Friday, 25 February 2011
Wednesday, 23 February 2011
As a child, I was taught Quran by my father, as an adult I attended tajweed classes to improve my reading of Quranic Arabic. I must have gone to the mosque once or twice, I remember sitting there for two hours, bored out of my wits and spending about ten minutes with the teacher. I was sure my children would not learn Quran this way. But when the teacher who came home left, the new teacher at the madrassah (a mufti or scholar), was not able to teach privately and we had to enrol our children.
At first I was unhappy at the thought that the children would be sitting there for two hours straight. I was also unhappy that Little Lady who had just started Quran was put back to the alphabet again. But a few things convinced me to stick with the madrassah routine:
1. Little Lady’s teacher is thorough, she won’t let you progress to the next page until you have leaned your lesson thoroughly.
2. She is a friend of mine and comes to the Sunday sister’s circle, so I can get updates on what is happening in class.
3. The boy’s teacher is a scholar and so the standard of teaching is fairly high, although there have been a few problems with discipline as he can’t seem to control some of the older boys too well.
4. My husband and his friends set up the madrassah with the intention that local children and especially their own could have access to high quality Quranic and Islamic instruction.
5. My husband is usually on hand for the two hours to help the teacher keep the boys under control and keep an eye on things. This means that Little Man, doesn’t get caught up in any silly behaviour and I don’t have to worry about how my kids are doing.
6. One of the things my husband mentioned he liked was that for two hours they are immersed in an Islamic environment – this means all of the children they are making friends with are from religious Muslim families, with similar aspirations for their children. These are people who give precedence to their children’s Islamic instruction and are active in the Muslim community – i.e. good role models. The masjid they attend is also very big on dawah (propagation), so they are getting a real sense of the importance of this. Little Lady came home a few days ago and told me that a man had come to the masjid and “embraced Islam – now he is part of our family”. They were happy and excited about what had happened.
7. The madrassah make time for learning aside from Quran – so some hifz (memorisation), stories from the Prophet (AS)’s life and some instruction around wudhu (ablution) and salah (prayer).
8. I get two hours in the evening to get my cooking and housework done and maybe even some blogging/e-mailing. I am enjoying thinking up treats and nice meals for everyone when they get back and Gorgeous either sleeps through this time if he hasn’t napped in the afternoon or follows me around keeping me company.
Alhamdulillah, although they didn’t like it at first, I am seeing less whinging and moaning about going to madrassah. There are probably two things which are really making a difference with them – going to madrassah and being with friends and learning together and the other is the weekly and sometimes daily taleem (or Islamic study circle) in our house. The weekly one is formal and structured and attended by local ladies and Little Lady sits with me through this. The daily one is 10-15 minutes at bedtime where we read from a book like Taleem-ul-Haq, which gives basic practical instruction, or Fazail-e-Amal, which has stories of the Prophet (PBUH) and his companion’s (RA) lives. There is a section on this on the courage and devotion of children which they particularly like and which I hope inspires them to want to be like the companions insh’Allah.
Tuesday, 22 February 2011
What has brought this whinging on? Usually I don’t care what people think, I can speak for myself and challenge their stereotypes if I feel the need to. But recently, one of my managers, who I get on very well with and a colleague were having a conversation about their interest in literature and particularly sci-fi. No big deal, apart from the fact that they would never have had that conversation with me. This saddened me a little because I love sci-fi, particularly post-apocalyptic novels and I love talking. Even more I love talking about books, for hours.
Usually I rise above it telling myself that it is my choice to dress this way and therefore I have to accept all that comes with it. Usually I just tell myself it is good for people to have low expectations and then for you to deliver above them. Every now and again though, being treated as if I am stupid, or would only know about certain things, gets to me. Things like religion, cooking curries, terrorism and…that’s seems to be about it. Oh yes, and plus the assumption that every ones makes that I live in Green Street. Nothing wrong with Green Street, but why does every person I meet assume I must live there?
Sometimes it’s understandable. So much of our community is not born or raised here, so the cultural markers and milestones in our lives differ. They have interests you would not expect to share. Also so many sisters in my community barely speak English. But still, if I work with you, and produce good work at that, you should expect me to have half a brain. If I was born here and grew up here, my references would be similar to non-Muslim and English people of the same age – maybe not the drinking and clubbing, but certainly the shell-suits and baggy jeans, Philip Schofield and Gordon the Gopher in their cupboard on CBBC after school, Roland Rat, Punky Brewster, He-Man and She-Ra, Thundercats, New Kids on the Block, Just 17 magazine and the feud between Take That and East 17 when I was at school (my Sisters from over the pond are probably thinking WHAT ON EARTH is she talking about by now).
Bit of a whinge, but just a reminder also, that our priority might be our faith, but we still have other things that we are passionate about – books, fashion, culture, travel, business, art, pop culture, sport – you’d be surprised what you find when you are willing to widen your scope to look beyond the fabric that covers us.
Friday, 18 February 2011
These luscious strawberries were gobbled up at an evening at my mum's (I have never seen anyone eat in the way I see Little Man gobble down strawberries)
Two weeks of abstention backfired spectacularly with our midnight feast (at 9pm) and Long Suffering Sisters gift of halal chewies. Although I think we have as much fun laying it all out as eating it.
This morning was the kids parents consultation day - some positive feedback, some good advice, some surprises (my little bruiser, Gorgeous seems to be a whizz at his numbers) and some telling off as always (about Little Lady losing her homework, forgetting her glasses and needing to get her hair out of her face - guess who is getting a haircut tonight?).
We cheered ourselves up with a visit to the school library for their book sale. This lot cost £2, the one about China is a bit random, but Little Lady has a thing about China at the moment, so thought it was worth a look. The telephone book was Gorgeous's choice and he is very happy with his new book.
I have been waiting for the first daffodil of the season to come along with news of spring and cheer me up (despite the weather forecast for more snow this week). I saw one today in a front garden the top of my road and it made me smile. That was until I got to mum's today and found this sitting on her kitchen table:
Monday, 14 February 2011
I have been having a good think about this and realised that I had to be as honest as possible – not just with my sisters but with myself insh’Allah. To begin, when I became pregnant with Little Lady, I had every intention to return to work after she was born. I was ambitious and keen to prove myself and wanted to get to the top of my profession. It was also a matter of pride that I could manage both work and baby (and grandmother at the time – as I was her main carer too). At the same time, I stopped doing overtime and avoided working late hours to make sre I was devoting the most time I could to my baby.
Part of the reason this worked well was because I had support from my mum and mother-in-law as the main carer for my children whilst I was work. I didn’t have to face all of the anxiety and guilt that comes with putting your child in day care as I knew Little Lady was being looked after by the mothers I most trusted – mine and my husband’s. The other reason, this arrangement worked was because my dear husband was so supportive. He did his fair share of the household work and child care and supported me in the choices I made alhamdulillah and this made all of the difference.
As Little Man and Gorgeous came along, our shared workload in terms of childcare increased. At the same time my mum’s poor health meant that she should not longer help with childcare, mother-in-law was available half the year, but that left us with having to get family and friends to assist on many occasions. Any mother who has worked and has been stuck in a difficult position with childcare knows that sometime this can mean relying on the good will of others and that the good will soon dries up and you begin to feel humiliated and lonely (even if this is not the intention of people around you, your own dignity still suffers). This being the case, my husband set up his own business and started to work around me and the children. Again, I could only manage so well because of his support and help alhamdulillah.
Over time though, my ambition and will to prove myself faded. I no longer felt that I had to prove my worth or ability to anyone. I didn’t have to be at the top and I didn’t feel the need to try and earn more money, I realised that barakah (blessing) in what you have is more precious than having a great amount.
As my children grew older, I also realised how much they needed me: the school runs, doing things more slowly at their pace, catching up with their teacher, making time for homework and reading to them, making time for Quran and Islam in their life, the elongated bedtime routine (where they refuse to get out of the bath, and then refuse to get into their beds).
I assumed that when they go to school they would need me less, but that has not been the case and I am acutely aware that as time goes on I have to be very available for them to confide in me their thoughts and worries. The world today is full of danger and temptations for young people and a mother that hurries by and doesn’t have time to talk will miss picking up on any problems her children are facing.
Saying this, we are still managing, my husband does the school run, and kids and dad come to pick me up from work at 4pm, so I have the rest of the day with them. They are never alone, they have a fantastic relationship with their dad and they still get to spend most of their day outside school with me. Our arrangement is not a common one and I cannot imagine most men being as accommodating as my husband. At the moment, Little Lady and Little Man go to madrassah for two hours every evening, so I have time to spend just with Gorgeous and also a little me-time (good for napping!) which I feel very lucky to have.
I do sometimes look back and think about how fast those few years went when my children were still babies. Even the youngest who still gets called “baby” by everyone is four next week mash’Allah. I feel a little sad that I missed out on the most precious time with them. I think now it would have been nice to have the first few years at home with them. I had two weeks at home with Little Man before Gorgeous was born (Little Lady had started school) and it was the most precious time and we bonded in a way that I realised we missed earlier with me working and his grandparents caring for him most of the time even when I was home. It seems like we will always have an amazing relationship inh’Allah because of that special time alone we had.
If I ever feel bad though, I look at my children and think have are they turning out badly? I feel like I can honestly answer no. They have picked up some bad habits from me (maybe a few words they should not be saying, some irreverence, a liking for chocolate), which they would have even if I had been at home. I also get the occasional “you never listen!” and have become more mindful about paying them attention – but again, I am just absentminded and easily distracted sometimes, which I would be even if I was at home.
Sometime heading off to work is the easy option too. A day at work is nothing next to a whole day with the kids – I find I am exhausted, fed-up and losing my voice by the end of some days with them unless I head to my mum’s with them or have hubby at home to help. When I come home from work, I get a big welcome, but the arguing and fighting for attention also begins. I have been told by numerous people, that they have been good all day and the minute I walk through the door all hell breaks loose, attention seeking behaviour perhaps.
I do find that my children are more independent, partly because I work (and am also lazy) and partly because I think the way men deal with children is so different from women. Where I might have coddled them and done everything for them, my husband always encourages them to do things for themselves while he stands there and supervises or helps where they get stuck. This has meant that my kids were more independent about things like changing clothes, going to the bathroom and asking for what they want when they started school.
So should more Muslim mothers be working? I don’t know, I feel like a hypocrite saying so, but I speak from experience. I do think the more time you spend with your children in the early years, the better for you both, and the time whizzes by so quickly. Can you balance work and children? Yes, but for me this was possible because I had good support and lots of help. Also, as Muslimah’s, once we have children, we know that this is always supposed to be the priority over work and so it can never be a half-half balance.
Sisters have to keep in mind that many of us work because we have to, so it is not always a case of pick and choose what works for us. Many of the sisters I know who work are in the same position as me. My husband came here from Pakistan and had to abandon his career as a journalist and start his working life from scratch almost. I had to get a job for him to join me here. As time went on, his work has grown an insh’Allah we are probably at the point that he can financially support us, so I am thinking about withdrawing from work incrementally if I can. But this means a massive shift in mindset – trusting that I can survive without that monthly paycheque, having to ask for money when I need it, being financially dependent on someone. It’s quite a frightening thought for me, despite the fact I would trust hubby with my life and he would put his money in my hands unasked alhamdulillah.
Also, many women who don’t formally go to the office still work. My neighbour left her job in a bank to stay at home with her children and found she was working even longer hours managing her husband’s business. I intend to do the same, I have suggested to my husband I take over the back-office management of his business if I move towards leaving work and he is keen on this. Then there is the blogging and writing, crafting, I would love to do some voluntary work and I am keen to study further if I get the chance…so much for not working huh?
Saturday, 12 February 2011
The book is set in Renaissance Florence, home to the greatest artists of the time. Every chapel and church is decorated with splendid art and every wealthy resident of the city wants to become a patron. As decadent and cultured as the city is, it is still a man’s world and a “decent” woman’s place is in the kitchen and bedroom, her sole aim to marry well and produce sons.
In such a world we find Alessandra, the youngest daughter of a rich textile merchant and his elegant wife. 15-year old Alessandra is enamoured by the art in the city around her and loves to paint and draw. As she grows older, her family deem these activities as unsuitable for a young woman, leading her to pursue her passion in secret.
Alessandra’s father is keen to seal his status as one of the venerable men of Florence by having the chapel in his courtyard painted with art. He brings home a shy young artist who has been brought up in a community of Abbots. The young man and Alessandra are immediately drawn to each other but find themselves in conflict due to their personalities: his shy aloofness and her abruptness and awkwardness.
Before long, Alessandra’s marriage is arranged to a handsome, cultured, older man – seemingly a wonderful match, but on her marriage night Alessandra finds things are not as they seem and life for her takes a strange twist. At the same time, Florence is under the spell of the fiery monk Savonarola and his followers who wish to purge Florence of its most powerful family, the Medici and of its decadence and bring about an era of severity and austerity. Savonarola barely gathers momentum, the wrath of the Pope threatening to come down on him, when the King of France marches on the city and there is further trouble for Alessandra and her family to content with.
The book is part history, part romance. The historical details are fascinating and the romance convincing if a little slow to get going. In between Alessandra’s romance and marriage and the turmoil of the city, there is a mystery thriller, with gory dead bodies turning up around the city throughout the book
This is an engaging and lively book wih a satisfying ending. The heroine is very human (if a little dense at times, but understandable considering the cloistered nature of woman’s lives at the time) and brings a street-level perspective to events that shape history. The story had me engrossed throughout and it’s sense of realism – the status of women, the treatment of slaves and the glimpses of poverty through the decadence made the book kept me interested.
The book opens with a forward by Mir Amman, thanking the British for their assistance with the translation (this translation from “high” Urdu to common Urdu came about due to the College of Fort William attempting to translate many Urdu classics). The tone of the forward feels toadying and put me off almost straight away.
A Tale of Four Dervishes is the story of the king of Turkey, who on finding himself with no heir to his throne, leaves his palace in despair and wanders his kingdom. He soon comes across four dervishes sitting in seclusion outside of the King’s city and asks them why they are there.
What follow are the stories of the Princes of China, Persia and Yemen and a rich merchant. All have been brought to the edge of ruin and have come to the Turkey following a message from a mysterious stranger who promises them that they will have what they desire once they get to Turkey.
As each story unfolds (you know there is going to be a beautiful women in each one causing all of the trouble!) we are treated to a descriptions of the colourful and rich culture, food, manners and customs of the time. It also gave me some insight to how the borders between countries were so different in the past – the Muslim world stretches across so much of the world, that someone travelling from Turkey to China, or from Persia to India has enough in common to understand each other’s customs.
The novel also ventures into the unseen and even unreal: Jinn’s, fairies, magic and strange transformations. The novel’s style of dealing with romance also reminded me of a translation of Laila Majnoon, the great Persian romantic tragedy, I read and hated. Ridiculous, flamboyant professions of love, whereby silly young men see a woman once and fall in love with her beauty to the extent they lose their senses completely.
How often do you hear me say I hate a book? Well, this is another one I really did not like. Half way through I was ready to give up and asked a friend who is an Urdu Literature graduate what she thought of the book and she raved about it. With this, I persisted and still hated the book by the time I got to the end.
Perhaps these books lose something in translation; they were certainly popular in their native language. Perhaps the modern reader is more cynical and less open to the dramatic professions of love and loss, but this novel just did not capture my imagination.
The book is part of the Canongate Myths series which has a number of well-known authors re-telling famous stories. I previously read The Penelopiad, Margaret Atwood’s irreverent retelling of part of the Odysseus story and enjoyed it, so had good expectations of this book.
The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ tells the story of two twin brothers Jesus and Christ, born in mysterious circumstances that never become quite clear. The boys live in Nazareth with their carpenter father and mother Mary. Christ appears precocious for a child, well-versed in the Jewish faith and rabbinical law and with high expectations from his mother for the man he will become. Jesus is closer to his father and more like an ordinary boy – mischievous and often rebellious. As they grow older, Jesus begins to preach to all those who will listen about returning to the roots of faith and observing Gods law whilst railing against organised religion. He soon attracts a faithful following and comes into conflicts with the men of the synagogue and the Romans. Christ, his early brilliance now overshadowed by Jesus’ passionate preaching, takes it upon himself to start recording what Jesus is saying. He is approached by a mysterious stranger who encourages him in his endeavour and suggests he embellishes and revises his written account in order to show his brother in the best light. The mysterious stranger also reminds Christ of the need for a church to help the people understand the word of God.
The novel picks out events in Jesus’s life – the Sermon on the Mount, the meeting with Mary Magdelane, the chasing of the money-changers out of the temple and retells them
Pullman supposedly split the story into that of two characters to highlight the conflicting ways Jesus seems to be portrayed in the New Testament. A plot device that almost works, but not quite. I never felt that I truly go to the heart of either character. Jesus remains an enigma until almost the end of the book when Pullman’s treatment of him and his internal dialogue with God left me almost bereft. On the other hand we are given much more insight into the tortured personality of Christ, but again, I left him at the end of the book feeling depressed and as if his was a life with so much potential never exploited.
In all this is a well-written book as you would expect from Pullman. It is a fairly concise and easy read. But this book has neither the excitement and fast pace of previous books, nor the unexpected plot twists. At the same time, for me the book felt purposely provocative and left me with more questions than any enlightenment it offered.
Book Review: Margaret Atwood - The Penelopiad
Thursday, 10 February 2011
If the image has caught your attention, then I’d like to mention my new(est) blog – Faith Beyond Words. Sometimes I don’t have the time to write and sometimes there is just no need, because as they say a picture paints a thousand words. With this in mind, I hope to post one picture a day of something beautiful inspired by Islam – a building or place, a piece of art or sculpture or whatever else my search throws up. Just a little reminder, in particular to myself, that when the world seems to be bent on telling us how barbaric, backward and uncivilised we are, that our faith is the inspiration behind so much beauty and elegance – not just in the past, but also today.
At the same time, if you have not visited before, the Positive Islam blog is also up and running. If you come across any positive stories in the media or on the net about Islam and Muslims, please don’t hesitate to bring it to my attention at email@example.com. I really loved the videos’ mentioned by the Fresh Air blog that I have posted here which highlight the work of Muslim charities in helping people following the recent floods in Australia. Alhamdulillah I see my brothers and sisters doing so much good work in the world and I strongly believe we should highlight that as an inspiration to ourselves and others and as a counterpoint to the lies that have been spread about Islam.
Finally, A Beautiful Message is also online. If there are any dawah resources or resources for reverts that you find particularly useful, I would be most grateful if you could point me towards them. I am also keen to post anything that inspires us towards giving dawah, so if you have read/watched/come across anything that really motivated you, do share insh’Allah.
Tuesday, 8 February 2011
The latest edition of Mum and Muslim magazine is now out including my column, feature on travelling with children, book review, recipe and entry for the creative corner. As always I have enjoyed reading what other sisters have contributed. Please do visit and comment.
The editor, Sister Umm Imran has a message for readers:
Inshallah you have all had a good start to the year.
The latest bi-monthly edition of Mum and Muslim magazine features a variety of articles from absent fathers to dealing with infertility, and birthing plans to doulas (do you know what that is? ... read the article then :-) . We also have an article from our youngest writer at the age of 12 in the education section.
As always, we appreciate your comments and support and feel free to contact us. Also, if you would like to write for us please get in touch too inshallah. Furthermore, the next issue will inshallah mark our first anniversary which is testament to the help given to us by firstly Allah SWT, but also to you too. We hope to have a special issue, but let us know if there is anything in particular that you want us to feature, inshallah.
We have had fantastic feedback from readers both positive and constructive alhamdulillah and are keen for more. We are keen to make the magazine inclusive to fathers as well as mothers and we are eager for the magazine to reach as wide a readership as possible, so that the wider world can see how positive, effective and spiritually-rich parenting based on the Quran and Sunnah can be.
Why am I telling you this?
Because we would like the voices represented in the magazine to be as varied as possible. We want to embrace the full beauty and diversity of our ummah and learn from as many people as possible and hopefully pass that wisdom on to others.
Accordingly we need new contributors – anyone keen to share their experience or their literary work – articles, poems, short stories, how-to-tutorials - all are of interest to us. Although our magazine is centred around parenting, we also publish material that may not be directly related to parenting but may be useful to parents – so recipes, lifestyle, product reviews, crafts and creative writing, again, are all of interest to us.
We would also love to get on board photographers – you don’t have to be a professional, you just have to have some clear, crisp shots that we can use to liven up our pages.
So, if you are interested in writing for us (fi’sabillah for now), submitting something you have written or sending us some photographs that we can use, please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org . Bloggers are welcome to send us material they have used before if they think it is particularly relevant and we will link back to your blogs insh’Allah.
Please do have a look around our website and get a feel of what we are aiming to do and take a look at the sections to see if there is knowledge, experience or wisdom that you have to offer. If you aren’t able to contribute at this time, please do have a browse and leave a comment. Your feedback is invaluable to us so that we can learn what is useful and interesting to readers and what is not.
In the meantime, jazakh’Allah-khairun for your support, ideas, kind comments, e-mails and enquiries, please do keep them coming.
Friday, 4 February 2011
Unfortunately, much as I want to learn the skill with which this pendant has been wrapped, I am not able to yet. I eventually picked out the colours in the beads and alternated them; pale brown faceted glass crystals rondelles and some off white and garnet coloured stone chips:
the latest edition of InCulture Parent is now online, including my column in the "Religious Life of Children" section entitled "Being a Working Muslimah Mother"
Please do visit and leave comments (it's worth a visit just for the sheer cultural and religious variety it offers in it's exploration of parenting).
Thursday, 3 February 2011
This year I made Little Lady a rainbow necklace out of glass crystals.
Tuesday, 1 February 2011
This is a dish called khatta tinda or sour gourd and tastes delicious - lots of flavour and very tangy.
I have got the hang of making chapatti's but never seemed to get the butteered version, called paratha's, quite right. I have learned two versions this week, the latha (spiral/twist) paratha and the chikor (basket) paratha which is the easier of the two (pictured below on the tava or griddle). Imagine the most fattening food you can think of and then double the calories - this is dripping with the clarified butter called ghee. I plan to do a tutorial on this one insh'Allah as it was so easy.
You mix some of the tea with hot milk and add either sugar or salt (which creates a very unique, almost cheesy taste). The tea is the prettiest shade of pink.