Friday 28 May 2010

Frugal Hijab – My sources

Cosmic Cook recently asked me where I buy my hijabs from as I have built up such a collection over the last 10 years or so. I have to say as the availability of scarves and pashmina’s has grown over the years, my sources have changed, and I have learned a few lessons over the years too.

Green Street, London E7 – this had to be number one on the list. There are shops all the way up and down this long street selling hijabs of all kinds, from clothing retailers and Islamic shops to street stalls.

Nayab - (260 Green Street, London E7 8LF) – This shop on Green street sells mainly pashmina’s in wool and viscose mixes. They range from simple ones for about £3 upwards to about £30 for ones with diamante and beadwork. Another shop on the same street called Poshak Mahal is owned by the same people.

Momin’s - (The Exchange Mall, Ilford, Essex, IG1 1RS) – I am pretty sure that this shop is also owned by the same people who own Nayab, as they seem to have the same stock. This group of shops also sells raw silk scarves for £8 in every colour, so if I have a special occasion, I sometimes go to one of these to match a scarf to my abayah.

Wallis – A more recent find as I don’t think they stocked pashmina’s previously, but seems everyone is now jumping onto the bandwagon alhamdulillah. Wallis pashmina’s cost about £15-18, but usually go down to about £5-3 in the sale, so it is worth waiting. I bought these linen ones from there last year for £3 each.

Clarks in Ashford – Clarkes usually only sell shoes and a few bags, but I have visited their discount outlet a few times at the Ashford Designer Outlet and they have a stand full of scarves. Most of them are very lightweight cotton ones, but I found a few heavier pashmina’s last year for £6. I went back this year and they were still there on clearance at £3. Below were the ones I bought last year. The lighter-weight printed ones did not wash so well.

Accessorize – this shops sells very pretty pashmina’s for about £20 for a plain one which feels a bit pricey, but the quality is nice. They tend to be a bit heavy and warm to wear as a headscarf, so I usually buy these only as an occasional gift for my mum or mum-in-law.

Tie-rack – probably the most readily available source of hijabs on the high street. This was place where I bought some of my first ones as there was not such a trend or so many sources when I started wearing hijab. I do find them pricey though and the hijab sizes are not always quite right. The squares are too small, more suitable for wearing around the neck and the pashmina-type shawls too big and bulky to wrap round your head.

H&M – I’m sure that at one point this was one of the most hijab-friendly shops around with its eclectic mix of long-sleeve tops and maxi dresses and items that could be easily layered. They were also one of the first to stock scarves and pashmina’s and pretty hairpins that I used to keep my hijab in place. Recently I have found they are becoming more random and skimpy in their choice of clothing (a bit like TopShop style changed over the years).

Budget High Street – Peacocks, Primark, Ethel Austin and Risky all sell pashmina-type shawls now for about £2-£8. The quality is usually poor and the designs usually a bit too out there to wear on your head (skulls, neon, Palestinian shemagh/keffiyeh style, loud checks etc). If you are keen you sometimes find a gem amongst the junk. I bought a cotton leopard-print sarong from Peacocks over ten years ago that I still have and fold to wear as a hijab.

Al-Hijab – I have ordered a few scarves from here before. They are priced reasonably and delivery is quick. The designs are simple and not so much my style, but the quality is good enough.

E-bay – there are about a gazillion e-bay shops now selling pashmina’s so you can go to the site and just not know where to start. So it is better going here if you know exactly what you want rather than hunt around. The other thing is to know your sizes and fabrics. A scarf might look nice but turn out tiny, so it is better to measure your scarves and set a minimum limit to the width and length of the scarves you are buying. If the seller has not listed this information, e-mail them and ask. Also a shawl might look nice, but turn up too gauzy or bulky to wear, so check what it is made of.

Some other things I have learned from buying and wearing hijab is that certain fabrics are more comfortable and sit better on your head. Cashmere and wool sound good but are heavy and can get very hot. Cashmere and silk mix on the other hand tends to be quite lightweight and easy to wrap. Viscose shawls are available everywhere and very cheap, but I tend to avoid them because the fabric bubbles and they get very creased. Silk scarves are usually lightweight and look the best, but need more care. They are easily ruined by hijab pins and so don’t always last long. They also are the most likely to slip, so look nice when you put them on, but half a day later when you pop to the loo to check, you are horrified to find it looking a mess. Chiffon and georgette – I can never remember which is which, but I think chiffon is slippery whereas georgette is slightly more textured so stays on better and lets the hijab pins and slides get a better grip. Both are lightweight.

I know this list isn’t much use outside London, so what would you suggest? Where are your favourite places to buy hijabs from?

Book Review: Greg Mortensen and David Oliver Relin – Three Cups of Tea

I was recommended this book a while ago by Umm Nassim and had been keeping an eye out for it, so was delighted when Girl Who Walks In The Rain bought it for me as a gift when we met up.

Three Cups of Tea is the story of Greg Mortensen’s failed climb up the K2 in Pakistan, his rescue by one of the local guides and his subsequent decision to build a school in the community that nurture him back to health – the Muslim’s of Baltistan at the northern tip of Pakistan, close to the Indian border.

His return to America, his attempts to raise money and support and his eventual building of the school leads to his realisation that he cannot stop at just one school if he is to make a real difference to this area of the world.

Three Cups of Tea is a fascinating story about an amazing man. Right from the beginning Mortensen attempts to learn from others and immerse himself in the culture of Northern Pakistan, from wearing shalwar kameez and learning the language to learning how to pray. His willingness to do these things and his humility mean that wherever he travels in the area he gains respect and support. Before long he is attempting to spread his work further afield to the Pakistan-Afghan border and Afghanistan, despite the danger to his own life.

Although this is a fascinating story and one well worth reading in my view, the story is let down terribly by the bad writing. At so many points in the book I felt as if I were reading a newspaper feature, albeit a long one. I really, and truly could not understand how Relin could be a prize winning author if he writes like this (ridiculous and endless metaphors, overstating the heroism of his subject – and the big one “show don’t tell” where you are supposed to let the reader works out his own feelings towards the subject and the book rather than hammering then with your views).

Another criticism is that the book is heavy on climbing facts and details. This is understandable in that the climbing community supported Mortensen’s work and also that is was his failed climb that lead him to the people of Baltistan, but for most readers this might be a distraction rather than add to his story about building schools.

Despite this, Mortensen’s humility and kindness shine through. He is firm in his belief that the only way to help the poorest Pakistan in people change their condition is through educating their children and in particular the girls. He is particularly clear that this is the only way that to wage the war against terror and not through dropping bombs on people who already live in grinding poverty.

This is a wonderful book, even if badly written, it gives an interesting, sympathetic insight into the man and the country and certainly gave me an interesting understanding of the war in Afghanistan.

Of course I write as a layperson who knows nothing about building schools and then running them. There is a fascinating review of this book at Sabbah’s blog Long Black Veil which is a bit more knowledgeable on the subject.

Socks and Sandals

It appears our long-standing identity crisis was finally resolved today...socks and sandals? We must be English:

Trying to get my boys out of their socks is a mission every year. Looks like its time to start trying again (on the other hand getting Little Lady to wear socks is another mission in itself...)

Monday 24 May 2010

Monday Bliss

After a day that sped by, it was nice to leave work an hour early today. An hour that made lots of difference.

I let the kids try the glass-painting kit we had stashed away for a day that was sunny enough for them to take it outside:

Gorgeous managed to hide playdough all over the garden and Little Man kept the neighbours girl company with his colouring whilst I took my time making a chicken curry for dinner.

As the evening is long at the moment it feels like we have time to fit loads in so we managed Arabic and maths today (insh'Allah, the madrassah opening nearby will be open next month and Little Lady and Little Man will both be attending). As Little Lady practiced her lesson, I decided to take some pictures of children's craft materials for an article for next months edition of Mum and Muslim magazine. I couldn't help playing at aliens with Little Lady and we conversed via our antennae until I remembered we were supposed to be half way through an Arabic lesson...

After dinner and the evening prayer, Little Lady asked if she could recite her favourite poem to me. I agreed and din't expect her to bring along her drum. She sang to her drum all beatnik style:

Be nice to frogs...

Be nice to frogs, by the way.
They are your friends in the garden
They eat the beastly slugs and never
harm your flowers.
The Roald Dahl Treasury, p.19

I left them in bed only to hear thudding noises. I went up to check to find them hanging from the bunk-bed like bats (I didn't expect Gorgeous to be able to do this, but mash'Allah, the other day he did manage to climb onto the kitchen counter to get at where the biscuits are kept).

Alhamdulillah, this has been a very pleasant evening, although I am still herding them back to bed because every time I turn around they get out. Am off to stamp out the rebellion and get an early night. People keep teling me I look tired and I think perhaps I am starting to look a little haggard, so my target at the moment is to be in bed by 10.30 every day insh'Allah, night prayer allowing.

Book Review: Aravind Adiga – White Tiger

Long-Suffering Sister bought me this book as an Eid gift (with a £20 note inside which was nice of her). The booker prize-winning tag didn’t go unnoticed either, so I expected a good read.

The White Tiger of the title is Balram Halwai, a Bangalore businessman who recounts the events of his life throughout the book in the form of letters to Wen Jiabao, the Prime Minister of China. Born to a family so poor that they don’t even bother naming him, he finds himself in a world where the poor are barely visible to the rich and powerful except as beasts to be abused and exploited.

Balram takes us through from his origins as an impoverished village boy who finds his way via small town India to Delhi and its excesses, both social and political. Here he ends up as the chauffeur of a rich landowner’s son who has just returned from America which gives him the chance to see how the elite of India live.

Balram is an interesting character. Even as a village boy, he isn’t the complete innocent – aware of his place in the world, of his fathers miserable life which sets out the pattern expected for his own life and of what could happen to him if he tries to upset the order of things. He is quick witted and immoral and as he moves up the chain from village boy, to house servant to chauffeur, we find him getting more devious and more corrupt as at first city life and it’s distractions begin to lure him in and later his masters behaviour and attitude becomes less bearable.

This is a sharp, at times shocking book which doesn’t aim for a magical, exotic India, but a very real, very raw one. The tone of the book is angry and subversive, even when the narrator is saying something funny.

The structure of the novel in the shape of seven letters does mean that the story stops and starts a little, although where one letter ends it gives some insight into what the next one might be about, piquing the readers interest.

Although Balram is an intriguing character, it is hard to sympathise with a single character in this book. From the corrupt politicians and landlords to Balram’s granny in the village, to the other household servants, every character appears cruel, greedy and out to claw his way to the top of the heap by any means necessary. This is certainly not a book to inspire or provide any kind of a happy ending. I thought perhaps the novel gave an unfair assessment of India which it illustrates as an utterly horrible and irredeemable place.

Friday 21 May 2010

Mendhi Card and Party

I was invited by a freind to her sisters henna this week, so wanted to make a card to take along. This picture was from a beautician's advert which had come through my letterbox a few days before.

This was an easy card, because I had to put something together quickly before the henna. Green card for the background because the green and red contrast felt quite traditional for a South Asian wedding. The ribbon border of the picture is from Laura Ashley and reminded of the gota kinari lace used on traditional clothing

The henna itself? It rocked!! My friend and her cousins had clearly put a lot of hard work into making her sister's henna special. Two of our Bengali freinds attended with me and commented that Pakistani henna's have such a sense of fun and liveliness. This was in evidence here too.

The favours co-ordinated with my and Little Ladies bags.

The food was good.

Dessert was traditional zarda or sweet rice

I loved the brides entrance. She was carried in by her brother and cousins in a palanquin.

Little Lady worked the traditional yellow and green henna theme (she even stuck a tiny sticky gem on her nose to imitate her mum's nose stud)

My friends sister-in-law had spent all day making these flower bracelets:

There were plenty of very traditional decorations and touches

Before we went home, all the ladies were given the flower bracelets to wear, a very sweet touch.

Before I went home my friend introduced me to her granny who knew my mum (small world - we worked together for a year before realising that we had grown up in the neighbourhood, with her grand house opposite mine and hers literally round the corner). Her gran knew everyone in my family and asked after each one. I smiled when she asked me if I had finished my studies yet and pointed to Little Lady.

Sunday 16 May 2010

Sunny, Lazy Sunday...

Alhamdulillah I have had a long and busy Sunday which has made me look back and think.

Hubby came back from masjid and woke me up at 6.15am to ask if I wanted to go to the Dunton boot fair. We left the sleeping kids in the care of my brother-in-law and headed out for some bargain hunting. Managed to find some books, a few beads, and some old craft magazines to take apart. Mother-in-law is coming back to us next Saturday, so also picked up lots of flowers to beautify my garden as she spends lots of time out there (I doubt any of the vegetables I planted will grow as the boys have been jumping on and digging up the beds every chance they get). I had forgotten at this point that the weatherman had said it would rain that afternoon and I wouldn’t be able to plant them.

We got back home for 10.30 to find that the kids had taken the contents of the kitchen up to the bedroom (fruit, all sorts of nuts from different packets, cereal, yoghurt and little bottles of yoghurt. Their room was a mess and brother-in-law was looking around like he had no idea. I think hubby saw the look on my face and decided it was better he took charge of the clean-up before I exploded.

Usually waking up super-early doesn’t bother me, but I am wondering if I am feeling my age as I seem to need my sleep now. The early wake-up call and hours of wandering between stalls left me feeling slightly demented. Whilst hubby napped I got lunch ready for the boys. Hubby woke up and gave me and Little Lady a lift to Sister Umm Imran’s house for our monthly Mum and Muslim Magazine meeting (he then headed for work with Little Man in tow and brother-in-law was left with Gorgeous).

The meeting was long and intense - starting at 12.00 and lasting till 5.30 (with a lovely lunch served in between). Hubby would have been heading for a second job at this time, so I decided to take the bus home which should have taken 20 minutes. As we left the skies opened in a downpour and we managed to take a wrong turn somewhere and miss the bus stop. We walked one mile to the next bus route and took the bus into town and then walked home soaked and with me fretting that Little Lady was going to get sick.

I got her home at 7.30 and into her pyjama’s, in front of a heater with the hairdryer and then remembered that I had promised to get a card and gift for a work colleague. Knowing we couldn’t leave the kids alone, brother-in-law and I both raced for the front door – with me getting out first leaving him holding the fort again. Luckily my local neighbourhood has quite a few desi shops which have no sense of Sunday trading laws or concept of a sensible closing time. I found some hot pink diamante bangles and two scarves: one black one zebra print for a total of £15 and got back home within 15 minutes. Brother-in-law was out the door like a shot.

Managed to get the kids their dinner and cut them up a big plate of strawberries in the hope it would keep them busy long enough for me to pray my evening prayer in peace. Then started the bedtime routine a little later than usual. Quickly made a card for my colleague (black, pink and diamante to go with the gift) and put everything into a gift bag to assemble at work in the morning (might as well use work time as productively as I can).

Put one wash out, put a second in to the machine and folded a third. Prayed the night prayer, got my clothes ready for the morning just as hubby got home. He saw my slouching shoulders and decided to dish up for himself.

Watered the plants which never managed to make it to the garden and are now sitting in a tray in the kitchen, ate some chocolate and I am now sitting her typing this up before I go to bed. It made me think I am doing too many things and still wanting to do more when I should stop. I had lots of peaceful moments in between the busyness, the prayers help me to stop and recharge and pockets of time with the kids bliss me out, but I am still too tired on a Sunday evening when I should be relaxed and rested.

I thought back to a post I head read on Sister Kaffayah Abdulsalam’s blog which recommended that you list what you would like to do each day and then prioritise the top three. Anything else is a bonus. This would be tough because My number one and two are quality time with the kids and Quran with the kids. That leaves one more and I would like both me-time (which includes time spent with hubby) and some time to spend on my blogging/magazine work and other projects I am interested in. That make four main priorities, which is too much, three seems just about manageable. Seems like some three and four will have to alternate perhaps. Feels like a good way of approaching the busyness though, I think I will try it out. In the meantime, I have work in the morning, a piece of cake after the weekend.

Saturday 15 May 2010

Blues and Greens

Last Saturday the crystal rondelle (donut-shaped) beads I had ordered turned up, absolutely making my day. I set to sorting them and playing around with them for inspiration.

As always it's the complementary shades in the colour wheel which speak to me.

I strung the beads onto plastic wire starting from darkest blue to lightest green and tied the ends to a length of chain to give the necklace extra length. I find that most long necklaces barely peek out from the bottom of my hijab, so I made this longer than usual. I also didn't see the point of putting such pretty beads where they could not be seen, so have started using chain and ribbon to complete the top part of my long necklaces.

I wore this to work over a black abayah and a plain teal scarf, but can imagine wearing it with my dark green and navy abayah's too.

Friday 14 May 2010

Reflections on Ambition and Work

Every now and again I have one of those moments when I look back over the last 10 or 12 years and think “What have I been doing?” “Where am I and where could I have been?” I wonder if the choices I made were the right ones and whether I should have had more patience or more courage.

Perhaps I moved jobs too quickly when I came back from maternity leave and got fed up when I found myself back to square one. Perhaps I lost my courage and took the easy way when I got married straight after graduating and never did my masters degree, but worked so that I could bring my beloved husband here (which made the decision to stop studying more than worth it – some exchanges are better in the long run). Perhaps I lost my nerve when it came to that interesting job which I knew I could do, but which left me fearful that it would steal more of my time, energy and attention away from my children.

Whatever the reason, I am where I am in my career; positive and hopeful some days, miserable and despondent on others. When I get like this, I start to dig deeper and ask myself why am I questioning my decisions and the fact that fate would have brought me to this point anyway? I start to think about what it was I originally craved even though I did not know it at the time – prestige, getting to the top of the career ladder, better pay and then when you look deeper what these point to – the opportunity to prove myself, the need to outdo everyone, the need to be respected and a bolster for my self-esteem, albeit a false one, because I have since realised that self-esteem comes not because of what you can do or have achieved, but regardless of these things.

Stopping and reflecting in this way makes me realise that the old rules no longer apply for me. I am a mother now and as such, my priorities are completely different. I am more comfortable in my own skin and care less and less about what other people think and accordingly have lost to a large extent the need to prove myself or beat anyone at anything. My reasons for doing things have changed. I no longer need promotion and money, but to know I have made the most of that day, that I have served someone in some small way, that I have learned something new and that I have not compromised my faith (great acts of good ness are the ideal, but sometimes in the world we live in today, just avoiding those things which are sinful is considerable in itself).

It’s no longer about career and promotion, but about finding your life’s work and about thinking about why Allah has put me here. It’s no longer about the big leaps across grades and positions, but about the small incremental steps towards something that holds genuine value. So now when I feel down on my job and start seeing all the people in higher grades acting as if they really believe in their own importance – I take one small step – I make sure that I have done one very small thing that will take me closer to my goals – whether it is buying one book to do some research, reading one chapter of it, writing my goal down and starting the planning or just sharing it with someone else and asking for help. Once I have done this, I know I have done enough for that day and don’t have to fret about where I am in life and what I have achieved.

Book Review: Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson – Dune: the Butlerian Jihad

Book Review: Frank Herbert – Dune

After reading Dune and its sequel Dune Messiah, I decided to pick up one of the back stories which act as prequels to Dune. Dune and its sequels were written by Frank Herbert and the original book in particular creates a rich, varied world full of detail and history. This meant that after Frank Herbert died, his son Brian along with his co-writer had plenty of material to write a series of prequels from.

Dune was set 10,000 years in the future, a time period hard to grasp. In contrast this, the first of the prequels, is written 1,000 years into the future. Humanity has been enslaved by the very computers and machines it created and which have gained consciousness through artificial intelligence. Space travel across galaxies has meant that the influence of the machines has spread to all of the planets colonised by humans except a few worlds in the far reaches which have formed an alliance in the shape of the League of Nobles to fight back against the machines and preserve the freedom of their people.

One of the planets in the league is Salusa Secundus home to the soldier Xavier Harkonnen and his fiancĂ© Serena Butler, daughter of the planet’s viceroy. When Salusa Secundus is attacked by the machines, it is Xavier that leads the fight against the machines despite massive losses and damage. This leads to him being made leader of the League’s military arm. Before long the thinking machines are attacking other planets and Xavier, Serena and those that follow them realise that they will have to take drastic actions to take back the worlds they have lost.

In contrast Vorian Atreides is the human son of the cyborg Titan Agamemnon. The Titans, originally human, have exchanged their human forms for brains with only their in-tact brains inside mechanised bodies. This has allowed them to take control of earth for a hundred years until the machines they have created become aware and enslave them and all humans for the next 900 years. Vorian is loyal to the machines, not knowing the brutality and horror the Titans and thinking machines have unleashed against humanity. This is until he begins to suspect that the official story he has been told may not be entirely accurate.

This book is very different in its tone to the original. Where the original books have a strong philosophical feel to them, this novel seems much more like a traditional straightforward adventure/sci-fi novel. The story is fast-paced and the multitude of characters and world means that there is always something to keep the reader interested. The original Dune, is so very rich in detail and history that even important events and elements are treated in an almost throw-away fashion, creating far more material than one book can explore (hence the numerous prequels). This novel doesn’t quite have that level of detail although there are still many strands to the story, with as many left to the imagination as there are explored.

One area that this novel does fall down a little is dialogue and emotion. The dialogue is passable, but where there are emotional scenes, for instance between Serena and Xavier, they feel trite and not very natural, something I find common in sci-fi novels.

Overall, whilst the story is engaging enough, I suspect that this will only interest those who have read the original Dune book and want to fill in the gaps in the history created in that book.

Finishing Off Cards & Algerian Action Craft Fair

I have a big pile of cards that I have started and not finished. Many of them are a repeat of a theme or a set of papers in the same colour or style. Many are where I created a background, ready to work on when inspiration struck or when I needed a card at short notice. Sister Emma of Algerian Action provided me with just the impetus I needed to finish some of these cards with her Craft fair on May 31st which will showcase all kinds of handmade goods.

I have a whole pile more to complete, so hopefully will be able to set aside some time this weekend to play with my gems and alphabet punches insh'Allah.
(Please excuse the crappy pictures, Little Man seems to have taken an interest in photography (mostly of the view up his nose) and has dropped my camera-phone so many times I can barely see anything through the screen!)

Monday 10 May 2010

Ego and Ikhlaq

On Friday night I attended the wedding of my mum’s best friend’s daughter; a pleasant, serene, affair with minimal fuss and a lovely vibe mash’Allah. I got to spend time with my girls – my three sisters and my lovely sister-in-law and eat good food, although I did spend a good chunk of the evening reminding the children that this was a hall and not a playground!

I grew up with the young women of the brides family around me – her sisters and cousins as our two families have always had close links over the last 40 years or so. I have never been particularly close to any of them and have often felt they are looking down on me. Perhaps this has been in my mind and I have been too quick to take slight and as a Muslim I know that the other person has the right to be given the benefit of the doubt when there is no proof of what you think about them. In any case, this has meant that over the years I have started to give them a wide berth with the justification in my mind that it is better to avoid situations that make you slighted or embarrassed.

I enjoyed the wedding, congratulated the brides mother, tried to talk to one of her cousins and somehow managed to feel slightly insulted again and then made a move to leave. As I left, I saw the brides sister standing at the door greeting people as they left, I put my arm round Little Lady, looked down and walked out.

As we got into the car, my husband remarked that the sister had wanted to greet me, but I wasn’t looking at her. I told him that I had ignored her on purpose. He reminded me a hadith he had come across which says that there are 70 rewards for greeting another with salaam, 69 for the ones who takes the initiative and 1 reward for the one who responds (I cannot find the hadith to support this, please let me know if you know the source insh'Allah).

Hubby has a knack of doing this. Stopping me in my tracks in a way that means I can’t really argue back. I did feel rather ashamed. I had wasted the rewards that one day might make all the difference. I had stooped to behaviour that doesn’t befit a Muslimah and I had most likely made someone else feel how I have been made to feel in the past.

I know it seems like such a small thing. But it is the small things that sometimes form the basis for the bigger things. I could have dealt with my insecurities and greeted the sister with warmth. I may still have felt that she was looking down on me, but I could have made the decision that this was NOT my problem and that I would still behave in the way my faith guides me towards. I also should have remembered that I am setting an example for my children. Some things to keep in mind I think.

And those who believed and did good works are made to enter Gardens underneath which rivers flow, therein abiding by permission of their Lord, their greeting therein, Peace! ~ Qur'an 14:23

The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, 'It is not halal for a muslim to shun his brother for more than three nights, that is they meet, and this one turns away and that one turns away. The better of the two is the one who says the greeting first'. (Muwatta Hadith 47.13).

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt

Tuesday 4 May 2010

Hijab Conversation

A Sister recently left a comment on my blog that I felt warranted a proper response as far as I am able to offer this. The Sister’s query was as follows:

Salaam, I found this page a while ago and hesitated about whether or not to express my confusion. I hope you won't be offended by this. I just find it hard to understand, and maybe you can enlighten me, how you define your blog as that of a Muslim in the title, yet the first and last words on it are about hijab. I find this slightly narrow and discriminatory, even as a wearer of hijab myself. It is a thing I have observed, that many women of Muslim background assume that all they, as born Muslims, need to do in order to be real Muslim Sisters, is put on a scarf (maybe add in a few other behaviours), even if they are just doing it for ease, or as a style statement, or because of their family, whatever. Why does this define you as a Muslim? The central issue about women in Islam is always about hijab in Western media etc, why are you encouraging this reductionism? I appreciate that your take on it is positive, but aren't you forgetting Allah's other blessings in making it the focus of your Muslim identity? To me it would make more sense for a Muslim to describe themselves as prayer-loving, or maybe lovers of the beauty God has created, maybe even God-loving. But then, each one their own I guess :-) and I can see that many people relate to you...

Jazakh’Allah-khairun Sister for visiting this blog and for asking me the above. I have to say my first reaction was to get defensive, but then I realized that your question was intended not to offend but to understand insh’Allah. Also others may think the same and instead of asking just think badly of me, at least you ahve asked with courtesy.

I confirm that yes I do love my hijab, but I don’t agree that it is the beginning and end of my faith even if it does appear that way sometimes. I have tried to make clear that I don’t think a Sister who wears hijab is automatically better than one who does not. I have in real life defended Sisters who don’t wear hijab when they are being judged by Sister who do. I believe that the hijab is not an automatic indicator of what good Muslim’s we are and that only Allah (SWT) can know what is in our heart or the sincerity of our actions and worship.

I have said before here also that women deserve respect regardless of what they wear:

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

I have also written here about why I love hijab so much:

I looked at my profile and saw hijab-loving as part of my self-description. It made me wonder why I put this first. Perhaps because it has become so central to who I am and because of all of the benefits I have received from it.Mainly this has been the amount of time I save in the morning from not having to fix my hair. I have suffered bad hair days from age 11 to about 19 when I started wearing hijab, so the world and me have been saved from any more of these. Unfortunately my family still have to witness these (especially first thing in the morning).

Most important has been the peace that comes with knowing you are obeying Allah (SWT) and in a small way living the way that you are supposed to. When you go against Allah (SWT) commandment, you go against (nature or innate disposition towards virtue) and the unease penetrates every part of your life.

As a Muhajibah I am also a da’ee. When my every action is interpreted not as Umm Salihah’s action, but that of a Muslimah, you have the opportunity to represent your community and faith in the best light possible. When you hold a door, smile, give up your seat, it is a Muslim woman doing those things. I have heard a French convert say that the thing that attracted her to Islam was the absolute gentleness she saw in Muslim women. There are times when you don’t feel like being on your best behaviour – when you want to lose your temper at the shop assistant, the bus driver or a colleague, or you are very close to using bad language or one-upmanship. Whenever I feel like this, I remind myself I am wearing my hijab and if I behave badly, the next Muslimah to come along will automatically be seen in the same light – rude, grumpy or mean. If on the other hand I rise above it and be gracious or respond with kindness, people will assume that Muslim women really are as elegant as their dress. I do think that sometimes people also start to want to be like you.

It helps me to be taken seriously. I am not very big or loud and I have worked in offices where some of the men don’t take pretty women too seriously. Because of my hijab people assume I am a serious person (I so am not) and that I mean business. Some people even find it a little intimidating if I choose not to smile or talk too much (for a change).

After 9/11, working in the city was kind of scary. People would be terrified of you and you would be terrified of people. Seeing a sister in hijab was like finding an ally. A smile to each other was enough to reassure you that you were not alone in this situation or this city.

I also write here about my feelings about Islam – I mention hijab in this post , but that is not all there is in Islam for me.

I love Islam, I feel that there is a sense of balance, measure and justice in every aspect of this faith and I feel like it speaks the truth to me. Whether I turn to it with logic or intuition, whether I listen to what my heart say or probe the tenets of Islam with my questions, I find that the teachings of Islam stand up to my interrogations at every turn.

My faith guides me in my decisions, in the way I choose to live my life and in the way I conduct my relationships. It helps to reign in my baser instincts and as flawed as I am it encourages me to try and better myself.With Islam, I find my position as a woman, a daughter, a mother and wife elevated. I find that everything I do has the potential to be infused with spirituality and become an act of worship – whether something as important as raising my children or as ordinary as washing the dishes.

I agree that the Western media does go on about hijab as if it is the only thing that Islam is about (apart from blowing things up…), but my intention when writing about it is not to be reductionist. I am not going to let the Western media set the agenda for this blog but rather my own interests, views, thoughts, passions and life. Hijab is a part of that. Part of the reason I started this blog, aside from sharing my experiences and learning from other Sisters (Muhajabah and non-hijab wearing) was to illustrate that Muslimah’s are ordinary people with ordinary concerns – family, work, their hobbies, social life and communities, with the added bonus of their faith guiding them and enriching their lives.

I don’t think then that hijab defines me as a Muslim, but it does identify me to people as Muslim and this is something I am more than happy with alhamdulillah. I don’t believe that this detracts from my love of other aspects of Islam or means that I am not prayer-loving (well I try…), or do not love Allah (SWT) or do not love the beauty of all that Allah (SWT) has bestowed on us.

As to your question about why “many women of Muslim background assume that all they, as born Muslims, need to do in order to be real Muslim Sisters, is put on a scarf (maybe add in a few other behaviours), even if they are just doing it for ease, or as a style statement, or because of their family, whatever.” Perhaps it is lack of knowledge, perhaps because although they are born to Muslim families they are still new Muslimah’s in a way because they are just starting to explore their faith. I felt like this at nineteen when I made the conscious decision to follow my faith properly, which at that age did mean putting on hijab, I did not start praying properly till I was 21 – it was one step at a time for me. Whatever the reasons might be, I cannot speak for others and alhamdullilah, most of the hijab-wearing Sisters I know don’t think like this but place more effort in their practice of their faith.

I hope that nothing I have written has offended you. I hope I have explained my thoughts and why hijab is mentioned on my blog (8 posts out of 688 are tagged with hijab although of course it will be mentioned in others – maybe I am not writing about it enough?). Please make dua for me Sister that Allah (SWT) grants me the hidayah (guidance) to love him and those things which please him and to focus on those aspects of Islam that are most beloved of him insh’Allah.

Monday 3 May 2010

Hijab Pins

I thought I would try something new today, so dug out these long eye-pins I ordered from ebay some time ago.

I had so much fun picking out the beads and threading them onto the pins with wire. I tied the nots in the wire at the end and then added a touch of UHU glue to stop the knots untying. This project was very quick and easy alhamdulillah.

I plan to make loads more of these as treats for family and freinds and perhaps for a giveaway on this blog too insh'Allah.

What do you think? What would be a good colour combination to try in the future?

If you want to have a go there are Youtube video tutorials here and here.

Bead Therapy

I think I might have taken on a bit too much with working full time, blogging, writing (and messing around with the website) for Mum and Muslim Magazine, having interviews to deal with and general having my finger in every pie I come across because I cannot say no to an opportunity.

The last few days I was feeling the fatigue, conking out as soon as my head hit the pillow, and still feeling tired in the morning. I don't usually tire quickly and unfotunately when I do, I don't often listen to my body which isn't very sensible. So for the last two days I have been feeling exhausted and demotivated.

What has helped has been playing with my bead stash. Almost like a kind of therapy. When I was expecting Little Lady I used to come home from work and play with my beads to wind down. Up until now I have been picking up the beads, sorting them, colour co-ordinating them, sorting them by size, then mixing them again and then colour co-ordinating them again without managing to make very much. Sometimes though, you just need to let yourself play and your mind wander.

Alhamdulillah for bank holidays. The two day slow-down meant I woke up today feeling bright and more like myself. The two days of playing with my beads meant I was ready when the creative feeling hit.

This picture from Swanky Tables featuring jewellery from Stella and Dot certainly got me inspired:

Little Lady loves pink and this flower was from a necklace my mum bought her a few years ago and which got broken almost immediately. The back of the flower has a metal fixture with holes which I threaded clear beading elastic through and threaded with pearl beads and crystal rondelles (donut-shaped beads) in pink and clear.

I love long necklaces as they are one of the only types of jewellery which you can see falling out from under a big hijab.

Again I used rondelles in teal, 4mm wide for the necklace and 8mm wide for the larger beads on the sides of the crystal spaces. The rondelles were not enough to make the necklace really long and adding ribbon is very fashionable with jewellery at the moment. So I thread string through the top beads with a neele and swed it through the middle of the bow.

It looks long but was still only barely long enough to be seen under the hijab. (I did ask her to put her biscuit down but she was enjoying it too much).

I have been meaning to make something with my stash of purple beads for ages as I have a purple hijab which I like wearing but with which nothing goes - it does now.

I do like anklets with my ballet flats -Indian style so they are worn lower on the foot rather than up round the ankle where no-one will see them. This was probably the easiest project.

The inspiration for these strands came from a picture I saw ages ago of a lady with about 20 stranfs of small turqouise blue beads wrapped around her wrist. The simple repetition of the same bead was very striking (I could not for the life of me find the picture). These beads were sent to me by iMuslimah and didn't go with anything else, but looked so lovely by themself.

I think I'll wear one new creation each day this week...