Monday 28 March 2011

Book Review: In the Prophet’s Garden by Fatima M D’Oyen and Abdelkader Chachi

I went to buy a beginners Quranic Arabic lesson book for my youngest child and came across this book. It’s generous (almost A4) size and attractive cover encouraged me to take a look and the idea, introducing children to hadith, piqued my interest.

The book is divided by theme: faith, prayer, Ramadan, repentance, parents, manners, sins etc with an introduction about the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). There is also a small introduction to ahadith: what they are, their importance, their collation and the value of learning them.

The hadith in the book are written in Arabic and then in English. My children would not be able to read the Arabic well enough yet, but I felt it was good to have the Arabic next to the English for them to understand the relationship between the Arabic language which they are learning to read, but don’t yet understand and the English. My children regularly sit with me in halaqa’s or study circle’s, but the majority of these are in Urdu. So they understand some, but not all of what is said. It was gratifying to find the hadith translated into fairly simple English.

Most of the hadith are short and fairly simple to understand for children. We read a few together and then discussed what they required from us or were telling us:

Aishah (RA) relates: “I said: “Oh Messenger of Allah, I have two neighbours. Which of them should I give gifts to (first)”? He replied: “To the one whose door is nearer to yours”. (Bukhari)

Others required a little more explaining due either to the language or subject matter:

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Dua is the essence of worship.” (Tirmidhi)

There was only one Quranic verse in the book which I would not have read to the children, due o the questions I would most likely end up being asked:

The pilgrimage is to be held in the well-known months. Whoever intends to perform it at that time (should remember that) there must not be any sexual contact or improper behaviour, nor abuse, nor angry conversation while on the pilgrimage (al-Quran 2:197).

Aside from this though, I found the content accessible for my children, at a level where I could read to my sons (aged four and six) and at which my daughter could read through herself (at aged eight). I was definitely pleased to have purchased this book and will be sharing it with my children.

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Thursday 24 March 2011

Reflecting on Death and Priorities

I had a visit from my uncle last night (my dad’s younger brother) who is quite close to me. He is very active in his community and in particular with his masjid. Last night he told me about a middle-aged man who used to live alone in one of the rooms above the masjid. He had lived in the UK illegally for 17 years having travelled here from Pakistan. He sold mangoes on Green Street until he finally got his leave to stay in the country last year and was in the process of applying for his passport. He fell ill three months ago and with swine flu which developed into all sorts of other nasty things, meaning that he was moved from one hospital to another until he died a few days ago. Inna Lillah Wa Inna Ilayhi Raji'oun - truly we belong to Allah and truly to Him shall we return.

Someone contacted the man’s family and it was found that he had relatives in the US and Pakistan, but no-one was willing to take responsibility for his burial. My uncle and members of his community managed to get enough money together to arrange his burial. My uncle told me that at one time he was making good money and supplying fruit to other street traders too, but he fell on hard times when a supplier conned him out of his money. Since then, until he ended up in hospital, he had been surviving on a bit of leftover curry from neighbours and acquaintances and a few pitta’s once or twice a day.

A family member from Pakistan eventually contacted and asked my uncle to send his belongings back – probably not realising that he didn’t have anything worth much.

I had to write about this partly because it was a painful thought for me that a man could live such a lonely and uncomfortable existence and then just be promptly forgotten by everybody including the people he had been calling regularly and sending money to before he became destitute and then ill. I just pray that his hardships in this life lead to ease in the next life insh’Allah.

The other reason I had to write about this is because of a conversation I had with a colleague and friend at lunch time today. None of us is guaranteed even a second more than the one we are in. We live in frightening times: tsunami’s, earthquakes, floods, man-made disasters and then the sheer savagery of human beings against each other. Islam teaches that there will be an end to this world and then we will be held to account for our every word and action. Muslim’s believe in the last days, and there are many Prophetic (PBUH) traditions regarding this (Ibn Kathir’s The Signs Before the Day of Judgement is a good source to learn more).

The point is not to frighten people or to put a downer on people – but Islam teaches us to look around us and reflect and not trudge along each day with our eyes and our minds closed. Seeing all of these things, makes me question - what is our purpose? Why are we here? What are we meant to do? It makes me think about what is important, what should I prioritise and what holds value – when I think like this, I start to see how spending time in worship is more important than surfing the net. It makes me want to spend more time with my children, instructing them, rather than spending time on other things, preparing my Sadaqah Jariyah (ongoing charity, which benefits after death, e.g. pious children insh’Allah). It makes me question what, in the scheme of things, is the point of me spending all day at the office – if death came tomorrow. Wouldn’t there have been better ways to have spent that time.

This way of thinking also inspires me – to do more, to do better, to take more care. One of the things I discussed today with my friend was how easily we fall to backbiting others at work and amongst friends without even realising. I have realised that when I am around good friends, this doesn’t happen, but when I am around certain people, the tendency to speak without thought creeps in. It made me think about the people I am keeping company with and I and my friend promised we would help each other to stop this.

Neither backbite one another. Would one of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? You would hate it [so hate backbiting]" (Quran 49:12)

These things have been on my mind a lot in the last few days – sometimes encouraging me, sometimes serving as a warning to me – but informing much of what I do. May Allah (SWT) have mercy on the Muslim’s and give us the opportunity to reflect on His words and on the example of His beloved Prophet, to understand them, to act on them and to be steadfast on what he has sent to us insh’Allah. Ameen.

Book Review: Lionel Shriver - We Need to Talk About Kevin

When both Long-Suffering Sister and my sister-in-law (hmm...will have to think of a name for her too) recommended this book, I was very keen to try it. Both are so very different that if they both liked it, I assumed it must be good.

We Need to Talk About Kevin is written as a series of letters from the mother of a teenager who has carried out a Columbine-style shooting to her former husband. Eva is the mother of the Kevin of the title. She writes to his father to tell him about the aftermath of the shooting, the world’s reaction to it and how she has been dealing with it. She reflects on why she made the decision to have Kevin, her inability to bond with him and on the impact it had on their relationship.

I have to say, after the initial excitement, I got rather fed up of this book at first. I made numerous threats to Long Suffering Sister for encouraging me to read such a long-winded, boring book. In the end I had to take my words back.

Shriver effectively conjures up Eva through her letters – irritating, self-pitying, cynical, self-absorbed, navel-gazing way too much in the way of affluent people who have had an easy life and need to think up things to tell therapists they don’t need. You start off with this book, really not liking Eva very much. The book goes on in this vein for a very long time. I lost patience a number of times and was close to giving up on this book a number of times. I am glad I didn’t.

Eva’s letter also effectively describe an almost Damien-(from Omen)-like little boy who turns into a terrifying young man with almost no redeeming qualities. Every time there is some chance that Eva has gotten through to Kevin, he reverts to type as the hostile, manipulative teenager. There were times when he slightly less than convincing – Shriver’s take on the way Kevin dresses (everything tight and shrunken) jars with me - a minor thing, but one which felt wrong each time it was mentioned. Also, the fact that he is almost always so bad with no obvious reason, is hard to understand.

Shriver admits in the afterward of the book, that the character of Eva is partially an exploration of her own journey towards the decision not to have children. Another key theme is the old nature versus nurture debate – is Kevin born bad? Is Eva’s inability to bond with him the culprit? Is society at fault?

At times the book rambles all over the shop – Eva’s childhood and relationship with her husband, their marriage, her travels around the world, the impact of a child on her life, the multiple anxieties that come with being a parent, her thoughts on America, the world and just about everything. At times this feels like a real insight into her character, at other times you think, okay – just get on with it, when is something going to happen? The long, slow ratching up of tension and misery and the drip-drip nature of the way the letters reveal what has happened perhaps means that the ending of the book is all the more effective.

I found the pay off for my patience with the book in the last tenth of it. You know what is coming and yet the denouement is shocking and painful and leaves you reeling with more questions than answers about the cause of what happens.

If you really don’t have the patience for such a long, rambling (475 page) book, then Jonathan Trigell’s Boy A is a comparable book (my review here) which is far shorter and based partially on the Jamie Bulgar murder case and also a good read.

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Monday 21 March 2011

Gratitude Journal 21.03.11

I had to go visit a friend today, so decided to go whilst the kids were at madrassah. I got back to find hubby getting dinner ready and Little Man proudly showing off the chapatti he had made (he rolled it out, his dad cooked it).

Alhamdulillah, it took me almost two years of grudging practice to get a round chapatti, and he has it down already (the chunk out of the side is where I was trying to get him to actually eat his creation). I was rather proud of him.

Little Man also got his glasses this weekend. As a glasses-wearer since the age of ten (albeit a contact lense wearer for the last ten years), I am very sensitive to the fact that both of my older children have ended up with glasses and the impact this has on the wearer. Alhamdulillah, I have never seen anyone so excited to be wearing glasses as this boy - he counted down the days to when we had to pick them up and has been wearing them every chance he gets (polishing them every hour or so). I have to say he totally rocks them - we keep calling him Harry Puttar (Punjabi for son) which makes him happy too.

Saturday 19 March 2011

InCulture Parent: The Status of Mothers in Islam

InCulture Parent magazine has published my latest column The Status of Mothers in Islam in their Religious Life of Children section.

Please do visit and leave your thoughts.

Friday 18 March 2011

Gratitude Journal 18.03.11 - Jummah Sensations

I have been craving a day off. However a day off usually means a day where I am keen to do as much as I can outside of work. After a week with a sore shoulder (most likely a mix of being hunched in front of a computer and a too heavy handbag), I decided to have a proper day off - one where I don't do ANY kind of work.

So I spent the morning loafing round the house and browsing various book blogs. I picked up Gorgeous from nursery (the teacher was embarrassed not to recognise me again) and spent the afternoon wandering around the shopping centre where there was a "French" market with stalls selling Chinese gifts, English crockery and paella. I wanted to try the paella, but wasn't confident about its halal-ness, so might try making some myself tomorrow.

Picked Little Lady and Little Man from school, where they were celebrating Red Nose Day by wearing red and headed to mum's for an evening lounging with my book. Mum is very houseproud and loves pretty things so there is always plenty to please my senses while my children make her lose hers.

These tulips were a gift to her from Kooky Little Sister. All three of my sisters usually buy her flowers on the weekend.

She was rather pleased with these cushions she has just bought - love the cherries and all the embroidery.

I took along books for me and the kids - I managed to get a bit of reading done, the kids all turned to zombies and forgot the books as soon as Scooby-doo came on.

They had fun trying to thread these sweets, but overdosed on sugar with both these and the chocolates my mum handed out - right before dinner!!

Mum's garden is blooming already - I just loved the rain drenched Camelia's. Might venture out into my garden tomorrow and see what it looks like out there.

Talking of senses, one of the things I have grown up with is the smell of attar (Arabic scent) on a Friday and today was no exception, when I unfolded my dad's prayer mat, I got a wonderful smell that reminded me of so many Fridays from when I was younger.

Jummah Mubarak, I hope your Jummah day was a good one insh'Allah.

Sewing Boxes

I found this little set of boxes in TK Maxx (I shop I used to avoid like the plague because it seemed too messy and random) and thought they would be perfect to organise my sewing stuff.

The smallest came in handy for Little Lady's embroidery threads and fabric.

The middle-sized one holds my embroidery materials. The piece of embroidery is something Kooky Little Sister was experimenting with a while ago and then decided it wasn't good enough - she is a bit of a perfectionist (I quite liked the colours and the idea).

The largest just about took care of my sewing things.

What I like best is that there are no faces, so I can have them about the house. I think they look rather nice sitting on my sewing machine (that hubby keeps asking when I am going to make use soon as I can find someone to show me how to thread the thing).

Book Review: Carlos Ruiz Zafón - The Shadow of the Wind

The Shadow of the Wind is the story of ten your old Daniel, son of a gentle bookseller in 1945 Barcelona – how many books have you come across set in 1945 Barcelona? Certainly had me intrigued.

On Daniel’s tenth birthday his father takes him to a secret library hidden underneath the city where he is allowed o choose one book. He chooses a little known title by a virtually unknown author – “The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax.

The book enchants him and the mystery of the author haunts him and over the years Daniel finds that he is not the only one interested in the book and that the story of the author’s life is far more intriguing and horrifying than he could imagine.

Set in post-Spanish civil war Barcelona, this book spans just about every genre you can think of – gothic horror, murder mystery, thriller, comedy and romance. It weaves a number of stories – from that of the loss of Daniels mother and the grief of his father, to those of the wonderfully colourful characters in their neighbourhood. Then there is Daniel’s love story (two of them actually), the mystery of Carax, the strange matter of the homeless man Daniel’s father employs – Fermin and a cast of interesting characters from all over Barcelona.

The book is translated very smoothly from the Spanish, without feeling that you have lost something or that it is stilted in any way. The characters in this book are a treat – General Franco’s brutal police men, Daniel’s gentle, dreamy father, the kind cross-dressing neighbourhood watchmaker, an abbey full of mischievous old people, and the wonderful Fermín Romero de Torres. The book is almost worth reading for this one character alone – wistful, frightened, flamboyant and very, very funny.

My only criticism would be that with so much happening in the book and the plot within the plot, the book was confusing in places and I had to back track a little to keep tabs on what was happening. Otherwise, this book was one I thoroughly enjoyed for it's colour, wit and intelligence and would recommend to others (the part with the nuns and mischievous old people alone is worth the read).

Kooky Little Sis has “The Prince of Mist” by the same author, so we will be swapping and I am on the lookout to the prequel to this book “The Angel's Game”.

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Wednesday 16 March 2011

Slap and Slime - My Picks

Long ago Mr Removal man (aka my beloved) brought me home a nice slim cupboard which I had fantasies about organising my toiletries and accessories in. Over the years it has become a bolt-hole for all kinds of things I have accumulated. I left it open the other day and it caught my husband's eye - "what on earth..." - you can bet I shut the door quick.

Anyway, I'm always curious as to what the best products for the lowest prices are. I pick up lots of nice pricey items for next to nothing in summer from the boot sales (as long as they are sealed in packaging), so I get to try things that would be out of my price range otherwise. This has also meant that I have found that sometimes the most expensive items are not the best ones.
This is my inexpensive staple - Astral moisturiser, this goes on with whatever else I am using, and I find that if I don't use it for a while, my skin looks a little duller.

This Clinique Take The Day Off make-up remover was reccommended to me by my optician as I have very sensitive eyes. I can clean kohl from right inside the rim of my eye with this and it takes everything off effortlessly, which means that i is good for correcting mistakes (applied with a cotton bud stick). A bit expensive, but in this case worth it I think

I have tried numerous random moisturisers from department store ranges to chemist own, and so am not easily impressed. Everything is too greasy, heavy, oily, inneffective or too light. I haven't used Body Shop products in a long time, but the lovely Sister in the shop tried this Vitamin C Skin Reviver on the back of my hand and I was sold. Smells wonderfully citrussy but has the most amazing texture once on my skin - a real treat.

I have tried numerous products for my unpredictable skin, some have worked for a while and then become inneffective, but nothing I felt was reliable. This Boots brand Tea Tree Night Treatment Gel was recommended by another Sister and seems to do the job. I haven't had a spot since I have been using this. A little drying, so I always put mosituriser over the top of it, but also nice and cheap.

I have used all sorts for my dry hair and not much works. This Advance Techniques hair serum from Avon seems to do a bit better than most though - not too greasy and smells of coconut. I would love to hear from sisters what products they use for their hair that really work as I have not found anything amazing in terms of shamppo, conditioners etc.

Because I have to do wudhu at work, I have stopped wearing make-up over the years, but there are a few items that sit in the bottom of my bag. The Carmex is an old favourite from my student days. It's less greasier than vaseline and seems to stay on longer. The lip gloss is Revlon Colourstay (nude) and this is the first light lip colour that I have found that doesn't look terrible on me. I never thought I would find a nude lip colour for my skin, so this is a real favourite (thanks to Kooky Little Sister!). Also, it just does not come off until you want it to (you need make-up remover for this one) The orange wand is the Eye Reviver Duo and is from the same range as the Body Shop Vitamin C moisturiser above. I have tried a number of eye creams and this one seems to tighten my skin up immediately (makes me sound like a wrinkly old thing!). A good recommendation for an eye cream from sisters would also be welcome.

This olive oil is the cure all in my cupboard. I use it for my hair and skin and for the children's hair and skin as Little Lady and Gorgeous suffer from eczema and this seems to help. It doesn't smell too strong and skin just seems to drink it in.

My mum-in-laws and mum both have a real thing about women who wear open shoes with cracked heels, they are very conscientious about taking care of their feet and have made me the same. I have tried five or six different brands of foot scrub and this one stands out as the best.

Why do I feel so frivolous writing this post. I'm almost expecting someone to tell me off ...
What are your best budget and expensive beauty buys, I would love to hear from Sisters.

Book Review: Terry Goodkind – Debt of Bones

I love sci-fi, but tend to be very particular about the titles I choose. I find that the genre has a few instances of the most dazzling examples of fiction (Frank Herberts "Dune", John Wyndham's "The Chrysalids") and also a large amount of mundane, poorly written books.

I have been on the lookout for something new and different and thought I would try one of the authors whose books seemed prolific in the library. Terry Goodkind’s Debt of Bones had been singled out as a “quick choice” in the library – i.e. a god read and the fairly small size of the book made me think it would be an easy one to try as an introduction to the writer.

Debt of Bones is set in a fantasy world of wizards and sorceress’s who battle to safeguard their kingdom against invading forces. People flock to the wizards from all over the kingdom to ask for magical assistance to resolve their problems. One such person is Abby, a young woman whose village has been invaded and whose husband and daughter have been taken hostage by the enemy. She hopes that the greatest of the wizards, Zeddicus Zorander can help fight back against the invading armies and find her family. As the daughter of a sorceress, though lacking magic herself, she hopes that she can use a “debt of bones” between wizards and sorceress to convince Zedicus.

This book is written as a brief prequel to The Sword of Truth Series. Readers of the series may have found many things in the book more recognisable that I did approaching it as a stand-alone book. I found that I wanted to know more about the kingdom, indeed the world the story is set in – something good sci-fi is amazing for. I wanted to know more about the mysterious enemy whose motive to invade is never explained in much detail either.

The story moved along quickly enough, but failed to engage me. The storyline verged on interesting, but the plot twists did not convince me – each time I found myself thinking – that would be too obvious, then found the obvious unfolding. The ending too, felt too neat and didn’t at all inspire me to pick up the main series.

On the other hand, there were some interesting premises, the idea of boundaries between worlds, the general populaces’ distrust of magic and the politics between wizards and kingdom, but each of these were touched on and not explored further perhaps due to the size of the book. The characters were likeable enough – the Zeddicus is intense, Abby appears slightly slow in catching on at each juncture, the rest are fairly forgettable.

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Saturday 12 March 2011

Book Review: Ursula K Le Guin – The Left Hand of Darkness

Having previously read Le Guin’s Earthsea Quartet (review here) and enjoyed them I was keen to try this science fiction novel by the same author.

The book is set in the far distant future on a planet called Winter, which as its name suggests is always cold. The people of Gethren, although human in appearance, have the distinct quality of being androgynous apart from the few days each month where they take on the qualities of either male or female and are able to procreate. This quality means that there has never been a war on the planet as the people are not both aggressive and organised enough (i.e. male enough) to wage war.

Genly Ai is a representative of the Ekumen, an alliance of over eighty planets across a number of galaxies. He is sent to Winter to convince its people of the existence of other planets and to invite them to join the Ekuman to share its knowledge and civilisation. There he finds he has become a pawn to the various political factions who are trying to use his existence, or deny it, in order to manipulate the populace. Despite the support of the Prime Minister of one Winter country (Karhide), he soon finds himself in danger and fleeing to another, Orgoreyn, where again he tries to convince the government to join the Ekumen.

This is not your usual sci-fi full of planets, light sabres, strange looking aliens and fantastical worlds. This is a sedate book, with people much like us in many ways and with traditions and customs which are recognisable. Almost more like a different country than a different planet. Sometimes this means that the book could feel a little meandering and slow in pace. In particular Genly’s many month journey over an ice glacier starts to get monotonous – after all how many different ways can you describe snow?

However, the book does provide a fascinating insight into the people and culture of Winter. In the Earthsea Quartet Le Guin managed to create a believable alternative world and in Winter she does so again although the world is completely different and unique again. The people’s physiology, traditions, history, government, politics, religions, customs, culture, modes of living and civilisation all come to life fully formed and real in their own way. The androgyny of the people of Winter impacts on all aspects of their life and Le Guin is consistent in the way she shows this – whether through people’s behaviour, the structure of Winter society or the way people react to Genly Ai – his one gender means that he appears to be a pervert to the people of Winter. Saying that, much of the time it did not feel as if I was reading a story about androgynes, but about men. This though might say more about my assumptions than about Le Guin’s ability to make the characters’ androgyny real.

Something else which stood out and bothered me throughout the book was the way characters misunderstood one another due to the difference in cultures. Genly learns the languages of Winter, but this turns out not to be enough. People he trusts try to kill him, and he is unable to understand the warnings coming from people trying to help him, who in turn cannot see why he will not take the hint. The book shows how what we value in one culture, means something so different in another. Genly is often self-effacing calling himself humble and lacking in knowledge. These things are prized in Winter civilisation – lacking in knowledge almost meaning a person is more spiritually aware, making Genly appear arrogant to people when he does not mean to be.

This book is a fascinating attempt at creating a complete culture, at once both recognisable through its similarities to us and alien, due to the lack of gender differentiation. Le Guin’s novel has been described as an attempt at feminist science fiction and when you see the difference not having two genders makes, you can see why. The fact that Genly is black and therefore darker than many Winter inhabitants, is not problematic in the way his being male is.

An interesting, thought-provoking, occasionally slow, but ultimately rewarding read.

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Sunday 6 March 2011

Muslim Children and Computer Games

We all have our little bug bears, habits, behaviours, things that disproportionately irritate us or set us off ranting. Well one of mine is computer games. I really don’t like them, boy do I dislike them.
If there is one thing I think too many people waste precious time and money on, it is computer games. I see grown men (and women) sitting there completely oblivious to everything, and more importantly everyone, around them, shooting at things or racing things that are not real. Often more engaged with the characters on the screen or the creatures in their mobile than the person sitting next to them. I see children who are so hooked on their computer games, that if they don’t get a regular dose all hell breaks loose. When I say children, I mean kids as young as 6 or 7, but also teenagers, who really, in Islam are not considered children, but responsible for their own behaviour.

I think of Muhammad Bin Qasim who conquered India at 17 or the numerous young Sahabah (RA) who stood up to be counted, whether during the first days of Islam (Ali RA), on the battlefield (Bara bin Azib (RA)), or as scholars (including the mother of the believers Aisha RA).

As Muslim women, we aspire for our children to emulate the greatness of the Sahabah (RA), the companions of the Prophet (PBUH). We aspire for our children to be as passionate in their faith, as involved in their worship as the Sahabah (RA) were, to have a desire to learn and teach about their faith, to life rich and fulfilling lives in the service of others. I know certainly that this is my dream as a Muslim mother to guide my children to be the best Muslim’s that they can be. Are computer games conducive to this? I don’t think so. Do they prepare our children to be excellent and passionate Muslim’s insh’Allah? I don’t think so! Do they lead to fit, healthy children who are the leaders of tomorrow? I don’t think so anyway (I have images of plump, lank-haired, spotty teenagers in hoodies – sorry I know that’s an unfair stereotype). I think they distract our children and waste their time during those years of their lives that are most important to teach them the right habits and manners and for them to learn as much as possible of the Quran.

Anyway, what set off this rant? This:

I have never allowed my children computer games, apart from ones I pick out on the home PC that I feel are educational (Spanish, nature, Islam etc). My brother-in-law often allowed my children to play games on his mobile phone (Gorgeous is a fiend at whack-a-mole), but aside from that I have not allowed computer games into the house. Until a good friend of mine bought this around for Little Man. He was overjoyed. She is such a good sister and I have so much respect for her, that I couldn’t say no. He was hooked! Apart from being pestered for batteries, fighting with Gorgeous over it and the irritating bip-bip-bipping sound, he also decided he would play with it ALL the time. The overjoyed look on his face was sweet to behold and the fact that I could make him do virtually anything by threatening to take it away was handy, but I was still not happy.

Thankfully kids are easily distracted and I hid it after a few days under the tea towels in the kitchen and he has forgotten about it. I have noticed though, how he pesters my brother for his mobile phone when he gets the chance and the way he lights up at any mention of a computer game.

I know I have to be realistic. If I have a complete ban on computer games, the boys are likely to spend all day sitting at friend’s houses and playing there when they are older. At the same time, I don’t think that if they are praying five times a day, learning Quran, doing their school homework and playing sports insh’Allah, they will have time to play these games. Also, my belief that if you are going to take something away, you have to replace it with something better (Christmas and Birthdays with a fabulous Eid, superheroes and cartoons with examples from the Sahabah, television with outings and fun activities). So what should we be doing instead of allowing our children to play games? I have promised the kids camping with their dad (I might be opting out of that one, I like my creature comforts), trips around England this year, any and every sports and activity club they want and we can afford. All of the kids have been asking to do karate, our favourite Saturday activity is hanging in the library and visiting the museum there. We also have Muslim’s scouts here I think and as I kid I always wanted to be in the Brownies (like girl cub scouts), so if there is a Muslim version, I can’t wait to get them signed up. So much adventure and learning and so little time subhan’Allah. I think I will keep fending the computer games off a bit longer.

I came across this video on the wonderful TED talks site which gives a different perspective:

Strange Times, Strange Meals, Strange Children

Have had a funny, aimless kind of a weekend, with nothing much getting done. I have been giving myself a break and trying not to feel guilty about it. Lots to think about at the moment. My department at work has just made four out of six senior managers redundant and had interviews for the remaining middle management. This means about 18 people are applying for about 9 posts, we will find out tomorrow who got through and who didn't. In the following months, it will be our turn (policy officers and support officers) to come under scrutiny. So I have been thinking about redundancy, planning next steps in my career if I keep the job, my husband's business, business opportunities for myself (American Muslim Mom has inspired me lots when it comes to this), further studies and finding further writing opportunities for myself.

At the same time, as the kids get bigger, things feel easier, there is less tedious a-b-c, 1-2-3 and there are more interesting conversations and learning. I can see how being around more benefits them and the more I do with them, the more their cofidence grows, I need to keep that momentum up and to have some discipline about homework and studies - without it all getting boring. One scheme I have thought up is getting Little Lady to spend some of her Eid money (the girl made £25 and refused to hand it over!) on stock when the boot fairs begin and sell it to her school friends, if she gets the enterpreneurial bug, then good for her, if not, fine too. Just a thought.

I've also been fretting about my weight. I kept thinking how did I get so heavy? That was until I decided to make sure and weigh myself at my mum's and found myself a stone lighter than my scales had been telling me earlier that day. I was so relieved! That was the end of the month-long sugar fast and self-righteous avoidance of the Sainsburies sweet aisle I can tell you. I have been stuffing myself with sweets all weekend.

Strange weekends deserve strange meals, so leftover rice with coleslaw and potato salad with coffee and sugar cane chunks for dessert is what I could muster (I didn't get anywhere near the orange juice, the boys drank it as soon as I looked the other way).

Speaking of boys, they just aren't the same species are they? Little Lady is sitting on my bed in her new white velour tinkerbell pyjamas (courtesy of nan), curled up like a Siamese cat with her Enid Blyton book (The Naughtiest Girl in the School) whilst the boys are playing a kicking game. I turned around from my laptop when I heard their laughter to find them taking turns to kick each other in the backside and laughing hysterically, why would you do that? A six year old and a four year old doesn't sound very fair, but they are about the same size (I get asked by everyone if they are twins) and Gorgeous is probably heftier (he is built like a mini rubgy player).
Okay, I spoke too soon, the Siamese has decided to join the fun and they are all aiming kicks whilst arguing about who is the baddy. I really have to get them enrolled in karate classes soon insh'Allah.

Thursday 3 March 2011


It's funny how one sight of my electric pencil sharpener and the kids will do anything they are told to get a urn, including their homework super-fast.
We were so engrossed with this lot that I only saw this morning that I had left the dinner dishes in the sink and the food out of the fridge (it's so cold that the kitchen is almost as cold as the fridge at night anyway).

Tuesday 1 March 2011

Islamic Books for Children

The wonderful Sister Umm Nassim recently asked "Can you recommend some Islamic books you read with/to the children, especially Little Lady?" So I had a quick root around on their book shelf and bedroom and found the following:

The Berry and Acorn series by Sajda Nazlee - these are suitable for fairly fluent readers and Little Lady really enjoyed reading them and has done so more than once.

Tell Me About Muhammad bySaniyasnain Khan - again suitable for a fluent reader. This book has a good level of detail but was still interesting enough to hold Little Lady's attenion. I felt like she learned a lot from this book. This is also a good one for quiz type question and answer learning as it is full of facts.

I Can Pray Anywhere by Aisha Ghani - This one didn't peak the children's interest as much. I think because it is not in a story format which will often keep children involved. I think this book is best used with younger children and with plenty of enthusiasm and opportunities for discussion with children.

What do we say...(A Guide to Islamic Manners) by Noorah Kathryn Abdullah - again, one that Little Lady has looked at but not returned to. I don't think that this reflects on the quality of content, but rather the format and her age. I think this is good for younger children, with its nice picture prompts and some basic situations and what you should say in them. I think this needs parent-child interaction and discussion to be beneficial.

Goodnight Stories from the Life of the Prophet Muhammad by Saniyasnain Khan - All of my children enjoyed having this read to them and really benefitted and remembered the events desrcibed. Little Lady also enjoyed reading this on her own.

These books are from the Quran Stories for Little Hearts and The Prophet Muhammad for Little Hearts series by Saniyasnain Khan - again the children enjoyed having these read to them and Little Lady was happy to pick them up herself. It has been gratifying to see that the children remember the stories.

My Quran Freinds Storybook and My First Quran Storybook by Saniyasnain Khan - Little Lady reads these herself and to the boys, again they have learnt a lot from these.

My Prayer Book by Darrussalam - I liked th step-by-step guide and pictures in this book which show us how to perform our daily prayers. Each step is accompanied by the relevant prayers in Arabic. I think this book would be ideal for an adult trying to learn to pray for the first time. However children who don't already know the arabic words might find this book difficult to use. This might be good to supplement your children's practical learning at the stage you are physically showing them how to pray as the pictures would serve as good memory prompts.

This is the book we use for our daily studies (usually 15 minutes a bedtime). The purpose is for the children to learn from the example of the Prophet (PBUH), start to learn some short hadith and to be inspired by the example of the Sahabah (RA), the Companions of the Prophet (PBUH). There is a section called "Children's Devotion to Islam" whicc chronicles events in the lives of the Sahabah's children and another called "Women's Couarge and Spirit for Islam" which is my and Little Lady's favourite, particularly any mention of the Prophet's (PBUH) aunt Saffiyah (RA) who is one of the Sahabah who we are really inspired by (although we have love and awe for all of them insh'Allah)

I think this is one book in particular which has inspired the children, particularly in terms of emphasising the importance of dawah for each and every Muslim and the fact that children have a role too. I like that it gives role models of children who are aspire to be great Muslim's and will do anything in their love of Allah (SWT) and his Prophet (PBUH).
The kids came home from madrassah recently and stated "Mum, a man came to madrassah and embraced Islam today, now he is in our family" (LL's exact words) mash'Allah, their sheer joy made me sooo happy.

Below is the basic Quaida, or practice book, called Ahsanul Qawaid which my children use. This teaches from the alphabet to full sentences of the Quran. This Quaida also includes tajweed, or pronunciation, rules and explanations to ensure you are reading accurately insh'Allah (I used the same book for my tajweed lessons a few years back)

I would love to hear from Sisters about which books or resources really made a difference in their children's learning and love for Islam insh'allah.