Monday 28 April 2014

Simplicity and Community

I attended an interesting talk this weekend for the female family members of those people who are active in a local group of four or five masjids, so this would be trustees, board or committee members, imam’s, emirs or leaders of the masjids and generally people who were involved in the day to day running and of the masjid and in dawah work. Hubby is a trustee at the local masjid, so I was asked to come along.

Usually the talks we go to tend to focus on key subjects such as increasing iman, salah, dhikr and iklaq (the way we treat others around us). But these kind of meetings for just the ladies involved in the masjid are quite different. The talks are longer and the content of the talks assume certain things – for instance that all of the women pray and that they all cover (as our masjid community is quite conservative), so hijab and salah are not subjects that come up.

Instead the kinds of things that are discussed are concern for your local area – what are you doing to serve and connect that around you? Sacrifice – what can you give up in terms of time and effort for your faith and in particular dawah and how we as women can engage in this and support our menfolk.

I love that the men of the masjid understand the role of the women in the work of the masjid. They realize that a man can achieve so much more with a supportive woman behind him.

This weeks talk focused on two things: simplicity and community. The speaker, who was one of the very elderly, long-standing members of another mosque explained that simplicity is a sign of iman (or faith). That success was not about success in the material world, but success in the next world and that this didn’t come from big houses, cars or degrees. The speaker spent a lot of time describing the beautiful rewards that would be waiting for those who entered jannah – the clothes, the foods, the houses. He then reminded us that jannah was the place for all of our desires, not this world.

He encouraged us as women who were involved in our faith community to set the example and to aspire to live simply – through the way we dress, the way we maintain out homes and the one that resonated with me – the way we eat.

The other element that was discussed was how we had a responsibility to bring the community together. The speaker outlined four ways we could grow strong amongst ourselves and bring together and strengthen our communities:

1. To forgive those who have hurt us
2. To ask forgiveness of those whom we may have hurt
3. To bring others together – through the masjid, through study circles (halaqa’s) and our dawah work
4. To ourselves join with others that are doing these things.

I liked that the focus was on looking at ourselves before we start thinking its our job to reform anyone else. The speaker suggested that we see the good in others and that with the other eye we should see the weaknesses in ourselves. He also reminded us to clean our hearts regarding others and to let go of resentment or dislike that we may be holding on to.

Alhamdulillah it was a nice little iman refresher and a reminder that we should not be complacent and think we are doing enough. At two hours hubby said we got off lightly. The talk for the men is up to four hours and most of it involves admonitions and reminders about the proper way of doing dawah (I always tease him that he is going in for his annual telling off). The talk for the women was gentle and encouraging in comparison and I came away with some thoughts about simplicity and self-reflection.

Fashionista's Cakes

Dear Fab asked recently what my sister Fashionista had been up to because she hasn't been updating her blog recently.  Well she has been busy with her cake making.  She recently completed a cake-making course which was gifted to her and made some really ute cakes as part of this:

Everyone loved her cakes and it really got her going, she has been making some lovely cakes for her extended family:

But her latest tiered cake with ombre effect flowers has been my favourite so far.  She made it specially for her husband's cousin's engagement, along with biscuits and cupcakes for a dessert table display:

So Fashionista is well and being very creative in between her teaching alhamdulillah.   I have been adding pictures of her cakes to a Pinterest board here, because I like the idea of saving all of the loveliness she has created.

Friday 25 April 2014

Ramadan and Eid Planner 2014/1435

I find that Ramadan and Eid are so much more productive, pleasant and rewarding if you do a little planning beforehand. I can’t always stick to all of the things I plan, but even if I get to do some of them it’s still very satisfying. It might feel a little early to be thinking about Ramadan with about two months to go, however we can consider the example of the Sahabah (RA):

Ma’ali bin Fudail said, ‘They used to ask Allah the Almighty six months before Ramadan to grant them long life so that they could reach Ramadan and they used to ask Allah the Almighty six months after Ramadan to accept their fasting’.

I have posted before about planning ahead for Eid and Ramadan and posts about Ramadan have usually been the most popular in terms of comments and traffic. Over the years, I started planning ahead in my organiser and then in a Word document on my computer the things I needed to do to make the months ahead easier. This has grown into my Ramadan and Eid Planner 2014/1435 (PDF):

  • Simple goal-setting for Ramadan
  • Some practical suggested activities you can undertake now, a month before, a week before and during Ramadan, with space to include your own actions and thoughts
  • Space to plan ahead for the month of Dhul-hajj and the Sacrifice
  • The Sunnan of Ramadan and both Eid’s
  • Deciding what you want to get out of Eid and how you can do that
  • A short reading list of useful materials on Ramadan and Eid
  • Prompts to reflect on Ramadan after the month has ended and retaining some of the benefits of the blessed month
The planner is 42 pages and I have tried to keep it fairly print friendly. I hope this planner serves as a useful tool for brothers and sisters in making the most of Ramadan this year and having blessed and happy Eid’s insh’Allah.

If you find this planner beneficial, please make dua for me and my family. Your feedback is welcome either in the comments or via e-mail at and I will be happy to take your thoughts into consideration for an updated version in the future if there is demand insh’Allah.

Thursday 24 April 2014

Identity, Language and Going Back Home

The Easter holidays are at an end and the kids are back at school. Some of the children in their school have used the opportunity to travel abroad. I have been thinking about how nice it would be to go to Pakistan and see extended family. The reality is that the cost is prohibitive and it is unlikely we will be able to go on such an expensive trip any time soon.

We are on quite a strict budget but we try to plan one or two small holidays somewhere in the UK during the year. So far we have been to Scotland, the Lake District, the Dorset coast and Cornwall. We save money by trying to stay with people we know or finding a no-frills hotel, taking our own food because outside big cities it can be harder to find halal and looking for lots of free or discounted activities when we get there.

Our treks around Britain are a long way from my own childhood where holidays were spent at home or every few years meant a few weeks in Pakistan where we were immersed in the language, culture and customs of the country enough to carry them into our adult lives. We often travelled mid-term or whenever our parents felt the urge to go home, or if there was a big occasion like a family wedding. Often this was in February or March when the weather was fairly good in Pakistan.

Things seem very different now. Schools are very, very strict about children taking time off during term time in our area as it is one of the areas with a lot of children waiting for school places. My children’s school will not permit children to take time off even if a relative is sick abroad unless in extreme circumstances. If parents do make the choice to take their children away they are likely to lose their child’s school place and be fined for each child. They then have to go through the process of re-applying through the Council and may end up with multiple small children at multiple primary schools all of which are further than their original school. I have seen a child in my sons class come back from holiday and line up with his class only to be told by the teacher “sorry, but you can’t line up, you have to go to the office”. I felt so sorry for this child, but his parents had known about the schools rules when they took him out.

I can understand the schools stance. The head teacher is very ambitious for her children and has reiterated often that the children’s education should take priority over any kind of holiday. A large proportion of the school is made up of children who have extended family in other countries, so a more lax stance would mean massive problems with unauthorised absence rates.

This leaves parents with specific windows of time that they can travel with their children – the two weeks of Easter half-term in April, the six-week summer holiday in July/August or the two-week Christmas holidays. The airline operators know this and lovingly almost double their prices at this time (oh the obscene names and curses I have sent their way, I am surprised any of their aeroplanes ever get off the ground with the curses levelled at them). This instantly prices us out of the market for a trip to Pakistan. Return tickets reach almost £700 upwards per person, with children not costing much less. For the cost of our family’s plane tickets, we could put one of children through a year of private school. Even if we did want to spend that much money, we would expect to stay longer than the two weeks of their end of term holidays. As children, we would often stay 5-6 weeks in Lahore, Rawalpindi and our grandparent’s village in Jhelum.

Summer gives us a longer period of time, but with temperatures of up to 40-45C (104 – 113F) in Lahore during the summer, it turns into torture. I still have memories of suffering in the unbearable heat as a child and teenager and don’t think I want to go through it ever again. I'm not even sure it’s safe to take small children somewhere that hot where the electricity is currently available a few hours a day at best.

This leaves us looking for short, frugal trips around Britain and the possibility of saving up for Umrah (the pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia). These are pleasant and probably a lot easier than a big trip to Pakistan. Except I feel really bad for my children when I think of what they are missing out.

My trips to Pakistan as a child really made me understand how privileged we are in the West: the freedom we have as women to leave our homes without judgement or harassment, educations for our children and ourselves, healthcare. We don’t have to constantly think about where our next meal will come from. I recall a trip I made at 18 during my first year at university. I was speaking to a young woman about my age in my grandparents village who was asking about my studies. She told me she wanted to study further, but her parents couldn't afford the cost and she had to get married. It made me realise how fortunate I was.

As children we were let loose in Pakistan in a way that we were never allowed at home and which could never happen today. We would leave the house in the morning, round up all the children in the village and spend the day wandering through peoples houses, nearby villages, over fields and off to the nearest mountain. We would spend the day wandering, playing and blagging food and come home in the evening expecting to be told off. No one even asked where we had been. The freedom was exhilarating.

At one point a new road was being built beside the village. Someone left great metal barrels of tar by the side of the road. We opened them up to find that the tar had the consistency of black plasticine. It wasn't long before we had all the kids in the village pulling off chunks and trying to make things. The people in the village thought we were very strange children.

To be honest, things are no longer that idyllic. The village has been deserted by working aged people and is full of the elderly and children. My grandparents are gone and so the place no longer holds quite the pull it once did. Instead of a series of houses with yards that lead into each others, there are now high walls and big gates around each house as people have come to prioritise their privacy.

There is still much to be said though for taking my children back to immerse them for a short while in the life of the village. If nothing else they would got a powerful taster of my parents language – a soft, lilting dialect of Punjabi that is common through the Potohar plateau of north-eastern Pakistan. Fluency in Punjabi wouldn't just help to connect them to their roots, but give them access to an amazing artistic and poetic culture and heritage that spans the tragic love stories, the folk stories and the sufi poetic heritage of the Punjab, amazing scholar-poets like Bulleh Shah:

Parh parh ilm te faazil hoya
Te kaday apnay aap nu parhya ee na

You read so many books to know it all,
yet fail to ever read your heart at all.

Bhaj bhaj warna ay mandir maseeti
Te kaday mann apnay wich warya ee na

You rush to enter temples and mosques
But you never looked into your own heart

Bulleh Shah asmaani ud-deya pharonda ay
Te jera ghar betha unoon pharya ee na

Bulleh Shah you try grabbing that which is in the sky
But you never get hold of what sits inside you

Of course there is a whole enormous country outside of my grandparent’s village. My in-laws live in Lahore which is a city that I have a lot of affection for. The people are known for their friendliness and love of life – great food, beautiful people and lots of partying. It’s where the rest of Pakistan comes to for fun, but it also has an amazing mughal heritage in its buildings and gardens (my in-laws neighbourhood is called the suburb of gardens because of its proximity to Shalimar Gardens which were pleasure gardens for the mughal princesses). 

The people speak a kind of strong, forthright, bawdy Punjabi alongside the national language of Urdu. My children speak Urdu, but I find the younger ones are not as fluent because they have their older siblings to speak English to. Again, I want my children to have enough fluency to have access to the culture and art. I have grown up hearing snatches of the poetry of Muhammad Ali Iqbal – powerful words that inspired the creation of a new nation:

“Wuhi jahan hai tera jis ko tu karay paida
Yeh sang-o-khisht naheen jo tairee nigah mein hai”

Your world is the one you create yourself
Not these stones and bricks which are in your sight (Shaheen)

I loved having my husband read the Urdu case stories of Ahmed Yaar Khan, a police inspector in the last days of the Raj, that give a fascinating insight into the interaction between the Muslim and Hindu communities and the British.

I hope my children can access some of this if they choose to. Unfortunately not being able to take them to Pakistan very much means that this is going to be more challenging than it would have been otherwise. Their Dad grew up in Pakistan so he is teaching them the alphabet and their grandmother is visiting this summer and has said she will bring some Urdu school books, so at least that is a start. In the meantime I have both of my boys mangling the language much to everyone's entertainment.

40 Day Challenge: Cola

It’s been a while since I attempted to do a 40 day challenge. But there is one that I have been meaning to do for some time. I know I have been drinking way too much fizzy drink, especially cola. It started with enjoying a glass with something spicy like biryani or when I am eating out, then it moved to having a glass with a meal when the kids are not around. I could see it now creeping towards a glass or two with every meal or whenever I am thirsty. Not good. It made me dislike the taste of water and it left me feeling very dehydrated. So my current challenge is 40 days without any fizzy drinks. I should so without any sugary drinks, because some juices are just as bad, but lets start with what we can manage.

I started the challenge without any expectation of getting past a day or two and just told myself to start and then see what happens. So far I have managed eight days without any fizzy. That was after a false start when I just forget on the second day and had some. I started again on the next day.

I spent about two days feeling as if I am missing out on something and that my meal was not quite satisfying. After that I started to become more aware of when I felt thirsty, drink more water and actually enjoy drinking the water too. It’s funny how sometimes we take the best of Allah’s (SWT) blessings away from ourselves due to our own actions.

Anyone else overcome the fizzy drink/too much sugar enthusiasm? What helped? What were your obstacles? How did you do it?

Tuesday 22 April 2014

Don’t call me Aunty….Baldy!

The first time someone called me Aunty, it kind of stopped me in my tracks. I was about 19 or so and thought - me? Aunty? As it was a small child, I thought it was kind of sweet and it made me feel quite grown up. Now many years later I am an aunty to ten children on my husband side and one (plus one to be here soon insh'Allah) on my families side, not to mention the small children of numerous cousins and friends who also call me aunty. It's quite sweet and also polite manners when small children call me Aunty. I don't even mind when it's a teenager, because they are just being polite and probably anyone over 25 looks elderly to them. But I always feel a bit annoyed when it's someone who's closer to 30 (or over) who calls me Aunty.

I'm 34 and my children range from 1 to 11. That’s makes me perfectly suitable to be the aunty of a small child, but still too young to be the aunty of someone who is about three years younger than me. Don’t get me wrong, my youngest half-uncle on my mum's side is 14 and my children's youngest aunt is my one-year old cousin, that’s the kind of thing that happens in big sprawling families where people have been married more than once. But it's not the same as the balding photographer at a wedding who tells you to "stop talking aunty" (I get told to stop talking a lot) or the paunchy guy at the Asian fabric shop who takes your order with a "yes aunty?"

The thing that annoys me is not being seen as older. I have spent half my life hoping to be taken seriously and struggling because I look young. I am not embarrassed about my age either - I am 34 and happy to declare it. What annoys me is that most of these guys seem to do it because I wear hijab and because I am married with children. So basically you are pretty, young and worth paying attention to….or an aunty. This happened at my sister fashionista's wedding. It's tradition in our neck of the woods for the brides sisters to block the stage and not let the groom sit down until he has given them a gift (organised extortion). We agreed before hand that he would pay us in chocolate and my brother-in-law turned up with sacks of chocolate coins (he is a very sweet guy alhamdulillah). His friend had the loot and promptly ignored me and handed them to my two younger sisters and my sister-in-law. The groom kept trying to steer his friend towards me and he kept ignoring me - the heavily pregnant, fat, be-hijabed, abaya-ed loud lady who was asking where her chocolate was. You can imagine I was not impressed with this guy. Especially as this came not long after the moustachioed photographer who looked older than me, called me Aunty.

There is a simple answer to this issue, one that resolves the matter in one small word - "sister". I have to acknowledge that most brothers are perfectly respectful and do call me sister. For those who are slightly confused, i.e. they are 30 but still think they are 16 in their minds, it's better to be in the safe side and unless the lady you are speaking to very clearly looks about your mum's age, call her sister. For the rest who have no manners and split women up into "hotties" and "notties" (i.e. everyone else), better to be careful and use the term sister, or I might respond to "excuse me aunty" with "yes baldy?"

Sunday 20 April 2014

Day Trip to Brighton

I have been recommended Brighton a few times as an interesting and fun place to visit.  I have come to associate it with clubbing and the night-life, but on doing a little research there seemed to be lots to do there.

We managed to leave a little late because of the current fun I am having with morning headaches, but the drive from London as not too long and quite picturesque.  I had looked online to find out about parking and had read lots of advice about it being expensive.  I took notes about places to park, but we couldn't walk from too far away because hubby had hurt his foot and my mum who was with us has a bad knee.  So we still ended up parking in a car park in the town centre which charged £4.50 an hour.  In the end we didn't end up using our car while we were there so I think coach or train would be a better option, which I think is what the town is trying to encourage.  Train is not an option for us because we would have to go into central London with children, picnic, pram, baby bag and everything else that we squeeze into our car (loo roll, kitchen roll, travel sweets, sick bags and I have no idea what else the kids stash away at the back of our seven seater).

I had a look on Google maps and worked out the distances between places and took screen shots of all of the addresses on my phone (I love technology!) and found that everything is very near each other.

The first place we went to was Brighton Pavilion.  This place looks so beautiful in pictures and I have read in the past about how the building was used to house injured Indian soldiers fighting for the British during World War 2.

The place was rather lovely, surrounded by gardens full of people enjoying the sunshine:

We paid to go on the tour inside and the interior was rather lovely with a strong Far Eastern feel and displays about the use of the place during WW2.  We were not allowed to take photos but there was an audio tour provided for us and a different one for the children which they enjoyed following around the house.

Right next door is the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery which is free.  

The museum is an interesting mix of periods and themes, including pottery and jewellery:

The history of the town and its beach:

Displays about Ancient Egypt:

Interestingly the display about  Brighton's history had quite a bit about the role of Muslims in the town:

The calligraphy was part of a display of work by Iranian artists and is by Golnaz Fathi.

One of my favourite things was my children's reaction at anything nude, semi-nude or overtly cheeky.  Little Lady would get annoyed and firmly steer the boys in the opposite direction!  After the pavilion and museum we prayed outside and had a picnic.  Mum was giggling because she saw tourists taking pictures of us praying.

We had pilau rice with potato and boneless chicken chunks, chicken sandwiches, lamb burgers and vegetable and chicken pasta.  On one of the forums I was looking at online, a commenter mentioned people who brought their on lunches in a negative way insinuating they were cheap and did not contribute to the economy of the place they are visiting.  This annoyed me, because what I would not give to have some of the fish and chips you can smell at the beach!  We can only eat halal and everywhere you go the food is either not halal or cooked in a way we can't eat it, i.e.  fish cooked in the same oil as sausages.  We had the same problem when we visited Lyme Regis and ended up struggling to get a good meal.  That wasn't a problem on this trip.

After lunch we headed to the beach strolling past some shops that we were keen to go into and hubby was keen to get away from as soon as possible.  The beach was very pebbly, but surprisingly full of seashells everywhere we looked.

Little Lady and Little Man rolled up their pants and headed straight for the water.  Gorgeous refused and got up to his favourite activity of kicking pebbles and sand and getting told off.  Darling rushed straight back to the path as soon as we put her down on the pebbles.  We carried her further down the beach and set her down again only for her to cry and cry even after we piked her up again.  Not the most adventurous soul.

The day was fairly cool, so after a little while at the beach we headed to the pier which had shops, an arcade and some rides the boys and their dad had a go on (for some reason Little Lady wasn't that interested and wanted to hang out with her mum and nan).  We bought the kids rock and I bought some to take back to work with me.

In all it was a nice day out with lots to do.  We didn't get to go on the giant wheel and hang out in the pedestrianised area in town with shops and restaurants which had rather a lovely vibe which I would have liked, but the extortionate parking charges meant that we didn't want to hand around for too much longer in the end.

Saturday 19 April 2014

App Review: Tayyib for HMC Food

When the makers of the Tayyib App approached me about doing a review, I decided to take a look because it was focussed on helping to locate food suppliers which were certified by the Halal Monitoring Committee (HMC) and because the app was free.

My husband is very careful about what he eats and will only eat meat from a butcher or restaurant who is HMC certified.  We believe that what you eat influences the way you behave and that one who eats haram, it will lead him to bad deeds and his dua's will not be accepted:

Anas (radhiallahu anhu) said to the Prophet (salallahu alaihi wasallam) ‘O Messenger of Allah! Supplicate to Allah for me to make my Du’a’ acceptable.” The Messenger (salallahu alaihi wasallam) replied, “O Anas! To have an acceptable Du’a’, you should eat only the Halal (Lawful) since a person may be deprived of his Dua’ being answered for forty days because of eating a mouthful of Haram food.” (Al-Asfahani in Al-Targhib).

Sayyiduna S'ad (radhiallahu anhu) relates that the Prophet (salallahu alaihi was sallam) said “O S'ad purify your food (and as a result) you will become one whose supplications are accepted. I swear by Him in whose hands the soul of Muhammad lies, verily a servant (of Allah) tosses a haram (impermissible) food morsel in his stomach (due to which) no good deed is accepted from him for 40 days” (Tabrani 6395)

My husband is also a da'ee (someone who promotes and teaches about the faith) and it is something we all aspire to, so being careful about what I eat and what I feed my family matters a lot to me.  My understanding is also that because my children are learning Quran I have to be careful what I feed them too, as one who is eating food that is halal and cooked with dhikr (remembrance of Allah (SWT)) is more likely to remember and learn Quran than one who is careless about what he or she is eating.

Anyway, what all of this means is that over the last few years, despite being surrounded by a glut of halal butchers and restaurants (dozens within half a mile of me), we have been very limited in what we can eat when eating out.  On on occasion, we went to a local halal butcher and my husband asked one of the staff if his chicken was halal.  The poor man squirmed, but could not lie, telling hubby that he should get the meat and avoid the chicken.

Recently though there has been an explosion of HMC certified certified butchers (three within ten minute walk of me) and restaurants.  The Tayyib App helps to determine which restaurants nearby are HMC and provides contact details.

The organisations listed are split into butchers, restaurants, schools, suppliers and caterers.

The app filters your chosen type of organisation by distance from your current location, ratings and number of Facebook likes it has received from users (I tend to check out location the most).

If you click on a restaurant, you can check for ratings (out of five) and reviews if customers have left any (there are currently not many as it is a fairly new app).

In all I have been using this app quite a lot.  I have found it useful to navigate and fairly up to date with new restaurants being added.  I like how many restaurants I have found using it very nearby which I did not were HMC certified.  I also like that it is free.

If you would like to know more about HMC, you can do so here.  The App is available here.  All images courtesy of the Tayyib App homepage

“O mankind: Eat of what is lawful and good on earth” (Quran 2: 168)

O ye who believe! Eat of the good things wherewith We have provided you, and render thanks to Allah if it is (indeed) He whom ye worship” (Quran 2:172)

“And eat not of that whereon Allah’s name hath not been mentioned, for lo! it is abomination. Lo! the devils do inspire their minions to dispute with you. But if ye obey them, ye will be in truth idolaters” (Quran 6:121)

Abu Hurayrah (radhiallahu anhu) reports that the Prophet (salallahu alaihi wasallam) said, “A time will come upon the people wherein a man will not bother what he intakes; whether from a halal source or haram.” (Bukhari 2059)

The Prophet (salallahu alaihi wa sallam) said, “Avoid whatever you have doubts about in favor of what is not (doubtful).” (Tirmidhi)

Ka`b Ibn Ujrah (radhiallahu anhu) relates that the Prophet (salallahu alaihi wasallam) said, “A body nourished with haram will not enter Jannah”. (Tirmidhi 614)

Tuesday 15 April 2014

The Practicalities of Wearing an Abayah

When I think of the abayh, the long, loose dress that many Muslim women wear, I think of how elegant it looks:

or how chic:

or how smart and conservative:

When I see sisters wearing it, I usually think the same, especially some of the younger sisters who really know how to make it look stylish.  I have been wearing mine since I was expecting Little Man (who is nine now), dispensing of the need for maternity wear for the office in  the process.

In reality though, there are some things you find out only once you start wearing it.  Some are good things.  For instance it’s like the Muslim version of the Little Black Dress, you have a neat capsule wardrobe that goes from work to weekend, to evening just through changing your shoes and scarf.  My lovely husband hasn't had to listen to complaints of “I haven’t got anything to wear” for years:

My weekend/work look:

My interview/get serious at work look:

My going out/visiting/summer day trips look:

(The images above are from a guest post I did at Kook's fashion blog some time ago here).

I also like that you can camouflage things like weight gain or when you've had too much salad (ahem) for lunch.  I was wearing my navy abayah (which I usually wear for interviews) when I went for a job interview during the time I was expecting Gorgeous.  It was only after I got the job and negotiated my travel allowance that I mentioned I was seven months pregnant.  I will never forget the look on that managers face.  But I was a bit amazed that no-one had noticed.

It’s funny how it affects other people too.  I don’t believe that what you wear is an automatic indicator of your morals or character, but sometimes people just seem to think so.  They hold doors open for you, traffic stops for you and brothers seem to become a little protective of you too.  A friend of mine started to wear it and exclaimed to me – “I had no idea, traffic just stops for you to cross the road.  I think all women deserve to be treated with respect, but if you want to be extra nice to me, I don’t mind.

On the other hand there are some things that are not so elegant or chic.  I occasionally find myself falling upstairs.  Funnily,  it’s never downstairs, but only up when your foot catches in your abaya as you raise it to the next step.  So now alongside holding on to my bag, baby and anything that happens to be in my hand, I usually hold up the front of my abayah too.  I'm also quite scared of getting stuck in an elevator.  It’s never happened thankfully, but I wonder what I would do if it did.  I can just imagine people commenting on what a ridiculous idea it is to wear this kind of clothing anyway – “well what did she expect?”

Every time I need a pint of milk or the bread has run out, I have to put my abayah and scarf on to across the road.  At first this annoyed the hell out of me and I used to ask hubby.  But when I kept asking for a couple of things in a row, it started to annoy the hell out of him.  So now I go myself, or we take turns.  I can’t wait until Little Man is about 16, then I can let him go across the road with his big sister to get the ingredients I remember in the middle of cooking.

There’s also the length of abayah’s to think of.  Over the years my abayah’s have gotten longer, partly because I love how elegant it looks and partly because every time I give one to the seamstress to use as a template she makes my new one a little longer.  So when you walk, no one can see your feet.  I told my little sister Kooks, it looks like you are gliding along.  She replied, “Yes, just like a dementor”. 

The only problem with this is that unlike the elegant fashion shots, the bottom of your abaya gets absolutely filthy every time you go out, especially if it rains, which it does now and again in London.  So now I have my long ones for work or visiting and a shorter one that sits just below my ankles for weekends and running to the shops

Those things aren't meant to put you off wearing it if you are considering it.  For me the benefits of simplicity, elegance (if you ignore the mud at the bottom), practicality and comfort outweigh the inconveniences, which I am use to.  I suppose the main thing is the reason why I first started wearing.  It was because I felt in a good place with my faith at that time, had some strong, positive sister around me and wanted to please Allah (SWT).  I felt awkward, unattractive and unprofessional for work, but that did not put me off.

Now I feel great and love wearing abayah.  I have found a comfortable, modest A-line shape that suits me that I can throw over anything.  I also used to notice the Somali sisters in my neighbourhood holding up the front of their abaya slightly, ever so elegantly and wondered why they did it.  As mine got longer, I caught on and do the same and pretend I am ladylike and chic like them and I glide along (no when ever notices the grubby hem anyway).