Wednesday 29 October 2014

Little Lady and Big School: Reasons for Choosing Islamic Scholarship

I have been worrying and praying about Little Lady’s secondary education for the last few years. As she was my firstborn I had no experience of how the system worked or whether the local school or an Islamic school would be best for her.

There is massive competition for the one local grammar school and she did not get in, following the secondary school application process she got a place in the local state school that I had attended.

We had tried to find a place in an Islamic school a year earlier, but all of those that offered an Islamic education that included the Alimah (Islamic scholars) programme were full and sent out applications to include her in their waiting list.

We decided to let her start in the local school as there didn’t seem to be any other options. The local state school has come a long way from when I studied there. At that time it had a bad reputation and not the best results for GCSE. I remember that being good at your studies was not something to be proud of amongst students but something to be masked, with even teachers occasionally joining in at making fun of the bright children.

I was one of the smallest kids in my year and had to learn to make up for this by being extra loud, rude and by swearing a lot. I made it to the end of high school with good grades and to the end of sixth form with reasonable grades but knowing I could have done a lot better. It left me with a legacy of for many years thinking how much better I could have done as an adult if I had better schooling as a child and with a foul mouth, both of which took many years to overcome.

So you can imagine I had my worries when that was the only option for us. A visit to the school and talking to friends and neighbours who had children studying there assuaged some of my worries. The school has a new strict head teacher and has had millions of pounds of investment in new buildings and equipment. It has expanded to a primary and nursery school and the sixth formers look like they are dressed for the office.

Little Lady loved it there and made friends straight away. She became a school council representative and volunteered for everything. Best of all they had a massive library full of every book she had ever been looking for.

I still had my worries. For instance probably over half of the children in the school are Muslim and many of the girls wear hijab. This doesn’t stop them from listening to music, swearing and generally assuming a very cocky attitude. This just isn’t part of the beautiful character I want to develop for my children and I feared that Little Lady would pick up bad habits. As she is so strong willed I could also imagine a situation in a few years where we would not be able to rein her in and discourage bad habits.

It was hard to explain my reservations to my husband, but once he was picking and dropping her from school for a few weeks he could see the behaviour of some children for himself – giving adults dirty looks, swearing, shouting, chatting or fighting with people of the opposite sex - all things normal teenagers do, but things that I don’t believe are part of the correct upbringing of a Muslim teenager who we hope one day becomes a good Muslim.

One option I was considering was putting her in one of the after school alimah courses that have started locally recently which would cover her Quran studies also. This would have been tough with picking her up from school and then dropping and picking her up from a second place whilst juggling the boys school run and Quran studies also, especially as I don’t drive. It seemed to be our only option.

As the first few weeks of term progressed, my husband got more concerned about the way students at LL’s school behaved and the influence this would have on her. So one day on the way to look for a new double pram for Darling and Baby, he suggested we pick up forms for the two nearest girls Islamic schools. One had no spaces and did not offer the alimah course but did provide a very positive environment and is run by a masjid that my husband has strong links with. The other school was attended by a cousin of mine and a few of my friends’ daughters and I have heard mixed reviews of. We filled the form for this one and submitted straight away and LL was called back for a test the following week. She did well on the test and was called back for an interview. The head teacher listened to her recitation of Quran and asked her about why she was interested in the school. They offered her a place for the following Monday and also allowed her to join the alimah programme (they have three strands: Islamic studies, alimah course and hifz programme where the whole Quran is memorised).

We were over the moon but I was also worried about how the transition would affect her. She would have to leave behind the friends she made and the hours are longer with a 7:30am start due to alimah studies in the morning,

Following her first half term there she has settled in well and is catching up quickly with what she missed (Memrise has really helped with Arabic and French). Her Quran teacher was brilliant and supplemented Quran studies with Islamic knowledge and memorising prayers and reading Islamic books, so this meant that much of what was covered in the first half term that she missed she already knew. Her Dad had also been helping her learn Urdu which has the same script as Arabic and this helped her with learning Arabic too.

There are some things she misses: having the latest IT equipment, swimming pools and a greater emphasis on sport, the library she loved so much, switching from Spanish (which she loved) to French (which I like) and also missing out on certain lessons (such as Drama) to accommodate for others (Arabic). I have agreed that we can work on subject areas which she liked that are not covered in her current curriculum and she sees the value of the Islamic environment and studies Alhamdulillah.

The cost of her education means that we will have to cut back everywhere else that we can and it will also mean that we have to conduct ourselves even more carefully as the parents of someone engaged in this kind of study – it has certainly made me think about what kind of qualities should be present in the mother of a scholar and has made me face up to where I lack in these.

Some might question why we would only put one child in private education and possibly not the rest. As my oldest child I believe that she will have a significant influence on the others, particularly on my two youngest girls who will be of an age to benefit from what she learns by the time she finishes high school and sixth form (the alimah course is seven years and the girls are 9 and 11 years younger than her). I also believe that I was still learning to parent with my oldest children, I made all of my mistakes with them and now that they are older those mistakes (shouting, screaming, being very impatient etc) are staring me in the face in the shape of their behaviour. I feel like Allah (SWT) has given me the chance to do things better with my younger children, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that I feel as if I messed up with my older children and I would do anything I can to put that right. So rather than worry and feel miserable, I want to give them a positive environment and keep trying to put right the things I could have done better in any way that I can.

I am so very grateful to Allah (SWT) for this opportunity for my daughter, after 3-4 years or worrying and two years solid of praying for her education and correct upbringing (tarbiyah) in every salah, I feel as if my prayer has been answered insh’Allah. Now it’s Little Man’s turn. I have left it a little late for training for the eleven plus exam that has to be passed for entry into the local boys grammar school. The exam isn’t until next September, but the competition is intense. So we will start planning and thinking for him, but in the meantime I am going to have to resort to the only measure I can really rely on and which has gotten me results: praying for him in every sujood until Allah (SWT) creates the best path for him and trusting that Allah (SWT) always does what is best for us at the right time.

Huzaifa (RA) said that, whenever the Prophet (Sallallahu `alaihi wasallam) happened to face any difficulty, he would at once resort to salat. (Ahmad, Abu Dawud)

Anas ibn Malik (RA) narrated that Allah's Messenger (Sallallahu `alaihi wasallam) said: “One who goes out to search for knowledge is (devoted) to the cause of Allah till he returns.” (Tirmidhi 220)

‘Abdullah ibn Abbas (RA) narrated that Allah's Messenger (Sallallahu `alaihi wasallam) said, “Acquiring knowledge in company for an hour in the night is better than spending the whole night in prayer.” (Tirmidhi 256)

Abu Hurairah (RA) narrated that... the Prophet (Sallallahu `alaihi wasallam) said, “... He who treads the path in search of knowledge, Allah will make that path easy, leading to Paradise for him and those persons who assemble in one of the houses of Allah (mosques), recite the Book of Allah and learn and teach the Qur’an (among themselves). There will descend upon them tranquillity, mercy will cover them, the angels will surround them and Allah will mention them in the presence of those near Him.” (Muslim 6518)

The superiority of the learned man over the devout is like that of the moon, on the night when it is full, over the rest of the stars. The learned are the heirs of the Prophets, and the Prophets leave neither dinar nor dirham, leaving only knowledge, and he who takes it takes an abundant portion.’” (Abu Daud 3634)

Picture of the Day: 28.10.14 - Keeping Calm and Carrying On

Yesterday poor Darling managed to drop and break a plate at my mum’s house and then trip and fall on the broken pieces and cut her hand in three places. One of the cuts was quite long and bled quite a bit. I felt so sorry for the little mite, but by now I’m used to a litany of cuts, bruises and grazes. In the past I have panicked and freaked out completely. Once when Gorgeous had a fit following a high temperature as a baby and once when Darling was a tiny baby and had a very nasty allergic reaction that spread across her body as I watched and scared the heck out of me. Both times I panicked and we ended up in the hospital.

This time, Shutterbug sister helped me clean it up and dress it and I stayed calm and went back to having my dinner with her in my lap. I did wonder if Shutterbug thought I was a bit too laid back and not fussed, but I could see she wasn't distressed, just curious and the bleeding stopped after a short while. Plus being allowed a lollipop helped her mood tremendously 

Tuesday 28 October 2014

Islamic New Year 1436

The Islamic New Year started a few days ago with the advent of the month of Muharram. I am not aware of any tradition of celebrating this; certainly until recently there didn't seem to be that much awareness of this annual milestone here. 

My husband came back from a lecture this weekend at his local masjid that he really enjoyed. The speaker used the start of the new year to encourage people to refresh their iman:

Abu Hurairah (raa) narrates:
Prophet Muhammad (saws): Refresh your Iman.
Companions (raa): How can we refresh our Iman, O Messenger of Allah?
Prophet Muhammad (saws): Repeat the kalima, la ilaha illa allah, very frequently and abundantly.

The speaker focussed on the need for each of us to take care to refrain from sins, even if we are unable to undertake in great good deeds, we can try to prevent our sins from piling up. The other thing he mentioned was to ensure that we do not neglect our fardh (obligatory) responsibilities (salah, fasting etc) even if we can’t manage much more.

Alhamdulillah, a useful message I thought and as good a time as any to refresh our iman.

Saturday 25 October 2014

Eid-al-Adha 2014/1435: Eid party

The weekend after Eid (which seems so long ago now), I decided to throw a one-dish Eid party.  I usually d this quite soon after Eid as we still have out decorations up.

This year I decided I had had enough of stuffing the kids full of sweets and instead of a sweet table we had a fruit table.

There was so much good food, Kooks made these sandwiches and mum-in-law made yummy pakora's,  My neighbour's bought dhai bhalley and samosa's

There was also tons of sweet treats for dessert

We stuck to pass-the-parcel for games with one for the adults and one for the kids.  My neighbour and Little Lady wrapped one each and added sweets and small gifts in between each layer which got everyone really excited once the games got going.

We found this ready-made piñata which we filled with sweets.  None of the kids really knew what this was and their mum's were equally confused.  They had a roaring time trying to smash this with a stick.  In the end we had over-filled it with sweets so it would not break and I had to rip it apart.  When the sweets showered out the kids reaction was something amazing to see.  Their mum's had a good laugh too.

This year we found the kids party bags fairly cheap from a supermarket.  I filled them with toys I had been throwing into a box through the year and leftover sweets from the piñata, pink and orange for the girls and yellow and green for the boys:

These little chiffon pouches were for the ladies to take home:

This year our Eid party was smaller and easier than previous years.  It really helped having people bring a dish and it was just right for what I could manage at the moment.

Thank you to my little sister Kooks for these photo's.


This lot?

Naaah...usually this is who saves the day for me.

My husband saw how annoyed I was at not being able to write or answer my e-mails and took me seriously.  After numerous trips to various people he has got my laptop working and has had something done to our creaky family PC to speed it up.

The people who looked at it could not restore the data from my old hard drive, but I am holding onto it until I get the chance to get someone a bit more heavy-weight to look at it.  In the meantime, I am properly back online!

Monday 13 October 2014

Baby at 40 Days: Prayer and Hard Work

Alhamdulillah, I think this has been one of the busiest times of my life. Fasionista’s baby, Kooky’s wedding, my little one being born making me a mum of five, with two Eid’s and Ramadan in between and Little Lady starting high school and then changing high school within half a term. It’s also our turn to host the local weekly ladies Islamic circle for a few weeks and now mum-in-law is preparing to go back to Pakistan. So of course I thought this was a good time to throw an Eid party.

I spent the first few days after having Baby feeling very overwhelmed and wondering how an earth I’m going to manage. I asked hubby for more help and mum-in-law pitched in and slowly I am starting to get a routine going. There are still days when I wonder what an earth I have been doing all day and where I make the best of intentions do something productive, but instead barely get through the day with everyone fed and the chores done.

Last week baby turned 40 days, which in South Asian culture is a milestone. Traditionally women rest for the first 40 days and take care to stay warm, eat special, nutritious foods and rest properly. In Pakistan this often means bed rest and daily massages by the local midwife for those that can afford them. Not getting the rest and nutrition is attributed by a lot of women to health problems later in life. I think I managed about three days of rest before I got super busy, with my mum telling me to rest or that I’ll face the consequences when I’m older (I have no idea if this attribution is accurate or not, but after worrying about it for a couple of days, decided there’s nothing I can do now).

Anyway, the 40 day milestone meant that I could end my bed rest (yeah right) and that I could start praying again (there is a really useful section in the book Heavenly Ornaments by Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi (RA) from page 69 which details when to start praying after having a baby). This has presented the challenge of trying to pray in between meals, guests, chores and constantly feeding a new born, particularly when the baby is crying and it’s prayer time. On the other hand the routine of prayer has helped to establish a routine once again for our family life – waking times, meal times, the times at which we go out and the babys nursing times. For instance one night I waited until the baby would go sleep so that I could pray esha (the night prayer). She sleeps with me and every time I got up she would cry, so it was 1am before I could pray and she still woke up and howled. So now I pray esha at the starting time when everyone is still up and someone can look after her while I pray, this means dinner is slightly later, but at least I am not going crazy.

Being able to pray again, has also given me a big boost and helped me to stay positive when it all feels too much. These conversations with Allah (SWT) are such a comfort and provide so much peace.

On the day I ended up praying at 1am, I got a little angry and upset, I was so exhausted I cried and asked Allah (SWT) to help me to be a good mother and wife. I found myself getting angry at my husband and feeling guilty at not behaving in a more grateful way. The conversation with Allah (SWT) helped to calm me and make me see my situation not just as hard work but as a massive opportunity. I reminded myself that each of my children are a chance to send people into the world that could change the world and serve and benefit everyone around them – each of them is born with a purpose to serve Allah (SWT) and do the work he commands and it fills me with awe to wonder what path Allah (SWT) has laid out for my children and what strengths and qualities he has sent them forth with to discover and grow.

When I take that attitude, parenting is still hard work, but instead of a chore or challenge it becomes an adventure and a privilege. Then the long days, late nights, early mornings and the hours spent caring for everyone become an investment in our future and akhirah (next life). Taking this attitude is making the days easier for me and helping bring the pleasure back into life. It’s also helping me to accept that I won’t be doing most of the other things I wanted to for now and that that is okay.

Friday 10 October 2014

Thinking About How to Spend your Eidhi?

We just celebrated a wonderful Eid-al-Adha Alhamdulillah. But at the back of my mind was the suffering and hardship so many Muslims are going through. It was such a short time ago that we were incensed and upset at the bombardment of Gaza , so how can we put to the back of our mind that people are still suffering so much and enjoy our celebrations?

I felt guilty and selfish for all of the blessings I could enjoy whilst my brothers and sisters had to do without. In the end my kids showed me the way. All three of the older ones donated all of their Eid money to a collection for the rebuilding of Gaza. It would have ended up sitting in their money boxes, then getting lost when they insisted on counting it, or getting spent on sweets. This way it actually gets used for a positive purpose.

If you'd like to donate some of your Eid money, the following charities are a good place to start:

As well as those from Palestine, our brothers and sisters from around the world who are facing hardship including those in Pakistan, Burma, Iraq and Syria deserve to be remembered by us in our times of comfort and ease.

Eid-al-Adha 2014/1435: Day 2

After a quiet first day of Eid mostly spnt in the kitchen, day two was easy and boisterous.  We dressed up and headed to my mum's for Eid.  

My mum's delicious Eid lunch is my food highlight of the year and this year I was determined to enjoy it for a number of reasons. Mum isn't getting any younger and is finding it harder and harder to cook for up to 30 people each Eid, so we have decided in future I, my sisters and my lovely sister-in-law will split the cooking between us and all bring something to the table. 

Also, all of the running around after five children like a headless chicken means I seem to have lost a bit of weight (my Eid clothes didn't fit two weeks earlier), so I felt entitled to treat myself.

We spent the day playing with the babies (or in my case lots of time spent nursing the baby), taking pictures and keeping mum and mum-in-law company. The kids ate way too much sweets and were busy stashing their eidhi (eid money), mainly in different pockets of my handbag.

Everyone's outfits were gorgeous:

We spent the evening at my favourite Uncle's house, where we were well-fed again, with someone having the bright idea of serving chocolate cake for desert - a very nice way to end the day

Eid-al-Adha 2014/1435: Day 1

Usually we wait for the kids to go sleep before we put decorations up during the night, but being so sleep deprived I didn't fancy staying up so late and let the kids join in this time.  It turned out to be a great idea, they had a blast and we got our decorations up at a sensible time.

Darling was super-excited by all of the balloons:

We made this balloon arch together.  Good job I got this picture as it didn't stay up for long.  Hubby managed to secure it above the book shelf afterwards instead.

I didn't have the time or capacity to make colour-coordinated decorations this Eid, so was grateful for ones I had made in the past like this banner and the frame below:

While I and the boys blew up balloons for Darling to go crazy over, Little Lady went next door to get her henna done by my neighbour.

Eid morning started as always for me in with something sweet for everyone's breakfast.  Sweet, milky vermicelli (sevaiya) for the adults and fairy cakes for everyone.  I didn't make these last Eid because I was too pregnant and useless and the kids were adamant they had to have them this Eid.  It's a special Eid tradition for me and Little Lady to make these for everyone before the boys wake up.

Fashionista bought this cute vest for Baby:

Baby and Darling's Eid dresses were a gift from my mum, the one at the front is tiny.

This was my outfit which mum-in-law bought from Pakistan before Ramadan.  It didn't fit me last Eid, so came in handy this time round.

My parents were celebrating Eid a day later as their local masjid was doing so, so I invited them to mine for dinner.  It was nice and intimate and very laid back.  I made pilau rice, lamb korma, chicken curry, channa chaat, roast chicken and potatoes, raita, mint chutney and salad.

It was a nice, gentle Eid which was what I needed with such a little baby

Monday 6 October 2014

Eid-al-Adha 2014/1435: Eid Mubarak

Eid Mubarak everyone.  Taqabbal Allahu Minna Wa Minkum (May Allah accept it from you and us).

I hope everyone had a happy, peaceful and blessed Eid insh'Allah.  

Hajj Mubarak to those lucky enough to be invited by Allah (SWT) to His sacred house this year.  I hope your dua's are accepted and that you attain a complete and accepted hajj.

I'm still trying to find a solution to my dead laptop, so will get back to eating yummy food and enjoying the company of loved ones, until I can work out where to blog from.  Pics to follow of the feasting, dressing up and posing (by the babies of course).