Tuesday 31 December 2013

Turning the Spotlight Inwards: Difficult Memories and Finding Strength

The last fortnight or so has seen me in a strange mood with my husband being his patient and sensible self and trying to quietly support me through it.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my past and how it has affected my future, how it has affected my life chances and my children’s chances.  All this navel-gazing and introspection has not been very helpful and has left me anxious and worried and feeling quite down.

If you have read this blog for any length of time, you’ll know that being happy is my default and the way I am made to be, so I can’t stay miserable for long.  You’ll also know that I believe that we should trust in what Allah (SWT) decides, knowing that he loves us and wants what is best for us.  But sometimes it’s just silly-season in my head and I can get caught up in over-thinking and self-pity.

Anyway, what set this off was trying to sort out Little Lady’s secondary schooling.  We really want her to go to an Islamic school and we are already finding that many of the schools are full up for next year even if you can afford the fees.  Most of the schools are boarding schools and the idea of sending her away is really hard for me.  The local ones are heavily over-subscribed

The schools in our borough are amongst the best in the country and therefore, again, heavily oversubscribed, our local catchment area school is the one I went to, a school where being intelligent was a curse and something you had to hide and where I was one of the only children in my class that didn’t smoke.  Its standards have improved over the years and it is middle of the borough’s league tables for GCSE attainment but it remains the school from which the highest number of people referred to the juvenile justice system in this borough originate.  Little Lady is tough enough to handle such a school, but why should she have to?

Little Lady didn’t get the grades in her 11+ exam to get into Grammar school either.  I feel like I have let her down, that perhaps I should have started tuition earlier, pushed her harder or perhaps put her in more classes and courses from a tiny age.

At the same time I someother things have been bothering me.  There are people around me that make me feel judged and insecure.  I know that no-one can make me feel that way except myself.  Yet every time my children behave less than perfectly, or my weight gain shows or my clothes and hair look shabby, or someone comes to my house, I feel as if they are looking down at me.  I know that this is ungratefulness for all that Allah (SWT) has given me.  But I feel that I have worked so very hard for the last fifteen years, despite starting behind everyone else.

As a child my parents struggled to make ends meet and my dad did not support my education.  He didn’t want me to study past the compulsory 16 years of age.  I went to the crappy local school and the even crappier local sixth form by pleading, negotiating and keeping a very low profile.  People sneak out to go to parties and clubs; I used to sneak out to go to school.  Getting permission to go to university was one of the hardest things I have had to do.  I had enough grades to go to the best university in the country for my chosen subject, but quietly attended the one nearest me, all the time avoiding anything outside lessons hours so that I could be home at the earliest time.  I worked part-time and negotiated my hours so that I could always avoid evening hours which my parents would not approve of. 

As soon as university finished I married my husband in Pakistan.  This was the best thing I ever did and marrying him the best thing that ever happened to me.  That didn’t mean it was easy.  I could not do any post-graduate study and had to go straight into work to be able to sponsor him to come here.  This meant that my degree was useless and I could not become a professional in any field.  I am feeling the consequences of that today when I feel stuck in a job I detest but which pays my bills and which I get the impression from my employers that I should feel grateful for.

We originally intended to move from where we live to somewhere the schools are better for my children.  After a few years of looking we were unable to find somewhere we could afford which wasn’t drastically smaller and have given up and decided to stay where we are and where we can stay close to the wonderful Muslim community around us.  But that does mean we haven’t invested in our house and the whole house needs to be done up – no matter how much I clean the bath and kitchen it looks grubby and due to the number of people living and staying here at different times the house is full of clutter.

I met a friend recently who lives in a nice part of the borough; she told me she is moving to another area for the schools.  An area I have always dreamed of living in.  It felt so unfair.  I wish her well and do not envy her life.  But I did start thinking about the fact tthatt she started in good circumstances and moved onto better circumstances.  I’m here flailing, hustling, fighting for my children and never feeling like I am getting anywhere.

I would say sorry for the pity-party, but I’m not.  I had to get it out.  I absolutely love this blog because it gives me the chance to put things on paper.  Now I have written these things down, I can see how ridiculous and ungrateful they seem.  In your head though these things swirl round and round and round and bump against every insecurity and sadness and magnify and become overwhelming.

Once written down, they seem to lose their power.  Regarding the issue with Little Ladies schooling, I know I have tried.  I don’t believe in hot-housing, or taking your child’s childhood away from them by making them work so hard there is no time left for play.  I will try my best for my child, not to be the best educated or the most successful, but the best version of herself.  I will support her in trying to grow her innate gifts and skills and make the most use of them in whatever situation we find ourselves in.

A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. ~ Abraham Maslow

Regarding the house, I have to keep reminding myself that I am lucky to have my own place.  Most of our friends are renting and the rent in our area is sky-high (£1400 per month for a house in my neighbourhood and still hard to find an empty place) leaving them struggling.  I will be getting on hubby’s house to do something about the house though, because I want to live somewhere clean and comfortable at least.

With regards to my education and mind-numbing job, this coming year is the one I will have to do something to create change.  I intend to do my Masters degree whether I have the money, capacity, health and support or not. 

Regarding my self-esteem, I need to remind myself of my values and of what my faith says.  I need to avoid the shallow people who judge you by your outfit, your hairstyle, your home decor, your last holiday or your husband’s job.  I need to avoid the people who think it is okay to make rude comments or give you advice to “sort” out things, the same people who judge me as lacking in self-control because I am heavier than I was.  The same people who are four or five years younger than me and act is if I’m an old aunty because I wear hijab and have more than two children.  I also need to have the confidence to challenge those people.  Just because I am always nice to people, doesn’t mean I can’t not be (at school I was known as the girl with the nastiest, foulest mouth, I can easily dig that little madam up again if need be).

At the same time there will always be crappy people somewhere around me.  Their existence, views and opinions should not affect my life, thinking or self-esteem in any way.  That should come from my own values: my faith, my family, service, love and gratefulness. 

As to my past, I need to let go of those things and not blame others for my situation, the honest truth is that the majority of the world are worse-off than me.  As my best friend reminded me this weekend – it is wrong in Islam to say “what if?” or think about what could have been.  What Allah has chosen for us is the best for us and what was always meant to be.

I agree, I don’t believe in comparing with others.  People who are successful on the surface can sometimes be facing the most painful problems – no one knows what another person is truly living through.

So after all of the venting, moaning, dissecting and accepting, comes the being still and being grateful – for my health, my children, my husband, my home and most of all my faith.

These next few days I will work to leave all of this junk that has been in my head behind, to let go of these ridiculous little insecurities and then to move forward feeling good about myself and ready to do good things.

I am grateful to anyone that has actually read to the end of this post and I am truly grateful to my lovely husband who is patient and supportive through these occasional crazy moments (and rude people beware!!!)

And (remember) when your Lord proclaimed: “If you give thanks, I will give you more (of My Blessings), but if you are thankless, verily! My Punishment is indeed severe.” ~ Quran (14:7)

 “Look at those below you (less fortunate than you), and don't look at those above you, for this is better.” ~ Muslim

“O Allāh, make me content with what you have provided me, send blessings for me therein, and place for me every absent thing with something better.” ~ Bukhāri

“Whoever sets the Hereafter as his goal, Allah gathers his affairs for him, gives him richness of (faith in) the heart and the world will come to him grudgingly and submissively.” ~ Ibn Majah & Ibn Hibban

Picture of the Day 31.12.13 - Sweet Sisters

Little Lady packed away her doll and baby pram some time ago, too old to play, but not quite ready to let go.  Her little sister turned out to be the perfect excuse  to unpack her doll again today.  At 14 months she is still a little young, but her sisters toys certainly piqued her interest.

We have always discouraged dolls as a toy for Little Lady, but it seems to be the gift she was most often given.  At one point she even decided herself she didn't want them in her room and filled  a big black bag (along with her brothers life-like toys) and handed them to me to take to the charity shop.  This dolly seems to have survived the purge though and is now at hand to be poked in the eye by Darling (who also tried to drink her pretend milk).

It was just so sweet seeing the two sisters playing together mash'Allah.

Monday 30 December 2013

My Bestie and Me

Sometimes it's nice to have an easy-breezy, non-productive day where you can just go with the flow and enjoy the day.  Yesterday was that kind of day, with my best friend coming to spend the day.  She brought along her two beautiful little boys and some treats for me:

We spent the time, chatting, catching up and having lunch together.  I would have taken pics of the lovely meal we had (chicken shawarma and lamb burgers), but we were too busy trying to eat and keep my two boys and her two boys on their seats and behaving.  Both my ten year old and my one year old girl sat and ate quietly, whilst all four boys complained, spilled things and had to be ordered back to the seat.  

We dropped my two boys off at my mums and went shopping together.  Just the kind of shopping I like - we wandered around a bit, kids kept seeing things they liked that were expensive and we somehow managed not to but them anything (unless loo roll and baby wipes count - well they are used by them).

The thing I really love about my bestie is that she is someone I can be completely myself with and completely honest with.  It's rare to be around someone where you don't have to be on your guard at least a little because they might take something you say the wrong way or you wonder if they'll look down on you or judge you when they see the real you.

My bestie is a very big hearted person and always makes me feel good and gives me good advice.  I love her for the sake of Allah and pray that her life and family are blessed with Allah's mercy and favour insh'Allah, ameen.

Plus the girl knew to get me chocolate when there was absolutely none in the house and good chocolate at that.

Friday 20 December 2013

Muslim Children Love Jesus Too

With the winter holidays here and Christmas falling in the coming days, most schools in Western countries are busy with Christmas related activities and parties. Certainly my children’s teachers are organising parties and there are pretty lights and Christmas trees and decorations everywhere you look.

Over the years I have explained to my children that Christmas is not part of our faith and that we are not allowed to celebrate. They understand this now, but generally I find children to have two reactions to Christmas and Christian stories about Jesus. On the one hand they might believe the traditional Christian nativity story as truth, on the other hand some children reject Jesus outright as nothing to do with Islam.

As Muslims, we love and revere Jesus. We believe in him as the prophet of Allah and we believe that he will return to earth one day. I think the weeks before Christmas are a good time to share the Muslim story of Jesus, or Prophet Isa (alayhi s-salām or peace be upon him).

At the moment we are using the following books:

Qasasul Ambiyaa: Stories of the Prophets by Maulana Hifzur Rahman Seoharwy (RA)

and The Prophets by Syed Ali Ashraf:

The first book is more detailed with the section about Prophet Isa lasting approximately 68 pages and going and with headings such as The Disciples of Nabi Isa, Belief in Isa before his Death (peace be upon him) and The Four Versions of the Injeel (Bible).  So this would be suitable for older children who have a keen interest and would probably be good for adults too.

The second book tells the story in about five A4 sides and is glossy with attractive pictures.  It breaks the events down into a few key sections such as the story of Mariam (may Allah be pleased with her), the birth of Prophet Isa (peace be upon him) and his miracles.  My six year old, Gorgeous, is reading this book at the moment a bit at a time and loves it.

There are lots more great books if you hunt around.  I also found these resources online which share the Muslim perspective on Prophet Isa (peace be upon him) in a child-friendly way:

Musalla.org have a page with the story of Prophet Isa interspersed with lots of activities for children such as a fact finder and a wordsearch.  The page is also broken down into a series of downloadable PDF's.

IslamAwareness.net has the Ibn Kathir version of the story here which is fairly detailed, so maybe good for older children or adults who want to be familiar with the Quranic version before they share with their children.

Life in My World has a post about creating a lesson about the Prophets with Prohpet Isa as an example.

Fanar, the Qatar Islamic Cultural Centre website has a Kids Corner which includes a page with details about some of the Prophets of Islam including Prophet Isa (peace be upon him)

Do let me know if you come across any books, videos or resources that you have found particularly useful in discussing this topic and I will add to this post insh'Allah.

The jannah Steps blog has a post called "Islamic Lesson on Jesus (Isa), Peace Be Upon Him" which outlines some facts about Prophet Isa and has a poem.

Tuesday 17 December 2013

Review: Hotel Chocolat Cookies and Chocolate Wreath

I was recently asked to do a review for Hotel Chocolat.  Although I tend to ignore anything even slightly Christmassy, I could not say no to free chocolate.  I've been given Hotel Chocolat Batons Selection before for Eid by my sisters and really, really enjoyed them.  In fact the last time I went shopping with hubby and my in-laws I got so fed up and sneaked of to their shop and bought myself a small pack of the batons and hid them in the baby's nappy bag to cheer myself up later.

Hotel Chocolat sent me their Cookies and Chocolate Wreath to try.  It came in the nice box below.

The wreath was a little smaller than I expected and a little darker.  It is 50% cocoa whereas most high street chocolate bars have around 25%.

The wreath came with this folded card.  I had seen this a few days earlier in one of their adverts which came through the post and thought that the artwork was pretty and would be nice in a collage or journal if it didn't have text across it.  As this was plain, I little Little Lady have it for her scrap book as she'd liked the original picture too..

The wreath is interesting to look at with lots of texture and different things to try.

I let the boys try it and neither were very keen saying it is bitter.  I would say that this is chocolate for grown ups.  It is quite hard and bitter, with a very intense chocolate flavour.  I originally had a little and thought that was enough and didn't want any more.  But after a little while, I kept finding myself going back for a little more.

Little Lady tried some and decided she liked it.  Funnily, Little Man originally wasn't keen, but then came back and asked for  a little more.  I liked the nuts and dark cookies, but my favourite were the florentines peeking through the top of the wreath.  I kept trying to think what the taste reminded me of and then realised it was the toffee-like Sohan halwa I buy for my mum now and again.

Overall, not something I would have thought to try for myself, but enjoyable nonetheless and likely to last a bit longer because a little goes a long way.  The batons are still my firm favourite, but for those who like their chocolate not too sweet and with a bit of interesting texture, this is a good choice.

Monday 16 December 2013

Bracelet Stacks - Slates and Cool Blues

For weeks I have wanted to get my beads out, but every time I get a minute Darling is wide awake and ready to help me out.  Yesterday, the urge to play got too much and I got my box of beads out and handed Darling a reel of elastic to play with.

I manage to string some bracelets together and re-thread some I had made earlier onto stronger elastic.

I have a whole bunch of these bracelets in different colours which I stack together in sets of two to six depending on my outfit.

I made the blue and grey ones below to add to the blue one with the silver charm which I bought.  Of course I had to wear them to work the next day.  I wore them with this grey scarf which I picked up at the Mercy Mission Sisters Conference last year and which has become one of my favourites.  I wore a blue pin with the scarf to pick out the colour of the bracelets.  The abaya is a new one as I ripped my other two.  They seem to be getting longer and longer and catch under my feet and rip at the shoulders (luckily the seamstress repaired the other one too I gave her for the size).

I love the coolness and texture of these and I just love this colour combination.

Insh'Allah I want to make some sets for our online shop.  I am thinking of making stacks of about five or six with charms and feature beads in most of the bracelets.  I would love to hear peoples views.  What colour combinations would you like to see?

Wednesday 11 December 2013

Aaila Magazine December 2013/January 2014 Edition Out Now.


The newest edition of Aaila, the Muslim Family magazine is now out. I really enjoyed writing my column this month (10 Lessons to Make Parenting Easier), I hope you enjoy reading it too. An extract is below and the full column is here.

"This year marked ten years of me being a working mother, not necessarily something I am proud or ashamed of – it’s just the way the decade has panned out for me. This state of acceptance is a fairly recent occurrence though. The past ten years have been marked with anxiety about my children, fear that they will miss out or be emotionally or developmentally stunted in some way, embarrassment at being told I should not be working and must be a selfish person. I have felt pride in upholding all of my responsibilities and never allowing my children to be an excuse to achieve less at work as well as never allowing my work to be an excuse to do as much as I could for my children.

Now that I have four children and my oldest is coming to the milestone of the end of her primary education, I feel I am at a good place to look back and review my experience. After all the years of worry, I found that the children are growing up to be healthy, happy and confident. We have good relationships with them and we have made Islam central to our family life. The fact that I work has made them quite independent as I expect them to do more themselves. They also trust me deeply because every day I have left them and come back to them at the same time allaying any fears that they may have had at the beginning about their mum being away. At the same time I have my regrets as I see bad habits and character flaws creep in. But I recognise that every parent experiences this and wonders what more they could have done and that these flaws are part of what makes them human and unique individuals.

So after ten years of being a mother, working and now accepting my situation for what it is, I have learned a lot about what makes my life easier and helps me to do more. I hope sharing some of these things will help other mothers, whether they formally work or not."

There are lots of other great articles too, including:

Muslimah Dilemma: Achieving your Goals in the Islamic New Year By Tasnim Nazeer

Marriage Maintenance By Uzma Riyaaz

A Beginning Towards A Better End InshaAllah By Maria Karim

No more Christmas for me, please...By Klaudia Khan

What exercise means to your life By Cordelia Gaffar

A thought for fathers By Abu Sahla

Please do visit the magazines site and leave a comment if you can.

If you are interested in writing or contributing to Aaila, please contact the editor Sister Umm Imran at aailamagazine@gmail.com.

If you want to advertise your business, service or product, Aaila might be just the forum for you. You can contact Sister Umm Imran at the above e-mail for further information.

Thursday 5 December 2013

New at Feroza: Sparkly Oceanic Bracelets

We have recently acquired some very pretty, sparkly bracelets for our shop: Feroza.  These are available in three cool shades: royal blue, teal and light green and are a steal at £3.

All three are made from super sparkly glass crystals interspersed with silver-coloured roundels.  The royal blue and pale green colour have a shimmering "aurora borealis" coating which enhances the shimmer and creates an iridescent effect that creates splashes of colour through the beads.  The teal colour is without the affect allowing for a purer colour.

I love wearing these stacked and think they would look so pretty with the right outfit (like Kooky Little Sisters peacock coloured outfit here).

You can purchase thee bracelets here.

Tuesday 3 December 2013

Grateful for Winter

As the days get longer, colder and darker, I find that I have to re-frame my attitude towards the dark and the cold.

I used to hate summer because I could not stand the heat. I used the spend the whole summer holiday cooped up in my room reading and mostly refuse to go anywhere apart from the odd family trip. I used to love winter because I used to have a reason to make warm toast and get into bed with a jumper on and read.

So what changed? I got a life I guess. I have to leave the house whether I want to or not. So summers now are full of days and weekends away and things to do outdoors with the children every weekend. Summer means barbeques, summer holidays with the kids at home and no school run. It means gardening, long days full of warmth and light and plenty of time in between prayers to make plans to do things. Summer also means early Sunday mornings bargain-hunting at boot sales, a favourite pastime in our family.

I used to suffer in the heat, but find that despite wearing more layers (my abaya and hijab) I feel the heat less than most people who go around dressed in very little and huffing about the heat. I am convinced that this is a gift and a blessing for dressing modestly. After all Allah (SWT) does not burden us with more than we can bear.

Now that winter is here, I find myself sometimes sluggish and stiff from cold. The longer night and earlier prayer times means more sleep but that doesn’t mean I am more refreshed in the morning. I struggle to get out of bed and drag myself about my daily chores trying not to feel sorry for myself. Weekends find me looking for things to do to stop the children being cooped up inside and going crazy.

So last weekend, I knew I had to do something because it doesn’t stop being cold until about May and that feels far away right now! So I grabbed the kids and decided to brave the cold and take a cue from nature. Winter has come late here this year and it is not as cold as it is usually. The plants and trees also seem a little confused. The trees are usually bare by now, but this year the leaves are still hanging on in shades of red, gold and yellow and many floral plants are budding again.

I spent an afternoon, following the kids round the park and letting my body acclimatise to the coolness and loosen up rather than try to “brave it” and seize up as I usually do.

This winter I will go with nature, slowing down a little and sleeping a little more. I will go back to what made winter good in my childhood pleasant - lots and lots of books, curled up with Little Lady as my reading buddy and enjoying cheap chocolate bought in the January sales. I'll stop dreading snow and look forward to the magic of snowflakes drifting down and catching in your eye lashes and on your tongue with eagerness like Little Man.

Wudhu Challenge

I have been finding it challenging to pray at work at the moment. The day is very short, so depending on my hours I end up with two or three prayers falling during those ours. I don’t find the prayers problematic, they are an oasis of peace and calm in my day and benefit me no end. What I have been struggling with is my wudhu, or ablutions.

I often find the space I use (the disabled toilet) dirty and I have to clean it before I use it so that my clothes don’t get wet with something that I cannot identify (which would render me unable to pray if it is a substance such as urine or blood). It takes time to remove my scarf, shoes and socks and make sure there is no make-up. Because of this over time I have mostly stopped wearing make-up.

The sinks also in the disabled toilet are tiny and the taps are a type that sprays water everywhere ruining your clothes and making a mess. This means I have to open the tap very slightly so that I get a spray that cannot travel too far. If anything, this has meant that I have learnt to do wudhu with a very small amount of water.

I did not help when the organisation I work for locked all of the disabled toilets (which at least offer some privacy for your wudhu) and we were told we cannot use them. After some negotiation, the organisation agreed to leave two of the disabled toilets open for our use and these are heavily used. I have been told quite rudely before that I shouldn’t be using them by people who work in the building and have kept quiet.

Today it was the cleaner who told me off and said I could not use the disabled toilet. I explained two or three times that we had been given permission for our ablutions by HR so that we could pray. She eventually understood, but the toilet was busy and I had to wait. I waited for about twenty minutes of my lunchtime outside both of the disabled toilets and they remained busy. I wonder now if someone had locked them.

A young sister who recently returned from hajj came into the ladies bathroom to adjust her scarf; she saw my face and asked me what was wrong. When I explained, she told me she would stand in front of me to give me privacy and I could do wudhu in the main sinks in the ladies toilets. She encouraged me so gently and kindly that all my anxiety fell away.

I made wudhu, went with her to the “quiet room” set aside for prayer or reflection/rest and made my prayers with a happy heart. Sometimes it can be someone you don’t even know who makes your day or inspires you.

I find wudhu at work hard, but I have reconciled myself to the idea that the ablution is part of the prayer. I approach it as worship rather than a burden and imagine sins washing away with the water. This perspective helps me to be a little more patient.

I went back to my desk with a smile on my face only to find that two of my colleagues (Muslim sisters that I get on well with) had left rice, salad and chips for me for my lunch. I am very grateful at the moment to have good sisters around me Alhamdulillah.

My lunch and current lunchtime read.