I asked her to wear a sun hat and she asked if it was to stop her getting dark like one of her African friends. I explained to her, that the little girl in question is beautiful, that Allah (SWT) made her that way because He thought she would be most beautiful with the skin and hair she has. It bothers me though that she is picking up these false pointers as to what constitutes beauty.

It also affects Little Man. He has a Mediterranean colouring with skin that is dark gold, brown hair, a perfect nose and enormous lips. My Arab friend thinks he’s Arab and my Bangladeshi friends insist he is Bengali. When he was born, a kind relation branded him ugly. In the meantime, big lips have come into vogue with the likes of Angelina Jolie and Priyanka Chopra having them. This being the case, I find that the younger generation (both here and Pakistan) are more likely to find him beautiful, whereas the older generation compare him to Little Lady and feel that he falls short. Personally, I adore his golden colouring, but then I’m his mum. I just hope he doesn’t pick up on this nonsense or that it affects his confidence or self-image.

To be honest, there are some signs of improvement. Indian films are starting to user some darker-skinned actresses in contrast to previous years when leading ladies had to be painted white with heavy foundation. But the dominance of creams such as Fair and Lovely point to the fact that any headway is limited. Then there are my in-laws in Pakistan. They kept pointing to girls and saying “isn’t she beautiful”, I’d have a good stare and realise many weren’t really beautiful, just very pale. I like to think of Heer, the greatest of the Punjabi folk-heroines, as a counterbalance to this obsession. She is described as having perfect features and dark skin.

Of course, I am a big believer in inner beauty. But Allah created the physical and if we open our minds to it, there is so much to appreciate and feast our eyes on – the shades of her skin, the textures of our hair, the shapes of our features and the unique beauty of each of our sisters. If we brand half the world ugly because they don’t fit into a Bollywood template, than we are just celebrating our stupidity.

(Funnily enough, after I wrote this (last week) I found this article in the Independent about the Beyonce/L'Oreal skin-lightening issue - the comments are especially interesting as many people seem to think that race isn't an issue any more).

Sunday 10 August 2008

First Batch of Eid Cards

I had a go at making some cards to put away for Eid-ul-Fitr. I hope to make enough to send to friends, family and relatives in Pakistan, plus a few for my mum to send out. I like some more than others and I was pleased I could use up some of the odds and ends that were taking up room.

This last one is one of my favourites because I used up some rainbow paper I saved ages ago from a Boots photograph wallet (the kind they give your photo's back in). The embellishments include stickers and bindi's.

Friday 8 August 2008

What I Do When I Feel Down

Walk – especially if I have had a bad day at work, I give the bus a miss and just start walking full speed, I let my thoughts work themselves out and let my mind go where it will. People probably think I look a bit odd scowling and smiling to myself, but I’m too pre-occupied to notice. By about half-way home I am calmer, more philosophical in outlook and ready to catch the bus the rest of the way.

Pray – I am a bit lazy with nawafil (non-obligatory) prayers, so it tends to be a last resort when in fact it should be our first port of call. But when nothing else helps, I make wudhu, get on that prayer mat and cry my eyes out and plead and cajole.

Read/Watch Convert stories – converts/reverts are living proof to me of Allah (SWT)’s promise that after every difficulty there is ease. So often you read their stories and see that they go through so much and in the end things work out okay. There are great vide’s on youtube as well as heart-breaking stories on the net (including here and here).

Read - If I can find a book good enough to lose myself in, I can forget that the real world exists.

Play with Gorgeous – mash’Allah nothing gets him down, even when he is being told off, he’ll cackle back at you. I adore determined people who just won’t stop till they get what they want.

Do something kind – get someone water, help my child with something, call my mum and ask her how she is, visit gran and sit with her.

Go see my sisters – Long-suffering, Kooks and Fashionista are a great bunch, and when we are together, we forget all of our problems and laugh and joke and squabble like when we were kids. I always feel better afterwards.

What helps you to lift your mood?

Wednesday 6 August 2008

Stars in Salah

You recite slowly, taking the time to relax into each posture of the prayer. You try to keep Allah (SWT) as your focus throughout, sometimes losing focus, but always struggling to come back. You ignore the noise and chatter around you and try to fade out the distractions from the children. You slowly descend into Sujood (prostration) trying to ignore the little one poking his head under your nose and………WHACK!!!! You get head-butted by your curious baby and can see stars. There are tears in your eyes and as you lie flat on your back you reflect that you’ll have to start your salah all over again just when you were nearly finished.

I’m still nursing a bump on my brow the following day and it hurts. Gorgeous didn’t seem to feel a thing.

Precious Amanah.

I am so flawed; my temper, my occasional bouts of stubbornness, my very loud (immodest) laugh, my love of all things beautiful and pleasurable (especially food, sleep and all things shiny and pretty), my occasional swearing when I flip and my impatience.

This awareness of my shortcomings gets me to thinking how I could possibly raise my children in the way that Allah (SWT) wants me to. All children are born perfect and pure, how do we ensure that we raise them without that good fitrah (nature) being destroyed.

How can we ever do enough – especially when it seems that time runs away from us so fast. I am terrified that my children will internalise my flaws. The answer I suppose is to work to correct yourself. As Albert Schweitzer said:

Adults teach children in three important ways: The first is by example, the second is by example, the third is by example.

There are so many issues to consider: Islamic school or state school? How do we get the balance right between academic excellence and the spiritual development of our children? How do we protect them from unIslamic values promoted by mainstream media? How do we give them the strength to rise above their peer groups and do what is right? How do we teach and discipline them without destroying the beauty and pleasure there is in being a Muslim?

I’m terrified of being found complacent and looking back and thinking I could have done so much better. But I have the feeling I am not the only one. So many sisters see their flaws and worry that they are doing it right. Perhaps therein lies an answer. That our concern, our worry and our anxiety about this indicates how much we care, how present these matters are in our thinking and how much they influence us. Someone once told me we get what we care and worry about. My grandparents generation came to the UK to earn money, it concerned them and they earned well but with many at the risk of losing their faith. My generation of parents now are making a conscious intention to improve their deen (faith) and care about their children’s tarbiyyah (upbringing) more than anything. They say that when you make sacrifices (of your time, energy and wealth) in the path of Allah (SWT) the reward is more than we can imagine.

Abu Hurayra reported that the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, "Three supplications are answered without a doubt: the supplication of someone who is oppressed, the supplication of someone on a journey, and the supplication of parents for their children." [Bukhari]

Monday 4 August 2008

Eid and Ramadan Planner

I find that Ramadan and Eid are so much more pleasant if you do a little planning beforehand. I can’t usually stick to all of the things I plan, but even if you get to do some of them it’s still rewarding.

Start making Eid CardsThis post gives some hints about where to pick up materials. The Eid cards around up until now tend to be quite cheesy or very boring. I am starting to see handmade ones and cards with nice prints, but they are pricey.
Start picking up Eid Gifts – I have a corner in my closet where I stick gifts that I pick up through the year on sale (although my Pakistan trip means it looks a bit empty this year). It’s also early enough to look on Ebay. Better still, if you have a skill, you might want to make them yourself.
Get your outfits for Eid day – the shops here put their prices up around Ramadan and nearer to Eid, not only is it hard to find anything decent, but the tailors are too busy to make you anything.
Stockpile - Gift wrap and gift bags, decorations (banners, balloons) and anything else you find in the sales/boot sale/yardsale.

I also hope to read more Islamic books to get me in the right frame of mind. I have Tariq Ramadan's 'The Messenger: the Meanings of the Life of Muhammad' and Asma Afsaruddin's "The First Muslim's - History and Memory" on my bedside table. Kooky Little Sister has also bought me a copy of "Sahih Bukhari" which is calling me. Aside from this as many seerah's (biographies of the beloved Prophet (PBUH)) to help get in the spirit, I have a hankering after Martin Lings "Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources" and might gift it to myself as a Ramadan present.

2 weeks to Ramadan
Try to plan in a volunteer activity if possible – many cities have arrangements to provide meals for the homeless and needy, including Muslim organisations.
Prepare any food you can freeze – my mum makes her samosa’s around now, I think I will give them a miss this year with my drive to be healthier this year.

1 week to Ramadan
Make Ramadan Baskets – Fill a basket with a packet of dates, a kufi, scarf, prayer book, prayer beads and sweets (or whatever takes your fancy – ideas welcome as always). I always make one for each household related to us plus two for the neighbours. Stock up – on dates, juice, snacks, sweets whatever else you will need for Ramadan and Eid.

Try to learn some surah and some new supplications. Try to keep iftar as simple and healthy as possible.
Calculate and pay your zakat

Halfway through Ramadan/2 weeks to Eid
Post those of your Eid cards/gifts that are due for abroad.

Last 10 days of Ramadan/1 week to Eid
Prepare for Lailat-ul-Qadr
Invite those family and friends that you want to share Eid with. For extra hassanah, invite someone who would otherwise spend Eid alone: a new revert, a student in your city, someone here from abroad who has left their family behind.
The Big Cleanup - around this time of year my neighbours (who run a carpet cleaning business) wash our carpets for us, which our children have spent all year beautifying. They are kind enough to do this for free. Last year my mum- and dad-in-law were here and spent two days scrubbing carpets and upholstery. For all of you civilised people the last few days of Ramadan are plenty to get your home in order. For me that means I better start now.
Create a Eid gift basket - I make one each year for my mom. I have found the local £-shop does giant baskets, so I fill one with sweets, fruit, nuts, virgin olive oil, indian sweets, honey and other treats and tie a bow on top. This is tailored to what she likes and still cheaper than the ones available online.

3 days to Eid
Post your Ramadan cards set aside for people in your own country. Plan your Eid menu and make sure you have all of the ingredients. Here we seem to have a scrum for meat the day before Eid, so it’s good to have it in the freezer a few days before.

Chaand Raat/Night Before Eid
Pray – Don’t let the good habits you have picked up during Ramadan fall away, give thanks for the blessed month and engage in the nafl prayer for this night:
The Prophet (PBUH), is reported to have said: "Whoever stands up (in worship) in the nights preceding the two Eids expecting rewards from his Lord, his heart will not die when the other hearts will die". (Ibn Majah)

Henna for me and Little Lady – plus it would be nice to send a cone to both the neighbours too.
Decorate the house - we usually wait until the kids are in bed and then put up balloon, banners, cards sent to us and any other decorations. The next morning they see the decorations and know Eid has come - and the excitement of children is infectious.

Eid Day
Try to perform as many of the Sunnah of Eid as possible.
Pay your Zakah-al-fitr
Visit friends and family, perhaps especially those you have had a falling out with?


After Eid
Set aside days for the six fasts of Shawwal
Our beloved Prophet (PBUH) is reported to have said: "Whosoever observes fast in Ramadan and then follows up with six fasts in Shawwal, will be regarded as though he had been fasting every day." (Reported by Ahmad, Muslim, Abu Dawud and At-Tirmidhi)

Preparation and invites for the Eid Party

Of course if it all gets too much, then I suggest scrap the list, do as much ibadah as you can, wear a nice outfit for Eid from another year and go to Pizza Hut (as we did one Eid when the rest of our family decided to celebrate a day later than us).