Thursday 30 May 2013

Discussing the Birds and the Bees - Part 1: Setting Limits

I have written before about broaching the subject of sex education with children (here).  It’s something I was not entirely comfortable with and as a Muslim mother struggled to find the right way to go about this with my children.

The subject raised its head again last week, when Little Lady’s Year Five class were sent home with letters advising parents that the children were going to be taught Sex and Relationships Education in the new term.  There were a number of reactions from parents that I spoke to.  Some parents were adamant that their children would not be allowed to sit through these lessons.  One Muslim mother thought it was important that her children did sit in lessons as she felt that it was just science and they needed to know about these things.  The majority of the parents did not seem particularly bothered or interested, I found this surprising considering that about 75-80% at least of the children in my daughters school are Muslim.

Parents were invited to a meeting to go through the materials that the lessons would be structured about and to ask questions.  I was one of about twenty parents who attended out of potentially 100-120.  We watched two videos which I found to be fairly child-friendly and not overly graphic for the most part.  One of the mothers felt that showing children these things before they were ready was just teaching them how to do them.

Another father raised the problem of boys teasing girls or harassing them and asked what policy was in place to deal with this.  We were told that it would be dealt with under the normal bullying policy, but the SRE teacher seemed to think this was something that wouldn’t happen in her school.  I thought the father asked a good question, I also thought with the encroaching sexualisation of children in the modern world, the SRE teacher was being a bit unrealistic if she thought such things didn’t happen.

I had noticed in the literature handed to us that the SRE session would be taught within a moral framework which included alternative families.  I asked what was meant by this (knowing full well) and the teacher told us that this meant sex within marriage, co-habiting couples and same-sex families.  Other parents hadn’t picked up on this and were taken aback.  The teacher insisted that this isn’t something that was being promoted but had to be part of the discussion as not all children in the school were from the same kinds of families.

I thanked the teacher and left with some clarity about what to do next.  I will be writing to the school and advising them that I want my child to opt out of the SRE lessons and that I will be providing an alternative myself.

There were a number of reasons for this.  At age ten I didn’t want my daughter to be discussing kissing, boyfriends or sex.  I am aware that children grown up much quicker these days, but I still believe that these things should be taught in an age-appropriate way.  I am happy for my daughter to ask questions and lead the way in her learning at her own pace and in a more natural way.

I also believe that sex education shouldn’t be taught in a moral and cultural vacuum where any alternative is okay (as long as you are not hurting anyone – at least without their consent it seems these days).  As a Muslim I believe that sex and relationships should be discussed within the context of marriage and that other alternatives are not appropriate for my children.  Of my three children, one of my sons has one child in his class whose parents are not married and he finds this strange rather than accept this as the norm.  Alhamdulillah I am happy with this.

Another significant reason I chose to opt my child out was because the videos had cartoons of male and female genitalia and also showed people swimming to indicate the changes in their bodies.  This may seem very prudish to people, but as Muslims we are instructed to be modest (have haya) and guard our gaze:

"Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them: And Allah is well acquainted with all that they do" - The Holy Quran 24:30

Abu Huraira (may Allah be please with him) narrated: The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, "Faith (Belief) consists of more than sixty branches (i.e. parts). And Haya is a part of faith." (Bukhari)

Abdullah ibn Umar (may Allah be please with him) narrated that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "Indeed haya (modesty) and Iman (belief) are companions. When one of them is lifted, the other leaves as well." (Baihaqi)

It feels as if our children are bombarded with sexualised images through the media and advertising, pretty much everywhere you go.  I have taught my children to look away and Little Lady in particular will object if something like this comes on TV if we are at someone’s house (this is one of many reasons we chose not to have TV in our house).  I would rather they did not sit through the videos that are part of the sex education lessons.

I am aware that the other children who watch this will be talking about it and Little Lady will be party to those discussions.  I intend to be honest with her as appropriate and as ever ask her to bring questions to me and to also be discreet (and not scandalise her grandparents with her new found knowledge!).

I have not found it easy to deal with this topic.  My parents were too shy and embarrassed to discuss this with me properly and I learnt what I did from school and friends who were watching things they shouldn’t have been.  In turn I had to push myself to be honest with my daughter and answer some questions in an age appropriate way and for others tell her that we would discuss this when she was a little older.

I think this is something that my generation of parents has to deal with.  Considering how sex-obsessed the world is and how early our children are exposed to such things, we can no longer bury our heads ain the sand or get embarrassed and tell our children to stop talking about such things.  At the same time we have to help our children maintain their sense of haya and remain within the limits that Islam has set for us insh’Allah

In the second part to this post insh’Allah, I hope to go through some of the things that I have done with my daughter to tackle this subject.  I would love to hear from other parents about this subject and in particular any parents who have found good ways to tackle this.

Discussing the Birds and the Bees - Part 2: Honesty, Modesty and Humour

Monday 27 May 2013

Book Review: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

I am a fan of post-apocalyptic fiction and this book seemed to appear in a number of top ten/best of type lists, so I really wanted to take a look.  The Road is the story of a father and son who are travelling through America ten years after a major disaster has hit the country and presumably the world.  The world has become a very bleak place where nothing grows, everything is covered in ash and the sun is virtually blocked out by a dark sky.  The few remaining survivors are forced to scavenge for whatever they can find and even to resort to cannibalism.  The roads are travelled by dangerous and violent men, driven on by desperation:

“He walked out in the gray light and stood and he saw for a brief moment the absolute truth of the world. The cold relentless circling of the intestate earth. Darkness implacable. The blind dogs of the sun in their running. The crushing black vacuum of the universe. And somewhere two hunted animals trembling like ground-foxes in their cover. Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it.” ― Cormac McCarthy, The Road

In such an environment we find a man and his son travelling on their way to the south of the country in the hope that they will find a warmer climate that will allow them to survive the winter.

On picking up the book, I was slightly reluctant as there didn’t seem to be much happening apart from two people travelling along a road.  I was encouraged by the fact that it was a fairly small book and should not take too long to read.  I was right about that.  I read this book in one or two sittings.  I just did not want to put it down.

That is not to say that this is an easy or pleasant read.  Once I started reading and got caught up in the struggle of the two main characters, I found myself tense and anxious.  Every time I had to put the book down, I could not wait to rush back and pick it up to make sure that the two characters were going to be okay.

This book has some brutal scenes which are painful to read and which haunted me long after I finished this book.  My mind continues to return again and again to scenarios in the book and fret about how things could have been different and how people could end up in the way they do in this book.

At the same time, what stands out is the very sweet relationship between the father and son.  How then man (the characters are never named) does everything he can to protect his son, to reassure him that they will be okay.  The tenderness between the two characters is very moving and portrayed beautifully.  The boy has a very sweet nature and remains loving and caring despite witnessing so much brutality. 

“You have my whole heart. You always did.”  - Cormac McCarthy, The Road

“Then they set out along the blacktop in the gunmetal light, shuffling through the ash, each the other's world entire.” - Cormac McCarthy, The Road

These qualities mean that we are caught up even more in the pairs struggle and juxtaposed with the violence in the book, this means that I ended up reading this book mostly in a state of unease.  At times I found myself so drawn into the book that I would be in a state of semi-panic.

Throughout the book, there are references to the hopelessness of the survivors, particularly in the way that they have rejected God or their own humanity.  Yet the tenderness of the father and son, their patience and their willingness to keep going suggests there is cause to believe otherwise:

 “Deep in each man is the knowledge that something knows of his existence. Something knows, and cannot be fled nor hid from.” -  Cormac McCarthy, The Road

This is a very hard book to read, I felt so very sad at the end of it and the images will remain with me a long time.  Despite this it is a beautifully written and extraordinarily engaging book.

Monday 13 May 2013

Dua's for Pakistan

I rarely comment on politics, but the events of the last few days in Pakistan have had me on tenterhooks, hoping and praying and praying some more.  In the end Imran Khan didn't make prime minister despite the significant youth following and his amazing way of articulating his dreams (see my post here).  Nawaz Sharif (and his brother Shabaz) have won the election and have promised to hit the ground running with their agenda for the first 100 days.  I suspect that they have the experience and authority to start dealing with some of the worst of Pakistan’s problems insh’Allah.

Pakistan had had an incredibly tough decade with terrorism, sectarian violence, no electricity, limited gas and petrol meaning industry and business has shut down, unprecedented inflation and high crime.

In the last few years we have had to contend with my mum’s younger brother (one of my favourite people and a very sweet man) being kidnapped for money and not being returned for many weeks until we had paid up a significant amount of money (you can read about it here, here, here and here).  This is something that had been happening across the country making it unsafe for people to travel to Pakistan from abroad.

We've also been affected by the sectarian violence in Karachi with family members trying to move to other cities then moving back to Karachi again as they have networks and employment there.  Karachi is also dealing with gangs supported by local sectarian groups demanding taxes from shopkeepers and business owners.  Another of my mum’s brothers was targeted because he owns a curtain factory.  He refused to pay up and had people come to his factory to smash his equipment.  They caused significant damage and then only left when he paid up part of what they were demanding which is all that he could demand.

When Little Lady was ten months old (ten years ago now), we visited Pakistan and found that the living standards had become pretty good.  There was an emerging middle class which meant that unlike before we could easily find the same brand nappies, baby milk and baby food we used in London along with pretty much anything else we needed.  We felt safe travelling around Lahore and during the six hour journey to our village in Jhelum.

My grandparents village in Pakistan

We returned five years later with all three of our children and found a different situation (some memories captured here and here).  You could only get electricity a few hours a day otherwise you could sit in the dark and hot and wait for it to come back.  That meant you couldn't run the fans, refrigerate stuff or even go shopping in the evening when the heat decreases as the shop lights are all off.

That seemed pretty bad, but since then things have gotten so much worse.  Petrol prices going through the roof and still massive queues every time a fuel station opens, gas shortages.  There are food shortages meaning one week you can’t find flour and the next you can’t get sugar (although the bird flu scare meant that the poorest people could suddenly afford chicken at one point because no one else would touch it).  Inflation is so bad that even if you can find food it costs so much that it wipes out everything you have earned to purchase the basics.  Then there are the safety issues, there is the Pakistani version of the Taliban blowing up everything in sight without rhyme or reason with no masjid, shrine or public place exempt.

When people used to say Pakistan is a failed state or that it is too dangerous to go there, I used to think “what do they know?” But the country is now at a point that it seems foolhardy to want to take your children there.

But I am still hopeful.  Allah (SWT) tests us and then he sends us ease insh’Allah.  I am hoping that the election of Nawaz Sharif (and his brother Shabaz) forms a turning point for the country.  I hope he manages to calm the Taliban and get some control over the violence and gangs in Karachi.  I pray he gets the electricity running and inflation under control.

Pakistan was created with the noblest of intentions – a homeland for the Muslims of South Asia to call their own.  The Constitution defines the national purpose as: “To strive for a democratic order based on the principles of Quran and Sunnah.”  

I pray it is time for the dream of Pakistan to move towards fruition insh’Allah and that this stunningly beautiful place and its gorgeous people finally get the opportunity to prosper and create the country that Pakistan should be insh’Allah.

You can read Kook's wonderful post on the Pakistan elections here.

Deosai in Pakistan (image source)

Mingora in Pakistan (image source)

Badshai masjid in one of my favourite places - Lahore (image source)

Bustling Karachi (image source)

Muslim Bhaji on the Beach: Trip to Clacton

Earlier this week we decided to make the most of the bank holiday and take the kids somewhere for the day.  Hubby had been busy all weekend, so he was up for doing something fun on the extra day off too.

As we have a National Heritage family membership, we were planning to go to Audley End House and Gardens which had a Victorian fair on for the bank holiday.  Tickets were £15 each, but for us they cost £4.40 for the whole family. 

At the same time my dad had the bright idea of going to Clacton-on-Sea in Essex.  He rarely accompanies us on day trips anymore, but one of his closest friends lives there and he was up for it.  So when he suggested it, we all dropped our plans and decided to go as a large group with my family, parents, sisters, sister Fashionista’s lovely in-laws and my brother and his gorgeous little family.  I don’t think I can recall a time when we all went together anywhere so was up for it.

The only thing that was bothering us was that we don’t tend to go to the beach during summer because we look a bit out of place with so many clothes on amongst semi-naked people.  There is also the issue of lowering our gaze so we don’t have to look at semi-naked people.  We decided that we would go and find something other than the beach to do there as there was a rose garden, promenade and pier.

We spent the morning at a boot fair looking for bargains (Little Lady ended up with lots of fabulous books) and then drove to Clacton only to get stuck in the holiday traffic.  We finally got there feeling hot and hungry and unable to find a park to have our lunch in.  We found a strip of grass overlooking the sea and settled down to eat.

In the end, the food we brought from home was probably the best thing about the day.  Mum made spicy lamb burgers and very tender tandoori chicken chunks and I made chicken wraps, chicken and cucumber sandwiches and channa chaat.

As a child we rarely went to the beach because my dad didn't like to go where there are people not wearing much.  As an adult I love going to the beach with my family but as practising Muslims we try to be modest and are encouraged to lower our gaze.  This means we tend to go when the weather is cooler and people are not lying around semi-naked.

This bank holiday was fairly sunny, so it was probably not the best time for us to go.  We ended up avoiding the beach and looking for other things to do.  This left us with a visit to the pier which was dominated by gambling machines and a few fairground rides.

In the end, I enjoyed lunch, I enjoyed the sun on my face and I find being near the sea incredibly soothing and calming for my soul.  I enjoyed the company of my gorgeous sisters and sis-in-law and it was fun having the boys (my brother and Fashionista’s hubby and brother-in-law who is great fun) along.   However I don’t think I will be visiting Clacton-on-Sea any time soon as I didn’t find much to do there and I found the other visitors there a bit rowdy.

You can see Fashionista's pics and write-up here (complete with pics of the backs of lots of peoples heads  - and you can spot Gorgeous' missing tooth).  You can see Kooky Little Sisters pics here.  Also, a beautiful picture by Shutterbug Sister here.

Being lovely May as it is, we have another Bank Holiday coming up, so I am planning our next trip as we speak insh’Allah.

Any suggestions within and two hour drive of London?  I’m thinking old buildings, beautiful nature and lots for the kids to do.

Thursday 2 May 2013

Picture of the Day 02.05.13 - Bead Therapy

I have been going through my boxes of beads one at a time with lots of ideas and colour combinations coming together.  One of my favourite things to make though are my rainbow tasbeeh's (rosary) because they are one of the things I make that people really like to receive as a gift and that I always hope that they are actually using.

With Ramadan not far away and Eid right behind , I think I will be making quite a few of these insh'Allah.  More pics to come as Shutterbug Sister has promised to take some much better pictures for me insh'Allah.

Learning Arabic: Checking My Intentions

I recently posted about joining a Quranic Arabic course with the ustadha that runs the Arabic Gems website. I say recent, but before I knew it, fourteen weeks had passed and we were at the end of the first term. This meant two weeks to revise before sitting a vocabulary and grammar test.

In the past I was usually quite good at studying, but found the classical Arabic grammar we were learning quite challenging. I realised as I went along that I was not spending enough time studying and have since established a routine whereby I spend the time after fajr (dawn) practising my vocabulary and doing homework.

With the two weeks preceding the test however, I made the intention to study, but kept finding myself distracted and side-tracked. So a day before the test I was doing something I had always scoffed at: cramming.

So after two days of vocabulary practise, I sat the test and passed. After struggling with the grammar element, I spent a few hours trying to work out the relevance of case endings in classical Arabic (see here for an explanation which I found helpful). I then sat the test and...just missed the pass mark (shame face). Between the two however, I think I have just enough marks to get into the next semester which will lead up to Ramadan. This term homework is in Arabic, not English and we are expected to step up our game and work hard. But our teacher also reminded us that this term should be incredibly enjoyable as we really start to delve into the gems in the Quran in the run up to Ramadan.

In the day before the test, I felt that it was too much with four children, never ending housework, a project I am working on with my sisters and with my return to work next month. I really, really wanted to give up. So I mentioned to my husband about giving up and in his usual, sensible way, he suggested I ask myself what my purpose in learning Arabic was. If I was learning to be able to show off 
to people that I could understand Arabic, then maybe I should give up. I thought about it and concluded that I had wanted to understand what the Quran said as a child and was told I was too young. Now I still wanted to know what the Quran was saying without having to rely on the translation of others. It completely amazes me that the word of Allah (SWT) is on this earth, existing to guide and help us and that everyone is not rushing to learn what it says. I feel as if it exists for my benefit and that I would love to discover some of the treasures and wisdom from the Quran. I believe in making studying, understanding and implementing the Quran a life-long endeavour and learning the language is part of that. 

I think I answered his question. So I have scraped through to the next term and insh’Allah plan to work much harder. I am going through various websites and Youtube videos to find resources to supplement my learning.

For my vocabulary I have been using Memrise (this vocabulary game) and it has proved a brilliant tool, which costs nothing and makes my vocab learning easy. I heartily recommend it.

The other thing I have been thinking about is subscribing to Baiyanah TV which is the brainchild of Ustadg Nauman Ali Khan and includes his “Arabic with Husnah” video series. Have you subscribed or seen the visdeo’s? Can anyone recommend if this is a worthwhile resource. Would love to hear readers views insh’Allah.
Now back to my studies insh’Allah as term 2 starts tonight!

Wednesday 1 May 2013

Picture of the Day 01.05.13 - Washing Weather

The last time my washing line looked like this was six years ago when Gorgeous was a baby, although then it was all jeans and little tops.  I never could have imagined that another little one would come along and make life so sweet mash'Allah.