Saturday 31 January 2009

Butterfly Award

I got an award from the lovely Sister Washi over at Crafty Muslimah for my book reveiws which is a first for me and very sweet of her.
In turn my favorite reads are:

Barakah at Rickshaw Diaries - for the sheer variety of subjects she writes about and the beauty that shines through in her writing.
Hegab Rehab - Ange has probably been awarded this so many times already, but gets it again from me because her blog is addictive, fun and feisty.
Sister Safiyyah of Shaalom 2 Salam - she was one of the first people to encourage me to blog and she has encouraged so many other sisters too. The word gracious comes to mind when I think of her.
Muslim Media Watch for always being interesting and always keeping us informed.
Izzy Mo for her beautiful works of art and her world-affairs type posts which always give me something new to think about
and Sister Brandy at American Muslima Writer for her brilliant idea of creating a directory of ALL MUSLIMAH blogs where sisters can find each other. (I wish I had the time to read through each one - I'm goigng to start with the Muslim mothers blogs).

Face Painting

Had a very full, but quite enjoyable Saturday. I knew my husband would be working all day, so although I usually avoid the mall, I headed there with the kids. I am not a fan of the crowds, of having to drag a pram everywhere with two more kids having off, of shops that have their aisles/racks so close you can't get a pram through. Also my kids refuse to look where they are going and walk into absolutely everyone. Little Man's legs are always tired and he needs to visit the loo every half hour. Little Lady wants to buy everything she lays eyes on and Gorgeous throws his bottle as far as he can send it when he starts getting bored. Everythign is expensive and poor quality and mostly the shops are full of stuff you don't need (can you tell I hate shopping yet?). I had to head to the shops when I realised that all of Gorgeous' pants are now jack-ups and his top sleeves creeping up his arm. Little Man's pants almost fit him but not quite. In the end after some hunting around I found the best little-boy clothes on a budget at Peacocks.
Whilst in the mall, we came across a lady doing face-painting for charity so thoguth would treat the kids. Little Man insisted on a scary tiger face:

Whereas Little Lady decided on a glorious glittery butterfly:

Gorgeous would not lt the brush near him. Of course none of it lasted very long.

We spent the rest of the day at my mums loafing about the house and the evening at my aunties who had invited us over to have dinner with her and some second cousins who were also visiting. Got home and put the exhausted kids to bed. Now I am just trying to get the baby down wihtout much sucess - every time I turn around he jumps out of bed and runs off again. You reckon two years is old enough to swaddle him?

Why Do You Wear That On Your Head?

One of the things about wearing hijab that can annoy the heck out of sisters or elicit the most amusement is the never-ending and random questions that we get asked. “Why do you wear that?” is the usual one, but then there is “Do you take it off when you get home? Does your family see your hair? How do wash your hair? How long is you hair (EVERYBODY wants to know this) Do you wear it because you are married? Do you have a choice to wear it?” This is often followed by “So why do some women wear that thing on their face? Do their husbands make them wear it? Is it because you are from Saudi Arabia ?” Oh and the one I got in Pakistan when I wore a sea-green abaya to a wedding – “Are you wearing anything under there?”

It can be annoying, but I love these questions. Often they show a real ignorance in people and sometimes a lack of manners – there are ways of asking personal questions about another person without offending them or making them feel uneasy (“What is that one your head?” or as one man put it “Do you have to wear that to make yourself unattractive” are not the most tactfully put questions).

I much prefer someone who is at least interested enough to ask those questions in comparison to people who purposefully remain ignorant and continue to dislike or hold prejudice against what they do not understand. Also it gives me the chance to engage in one my most favourite things, and the reason I think we are here – dawah. Most people who make the mistake of asking me the above questions then sit there wondering how to get me to shut up.

This week I was asked by a colleague, why I wear hijab and whether I take it off when I got home. I explained that Islam continues the tradition of the practising Christian and Jewish people whose laws also encourage their women to cover their head. She asked me what the big deal was about hair and I reminded her that in the bible it says that a woman’s hair is her crowning glory. She wanted to know if we have to cover in front of family and I explained about family, in-laws and others and the reasons why.

I tried to explain that it is not just about sexuality and men. One friend told a work colleague in a panic when asked about why she wore hijab, that it was to prevent rape. In contrast another friend (my bestest) when asked rudely by a hostile colleague (who she knew was a religious Christian) why she wore “that”, explained because as a good Muslim she loved the Virgin Lady Mary and wanted to emulate her modesty and then explained about the Muslim command for modesty (the rude lady was left gobsmacked). I explained to her that Islam gives women the freedom to engage in public life in order to serve others, but that we are commanded to ensure that relations between men and women should be characterised by purity. She was surprised when I explained about men having to dress modestly and lower their gaze. She then asked about niqab and I explained about taking purity to the next level and making choices about how you engage with the world. By this point she was ready to change the subject but looked a little less contemptuous of the whole hijab issue.

It also reminded me of a very kind colleague at my previous office who I considered to be an intelligent and fairly knowledgable man who asked me after the Jack Straw niqab affair whether women wore niqab because their husbands made them. I was amazed that he could think this, but it was a perfectly innocent, genuine question. I explained how tough a woman had to be to wear niqab and how some of them wore it even when their husbands disliked it. That most of the niqabi's I knew were either scholars or business-women, many with degrees.

I'm glad he asked. I'm glad my collegue asked yesterday. At least it gives me a chance to put my side of things and explain how hijab is nothing new but a continuation of what came before and is familiar to them.

Thursday 29 January 2009

Being Grateful and Asking Allah

The main part of my job at the moment is raising enquiries, brought in by the Councillors and the Mayor, with the relevant Council service or external agency, and seeing if it can be resolved. People come to the Mayor’s and Councillor’s surgeries, e-mail them, write to them or just approach them in the street.

The area I serve is a borough with one of the highest levels of deprivation and child poverty in the country . Unemployment is high and many of the schools underperforming. It really can be an eye-opener to the way people live, even in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. The most predominant query we are asked is “when will I get my own place from the Council”. People are trying to get themselves somewhere permanent to stay, get custody or access to their children, improve the sometimes horrendous state of the properties they are given (mice, cockroaches, damp and mould which lead to eczema and breathing difficulties, asbestos, which can cause cancer). People are desperate to ensure their children do well, so the same few good schools are seriously over-subscribed and the majority of the children are herded into the same under-performing schools full of girls who screech instead of talk and wear their skirts as belts and boys who have lost their belts – which is the only possible reason their pants would be hanging under their skinny bottoms. There are serious issue with crime and anti-social behaviour including gangs of young people getting rowdy, fights over parking and people fly-tipping their rubbish on public roads and with the council at a loss with what to do except refer it all to the Police.

It makes me very grateful that I have a safe clean(ish) place to live in, good schools in this area (except the nearest one), fairly clean streets and a job to go to. It also makes me think about who we go to for help. The Councillors and Mayor cannot sidestep the procedures and systems in place. If you are number 27,999 out of the approximately 28,000 people on this borough’s waiting list, they cannot create a miracle for you.

This is why I am a big believer that if you have a problem, it is not the men in suits that can do anything to help. They are the subject to the same “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” as the rest of us. That’s not to say that we should not go to people in authority and raise our concerns. Even better we can become the ones that other people come to when they need assistance. But I still know who I need to go to when I really need help knowing He is the one that will respond to my supplications.

I wish all of these people that write, e-mail and call were also able to trust in someone higher and greater than people who can try their best, but cannot guarantee anything. In contrast Allah is the one that we know for certain is listening and has the power to help us. May Allah ease the problems of all those in pain and difficulty.

“And your Lord says: Make duaa (supplicate) unto me, and I will respond and accept your duaa” ~Al-Quran 40:60

“I respond and accept the duaa of the one who supplicates unto me” ~Al-Quran 2:186

"The person who does not ask from Allah Ta’ala, Allah Ta’ala becomes angry with him."
~at-Tirmidhi, Ahmad

"If you ask, ask Allah and if you seek help, seek help from Allah." ~at-Tirmidhi, Ahmad

Tuesday 27 January 2009

Here Fishy Fishy

My better half has been after a fish tank for ages. Seeing as he doesn't ask for much and you don't have to follow them with a pooper-scooper I didn't think that was a bad idea. So last summer he picked up this dusty old thing from a market for a few pounds. It sat wrapped in a black bin liner in the downstairs loo waiting for someone to get round to getting some fish.

More recently though, a client he did a house move for gifted him this:

I passed the smaller tank to a colleague (the one who gave me beans and courgettes earlier in the year) and we went off to the fish specialist shop to furnish the TV cabinet (that's what my sister thought it was). Had a lovely Saturday morning with the kids watching the amazing fish, anemones, starfish, seahorses and sharks and came home with gravel and plastic plants to prepare the tank. I got a shock when I saw the prices of the tanks in the shops. £400 for ones the size of our TV cabinet and £40 upwards for the smaller one we gave away. Little Lady wnated the one that looked like Nemo, which were very beautiful but cost about £50 and the seahorses I was harkening after cost about £80-100.

We had to prepare the tank, leave some chemical in for 24 hours and go back to choose some tiddlers that could survive the fresh water. Little Lady has named the one on top with pink cheeks wendy and Little Man has named the white one Superfish. I will probably name the rest after the X-Men. We can go back after two weeks and have the water tested and pick some more or bigger ones and some real plants. You would think you would get bored staring at fish, but it's actually very soothing and pleasurable. If my mum-in-law comes to visit this summer it will also be very good as watching fish is supposed to be good for lowering high blood pressure.

Unashamedly Geeky

I can’t help myself. I love to collect and I love everything to be in order – by colour, size, type, country or all of the above. I love to organise shelves, cupboards and draws – none of which stay that way.
Everything ends up going by colour:
By shade:
By size and type (these are all miniature perfume bottles which mostly my sisters have given me or I have picked up from boot sales):
By colour and use:
By colour and shape:
By texture and shape:
By country (and by genre, but books are impossible to put in any order and even I am not anal enough to store them by the The Dewey Decimal Classification System or by colour even):
OK, so maybe I have lapses:

Playing Nicely

I have always been a keen reader of the blogs of both Brother Umar Lee and Brother Yusuf Matthews, finding their blogs interesting and insightful. Recently however some of what is emerging in their blogs has troubled me.

Brother Umar posted this, which was responded to by Brother Yusuf with this. What followed was this from Brother Umar (with the attached comments) which elicited a further response from Brother Yusuf (here). I was amazed at the posts, but what especially bewildered me were the comments left by readers and fellow bloggers.

Slander, swearing, generalising examples across whole groups of people, badmouthing of Shaikh’s and other Muslims and general bad behaviour despite a few voices of reason requesting moderation and adab (good manners) in people’s responses.

Recently a fellow blogger (whose blog is now password-protected) mentioned that she was scared to begin blogging because some of the nasty comments that people can leave. I also felt this way when I first started blogging. I have avoided matters of fiqh, tariqah, madhab or anything else theologically challenging or controversial partly because I am not knowledgeable enough about these things, but also because of the intolerant response that they sometimes get from people. The other thing I try to avoid is politically charged issues because I have seen some very nasty non-Muslims leaving insulting, abusive and blasphemous comments (another example is some of the comments further down this post on Brother Umar Lee’s blog). I have had such comments left on my blog and promptly delete them.

I don’t believe that bloggin is haram as someone has said in the past. I believe that it is important that brothers and sisters share their stories, viewpoints, knowledge and experiences for a variety of reasons. So that others will know that they are not the only one in a situation (i.e. Muslimah working mother who wants help with praying at work), so that we can show that we are ordinary people with rent and bills and families not some exotic others with harems and palaces. I believe that such efforts are dawah without the lecturing. Blogging also affords us the chance to learn from each other – I have learnt so much from my sister’s alhamdulillah; I never knew there were Native American Muslims or Muslim life-coaches for example.

I would beseech my brothers and sisters to be thoughtful in their posts, responses and comments and to remember the gentleness and calmness of our beloved Prophet’s (PBUH) speech. Once what you type is out there the whole world can see it to judge you by your words.

The Believers are but a single Brotherhood: So make peace and reconciliation between your two brothers; and fear Allah, that ye may receive Mercy. -Al Quran 49:10

Energy and Dhikr

Most days when it’s this cold, it’s a struggle to get out of bed and I wake up head-achey and blurry-eyed. This is the second day running though that I am getting out of bed full of energy and bursting with life. I feel like I did when I was 18 and was so skinny because of the nervous energy that would not let me sit still. My feet are tapping now and I am bouncy and happy. As usual my brain is on overdrive and the one thought that is pre-occupying me is how can I use this burst of energy? Do I just absorb it into my every day tasks? Do I do something new and special?

The hadith below comes to mind:

Narrated Ibn Abbas: Allah’s Messenger said, “There are two blessings in which many people incur loss. (They are) health and free time (for doing good).” ~Al-Bukhari

Subhan’Allah, I love that our faith offers us guidance at every turn and for every situation. This coincides with something my husband has been reading (and reading to me) from an Urdu book about some of the ulema of India. One of these pious men indicated that even if a person’s heart is not entirely in it, or they are not able to be fully attentive, they should still engage in dhikr. This cleans the heart and improves the iman, so that after some time the dhikr is done with attentiveness and concentration. The above hadith indicates that we take the blessings of health and free time for granted. The second sources indicates that time spent in the remembrance of Al-Wadud is not wasted.

In the meantime I am charging through my work, which is mostly people asking for help with their housing problems, parking tickets and litter on their roads. I have my word document open where I can write down my thoughts to blog later and the sun is shining outside. Hopefully I will have plenty of this good vibe to share with my children later.

How would you use your energy, health and spare time in the best way?

"Therefore, when thou art free (from thine immediate task) still labor is hard, and to thy Lord turn (all) thy attention." ~Al-Quran 94:7/8

Saturday 24 January 2009

Egg and Potato Curry (or Aloo Andey)

This is something my husband often throws together when there isn’t much time to make anything.

1 Onion - diced
2 tomatoes – diced
2 green chilli’s - chopped finely (I use bullet) increase or decrease to suit.
5 eggs – Lightly whisked
1 level teaspoon salt
1 level teaspoon garam masala
Pinch black pepper
½ teaspoon red chilli powder
1 large potato, peeled and diced into small pieces
Handful chopped coriander
½ cup water

Sauté onions in oil until slightly translucent. Add green chilli’s, tomatoes, coriander, spices and salt and sauté a little further until tomatoes are softened. Add water and potatoes, cover and leave to cook on medium heat until potatoes are cooked through and the water has mostly evaporated. Turn heat to low and add eggs. Stir lightly, cover pan and leave for eggs to cook through (approx 10 minutes – check after 5 minutes to ensure not sticking to bottom).

Serve with chapatti.

Book Review: Ahmed Yaar Khan

Not really a book review because I haven’t read his books of short stories myself, but I have found that I enjoy them very much. My husband picked up a few of this writer’s books from our local library’s Urdu section and quickly found himself hooked. Usually when he finds something he likes he will read it to me or give me an outline of the story. Before long I found I would be waiting for the next instalment. So now, when I have to do something tedious like ironing or putting away laundry, I ask him to read while I work which both of us enjoy thoroughly (I’m always interrupting to ask questions or share my opinion).

Ahmed Yaar Khan is a popular real crime writer in Pakistan , what makes his stories unique though is the time period and his role in them. Khan was a Police inspector in India during the last days before Partition. He is adamant that each and every story he writes is completely true and from the notes preserved in his diaries from the time. Each story is based around one case and fairly lengthy due to the details invested on the page. I found myself fascinated by the details of life at the time and especially by the way the different religious groups interacted – the mistrust and dislike so often seething under the surface. The fact that Khan was at such a senior role at such a young age is testament to his brilliance and this shows through the way he approaches the cases brought to him and the way he gets people blabbing about what they shouldn’t be.

I liked the way no case is ever simple. The case of theft from a rich Hindu landowners house turns into one of a Muslim girl that has been abducted, the man’s daughter having eloped with the missing girls brother who also happens to be the landowners secretary. By the end the theft is almost incidental, having been overtaken by murder, sectarianism and politics.

What is also curious is the way the Police are confined by their own prejudices. Khan does not believe that a Hindu policeman can give a Muslim victim justice, the British are shown as being more fair but patronising and ignorant, often to the point of being stupid. Khan’s own prejudices come through. Where he thinks a Muslim has been done an injustice he recalls working passionately to help them. Where the criminal is a Muslim, but he thinks they have been hard done by he will help them to get a more lenient sentence by telling them how to work the Court system (although he never indicates that he destroyed evidence or suppressed a case).

I found Ahmed Yaar Khan’s books engrossing and fascinating accounts of early twentieth century India . I just wish I could read Urdu better. I suppose the better half will have to keep on reading.

Thursday 22 January 2009

I Knew He Was Listening

Just after I published that last post and went to pick Little Lady up from school as she returned from a school trip, I got a call from my mum. They've found my uncle. He's safe. He's still in Peshawar and won't be home in Jhelum till tomorow morning.

I nearly started jumping up and down in the school playground. There's not much detail yet - whether my uncle paid up or the police made a raid. Once I know I will post, but that might take a little while (especially knowing our family and the stories that just get started).

I feel joyful and immensely relieved, as if I have breathed deeply after so many days. Thank you so much to all those kind souls who have made dua for me and my family.

I'm off to say thank you to a certain someone who was taking care of us along.

Oh Allah, help us with this test.

It’s now nearly a month since my uncle in Pakistan went missing and we are still mortified as to what might be happening to him.

Two weeks after he disappeared, the kidnappers called my family and asked for 15 million rupees (that’s 1 ½ crore in Pakistan or £150,000). Everyone went into a panic trying to arrange what they can, selling their dream and memories: the land bought to build their retirement house on, the money saved to move to a safer city, swallowing their pride to borrow from friends, and selling their jewellery (when a Pakistani women sells her wedding jewellery you know it is an absolute last resort).

A few days later they called again and agreed to accept 10 million and allowed my uncle to listen to his brother screaming in the background. Next followed calls to other relatives demanding that we hurry with payment or one of them would be next. As soon as one would get fed up and remove his SIM, another would start receiving the calls.

Another call followed agreeing to 7 million and saying if there was any hint of Police that would be the end of the matter. They instructed one of my uncle to come to Jhelum (the nearest big town to our village) with the money. He waited there all day and then returned home empty-handed. They did the same again with another town – waiting, then coming home alone.

Not wanting word to get out, my uncle and his brothers and sisters told no-one what was happening, it only became apparent to me when they started to try and arrange the money and I made my mum fess-up.

Another reason for the secrecy was that right from the beginning there has been all sorts of speculation that someone from the village or surrounding areas is involved and feeding the abductors with information. This was intensified when things only the family knew kept getting out to the rest of the village. No-one seems to be able to trust anyone else. One theory is that the nomadic shepherd’s who have started to settle in the mountains a few miles from our village were quite friendly with my missing uncle who took them their groceries from his shop. Last year he has encouraged them to take heir livestock to Karachi last year to sell to his brother there for Qurbani (it’s difficult to get good animals in the big cities at Qurbani time). They saw his home and factory and possibly came back and let their relatives know that the friendly local young shopkeeper has money behind him. I feel bad about this speculating, because these are poor people who are not liked very much as it is. Another suspect was the forest ranger who was initially taken with my uncle then dumped. The police wanted to “interrogate” him, but my uncle discouraged this fearing an innocent man might be tortured. Now the ranger has gone missing and we wonder if we were wrong to let him off so easy.

In the end, out of sheer desperation, my uncle contacted some senior police officers (no-one knows whether to trust the local police or not) who it seems have traced the phone signals to Peshawar rather than the lawless tribal areas by the Afghan border where even the police don’t go. They have headed up to Peshawar , perhaps with the intention of making a raid and I am absolutely terrified for both my missing uncle – who knows what state he is in and for my other uncle who is taking such a big risk.

Our idyllic little village in the Punjab is now full of suspicion and fear. People have taken to keeping guns and watch the main road for strangers who no longer welcome in the same way as before. I suppose innocence, once lost, cannot be regained.

Life goes on, but there is no peace. The anxiety underlies everything we do and there is no joy in anything, only guilt, worry and desperation. There are circles under my mum’s eyes and my aunt is fasting and praying and making herself ill as she sits by the phone. But Allah’s (SWT) promise still holds its power:

“Surely with every difficulty there is relief.
Surely with every difficulty there is relief.” ~ Al- Quran 94:5-6

Wednesday 21 January 2009

To Birthday or Not to Birthday

All three of the kids have a birthday coming up – they’ll be 2, 4 and 6 in the coming days insh’Allah. Of course the time is flying too fast. Of course I miss the time I had with each as a little baby (funny how you forget the pains and sleepless nights and exhaustion in retrospect).

My mum is big on birthdays and has been declaring for weeks to Little Lady that hers is coming. In contrast we are not so big on birthdays and this is causing me worry as she counts down the days.

As a child, me and my siblings always celebrated our birthdays. My dad was very against this (“You’re only getting one years closer to dying!!”), so there were no parties, but we could not see what his problem was, so between us children and my mum there were still always presents and occasionally cake (my brother kindly provided the birthday beats).

When we had Little Lady, myself and my husband did a little research and decided not to celebrate birthdays. The thing that convinced me was a religious pamphlet that had a passage about birthdays. The quote in it was from a Christian Pope from the middle ages who was trying to stop the new practice emerging of people celebrating Prophet Jesus’ (AS) birthday and was amazed at the arrogance of people who would consider celebrating the day of their own birth.

When it came to her first birthday though I could not help myself, so we had a small party with a few friends and family members, which the birthday girl cried, then slept through most of. Not long after we had a streak of bad luck with one thing after another going wrong, which made me wonder what we were doing wrong. At the same time my uncle told me the story about his friend who was very religious and never celebrated birthdays, until one time his family decided to throw a party for one of their little ones. Bad luck followed with the loss of the family’s business and deaths and illnesses (you get the idea – my middle uncle is a real doomsayer). Although I don’t tend to be the paranoid type, his story really bothered me and after that we decided to stick to our principle of not celebrating birthdays. I promised my family that they would get presents and lots of fun on the two Eids instead.

As the children are getting older and more aware of what their friends do, it gets harder to just ignore the day and let it pass quietly. I wonder how to approach this matter. I intend to explain to my oldest a little about why we don’t throw celebrate birthdays and remind her we have two Eids instead (we have to save all the good stuff for then!!). If she really wishes she can take sweets to school to share (she has said no before, but I don’t think she will this time) and I will remind her that we are very grateful to Allah (SWT) every day that she came to us, not just on one day. The other thing I always remember to do is to make sadaqah for each child (including nephews and nieces), as they get older I will let them make the choice about where the money goes insh’Allah.

The Prophet (SAWS) said "You would follow the ways of those who came before you step by step, to such an extent that if they were to enter a lizard's hole, you would enter it too." They said, "O Messenger of Allah, do you mean the Jews and Christians?" He said, "Who else?" ~Bukhari and Muslim

The Prophet (SAWS) also said: "Whoever imitates a people is one of them." ~Abu Dawood

Celebrating Birthdays the “Islamic Way” – Mufti Muhammed Sajjad
Celebrating Birthdays - Moulana Abdul Hamid Ishaq (Albalagh)
Is it permitted to celebrate birthdays? - Muhammad ibn Adam al-Kawthari (Sunnipath)

Monday 19 January 2009

Marrying Back Home

I was going to call this post marrying outside your culture, but I was not sure whether I had or not. For people my age (and younger – ahem) marriage seems to be the biggest personal issue to contend with. Add this to the very cosmopolitan places many of my fellow blogging sisters live in and marrying outside of your, or your parents’, culture seems to be a growing trend.

I met my husband on a trip to Pakistan (I was originally introduced to his tall, handsome, but mean cousin and had said no). The story of how we met and how I came to my decision is definitely one I will treasure forever and after a two-year engagement during which I completed my degree, we had a joyful, raucous, chaotic Pakistani wedding.

I think it is testament to my husbands mature thinking, deep-down goodness and patience mash’Allah, that eight years later we are still together when the marriages of more couples we know have broken down than survived. My husband’s first job was in a warehouse where almost the entire staff was Asian and the biggest chunk Pakistani men who had married British-Pakistani women. My husband was struck by the way the majority of these men were complaining about how they thought their lives would be better after these marriages but were in fact nightmares. They had to kowtow to their in-laws and they felt their wives were unable to respect them and they to understand their wives. One described himself as like a dog in his in-laws house. Others complained they were not allowed to send money home (not even £20 to a sister for her wedding in one case).

I can sympathise with these men to an extent, but I can also see things from the other point of view. How many young girls growing up with the Hollywood/Bollywood ideal of a man or growing up in a big cosmopolitan city is then stuck with some poorly educated small-town cousin who struggles to find work in the local take-away (so much for visions of the be-suited, Lexus-driving lawyer or accountant). How do their parents ever expect such marriages to work, are they really so blind?

Even when both parties do make the effort and as in our case the affection is genuine, you have to get over the cultural losses wihtin such a marriage. Anyone in a mixed-marriage might recognise what I mean. My husband cannot see the point of Lord of the Rings, Star Wars or Dr Who (which I love all of). He would miss a thousand childhood references that inform my life as a person who has grown up in London. In contrast, although my parents tried to give me a strong grounding in Pakistani/Punjabi language and culture, I miss a lot of cultural references that hold meaning for him. In Pakistan the most romantic night of the year is Chaand Raat, the night before Eid-ul-Fitr. Our first Eid together, I painted my hands with henna and promptly fell asleep, whilst hubby sat up and sulked that I hadn’t made any effort at all.

I think that for a long time this was the thing that I found hardest. Although we shared language and faith, our culture had been very different and our culture shapes who we are and often what we aspire to. Probably our saving grace was Islam. Regardless of our culture, it guided us in so many ways and that meant that we aspired to the same things and had similar values.

The other thing that helped is that no matter how different your culture, marriage has its own language, its own history and a home has its own culture. After a few years this language is the one that takes precedence between you (if you are not sure about what kind of language this is, think about the times you know what the other is thinking, or when they say one thing, but you know what they really mean – “What would you like for Eid?” “Oh…nothing…”).

For us the most important thing was sincerity. So many people only marry abroad because they cannot find anyone here, or they want someone they can control easily. So many people are keen to marry an English girl or an American/Aussie/Canadian girl for the opportunity to go abroad and earn enough to send bucket-loads of cash home without any thought for the person they are using. Parents need to be aware of this and check their intentions as do their children. I married my husband because it didn’t take long to see that he was such a good person and could not do enough for others (even at his own risk). He married me because he said he never saw me not smiling and he didn’t want a whinging misery for a wife (too late now mate!!)


Something that has been winding me up recently has been the way every time someone mentions the genocide in Gaza, some little fanatic pipes up with how Muslims conveniently don’t see what is happening in Darfur, that we are a bunch of racists and we should put our own house in order etc etc.

Whilst I can agree that the Ummah is facing real problems in terms of war and genocide, racism, nationalism and divisions within, I still don’t think that means we cannot speak up about what is happening in Gaza (as some people would like to see happen). I also don’t agree that Muslims are ignoring Darfur as a whole or are refusing to become involved in any way. What I can see though is that a lot of us don’t know enough about the conflict which has affected so many of our brothers and sisters. The links below have educated me and I hope they are of use to others.

Learn More
BBC: Q&A: Sudan's Darfur conflict
Report of the International Commission of Enquiry on Darfur to the UN
BBC: Google Earth Turns Spotlight on Darfur Crisis
Insight on Conflict: Sudan
Professor David Hoile: Darfur In Perspective

What Can We Do?
Save Darfur Coalition
Darfur Challenge
International Crisis Group: Crisis in Darfur
Amnesty International: Crisis in Darfur
Islamic Relief Worldwide: Darfur Crisis
Muslims Rescuing Darfur

Muslims Speaking Up
Saifuddin: A Muslim Manifesto on Darfur
Naeems Blog - Darfur: US versus China
Sami Jadallah’s Blog – Darfur, an Arab and Muslim Shame!
Handala Blogs - Understanding Africa: Introduction To Darfur
The Bridezilla Blog - Darfur and the lack of American Muslim Interest
Samaha - ISNA: Justice in Darfur: Filling a Void in American Muslim Activism

New York Times - A Muslim Responds

As a Muslim I believe that wherever there is injustice we have the duty to speak up, regardless of whether the perpetrators or the victims are Muslim or not and regardless of nationality and race. We should feel pain and outrage for the people of Nagasaki, and Rwanda, those that died in the Holocaust and in Cambodia, as well as the people of Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya and Palestine.

Narrated Umar ibn al-Khattab: The Prophet (peace be upon him) said “Help the oppressed (sorrowful) and guide those who have lost their way”. [Abu-Dawud: Book 41, Number 4799]

Sunday 18 January 2009

Long Egyptian Necklace

I love the colours blue, green, black and gold together, they feel very "Queen of the Nile" to me.

I had these long blue glass beads and knew they would look best in a long necklace. I felt that perhaps in a bracelet or something smaller they would be too chunky and take the piece over a little. I used big black seed beads as a background and the small square matt gold beads to add interest and pick out the gold in the blue beads.

I wore this with a plain black abaya and a electric blue shawl the same colour as the beads (the picture doesn't pick up the colour).

A tip I picked up is that once I have tied the knot in the elastic or plastic wire, I paint the knot with clear nail-varnish to stop the knots slipping out. Whilst I was threading, I managed to listen to some of this very academic lecture by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf called How the Holy Quran was Compiled.

Book Review: Toni Morrison – A Mercy

I picked this book up at the library knowing that you usually can’t go wrong with this author; everything I have read in the past by her has been a pleasure.

The story revolves around a group of women residing on a small, struggling farm in 1692. There is Rebekah Vaark, the widowed wife of the owner who has travelled from Europe to marry. Lina is the Native American woman who becomes an exile in her own land when smallpox destroys her whole village. Sorrow is the simple-minded daughter of a sea captain whose boat is plundered by pirates leaving the strange child as the only survivor. Florens is the daughter of a slave who when threatened with exchange for the slave-owners outstanding debt offers her daughter in her stead.

When the women find themselves alone on the farm with the possibility of their mistress dying from smallpox, Florens is sent to find the blacksmith, a free black man, who seems to have the skill to treat the illness. Left to their own devices, each of the women have to make a choice about what they will do next; whether they will let their past choose for them or whether they will have the strength to

Considering the time period and characters, you would imagine that the central theme of the book would be slavery. Toni Morrison is such an accomplished writer though that things are never as clear-cut as black and white or oppressed and oppressor. The author shows how white people were also indentured slaves for periods of time and how thier illiteracy and poverty meant that they could not escape their situation.

Rebekkah Vaark and her husband are "unchurched" farmers, but in stark contrast to the Catholic plantation owners of Maryland have a strong distaste for slavery and have good relations with the free blacksmith. Indeed religion is shown to play a big part in the way different people treat slaves.

We also see the absolute helplessness of women, whether black, native, European, slave, free , religious or not. In contrast power resides with the men, whether they are worthy or not. We see the amazing strength of the blacksmith - brilliant at his trade, generous, treated as an equal by Vaark, fearful of no-one. As Lina notes, such a man is dangerous.

I liked how this book made the period more real through the events of that time - the beginnings of slavery, the hardships of small farmers, the passage from Europe to America, the beginnings of the witch-hunts that were made famous in Salem later on.

This is a difficult and at times confusing book to read, until you get to the end. The last chapter brings heart-breaking clarification and I closed it with tears in my eyes.

Thursday 15 January 2009

Our Stories – From Mother to Daughter

When I was a little girl I loved stories, I still do. Biblical stories, folk stories, fairy stories, any kind of story as long as it was a good one well told. My favourites though were the stories my mum told me about my family – both hers and my dad’s (my grandfathers were best friends).

These were usually told as she sat at her sewing machine faced with the drudgery of piece-work and most often with us sitting around her on the floor unstitching her mistakes (never one but a whole batch of fluorescent shirts or shiny pants). I always found her stories so fascinating: war, partition, murder, sacrifice, emigration, betrayal, friendship, skulduggery and mischief – it was all there. A back story to the characters that have populated my own life and childhood and also to their parents of whom there are no photo’s or records. My great-grandfather who was trained to fight with the gatka and gandasa but couldn’t speak up in front of his petite wife. My great-grandmother who lorded it over the local shrine and had a tongue like a double-edged blade but could not bear any discomfort for my mum who lost her own mother as a child. My other great-grandmother who was pretty but so fierce that her daughter-in-laws were terrified of her and would say “Bete mirchi kha ke janne hai” (“she must have ate chilli’s when she gave birth to her sons they are all as fierce as her”) and whose hair started turning black again when she turned 100. My straight-backed and severe grandfather who ruled his home with an iron-rod but melted at the sight of his grandchildren. So many more.

My sisters and brother never seemed as interested at the time and now don’t seem to know most of the stories. So it seems to have fallen to me, especially now that my gran isn’t here, to be the repository of our family’s history. It will be my job to tell my children and insh’Allah one day my grandchildren. But also my little cousins and my brother and sisters children. This is important to me. I hope then that the people who came before us are not then just names to those that follow us. They are real three-dimensional people with pain and joy in their lives that mirror our own. They provide us with continuity, acting as proof that we don’t come from a vacuum even if we don’t have a family crest or are not mentioned in the Domesday Book. That our faces, our builds, even our mannerisms mirror someone else’s.
I hope our children remember all of these people who have left us in their prayers

When I was a little girl I loved stories, I still do. And I’m pleased that so does my daughter.

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

Wednesday 14 January 2009

Orange Silver and Sky Blue Bracelet

I have had this idea in my head for ages. I like the way orange and silver loook together and the sky blue seem to complement these two colours. I was inspired by the following hijab which I brought back from Saudi Arabia.

Whilst I was making this, I was listening to this lecture called The History of the Crusades by Sheikh Abdul Hakim Quick.

Quiet Rage

When I am angry I tend to shout swear and jump up and down, and then promptly forget all about it in about ten or fifteen minutes. But when I am reeeaally fuming I sit stone still and silent. I’m in one of those funks right now.

One of the reasons I started blogging was because I returned to work from maternity leave to find that I had lost my hard-earned grade, most of my staff and a lot of my work areas. I could do nothing about it. I fumed and fumed and sat there with literally no work to do. Then I thought about the other things in my life, the things that I enjoyed and was good at and that sustained me. I began to write.

Around the same time I came across the Muslim blogosphere and found pretty much a continuous stream of arguing, whinging and complaining about just about everything. I thought this is NOT what all Muslims are like. Our faith is beautiful, many of us are fortunate enough to have positive family lives and face a lot of the same issues that non-Muslims do, like being a working parent. We have creative lives and we have inner lives which can be so joyful. We also have a sense of humour, which was certainly not coming across. So I began to blog.

Anyway, back to the fuming. I have another big batch of typing on my desk. I DO NOT WANT TO TOUCH IT. It is not worth the sore fingers and aching wrists. I have a month till I leave this section and piles of other work to do. I should be grateful I have work, especially in the current work climate. I should just get on with it and get it over and done with – my notebook has a sticker I stuck on it that says “be led by what you are trying to avoid”. I can’t see any benefit of doing that right now. Aside from that, the particular person who has sent me the work is now calling me and chasing me to get it done (I got the batch ten minutes ago).

The last time I felt like this, it ended in a creative explosion for me: writing, blogging, learning to take pictures, engaging more with my crafts and intense introspection. I wonder where it will lead to this time?

Monday 12 January 2009

Missing Gran

It’s been nearly six weeks since my gran passed away and I suppose things are settling down. People are still coming to pay their respects at the weekend and I suppose they will for some time as she was widely-known and well-loved. I haven’t cried and I haven’t even most of the time felt particularly sad despite being one of the people she was closest to. I could not work out why this was except perhaps that there were no regrets between us. She lived with me for two years, we use to have long chats, she would watch over my little ones and nag my husband. When she moved in with my parents I would visit her on my days off from work and catch up. She told me about her life and about my family’s history (respectfully omitting all the scandal – that I got from my mum) and she spoke to me about how much she missed all the people that went before her and left her behind: her husband, her brother, her parents - all of whom she idolised (may Allah grant them Jannah insh'Allah)

I felt like we parted on the best of terms.

Over the weekend though, I visited my mum on Friday night and the children caused havoc as usual, tiring my mum out. I thought I would give her a break on Saturday and didn't visit. It came to me that if gran was here she would have wanted to know why I hadn't been, she would be waiting for us all restlessly and no matter how much the kids annoyed everyone, ripped wallpaper and caused mayhem, she would have been over the moon to see us.

I really, really missed that welcoming presence. There is a gap in that home where wisdom, barakah and worship used to reside.

Of course I could not stay away. The pull of my mums couch, television and delicious food is too strong for that and of course she makes us welscome, but I do miss the one person whose welcome was so unconditionally loving and joyful.

May Allah grant her ease in the next world and a home in jannah insh'Allah with those she loved. Ameen

Book Review: Anne Michaels - Fugitive Pieces

This book has sat on my shelf for a fairly long time and despite its sticker saying “winner of the 1997 Orange prize for fiction” nothing about it particularly attracted me. I thought I would give it a go just for a change of scene

Anne Michaels was a poet before she was a novelist and this really shows in this beautiful novel about a seven-year old Polish boy, Jakob who hides from the Nazi’s when his family is massacred and is found starved and dirty by Athos, a sad geologist who takes him home to his native island of Zakynthos in Greece and hides him from the Germans through the Second World War.

The story is continued in Canada as the pair move to Toronto and takes us through Jakob’s marriage and his struggle to cope with his horrific past. Throughout the story there intermittently raised the question of what happened to Jakob’s beautiful pianist sister Bella who is not amongst the corpses of his family.

The story is slow and at times a little confusing, told in flashbacks and memories. The words that tell the story though are just exquisite (gegenschein, ritardando, gelid, ). Every page is heavy with analogy and description. This book explores some very deep themes: death, loss, the nature of the soul, dealing with the past, love and its power to renew.

At times the author seems to go off at a tangent with her thoughts (or more likely just goes straight over my head):

"Irony is scissors , a diving rod , always pointing in two directions. If the evil can't be erased, then neither can the good. It's as accurate a measure as any of a society: what is the smallest act of kindness that can be considered heroic? In those days to be moral required no more than the slightest flicker of movement - a micrometre - of eyes looking away or blinking, while a running man crossed a field. And those who gave water or bread! They entered a realm higher than the angels simply by remaining in the human mire." -p162

This took me a few readings just to get the gist of. The sheer beauty of the writing though, keeps you focussed on the page:

"Because Athos's love was paleobotany, because his heroes were rocvk and wood as well as human, I learned not only the history of men but the history of earth. I learned the power we give to stones to hold human time. The stone tablets of the Commandments, Cairns, the ruins of temples. Grave stones, standing stones, the Rosetta, Stonehenge, the Parthenon. (The blocks cut and carried by the inmates of Golleschau. The tombstones smashed in Hebrew cemeteries and plundered for Polish sidewalks, today bored citizens, staring at their feet while waiting for a bus, can still read the inscriptions)." - p32

On finishing this book, I felt like I had missed out on so much that was between its pages. I don’t think that this is a book to read once if you want to really to understand what is being said, but again and again.

Chaos at Work

I finally got round to meeting the new team I will be working with hopefully at the end of this month insh'Allah. I turned up with the best intention to learn and work hard and prove myself but still annoyed that I had been pushed into the kind of work I was not looking for. I was also nervous that I was new to this field and didn't know much.

When I finally sat down with the team I was very heartened and could see why the person allocating to roles thought that this kind of work would be suitable for me. I had made it clear that I was very interested in equality work and that I had experience in this. The new role centres around policy and performance and looks at things like equalities and impact assessments (I have a lot of swotting up to do). Although I don't know lots about this kid of work, it seems very interesting and I feel like it will give me skills and experience that will benefit me in the future insh'Allah.

The service I have been aligned with is Regeneration and Physical Development which looks at re-building run-down areas of the borough and making the most of investment opportunities in the area. We will also be working with the team that deals with the legacy of the Olympics in 2012 and with the people who have been given a massive project to re-generate a whole ward within the borough which is one of the most run-down, neglected areas in London.

So after eight years of work, I am starting all over again, but at least it is in a role that has scope for growth and development insh'Allah.

The other thing that made me smile was that this is a new team and I realised that no-one knows what they are doing. The senior manager admitted as much saying that they were consulting managers in Regeneration to find out what they wanted and making the service up as they go along. One thing I have learnt from past experience is that chaos can mean opportunity - the person that rides the wave can travel to where they want to be insh'Allah.

Saturday 10 January 2009

Breaking The Silence: The Truth About Gaza

A simple guide to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Gaza
The Independent: Massacre of a family seeking sanctuary
Robert Fisk: Why do they hate the West so much, we will ask
John Pilger:Holocaust denied: the lying silence of those who know
CNN: Israel broke the ceasefire - not Hamas!
MPACUK: 5 simple things you can do to help the Palestinians
Muslim Matters: ACTION-GAZA: Can we Spare 60 Minutes?
The Huffington Post: CNN "Missing in Action"
Naomi Klein:Israel: Boycott, Divest, Sanction

Izzy Mo's Blog: From Gaza: Gorund Zero
Sister Safiyah: Israel: Have You Forgotten?

Previous links

“The Muslim Ummah is like one body. If the eye is in pain then the whole body is in pain and if the head is in pain then the whole body is in pain” ~ Muslim and Bukhari

Book Review: Juliet Marillier - The Sevenwaters Trilogy: Child of the Prophecy

Kooky finally got round to reading this and handing it over so that I could finally read the third in the Sevenwaters trilogy (go here for reviews of the excellent part one and not quite as good part two).

This book continues the story started in book one with Sorcha of Sevenwaters and her battle with the evil Lady Oonagh and the sacrifices she makes to save her brothers. The second novel is narratted by Liadan, Sorcha's daughter and tells of the escalation of war between Ireland and Britain over the islands occupied by the British but held sacred by the Irish. We find Liadan's brother Sean being groomed to become Lord of Sevenwaters and her beautiful sister Niamh being forced to marry a cruel nobleman after she is found to be in love with a druid. Liadan herself is kidnapped by outlaws who need her healing skills and find's herself face-to-face with the mysterious "Painted Man".

In the third instalment the action moves far away from Sevenwaters to Kerry on the Irish coast and is told through the eyes of Niamh's daughter Fainne - part sorceress and raised in the traditions of the druids but with no knowledge that she belongs to the Sevewaters clan. Fainne lives an isolated life with her sorcerer father waiting every summer for the travelling folk to return to the coast so that she can meet her only friend Darragh. That is until her fifteenth year when we see the mysterious Lady Oonagh return and hold her father captive with the demand that she travel to Sevenwaters and insinuate her way into her family's affections. This is with a view to cause them harm and also to ensure that Fainne uses her magic to make sure they lose the great battle that is being planned for the following summer against the Briton's to win back the scared isles.

Oonagh's intention is to foil the prophecy that states that it will take a child that was neither of Britain nor or Erin but at the same time both, who is marked by the raven to take the sacred islands back. Without the Child of the Prophecy, who is beleived to be Liaidan's son Johnny, the quest to regain the sacred islands will fail.

We follow Fainne as she is sent to Sevenwaters and finds that her family are not the cruel people portrayed to her. Her discovery is tempered by the warning from Oonagh that she must carry out her plan or risk the lives of her father, Darragh and her new family. At the same time she finds her abilities in the craft of magic, her power as a seer and her ability to see folk from the other world (the ancient Formhoire or the Tuatha Dé Danann or "Fair Folk").

As with the second book, the third was not as gripping as the original story. Saying this, it still builds to quite a gripping climax as we finally get to the resolution of the story that we anticipate from the end of the first novel.

Whereas the first two novels are heavily laced with Irish folk-lore which give them a more mystical quality, the third is a more straightforward narrative which looks at how the great legends are made and how the omit the reality of war: the suffering, the blood and guts and the pain of those left behind and also the important lesson that the other is is really no different to our own (the British are viewed as cold and lacking in sprituality as they follow the new religion of Christianity, the Irish are viewed as passionate, blood-thirsty heathens).

Although I did enjoy this book for the most part, by about half-way I almost gave up due to the meandering nature of the story - it took a long time to get to the climax. I also found myself predicting much of what would come very near the beginning (the truth about Niamh's death, the reality of the Child of the Prophecy, the way Darragh's part in the book would unfold). The big dramatic dialogue at the end between Fainne and Oonagh also made me laugh, reminding me of the way the villain in Indian films stands gloating over the fallen hero for so long, that he recovers his strength and vanquishes the baddie. Saying that the ending had me gripped. I missed two bus stops and had to carry my heavy shopping all the way home, which is usually a sign I was hooked.

A Visit From the Bestest Friend

My best friend returned from Hajj mash'Allah and whereas I should have visited her, she knew I was a bit all over the place at the moment and came to visit me instead. She came with gifts (and bribes for the children) who were all grinning as soon as they saw her.

She brought me a volume of SAhih al-Bukahri and a Harry Potter book and some very good books for the kids. Some black seed oil which will definitely be useful in my home, some lip-gloss (which I will have to hide from Little Lady or I'll never see again) and a wonderful jewellery set in my most favourite colour. The best thing though was the little bag which contains the ajwa dates I so love.
She also bought the kids activity sets (sticker books, colouring pages and posters to paint). I had planned to let them have a look and then hide them until a more appropriate moment. I stood no chance, whilst I spoke to my friend and sisters, the kids took the activity packs apart and also gorged on the lovely Thornton's chocolates (which were for ME) without asking.

Whilst we were gabbing away, another old friend who onced lived with me, rushed in with a Victoria's Secret's bag full of toiletries for me declaring she could not stop as she was flying to America tomorrow and would see me when she got back and rushed off again.

Felt surrounded by kindness today.

Wednesday 7 January 2009

Busy Mum - Busy Kids

Keeping in mind some of the difficulties/upset we have been experiencing with family, it has been a relief that home life has been fairly calm. My focus on the moment is on the children's tarbiyyah and education. The most important part of this is teaching Little Lady Quran, which has been a big struggle for both of us in the past few weeks, especially with lapses on my part. My husband has been helping me the last week or so by reminding us both that it is Quran time (or sabaq time as we call it). We are progressing slowly but well having learnt the alphabet, the vowel sounds and the different forms of the letters when they join to form a word. Some of the letters can be confusing (the different forms of Ain ﻌ‎ and Ha ﺤ‎ for example) and to get round this I have been picking a letter that she is making mistakes with and writing all of the forms of it for her to copy (ﻉ‎ ﻊ‎ ﻌ‎ ﻋ‎). Hopefully this will also come in useful later if she learns to write Arabic or Urdu insh'Allah. A few people have questioned whether it is possible for me to teach Little Lady at home well enough (with the best if intentions) and this has undermined my confidence a little. Although my dad teaches Quran at the mosque, I do not want to send her there and I don't think he will have time to teach her at home. I am happy with the way she is progressing, but I worry that if there are mistakes in my mukhaarij (pronunciation) I will pass these on. The other option we have looked at is getting a teacher to come to our home. My husband will be looking into this .

Our other problem is concentration, I can be dreamy and scatty at the best of times and she is certainly my daughter! I find myself asking her to come back to the page, to concentrate, to put her finger after every word or letter at times which is hard work for me and annoying for her. I wonder if cartoons are contributing to this, because as soon as she comes home from school she is on Youtube watching Tom and Jerry. I plan to put a password on the computer as a five-year old should not be using the internet unsupervised anyway. I think I will be looking at gentle ways to improve concentration, really though, I am realising it is all about persistence, determination and practice.

We are also practising the names of Allah (she has learmed about eight) and this is one part we both enjoy. I want to teach her Al-Fatihah insh'Allah which she recognises snatches of because her dad makes her recite it at bedtime. I will have to think about how to start with this.

On the schooling side, she is still getting lots of homework to support what she is learning in class which is good but maybe a bit too much for her age (I didn't get homework till high school). At home I am getting her to practice writing her numbers and working on her handwriting and spelling. She can simple books read herself now mash'Allah which is a milestone and something I am immensely proud of her for (I always felt that once my children learnt to read, the world would open up for them and they could begin to choose their own paths and interests in learning).

Sometimes I feel a bit guilty that I keep her busy this way (especially as I don't believe in hot-housing children), but I feel like I have to look at longer-term goals. Our local high school is the one I went to and I am adamant my children will not go there (low standards, high delinquency, smoking, truancy and general low expectations). So my options are Islamic School which I may not be able to afford and often don't meet standards of teaching, trying for another school which is a very long shot due to over-subscription or grammar schools which our area have two of the best in the country (plus they are gender-segregated). Maybe home-schooling would be a last resort if nothing else worked.

I have also started Little Man on his Arabic Alphabet, he picked up Alif and Ba with no problem, but doesn't want to progress any further so we have been practising Ta and Thaa reluctantly for days with him insisting that he only wants to read Alif Baa. At the moment he is in seventh heaven about going to school, but comes home exhausted and feels asleep as soon as he has eaten (he was very proud of the yellow sticker his teacher gave him). I also hope to start teaching him his numbers and alphabet soon.

Gorgeous is the source of so much pleasure for me at the moment alhamdulillah. All mothers suffer from guilt at some time or other with regards to if they are doing enough or not, but even more so when you are a working mum. I have always worried about bonding, especially with my youngest as when maternity leave ended my in-laws were staying with me and spent the most time with the baby often letting him sleep with them. He liked to play unhindered and didn't like to be held in my lap or cuddled which I found disheartening. At least when Little Man was small I was expecting Gorgeous and on maternity leave, so we had time to really bond. Recently though I am seeing a change. As soon as I get home he gets into my arms and pretty much stays in my lap or at my side till he falls asleep. The sheer peace, comfort and pleasure I get from holding him beats anything else.

Little Man’s First Day at School.

After a long wait, we finally got round to Little Man’s first day at nursery yesterday, and what a pleasure (most of it was). He spent the whole day asking if it was time to go yet (he was given a place in the afternoon nursery) and I spent the whole day black-mailing him: “If you want to go school, you have to finish your food”, “If you want to go school you have to pick up your toys”.

He was given the same nursery class as Little Lady used to attend, which was nice bit of continuity. I introduced us all to his teacher thinking at least this will prove he has a mother – she probably won’t be seeing me for the rest of the year. I was worried he would be shy or withdrawn, which he seemed at first. He spent the first 10 minutes standing with his mouth open looking incredibly gormless, it didn’t help that the baby accidentally poked him that morning in the mouth and both his lips were swollen with a bloodspot on the bottom one. It wasn’t long though before he found his feet and ran off with all of the other boys straight into the play-house with all of the play-dough and stayed there for the hour. The teacher used a tambourine to call the children to the carpet and Little Man promptly declared he wanted the tambourine, that there was one in his sister’s class and that he liked play-dough. After this there was no stopping him, he chatted away to the teacher until it was time for us to go (only an hour for the first day) and the other children headed off to the library. At this point he threw a fit and refused to come home. He cried all the way home, saying we could not make him come home tomorrow and fell asleep from exhaustion as soon as he sat down.

Oddly enough, along with two school bags (one for PE kit, one for a change of clothes), I have to supply welly-boots and a rain coat for him so that he can play out even if it is wet – I am not very keen on this, but it seems all the kids have to do this (I saw two children doing PE in their summer shorts yesterday and the cold is almost unbearable here right now).

Today we are supposed to drop him off for an hour unaccompanied, but I think we will be leaving him for the afternoon as he is so keen mash’Allah, can’t wait till he gets home to tell me all about it.

Fasting during Muharram and the Day of Ashurah

Abu Bakrah, may Allah be pleased with him, reported that the Prophet (PBUH) said: "The year is twelve months of which four are sacred, the three consecutive months of Dhu'l-Qa'dah, Dhu'l-Hijjah and Muharram, and Rajab Mudar which comes between Jumada and Sha'ban." [Bukhari, 2958]

Abu Hurayrah, may Allah be pleased with him, reported that the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said: "The best fasting after Ramadhan is fasting Allah's month of Muharram." [Reported by Muslim, 1982]

Ibn ‘Abbas narrates "I did not see Rasoolullah (PBUH) anxiously await the fast of any day, which he gave preference to over other days, but this day, the day of Ashura." (Bukhari)

"For fasting the day of 'Ashura, I hope that Allah will accept it as expiation for the year that went before." [Muslim, 1976]

The Virtues of Muharram and Fasting on 'Aashooraa by Shaykh Saalih al-Munajjid hafidhahullaah

Fiqh of Islamic Months: The Month of Muharram by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Holy Month of Moharram By Maulana Justice (R) Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani

Muharram By Hafiz Abdullah Muhammad

Book Review: Juliet Marillier – The Sevenwaters Trilogy: Son of the Shadow’s

This novel follows on from Daughter of the Forest and picks up the story of the story of Sorcha’s children. Niamh the beautiful daughter expected to marry well to forge an alliance, Sean, the son destined to rule Sevenwaters and his twin, earthy Liadan, a healer like her mother Sorcha but also a seer of the future. Sorcha takes a back seat in this part of the story and we feel her fading away throughout, which is in contrast to her strength in the first book.

The six brothers of the earlier novel have each gone their way, two dead fighting Britons, another become a Druid, the eldest ruling Sevenwaters, the youngest travelling the world seeking adventure and one hiding in the shadows of the forest, a swan’s wing in place of one arm to remind him of the sorceress’s curse.

Early in the book, an ally of Sevenwaters is attacked by a mysterious band of ruthless strangers with painted bodies and costumes which make them look like animals. Their leader is known as the Painted Man.

The book also begins with a love affair between Niamh and a young druid which is discovered and banned, with her being sent away in disgrace to marry a cruel aristocrat so that Sevenwaters could gain an alliance and protect its borders. This sits strangely with the previous gentleness of Niamh’s parents, Sorcha and Red, indicating that there is more to this than is evident. Liadan is sent to accompany the distraught Liadan and finds herself abducted by some of the Painted Man’s fighting men. She is taken to treat an injured man belonging to the group and finds herself face to face with the mysterious Painted Man.

The story continues with conflict between the various groups and armies with Liadan caught up in the bargaining and fighting at various turns. As the story unfolds, characters from the previous book are drawn in and events from the previous book brought up again and the consequences of previous stories made clear.

After Daughter of the Forest, which I enjoyed immensely, I looked forward to this book. On reading it however, I did not find the storyline quite as engrossing. The main characters were well-drawn and we sympathise with them, but again one of the villains was predictable – Niamh’s husband, Lord Fionn, whereas the other, Eamonn of the Marshes is less so. Although I did enjoy this book, it didn’t leave me as keen to read the last part as the first part did and at times did feel as if it was just a bridge to carry through the story to its conclusion in the third book. That said, I still enjoyed the Celtic folk stories woven throughout the book, the mysterious atmosphere created by them and the unfolding of the story of the Painted Man.

Book Review: Juliet Marillier – The Sevenwaters Trilogy: Daughter of the Forest

I bought Kooky Little Sister this set of books for Eid on her request and was keen to read them myself and see what all the fuss was about.

On picking up the first novel in the series I realised I had read it before a long while ago and the story stuck out in my mind. The novel is a take on the Brothers Grimm tale of the six princes turned into swans by a wicked sorceress and their lovely sister who must rescue them.

The simple children’s story of six brothers and their sister who must weave six shirts out of starwort in complete silence in order to change her brother’s back to human form is given a much more grown-up re-telling in this book. The setting is Ireland in the eighth century and rural North West England and the backdrop formed by the warring of these two countries and the Viking raids on both. We also see the emergence of the powerful new religion Christianity and the threat it poses to the old Druidic faith.

Marillier convincingly creates the period with its forest, farms and beaches and weaves through it the politics of men of power and the power of the “Fair Folk”. The story is told from the point of view of the sister, Sorcha, a free-spirited young woman who struggles through the loss of her home, the fief of Sevenwaters, the painful challenge set to rescue her brothers, rape and abduction, her treatment as a foreigner by the Britons – suspected and reviled, being tried for witchcraft and the loss of her love to the call of duty.

The characters are fairly well constructed and hold your sympathy and interest. The exceptions are the two villains: The sorceress, Lady Oonagh, who we learn very little about and Richard of Northwoods who reminded me of Alan Rickman’s comically slimy Sheriff of Nottingham in the film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves – I found the dialogue given to him just a little too glib and smarmy.

Overall an intriguing mix of fairy or folk tale, historical romance and fantasy novel, un-put-downable once you get into it and best of all a cracking good story.

Monday 5 January 2009

Kids and Chores

Little Lady and Little Man’s current favourite game is continuous complaining. “Muuuuum She’s troubling me”, “MUM!! He’s making trouble to me” When you get to the root of what this “trouble” is it’s usually “he keeps following me”, “she called me dumb”, “she’s not playing with me”, “he keeps waving his hand near my book” AAAAAAAAAAGH. So I have found that the only answer is to keep them occupied. I started with re-directing them to their toys, books and colouring pencils (Plan A). Then I tried to give them activities to keep them busy (Plan B), but these are limited because some have to be done when the baby falls asleep (beading, crafts) so he doesn’t run off with their scissors or throw the beads across the room in sheer joy at all these little throwable things he has found.

After a morning of this whining with no let up, I had to resort to Plan C: “Darling, can you get put this upstairs”, “Thank you love, can you take this now”, “Okay, can you tidy your room”, “who wants to pair the socks”, “who wants to tidy the shoes up” etc etc. I was hoping that the numerous trips up the stairs and would help burn some of the extra energy (its toooo cold to take them out) and the other tasks would keep them occupied. My mum has always encouraged me to set my children tasks, she insisted that if I start picking their night clothes off the floor and fixing their beds, I would be doing it for the rest of my life. I never planned to be the kind of mum who waits on her children hand and foot, even though I do admire the stamina of the women who are willing to do this for their children, so I had to agree with mum.

So I have had them busy, pairing up shoes in the hallway, taking clothes up the stairs and bringing toys down the stairs, hunting for missing baby bottles and trying to make their beds. Making them hoover their room when they threw popcorn all over the floor was probably a bit too much though. Although little lady did an excellent job, she decided to be super efficient and go and empty the bag. She then stuck the bag back in the hoover without attaching it. So next time I hoovered, the machine filled up with dust and dirt, which I had to spend ages clearing out. Bit of an own-goal really.

It might sound a little bit mean, but I do think that everyone that lives in a home had their part to play towards its upkeep, not just that lady who cleans the mess and makes our dinner and shouts like a madwoman sometimes. I’m helped by the better half because he is happy to do his share. In my parents house the opposite was true. My dad can just about make tea or boil an egg, although he is good at giving advice on how to hoover whilst you attempt to hoover around him. My brother has lived away from home which means he can open a can and pour it into a plate before sticking it into the microwave, I distinctly recall him as a teenager though, on being told to carry his plate to the kitchen, looking at us four sisters and declaring “what are they for then?”

I am not the kind of person to tolerate that (plus I am too lazy to be that kind of wonderful, attentive mother who anticipates her families every need and meets it unquestioningly). I hope that setting chores now and again for the kids is the start of encouraging good habits – making their own beds, putting their toys away, putting their hats, coats and school bags back in place. They only downside is the hoarse throat you get from repeating yourself ad infinitum and shouting.

I found this article incidentally, about teaching your children to help with chores, via Sister Naimah Umm Khadijah's blog.

Children helping around the house.