Saturday 28 February 2009

Saturday with the Bestest

Alhamdullilah I had the loveliest Saturday with my best friend. I wanted to visit her new home (her first place) and she wanted to see my children.

I wanted to take her a gift and whilst I was thinking what to get her (on a budget since the machine ate my debit card and it's taking a month to get a new one), my husband informed me that he had brought home a couple of bags of stuff from a job last night and was any of the stuff any use? I went to take a look in the bags he'd dumped in the front room and got a surprise. I found a big set of five cooking pots, a porcelain tea set, a set of three casserole dishes, trays, designery fruit bowl, a punch set and a load of other smaller kitchen utensils - all packed. This is why I love my husbands job, who knows where the money goes, but at least we get lots of pressies along the way. They went straight into the boot for Bestest, but I still fancied treating her (money, card gone, recession, no sense of finance...). I am quite lucky that where I live, you can get things for a decent price if you know where to look and there are lots of lovely shops nearby. In the end I got her these for under £50:

My fave's are the bangles which costs £5 in total and which the girl in the shop matched for me (other shops had similar for around £20).

We had a lovely time at her home gorging on Moroccan food and pizza. I took a picture of my friends younger sisters book collection. She is training to be a teacher and I love the way she displayed these children's books about the Prophets (AS) from Dar-us-Salam - easily accessible and in a way that they are less likely to be treated with disrespect (I keep the few Islamic children's books I have in the front room so that the the kids are less likely to think of them as play things).

The kids got spoilt rotten with a trip to the garden to pick flowers (something I never allow), then a bus trip (they are bus-crazy) uptown leaving me and my friend to catch up in peace.

Friday 27 February 2009

Mom/Mum Award from Hijabi Apprentice

I did a double-take when I saw this, but it really did make me smile, mostly because I just love talking about being a mum and about my kids even if it bores the heck out of everyone.

Here are the rules of this tag:

1. Admit one thing you feel awful about (involving being a mom). Once you have written it down, you are no longer allowed to feel bad. Remember you are a good mom!

2. Remind yourself that you ARE a good mom, list 7 things you love about your kids, you love doing with your kids, or that your kids love about you.

3. Send this to 5 other moms of the year that deserve a reminder that they too are the best moms that they can be. Remember to send them a note letting them know you have selected them, and also add a link to your post that directs people back to the person who nominated you!

It has to be the yelling. When I was a kid I used to watch Michael Crawford play Frank Spencer in the hilarious Some Mothers Do Have ‘Em. He was always very weedy until I saw him years later. In an interview he said he could never play the role of Frank again because his opera singing had made him so barrel-chested. I think I am going the same way. I never knew I could shout so loud until the kids got old enough to fight like football hooligans. I am sure my lungs must have expanded, I shout so loud I can make my own ears ring. I often wonder if it’s something I am doing wrong that makes them fight this way, but then I can hear the neighbours on both sides shouting at their kids and I am reassured that it’s the same old story all over.

1. I love Little Lady’s confidence, if she doesn’t like something she will say, if someone is bothering her she will let them know. She knows what she wants: everything pink shiny and uber-girly. She really is my dream come true.
2. I love Little Man’s enthusiasm for life. He loves school (and seems to be smitten by one of the little girls in his class). He’s not shy at all and has made friends with everyone in his class, the teachers and the librarian. Oh, until I hug and kiss him and he comes over all embarrassed. I also love that he always tells me I look nice even when I don’t
3. I love Gorgeous’ cheekiness. I can tell him off as much as I want, he will just grin at me as if there is nothing wrong. When I put him back in bed for the 12th time he will get out again and run away giggling loudly. I wish everyone could be that happy mash’Allah.
4. I love the peace I get from holding, hugging, kissing and listening to my children. I can feel such moments washing away all the stress, anxiousness and small irritations of life.
5. I love watching old movies with the kids (Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood, Christopher Reeves’ Superman and The Princess Bride). We wait till their Dad’s out, then find a pile of food and gather round the computer. The best bit is when the children start keeling over with sleep one by one.
6. I love taking the kids to the countryside to the farms, for fruit-picking and to the markets. The fresh air and running around makes them eat better and sleep better and it nourishes my soul knowing they are breathing good clean air and that I don’t have to stress that they will bump into someone, knock something of a shelf or get lost – there is just space everywhere.
7. I love the unconditional love I get from my children regardless of whether I deserve it or not. There is no judgement about whether I am a good mother or not, whether I was being fair or gentle enough. It is just natural, assumed and total.

In turn I tag:
Umm Nassim
Umm Nour – Hollie Moore
Sister Rainbow
A Learning Muslimah
Umm Hibaat

Wednesday 25 February 2009

Avoiding that Melt-down.

I have written before about the need for mums to unwind and some ways that might help in trying to do this. This last week at work has been manic and although things have calmed down I have struggled to ensure I do not carry the stress home. Sometimes it has been very small things that have helped me immensely. In fact this has reiterated for me the pleasure to be found in the small things that already exist in your life. By serendipity I came across the following quote which I thought had some grains of truth in it:

Whatever it is you want, however you want to have it, no matter why you want to have it, you can have it faster if you can first be happy without it.

Some of the things that have helped me this week have been:

Getting down with the kids – on one of the busiest, most tiring days, I allowed the kids to play for half an hour before bed, they grabbed their box of pencils and crayons and clambered onto my bed. I find Little Man’s enthusiasm for everything infectious, and I couldn’t help joining in. It was fun. Here is the picture we coloured together:

Hanging out with mum – her sofa is definitely a place of peace for me, especially seeing as the kids disappear to harass my sisters and I don’t see them again until I go home. In fact when they realise I might be calling them to get ready to go home, I don’t see them at all. This week, I haggled one afternoon off work and spent it at my mum’s eating her scrummy comfort food (chicken and dry bell pepper and gourd curry with soft little chapatti’s). We watched old black and white Pakistani movies together and I vegetated happily.

Ice-cream in bed – What more to say? I put the kids in bed with a warning not to move. Put the baby down with his back to me (not sharing my Feast with anyone) and read my book (The Cairo Diary by Maxim Chattam) and had a lovely Feast chocolate ice-cream and felt very pleased.

Found something nice to wear to work – my black abaya with beige shayla and beige heels and a nice broach Long-Suffering Sister bought me. The bracelet didn’t quite match but it’s shiny and shiny things make me smile. It was also one of my favourite bargains of last year at 25p from one of the boot fairs.

Finding the kitchen again – I had a Fanny Craddock moment this week, when I wondered into the long-forgotten domain called the kitchen and decided I needed to re-discover the joy of good cooking. Everything I touched has turned out revolting for the last two weeks or so until I broke the run yesterday with dry spicy boneless chicken with green peppers which I enjoyed making. I plan to try something different or new every day and take my sweet time making it . Today's is aubergine, gurd and green peppers with potatoes (I learnt veg need less chilli and salt, especially after this nearly burnt my mouth out).

Book Review: Maxim Chattam – The Cairo Diary

I have never heard of this writer or book despite the “international best-seller” tag but the mention of Cairo in the title and the cover had me interested immediately (shallow I know). I have to admit part of the reason was my curiosity about Egypt because of blogs such as those of Umm Travis, Mama Mona and Ange.

The book is set in 1920’s Cairo and modern-day France. Marion is a Parisian who is whisked away by the secret police to an isolated monastery for her own protection after a scandal that rocks Paris. For most of the book we are not told who or what it is she is hiding from. Her arrival at the monastery is swiftly followed by someone leaving a cryptic note on her bed which leads her to a secret hiding place near an old tower. This seems to be an odd dead end however as we hear no more regarding these games. Whilst in the monastery she is enlisted to help with categorising the crumbling old books bequeathed to the brotherhood and comes across an old copy of a Edgar Allen Poe novel which actually hides the diary of Jeremy Matheson, a police detective stationed in Cairo in 1928.

The diary details the discovery of four horrifically murdered children and the subsequent police investigation. The terrified native Cairene’s are convinced the murderer is a ghoul of some kind; the British convinced they have a deranged serial killer on the loose who must be stopped before a European is hurt.

Both of the settings are absolutely wonderful: the devastating storms that batter the remote maze-like old monastery on one hand and the exotic, colourful and rich atmosphere of Cairo at the peak of its archaeological discoveries (think Art Deco, the discovery of Tutankhamen and pre-War decadence):

“His point of reference were in the line of minarets on the rooftops, in the songs of the muezzins that punctuated the day in a less martial manner than Big Ben, in the splendor of an Englishman’s life amongst the Arabs. And also of the daily spice that wafted in from the desert onto all their heads: the threat of a danger that might rise up at any moment, in any possible form.” P.69

The detective story element in the book had me riveted, I really wanted to know who the murderer was. Despite this, the book was not without flaws. In many places the writing was almost bad enough to make me cringe:

“She took her shower and saw the cotton-wool clouds thinning out beneath her window as she emerged from the bathroom. The carpet of innocence was flowing back towards the sea.” p.97

“I am an orphan from Alexandria, a little girl with foreign parents who abandoned me in this land where I am nothing, and I have become a respectable woman…I have climbed the steps of this world without any help” p.277

Also, whilst the Cairo story is fairly engrossing, the story of Marion as she wanders about the monastery seeing hooded figures in corners is less so. This means that every time Chattam breaks off from the diary bringing you back to the modern world, you experience a sense of frustration at having to wait for the story to take off again.

Another sore point was the treatment of the Egyptians by the author. They are either poverty-stricken, hashish-addled or superstitious (like the imam). Later they demand independence and are portrayed as barbaric savages. I would expect this from an author writing in the 1920’s, but certainly not today. Despite this I was still surprised to come across this line:

“An old Arab, who started insulting him in the language of the Prophet Mohammed” p.281

I just did not see the point of the reference and it highlighted the lack of thorough research on the part of the writer. In the end I could not help thinking that perhaps this would have been better as a conventional thriller or horror novel set entirely in the 1920’s Cairo setting. There are also a number of other stories which are left half told which could have made great novels in themselves – Jeremy’s past, the story of his love interest Jezebel (yes, that was actually her name) and the story of the “ghoul” amongst others.

Event: Demonstration by Abdur-Rahman of Islamic Martial Arts

I recently attended a talk by Hakim Archuletta (1 and 2) at my local Islamic Centre that was very enlightening. What followed the talk was a demonstration of Islamic Martial Arts by Brother Abdur Rahman of Silat Martial Arts UK which I didn’t expect to be as useful, but from which I took away a few things that have really helped me.

Brother Abdur-Rahman turned out to be a very humble and unassuming looking man who once he got moving came across as very funny, friendly and charismatic.

He began by saying that the greatest teacher of all is Allah (SWT) followed by the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) who he acknowledged was created first, before everything and will be there at the end of everything. Following on are the Sahabah (RA) and then the Taabien and Awliyah, or friends of Allah (SWT). After this, he said we can also learn from ourselves. However, in order to gain knowledge, we have to make a connection: mentally, physically and spiritually with Allah (SWT).

He went on to say that the energy from being a Muslim is enormous. We are energised by our sincere intentions and by our focus on Allah (SWT). He quoted the Prophet (SWT) as saying that just by making wudhu (ritual ablution) you open all of the energy channels in your body (he didn’t give a source).

We should not take wudhu and salah (prayer) for granted, it is incredibly powerful. The difference between martial arts is entirely one of intention. In martial arts the movement is for oneself, in salah the movement is for Allah (SWT).

We have to have an awareness that every time we make wudhu or pray salah we are getting the gift of energy and shifah (healing). Salah teaches us to think and live positively, it affects our breathing, flow of energy and co-ordination [for me it also affects my dress, diet and families daily routine].

He explained that Silat martial arts was part of the heritage of the Muslims, it was a skill or art of the ummah that has been lost. He said that the art of Silat is in awareness and consciouness (same as in salah) and that we should not doubt our ability. Because we make wudhu and salah every day, we have the moves for this art already (Silat martial arts are based on the moves used in salah). This art is not about violence but about accessing the power and energy you have and also about getting back to Allah (SWT).

He followed this with a demonstration with one of the brother’s from the audience which made everyone laugh (he was great fun). He finished by saying that the last thing taught in Silah is not a move but “salamun”, shaking hands as a means of exchanging energy.

The two things that stayed with me from this talk was the assertion that energy comes from intention and the assertion that great energy comes from wudhu and salah. This really helped me to have a positive attitude towards making wudhu, especially at work, or first thing in the morning when it is cold. It has helped me to feel great about salah and look at salah as healing and energising through connecting me to Allah (SWT) insh’Allah.

Sunday 22 February 2009

Sweetheart Biscuits

I am very pleased that my one and only brother (poor thing) has finally found someone he wants to marry. He told me and I spoke to her and my mum and the usual mortifying back-and-forth has begun between the families. She is absolutely gorgeous and very nice and we are all rather smitten with her. A few days ago Fashionista was joking with her online about craving biscuits, the next day she knocked on the door, handed these to Fashionista and rushed off!

They were rather yum and after my dad whinging about “are they halal” and our sniggering back everyone had some. I do hope we get to see a wedding this year, I’m starting my prep now insh’Allah – now I just have to find out what kind of a wedding she wants – I don’t think anyone is going to be asking my brother.

Book Review: Margaret Atwood - The Penelopiad

As a child and teenager I absolutely loved Greek mythology (or folk stories or myths and legends from any country) and have been fascinated with their impact on modern English, so allusions to anything of this sort still catch my attention. I have also enjoyed other books by this writer – especially The Handmaids Tale.

Kooky Little Sister passed this book to me and told me about the new collection by Canongate Books, of famous authors who have each re-interpreted a famous Greek myth. In this case it is the story of Homer’s Odyssey re-told from the point of view of the main character Odysseus’s wife Penelope. The original legend tells the story of how Odysseus and various other Greek heroes got roped into the ten-year war between Greece and Troy to bring back the beautiful Helen, then how he spent the next ten years trying to get back home and finally what he finds on his return.

Atwood’s re-telling is given a thoroughly irreverent treatment. In the legend Penelope is the steadfast, faithful and intelligent wife, waiting for Odysseus’s return – almost an afterthought of a woman. Her maids are slaughtered and forgotten by Odysseus in the book for seemingly assisting his enemies. In this book although Penelope is long dead, she comes across as bright, feisty and very, very human. She is annoyed that her husband has left her to bring back Helen (who is portrayed as a vacuous mean bimbo with no remorse for the death she has caused). She is eager to please him and recognises that her needy behaviour will chase him away. At the same time she is unable to admit her jealousy of Helen (also her cousin).

Penelope has to deal with a wayward teenage son and awkward in-laws as well as get-over the damage caused by her own unloving parents and take over management of the kingdom in Odysseus’s absence.

One of the things that is unique about this book is the treatment of the maids. Atwood comments that she has always been intrigued at the way they were slaughtered and forgotten about in the original story. In this book Penelope is heart-broken that her maids, which she has raised from childhood are killed and has to hide her feelings. The maids themselves are dead but furious. Every chapter of the book is interspersed by a poem, song or shanty sung by the maids to remind us of the heinous crime committed against them.

I loved the way a great legend with superhuman masculine characters has been taken and brought back to earth because of a woman’s realistic perspective: Helen may be beautiful, but she is also a cow, Odysseus’s son, Telemachus, bravely goes in search of him in the legend, in this book he gets told off by his mum for messing about. She also doesn’t like his unsavoury looking friend Mentor either, who is the legend is the goddess Athena in disguise.

A short, entertaining, easily-read book.

Little Lady's Dressing Up Box

As Little Lady is growing I can see her getting more independent and happier to find ways to keep herself occuppied. This is an absolute pleasure for me to watch except when the boys bother her. So as a treat this weekend, whilst she was sleeping over at her nan's (she likes to snuggle in with Fashionista Sister), I took out some of the things people had been giving her over the years and put together a dress-up box:

In went her collection of handbags:

In went her hats and scarves (my bestest friend bought her some from Morocco):

And of course to finish off the tiara's:

The box was one already at home that stored her bits and I needed a way to keep her stuff tidy, so this dress-up box was cheap east way to do this. Little Lady loved her dress-up box and wasted no time in dressing up her little toy kitten and puppy.

Valentines Day

Long-Suffering Sister works for a research company and every two weeks or so they arrange small team-building events during the staff's lunch hour (I like the idea, but my lunch hour is sacred). Recently they were given the materials to design Valentine's Day cards. LSS refused until they agreed to let her make some anti-Valentine's Day cards. The following were her efforts which I thought were very pretty:

She sold these for £5 each to be donated to charity. My favourite though was this one which I thought was great to give to someone who has annoyed you:

Friday 20 February 2009

Event: Talk by Hakim Archuletta – Prophecy and the Way to Good Health – Part 2

Part of being healthy is coming back to our selves via our senses. We do not live for our senses, but they are our foundation. He said that the Prophet (PBUH) was the most sentient of beings because he was the most balanced. The tip of our index finger is the most sentient or feeling part of our body – like our Prophet (PBUH) was for this ummah – Rahmat-al-Alameen.

We love our Prophet (PBUH) because we are created like him. Being human we have a noble form, but we have lost our sense of nobility. This doesn’t mean that we have to think of ourselves as great. He quoted one sheikh as saying: “Don’t be great, don’t be nobody – just say “Allah” – just be”.

Hakim Archuletta went on to say that the greatest element in health is attitude. A genuine gratefulness and generosity and service to others contribute towards good health. If we feel good, we “flow” better.

He also explained the role of emotion in health. Men are trained from a young age that force equals power and that emotion shows weakness. More and more women also are beginning to espouse these attitudes. This disables us from having emotions. Muslim men cry more than non-Muslims, but still not enough. The Prophet (PBUH) indicated the benefits of fearing Allah (SWT). Being able to feel is important because it is the beginning of compassion. It takes real courage to come into our bodies again and to feel.

He quoted a particular ayah when discussing the importance of correct breathing:

“Whomsoever Allah desires to guide, He expands his chest to Islam; whomsoever He desires to lead astray, He makes his chest narrow, tight, as if he were climbing up to the sky.” ~Quran 6:125.

He asserted that to breathe more means to feel more and for this we have to be strong enough to deal with the sorrows of the world – strong enough to feel. This requires courage. Courage comes from practices and guidance given by Allah (SWT).

He also spoke about the fact that we all have an animal part of our nature and that we must acknowledge this and control it and not let it control us.

How then can we become more present in our bodies? Options he suggested included yoga, martial arts and Thai massage. We have to remember though, that these bodies are on loan to us from Allah (SWT). We have a duty to care for them. We must take responsibility for our health and not delegate to so-called experts. Modern medicine is in a terrible state – when a Doctor wanted to know about how a medicine works he calls a salesman. Modern medicine only recognises a part of the whole problem (which may have political, social and ecological as well as health elements)

One gentleman mentioned hijamah, or cupping, and Hakim Archuletta acknowledged that this was beneficial when done correctly and with wisdom, but he felt that people are now so sick in a deeper dynamic way that they need more than cupping or herbs

A lot of what Hakim Archuletta said held resonance for me. I noticed as I took notes that there was a stiffness in my neck and hands that was not there when I was at university and was famous amongst friends for the copious notes I took. So I can believe that over time, the stresses of life are stored in our body and affect the way we function to our detriment.

Part 1 here

Event: Talk by Hakim Archuletta – Prophecy and the Way to Good Health – Part 1

I recently attended a talk at the local Islamic Centre given my Hakim Archuletta of the US. I had never heard of him before, and went along expecting advice from the Quran and hadith, mainly about food. In actual fact he explained that he wanted to talk about something much deeper and more central relating to health and modern living.

He began by outlining his background and qualifications in homeopathy and his subsequent study of herbal and natural medicine under the hakims of Africa, the Middle East and Pakistan where he was certified a hakim after studying at the famous Hamdard Foundation funded by Hakim Mohammad Said. He concluded his summary of his background by saying that although his field was medicine, his concern was healing.

Hakim Archuletta stated that he wanted to find all those things that had a practical effect and cased real change in healing. He has dealt with chronic problems such as asthma and eczema and found that often when physical conditions or symptoms became apparent, underlying issues relating to psychological and spiritual state emerged. Following on from this, he indicated that homeopathy and prophetic medicine are useful because they are holistic.

He acknowledged that although the ingredients mentioned in the Quran are a high point in creation and extremely useful, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) brought healing and wholeness for the whole of mankind (he indicated that healing and wholeness are the same in the English language). This raised the question of HOW faith can be healing, and he stated that Salah and ibadah (prayer and worship) are spiritual and meaningful, but also incredibly healing if done correctly.

He went on to say that we have lost touch. Our perspectives have been turned upside down by the modern world; artificial light, the proliferation of images etc mean that our state has changed so that we have lost our common sense wisdom (hikmah). This is important because traditional hikmah involves gaining a correct perspective. This is also leaves us out of touch with our bodies, our selves and each other – which is really just our extended body, as the Prophet (PBUH) said:

“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

He highlighted that the modern world is easier and faster, but not necessarily more beneficial. We are now all further from our families, work, masajids and children. He quoted his sheikh in saying that in the time of Prophet Nuh (AS), the flood was of water, the flood today is of separation. He spoke about the need for each other to create our own identities and quoted a hadith whereby the Prohpet (PBUH) was asked how we recognise if we are good people and he responded with “ask your neighbours” [apologies, I could not find this hadith – pointers to source welcome]. He emphasised that we need to have a connection with each other and have council with each other – through meeting, greeting with salaam, sharing meals.

He gave the example of Aspen trees which may be five miles away from another Aspen, but which may still be connected to another Aspen by its roots. He also gave the example of animals and their social groups – a lion has it’s pride, but when the pride breaks, the lion does not behave like a lion. In parallel our social groups are broken, so how can we behave like humans? The remedy is in shariah, which is a pattern given to us by Allah (SWT) that suits us perfectly.

He also said that we have lost touch with being in our own bodies. As Muslims we accept our presence in this world; in salah seven points of our body touch the earth. We have vast nerve endings that allow sensitivity. He says that some hakims have said that the Prophet (PBUH) was the most sentient person ever and yet our senses, our sensibility and our common sense is diminishing. He illustrated this by describing a study in the 1940’s which found that in developed countries our ability to see colours and hear a range of sounds has diminished in every year. Our comforts have come at a price. We are becoming zombie-like and our bodies are dying or slowly freezing up.

He provided contrast by explaining human echolocation whereby the blind make clicking noises with their tongue and determine their surroundings and where objects are placed by their echo – an example of how intense and aware our senses can become.

This raises the question of why we are less in our bodies than 100 years ago. He said that we find our answer if we keep in mind that the inward and outward affect each other. Our condition affects the state of our being. When the stress and trauma of modern life become too much, our fight or flight reaction kicks in, but when the stress is extreme, our bodies reaction is to “freeze”, in effect we are slowly freezing. Years of war and trauma have caused us to freeze and shut down into a kind of depression (this is not just sadness, but something worse, it is to not care).

He went on to say that as Muslims we don’t believe in being monks. We believe in being present, alive, in engaging with others, in having families, in taking care of our world. Islam believes in being present. Often an asceticism or monkishness creeps into Islam that is not part of it and we dislike the physical (we get this from Christianity).

He described how he treated people who could not be helped entirely by homeopathy, their history of war or abuse has made their bodies go numb and shut down, they give up life and being present in their bodies. Symptoms of this are our hunched over our walk and our rigid postures when sitting and standard. Most people don’t know how to be present, on the ground, to even stand correctly (he notes that people lock their knees when they stand). We also need to look at our lifestyles seats, sofa’s, computers ruin our posture. We don’t breathe properly and because of this become anxious, this leads to panic attacks and feelings of suffocation.

This leads to the lack of flow of energy through the body and the build-up of blockages – he asserts this leads to the build up of plaque in our arteries and heart disease and can even lead to strokes. His suggestion is that people learn to come back alive by behaving like children

He went on to state that we don’t live in our bodies, we live virtually through the TV and computer. Illustrating with the Greek myth of Narcissus who is so beautiful he falls in love with his own image. Like Narcissus we are not in love with ourselves, but with an image outside of ourselves.

Part 2 here

Book Review: Moni Mohsin – The End of Innocence.

I had never heard of this writer before, but like to try books by Pakistani authors in the hope there is something that I can relate to or recognise in them. Plus I like books where the blurb suggests that there is a big juicy secret along the way.

This book is set in the lusciously green and prosperous Pakistani village of Sabzbagh during the Indo-Pak war of 1971. It tells the story of a wealthy, liberal, educated family and the villagers they live amongst. The main character is 9-year old Laila and the story unfolds from her innocent point of view.

The author creates a host of interesting characters: Laila’s imperious grandmother Sardar Begum, her beautiful but stern mother Fareeda, her gentlemanly and philanthropic landowner father Tariq and her self-pitying, manipulative but loving ayah Bua. Then there are the passive-aggressive nuns that people the nearby convent and a host of patriotic, opinionated servants as well as a cast of nosy villagers. There is also Rani, the fifteen year old orphaned granddaughter of Sardar Begum’s servant Kaneez and also Laila’s best friend.

Rani is starved of affection and finds the love that she longs for in the arms of a young boy from another village – the consequences of this are predictable and Rani’s desperation entirely believable. The only person who is unable to understand is the narrator – Laila. The book then details the unfolding of the story of what happens to Rani and the horrific consequences in everyone’s lives.

The book is written in clear prose, interspersed with lovely descriptions of Sabzbagh, Sardar Begum’s village of Kalanpur and Laila’s home. The dialogue is wonderful and often very funny. The first half of the book kept me smiling with the scheming and silliness of many of the characters, the second half in contrast is much darker. There is a long build-up to the gruesome denouement which seems to then come all too suddenly.

Something I found Mohsin very good at, was the way she pokes fun at the upper classes, the Church through the nuns and also the mullah’s. She also shines a light on the prejudices against Bengali’s at the time which I recognised immediately. My husband is from Pakistan and he absolutely refuses to believe the Bangaldeshi’s really wanted to separate from Pakistan (it’s an Indian plot - as is everything else of course).

There were lots of things I recognised in this book – phrases that had been translated into English, but that were still recognisable to an Urdu speaker (“Humph! As if I’d sit along cobblers, truck drivers and barbers. My shoe wouldn’t even grace them with its presence”), mentions of people (Noor Jehan and her patriotic songs), films (Heer Ranjha, one of my mum’s fave’s) and places (posh Gulberg in Lahore). I suspect a lot of these references would be lost on people who are not of Pakistani or Punjabi origin.

Despite all of the above, the village was still somewhere I did not recognise. It did not have the feel of my grandparent’s village or the Pakistani villages I have passed through. This did not lessen however, my enjoyment of the lovely writing and an absorbing story.

Thursday 19 February 2009

News Update

I previously wrote an update on my uncle's abduction and an anonymous commentator asked for links to the media coverage which I could not find at the time. Long-Suffering Sister kindly pointed out the following link to the story:

The Nation Newspaper - Police net two kidnappers

Pakistan Daily Times - Wanted criminal, kidnappers arrested

I still didn't fidn the GEO news link, but Kook's says she has seen it, if she shows me, I will add.


There has been a lot in the news about downturn and recession in the last few months, but you don’t realise until it is right in your face. Some sister’s arguments against mothers working seem very insignificant right now and alhamdulillah, I am very grateful right now to have work and very grateful that my husband is still getting jobs.

I can think of a handful of families and individuals who have approached my husband for any work he can give them – a few are personal acquaintances. Some have permission to work in this country, others do not. All have families, rent and bills to take care of and minimal or no income to take care of them with.

My husband was approached at our home a few weeks ago by a man who saw his removal van on the street – he knocked and asked if we would move his belongings and let us pay him later as his house was being re-possessed and he had no money. He had his six year old boy with him (his wife had a drug problem and had left them). He had borrowed all the money he could from friends and was trying to sell his car while he waited for some money to come through.

I don’t recall the last recession, but mum tells me it was terrible time. My parents knew friends who lost their home and mum tells me about a friend whose husband passed away to leave her with a mortgage she couldn’t pay. She began by selling her belongings and when she had nothing left, she has to accept that she was going to lose her home. At that time mortgages were manageable (a chunk of your income) – now they are enormous (your whole income and a bit more).

This is going to be a difficult time, I read in the Times (10/02/09) that the recession was going to be the biggest in 100 year and that it could last 15 years. As Muslims in the West the last few years have been challenging, but the next few could be ones where we could really change people’s prejudices and views about us.

Sometimes it’s not enough, but it’s something – to ask your friends and neighbours if there is anything you can do to help. If you have a business or offer a service, maybe to offer someone the chance to pay later (or maybe for free), to offer to watch someone’s child, to pass on a job opportunity – to non-Muslims as well as Muslims.

'Verily, Allah is the Provider, the Possessor of Power, the Mighty.’ ~Al-Quran 51:58

Tuesday 17 February 2009

Thoughtful Housekeeping and Simple Living.

Simple living and living more consciously have been two areas I have long been interested in, so this blog post called the The Secret Life of a Happy Homemaker I found via The Muslimah resonated with me deeply. It talks of slowing down and cherishing the things that we think of as chores by thinking of them as the things we do to make our homes wholesome, clean sanctuaries of peace.

As someone who rushes around from thing to another and leaving so many things half done, I have often thought about trying to live more in the present and savouring the things that are important to me: my prayer, my children, my time with my husband, my own pursuits of reading, crafting, blogging and daydreaming.

So I walked to the bus stop instead of rushing there, I enjoyed the two bus journeys home reading my book (Moni Mohsin's Loss of Innocence) and on the way home took my time at the grocers picking out fruit for the children.

(The funny lemon-shaped fruit at the back is guava and the little elongated green one a Pakistani fruit called ber or jujube).

I got home, and took my time arranging the fruit in the bowl and then went off to change, tidying my clothes away and taking out the clothes for the next day. I took my time making wudhu (ablutions) with the thought that wudhu well done helps concentration in prayer and is a kind of worship in itself. I instructed Little Lady to clean her room while I took my time praying Maghrib. I could hear her saying "I hate this" very crossly, usually I would be inclined to tell her off, but I have noticed a frustration and short-temperedness in her which her teacher has also pointed out. I wondered if my hurrying and distractedness was having an effect on her, so I called her to sit me with me whilst I finish my prayer and then asked her gently why she was annoyed. She said she didn't like tidying up. I explained sometimes I didn’t like my chores, but our home is our place for us to be safe and warm and happy and shut the door to the world, so our chores are really a way to make that place clean and pleasant. I explained that her room was her place to play and rest and she also had to keep it clean and pleasant, she happily agreed to that and went back to put her things away.

I left the kids with the lovely new puzzle Kooky Little Sister bought them (don't you just want to have a go?) and took my time preparing cauliflower and potato curry. I’m trying to use more vegetables in my food, because on Eid I was faced with the realisation that the kind of food we were eating didn’t feel special because we ate it all the time and because I am sure it is not the sunnah to consume the amount of meat we do so today nor can it be good for our health. Whilst I cooked I ruined my appetite by grazing on this gorgeous biryani my friend sent round.

Up until this point I was floating about serenely until I heard someone talking in the back room. The kids said they hadn’t seen anyone. I heard a knock but on investigating there was no-one at the front door. I heard another knock and crept into the front room to look out of the window, my husband jumped out and scared me so that I screamed so loud and long that I scared him back. He couldn’t believe I was such a chicken - I was shaking (I couldn’t tell him that when I heard the knock I had pictured the vampires from the original Buffy movie floating outside the window – I’d never live it down, I won’t if my sisters read this).

Anyway, I decided not to head for the computer or my book, but to sit with the kids. I cut pictures from old cards, calendars and brochures I had put aside for their craft box, whilst Little Lady worked on her scrapbook and the boys napped. There is something sooo satisfying about sitting there cutting up bits of paper with a sharp pair of scissors.

At this point I still had plenty to do, including the Esha prayer, getting the kids bathed and into bed and getting the kitchen cleared, but I found that the thing with doing everything so carefully is that it is quite exhausting. I was yawning away and getting grumpy. So hubby got the kids into bed, I prayed Esha and as soon as I finish typing this I plan to sit quietly in bed and read my book.

Sunday 15 February 2009


As we have had more news recently, I thought this was a good time to give an update regarding my Uncle T’s situation in Pakistan and what really happened when he was abducted (1, 2, and 3). The abductors demanded £150,000, them £100,000 and then settled on £70,000 (or 7 million rupees) which the family managed to raise. They named various places in nearby towns and villages where a family member turned up with the money and waited all day to no avail. Finally they named a spot in a town a few hours drive away. My Uncle B went with the money and waited for a few hours before they turned up, took the money and tried to get him to get into their car also. At this point he was ill with stress and fear, exhausted and disheartened that he had lost all the money and still didn’t have his brother back. When they tried to push him into the car he thought his heart was going to stop.

Up until this point the Police had been asking the family not to give the money and to keep them involved. The gang who had kidnapped my uncle were suspected of having abducted and murdered a number of people and this might be a last chance for the Police to apprehend them. They had warned my family to ensure not a soul knew about the ransom and delivery of money. Because of this my mum and her siblings kept schtum and no-one, including me, knew what was happening.

Once the money was gone, out of sheer desperation Uncle B called his friend in the secret police and asked for help. They had suspected one of the nomadic Pushtun’s who stopped in the nearby mountains and arrested and interrogated him. He gave a contact in Karachi who was also a Pushtun who refused to speak until the Police threatened to pay his wife and daughters a visit. He agreed to call the kidnappers and tell them to release my uncle. They did so to the Khyber Police before escaping. On the same day there was a raid and a number of Al-Qaeda suspects were arrested. The police put the word out that these were the kidnappers of my Uncle T to make the kidnappers think they were away safe.

My Uncle B drove up to the north of the country with the Police to collect Uncle T and get him back home. He was extremely traumatized and unwell, half-starved and with strange knots under the skin of his arms. This is where he had been injected straight into the muscle with some kind of sedative. They headed back to Punjab to file a police report and spent the night in the town of Rawalpindi, the next day they headed home to Jhelum. My uncle says that thousands of people came out to greet them lining the route home for the last two or three miles. It took them four hours to greet everyone before they could get into the house to meet their hysterical family. The next few days were a celebration with food being provided for the whole village and all-comers for days. My granddad said his son had been born again and people felt as if someone had come back from the grave. But the joy was diluted. I spoke to my Uncle T the next day and he was still babbling. I spoke to his sister who lives here, Aunty S and she said that they could not leave him alone or he would break down and start crying.

The other problem was that most of the men were still at large and making threats and demanding that the two men who had been arrested be released. The police finally managed to get the story out of the nomad. His tribe has settled in the mountains that form a backdrop to our village and were periodically harbouring various wanted criminals there. Most people ignored them, but my family had given them Zakaat and old clothes. My Uncle T also drove into the mountains to deliver their groceries from his shop. One year he offered to help them sell their livestock and took the nomad to the other end of the country to Karachi where my Uncle B lives and who helped sell all the animals in time for Eid-ul-Adha. Whilst there he saw Uncle B’s curtain factory (which he built from nothing) and got greedy. On his return he met up with some of the criminals and hired some more men and formed the plan for the kidnap. The man who came to collect the money was from a town called Gujjerkhan and turned out to be an Imam. Three of the wanted men were brothers, two of whom were Hafiz (memorizers of the Quran).

It took the best part of another month to round up the rest of the men, during which the family decided to take Uncle T away to Karachi hoping a complete change of scene would help preserve his sanity. In the meantime a group of men in a car were driving past the village and shooting guns. They continued to call the family and demand their men were released. Eventually they were apprehended one night by Police who they told that they were looking for their stolen tractor (in the pitch dark of night). The Police took copies of their identity cards and let them go.

Two days ago my dad’s brother, Uncle I, called to tell us they had caught two of the brothers and that they were safe now. The news appeared on the independent Pakistani Geo news channel. It meant that my relatives in Pakistan could breathe easy at last. Uncle B and Uncle T are flying back to Punjab this week to make an identification.

These were the men who told my uncle that tell your family to pay up or you’re not worth the 10 rupees we have to spend on a bullet. These were also the same men who insisted at one point on speaking to Uncle T’s four year old daughter to ascertain family members were where they said they were. These were the men who had taken my uncle, made no contact for two weeks and then proceeded to call various terrified family members and tell them they were next. I am so glad that they are behind bars

Friday 13 February 2009

New Colleague at Work

I’m very lucky in that I work with a group of generally very nice people. It’s still always nice though when a Muslim sister joins the workplace, which was what happened this week. A fellow hijabi, she seems very competent and confident and also a chatter-box like me, so it wasn’t long before we got talking.

We went through arrangements for wudhu and salah (prayer) and had a good old chinwag about how difficult it is to make wudhu at work and getting socks and scarves on and off and matters of privacy (neither of us were too fussed if others saw us praying).

One lunch time we both went off to get some take-out to bring back (kebab-roll with everything – very nice) and while we waited got chatting. She explained that she was more religious in the past, but some rather strident sisters had put her off a little. We agreed that our iman (faith) can fluctuate over time and that it was shame about how pushy some people could be.

I didn’t pursue this because it can go into the territory of bad-mouthing sisters, but she had a point. Some people disagree with you, others tell you that you are wrong, they are right and that’s that. I’ve had this with the way I pray, with the madhab (school of law) I follow, with the fact I work and there is no discussion or scope for exploration – just judgement.

It is a shame that sisters feel that they are moving away from their deen because of this behaviour. I recall one very nice lady I used to work with who told me she used to be Muslim, she even wore hijab, but different people told her so many things and confused her so much, she decided not to be Muslim anymore. Of course Allah (SWT) chooses whose heart He enlightens with the beauty of Islam, but do we have to be the ones that make it harder? This is why I always encourage new Muslimah sisters to do their own research, and find people of knowledge to go to and also to use their own reason.

Anyway, she spoke some more about how she felt that a lot of the religious sisters were not very approving of Muslim women working and how it was mostly the young well-educated ones, rather than older Muslimah’s or sisters who have come here from abroad – perhaps because both have often not had the choice to be able to work and have felt a loss of independence because of it.

Another matter we touched on was how a lot of the judgemental sisters didn’t seem quite right. That sounds like a horrible thing to say, but I was shocked when she said it, because I had thought this in the past too. I have often come across very strict religious sisters who act slightly strangely – they can be defensive, shifty, or secretive or just not “open” and comfortable in the way healthy, happy, friendly people tend to be. The sister even went as far as to say they sometimes seem as if they are not mentally quite okay, I’m not sure about this, but they do scare me sometimes.

We chatted more about our children and then got lunch. She agreed that we should remind each other to go pray at salah time and encourage each other which was really nice, so I am pleased to have met her.

Baby Bliss

The kids have been playing a nice little game with us, taking turns to throw up in the middle of the night (strip the bed, strip the child, bath it, find more bedding etc at 2 am). Although the older two’s stomachs seem to have settled down, the baby is still having his moments, so we have decided not to give him milk at bedtime for a few days until he is less phlegmy, I’d like to say less snotty, but that will be sometime mid-summer. Baby didn’t agree and cried for his bottle (I know, I know your supposed to stop the bottle at one, but if it means he’s drinking lots of milk I am happy for him to have a bit longer).

So last night, he came to ask for his bottle and began to cry when I put him back to bed without. I was in the middle of Esha, but not concentrating very well, so took him in my arms and sat on the prayer mat cross-legged and sang to him. I worked my way through broken bits of all the nasheeds I know and then seeing him still wide-eyed I began again. Often I have noted, I have tried to get a baby to sleep and I am stressed myself, so the baby refuses to settle. The minute I cam down, or begin to day-dream and forget where I am, I look down to find the baby sound-asleep.

It was the same last night. I came to from my wanderings and found him contently asleep. The sense of peace and healing I got from that moment was immense. All of the stress of the last week ago at work and home and the underlying anxiety that builds up in me every now and again was gone. I felt very much “blissed out”. It felt like I was doing the most natural thing a woman could do – completely and totally in line with our nurturing fitrah (inherent disposition or nature) and I felt like I could stay that way forever.

I suppose I should make the most of it, it won’t last long. Soon he’ll be all limbs and elbows like the other two (not that it stops them from climbing into my lap) and won’t sit still long enough. But for now he is a source of absolute pleasure.

Thursday 12 February 2009


I finally came down from my manic-active mode this afternoon after a week of being over-busy at work and two or three days of feeling very stressed. I am not very good at recognising when I am stressed except I start to space out (which mostly no one can tell the difference when I am doing anyway). This afternoon I came to the realisation that I did not want to put so much effort into my work that I would tired when I got home to my children. Having decided this I spent the afternoon ignoring my work e-mail inbox and spen the afternoon typing up some posts.

When I got home I was still tired and the kids were refusing to refrain from engaging in battle, so I gave up trying to do anything and tried to distract them by suggesting a picnic (this works every time with little kids). That kept them busy for a while:

Until it was time to tidy up:

Of course I am a big believer in whoever makes the mess should tidy up:

Little Lady behaved like a women and did the work, Little Man showed his manly side by showing her the spots she had missed. Of course Gorgeous was his usual self and so found some way to have fun.

Book Review: Mineko Iwasaki - Geisha of Gion

I picked up this book in summer from a boot market and saved it in my winter stash for when I don’t have time to go to the library. The first thing you think of when looking at this book is Memoirs of a Geisha, and indeed this author is the person who collaborated with Arthur Golden to provide the inside details of a Geisha’s life for that book.

In this memoir she turns to her own life and how she came to be a Geisha, or person of the arts as this translates to. She describes her early life in a chaotic and loving home with her artists parents and how on seeing her beauty, the owner of an okiya – the residence of a geisha - attempts to convince her parents that this would be a good career for her. I would have assumed before this book that there was stigma regarding such a profession and Iwasaki does say that outside of Japan there is an incorrect belief that the work of a Geisha is akin to prostitution. She insists that it is an art form specialising in dance, conversation and the intricate tea ceremony. Perhaps then it is not so surprising that when the young Iwasaki shows an interest, her parents allow her to go to live in the okiya.

The biggest chunk of the book is taken with the details of a Geisha’s training – learning to wear the clothes, learning various forms of very controlled dance, learning how to talk to and entertain people, how to enter a room, how to network with other okiya and with the tea-houses and perfecting the tea ceremony.

The rest of the book details Iwasaki’s rise as she becomes famous in Japan and her subsequent disillusionment with the hierarchy and restrictions within the profession, her search for love and her decision to leave the “flower and willow world” as the geisha district is known. She also describes the rivalry from other women during this period and the cruel jibes and tricks she has to endure because of their jealousy at her success.

I learnt a little bit Japanese culture through this book – the value and beauty of the kimono, the incomparably high value placed on pride and honour and how central art is to the life of the Japanese. I also had an incorrect stereotype at the back of my mind of Japanese people being somewhat cold – perhaps because they are not traditionally known to be over-expressive. This memoir challenged that thinking because of Iwasaki’s description of her home life and the numerous kindnesses shown to her throughout her career.

This is a fascinating and easy to read book which would be interesting to those curious about traditional Japanese culture, but perhaps not to every person’s taste due to the specific nature of the topic.

Tuesday 10 February 2009

Evening with a Sister

As always, I had plenty of plans for tonight: cooking, some Quran with Little Lady, some reading, some playing with the kids and some time to sort my bedroom out – well my scarves at least (every time Kooky Little Sis gets near them, I can’t find anything). I got home from work and had barely sorted the first fight out between the kids (“she called me stupid”, “he burped in my face”) when one of my good friends came around with her three boys.

We were married around the same time and became friends when she came to this country and her husband asked my husband (work colleagues) to introduce her to me as she was lonely. We became fast friends, lived together for a while and endured three pregnancies and had three children in parallel. We have laughed together about our funny post-baby belly’s, shared news about our families, and watched each others children grow up.

The similarities end there though. She has come here and had to start afresh, whereas my family are here, I have my own home, my education was free and I have a job – something she lacks the confidence for.

Now, her husband has had to head to the other end of the city for work so she is alone, her immigration status is indeterminate (the Home Office have been sitting on their application for years) and they are now in dire financial straits. She had come round because she could not pay her gas or electric bills and wanted me to call the utility companies because her English was poor. We worked through the bills, but I knew she was still very down, so I made her stay. I got her to help me in the kitchen making Little Man’s favourite boiled rice and lentils and whilst I chopped and stirred, she talked – she hadn’t seen her parents in eight years, her mother’s health had deteriorated, she lived in fear of the Home Office deporting her, her youngest son suffered from asthma and eczema and her every small cough and ache was making her paranoid.

In the meantime, her boys played with my children, encouraged by their spiritedness, to run riot a little – to my pleasure, as they are such well-behaved boys unlike my tribe of hooligans.

She kept talking as we served the children first and then ourselves – the food was delicious thanks to her tips. Gorgeous surrounded himself with a two-foot radius of rice and her youngest fell on our food, leaving a trail of coke seeping into my socks.

I sat with her in the internet and we Googled her mother’s condition and the shoes I recommended her for her foot trouble (my favourite’s) before we nagged the children to tidy up so they could get ready to go home. She seemed happier and less distracted when she left (what she didn't know was that her husband had called the day before and got my husband to book coach tickets for him to visit on the weekend and surprise her - don't ask me how I managed to keep my mouth shut).

I didn’t get to do any of the things I wanted to today – but I am more than glad.

Sunday 8 February 2009

Local Exhibition

One of our local masjids has recently built a daycare centre across the road from the masjid. I like the idea of attending talks and events, but have been unable to because I cannot take my children, or it is too far. The new centre means that as well as a place for Muslim groups (women's, disabled etc) to meet, there is a local place within walking distance where I can go and feel a bit more involved with the active part of the large Muslim community we have here.

Last week I attended a talk by Hakim Archuletta of the US which I intend to do a write up of when I have a mo and an Islamic martial arts demonstration which I learned a lot of useful things from.

Today we attended an Islamic Exhibition with the children. Most of the exhibits I have seen before (I think they all use the same resources sourced from these people) and were a mixture of posters and exhibits.

They also had the local police, fire service and council attending, with a nice display about Islam and recycling and another by a local school. I was surprised when I realised that the display was a result of RE lessons at a state school and not from an Islamic school.

I thought this was a nice idea to try with the kids sometime. My favorite one was the one that said "treat your parents wth kindness, speak to them with respect".

This set of pictures showed how our lovely masjid was built.

Saturday 7 February 2009

Early Morning Rainbow

This morning the children woke to find this on the floor:

We had fun experimenting with the effect of the "magic rainbow" on different things that the kids could find:

My favourite was this: