Wednesday 9 December 2015

Product Review: Halal Toiletries Range by Tamese and Jackson

I was recently sent some products to review by Tamese and Jackson, a British Company that has developed a range of halal toiletries free from alcohol, pork and other animal based ingredients.  In additon it is free from GMO's (genetically modified organisms), parabens and does not test on animals.

The website outlines what halal means, but I liked that the brand also suggests why halal may be of wider benefit than only Muslims:

Halal however is not exclusively for Muslims. Halal refers to goods or services permissible under Islamic law but which are designed for health, safety and benefit to all regardless of age, religion or culture.

The three products I was sent to review were:

The shampoo from the Lime and Reyhan range
The handwash from the Blue Orchid range
The body lotion from the Mint Noire range.
The first thing I noticed about the products was the pleasing designs on the bottles.  I love anything inspired by Islamic prints and patterns, so this immediately caught my eye.  I also like simple apothecary style packaging and this reminded me a little of that.

I have tried so many products over the years for my hair and found very litle that works for my hair, whih gets very dried out.  Because of this I tend to stick to the few things which do help me to manage it and keep it from going too frizzy.

The scent of the shampoo was a nice balance of lime and ginger, giving it a refreshing smell.

On trying the shampoo, I found that it dried my hair a little, which is common for most shampoo's I have tried.  Because of this I didn't feel that this was the right shampoo for me.  My daughter tried that shampoo and wasn't as keen on the smell (it's quite grown up), but found the shampoo suited her hair which tends to be slightly greasier, leaving it feeling silky and not dry.

The hand wash I was given to try is from the blue orchid with papaya extract range.  The first thing I noticed about the hand wash was it's smell.  Of the three products, it immediately drew me in with its feminine and slightly sweet smell, I really loved the fragrance.

On use, the hand wash lathered up nicely and a small amount was enough.  I didn't find it drying, which is important considering the amount of hand washing I do with nappies, trips to the toilet with my three-year old, making wudhu and who knows what else.  Of the three products this was my favourite and the one I would most likely buy and use.

The body lotion I tried was from the Mint Noire range.  The scent of this is very grown up and slightly masculine.  I wasn't sure on first appplication how I felt about it.  

The dispensing nozzle on the top gave me the exact amount I wanted (I needed a small squirt only) and the cream was rich in texture.  It took a few seconds of massaging in to get the cream to sink in, but left my skin feeling comfortable and was not greasy.

The thing that surprised me was the smell.  After a little while the spicy and invigorating fragrance really grew on me and felt quite refreshing.  

It's great to see products that cater for halal requirements, so this is something that I would definitely support, but I would only buy the products if they did the job for me and I was quite happy with these.

Tamese and Jackson's products are available at Tesco (online here) and through their website here.  You can aso find out more through their Facebook site here.

Tuesday 8 December 2015

Mama Feeling Fierce: Hijab Fashionista’s and Role Model’s

One thing I love about my relationship about Little Lady is that we have great conversations. These are mainly about books, films, family, school, food and more books. But sometimes they are just about life and our perspective on things.

One recent such conversation came about because she had been watching lots of hijab tutorials. I had asked her to take these with a pinch of salt and with the reminder that modesty comes before fashion and that whatever she wears she must ask herself if Allah (SWT) would be please with her and whether it was fit to pray in. After watching these tutorials on YouTube for a few days, she came marching in one day and announced she was a bit fed up of them all. The thing that was bothering her was the enormous amount of make-up all of the YouTubers she was watching wore. She just wanted to see what they looked like without make-up and in ordinary clothes – i.e. somebody that she could relate to.

That was it, my moment right there. All my concerns regarding the hijab bloggers and the potential to influence her that were on my mind came to the fore. You couldn’t shut me up after that. I did try to be benevolent. I did explain that they wore so much make-up because of the camera’s and because if you don’t wear make-up you look worse than normal on video rather than normal. But that was barely an aside. I explained to her that we all have to find the thing that we are passionate about and that becomes are purpose in life and the medium through which we try to help others. For some this is hijab blogging and helping others to learn how to wear hijab and be modest without feeling frumpy.

I wanted to move the discussion away from hijab bloggers (that’s one for another day!). I asked her to think about whether the most important thing about a woman should be the way she looks, her make-up and what she wears. I asked her to think about what are the things that are most valuable in us. I wanted to talk about some of the amazing women who have inspired me and left me awed because of their compassion, ability, talent and intelligence. I suggested also that some of these women are beautiful in a way that defies stereotypical ideas of beauty.

One example I gave her was of the Indian author and activist Arundhati Roy, I love the passion and lucidity found in her writing (The God of Small Things is a must read) and the fact that she stands up for some of the most vulnerable people in her country in the face of immense criticism and hostility. Her beauty shines through her writing and work. Saying that she is naturally and effortlessly beautiful.

We talked about Angelina Jolie – people might criticise me because she is not Muslim or because of her job, but I remember when she went to Pakistan she dressed modestly and covered her hair out of respect. A few years later (2010) she spoke up to ask people to donate to Pakistan following an earthquake and severe flooding at a time when I recall some influential people were coming out to say these people don’t deserve help and there was talk of donor fatigue (this was at the same time as the devastating Haiti earthquake). She has spoken assertively at UN assemblies about the humanitarian and refugee crisis resulting from the war in Syria , going back again to try to hold the organisation to account and ask why nothing has changed. I like that she makes films about things that matter: the Bosnian war, Japanese POW’s. Again naturally and effortlessly beautiful without six inches of make-up and fake bits.

I explained to Little Lady that she was beautiful but that that was a gift not an achievement to be proud of. I reminded her that as Muslimah’s we need to focus on improving our character more than our looks. Allah (SWT) has done that work for us, he has made us in the best form and we look exactly as He wants us to. But he also made us weak:

Allah would make the burden light for you, for man was created weak. ~ Quran (4:8)

and when we are held to account it is our character that will weigh heaviest on our scales – so what should we be putting our effort into and how?

The best way to improve ourselves I believe is through service to others. The suffering of others puts our lives in context and makes us grateful. Finding ways to help others turns us into problem-solvers and people who take action and make a difference. Fake eyelashes, finding just the right shade of lipstick and having the handbag that all of the other fashionista’s have don’t generally improve your character and make a difference.

I asked her to think about what legacy she wanted to leave for the world – whether as a teacher, scholar, artist, journalist or lawyer (all things she is interested in), how will she use the path she chooses to serve others and please Allah (SWT)? I reminded her we needed to think big – not about hijab and make-up, those were small fry, they were so superficial they weren’t even part of the conversation any more, we should be done with those, we know where we stand and what our obligations are regarding modesty and covering our hijab. We had to move on and aim higher and for greater things than that.

I loved speaking to her about Rabia al-Adawiyya (RA), Rabia of Basra was not beautiful. She was poor, she was a slave and therefore lacked status. Her love for her Creator was so powerful it consumed and overtook everything else for her. Despite her lack of beauty, status and wealth she is admired and remembered centuries later for her asceticism and spiritual devotion, an amazing legacy in a time where the world seems to value money and beauty above anything else.

I hope I inspired her, I hope that I put the seed of a thought in her that takes her away finding the prettiest hijab style to finding the best way to use her strengths to fight for and serve others.

Indeed, the Muslim men and Muslim women, the believing men and believing women, the obedient men and obedient women, the truthful men and truthful women, the patient men and patient women, the humble men and humble women, the charitable men and charitable women, the fasting men and fasting women, the men who guard their private parts and the women who do so, and the men who remember Allah often and the women who do so - for them Allah has prepared forgiveness and a great reward. ~ Quran (33:35)

"...I will not suffer the work of any worker among you to be lost whether male or female, the one of you being from the other..."(Holy Qur’an, 3:195) .

“My value as a woman is not measured by the size of my waist or the number of men who like me. My worth as a human being is measured on a higher scale: a scale of righteousness and piety. And my purpose in life-despite what fashion magazines say-is something more sublime than just looking good for men.” ~ Yasmin Mogahed, Reclaim Your Heart: Personal Insights on Breaking Free from Life's Shackles

"I've got two daughters who will have to make their way in this skinny-obsessed world, and it worries me, because I don't want them to be empty-headed, self-obsessed, emaciated clones; I'd rather they were independent, interesting, idealistic, kind, opinionated, original, funny a thousand things, before 'thin'." ~ J K Rowling (source)

Wednesday 2 December 2015

How Lucky Are You?

My word for this year was shukr or gratitude, but I think it would be a pretty good word for life. Every now and again something happens or we hear about something that puts our life in perspective. Until then we get caught up in our anxieties, the little pity-parties that go on in our head and our first world problems and forget what the reality for most of the world is.

An experience in my life that really changed me happened during a visit to my grandparents in Pakistan when I was 18. I was in the first year of university and loved it. On my travels around my grandparents village I happened upon a young woman about my age and we got talking. She asked me what I did and on learning that I was a student, she asked how I could afford it. I told her that I didn’t have to pay any university fees and I received a small grant to cover my book and travel costs (this was 1997, just before the grants ended and the fees came in). She told me she really wanted to study but her parents couldn’t afford it so she had to stop. My heart sunk. I never forgot her. Free education and access to higher education is one thing we take massively for granted. That young woman has remained a teacher to me through out my life, a reminder and a lesson about how much we truly have and how little to complain about.

When my children complain about schools I explain to them about the girls stolen by Boko Haram and the schools shut down by the Taliban. I remind them that in our grandparents time girls were not sent to school and that my mum could not read or write and that it left her vulnerable and isolated, unable to fill in forms or read letters from her far away family until we were old enough to do it for her. My kids know better than to get me started on school…

Another experience that I have written about before was when I was pregnant with my third child and commuting every day into the city for my job. I was as nauseous as anything and feeling very sorry for myself, comparing myself to my sister-in-law in Pakistan who was expecting her first baby and resting with low-blood pressure. That morning I picked up a newspaper on the train and read an article about pregnant women in South Africa who had HIV or AIDS and were trying to access medication to prevent it from passing to their babies. One of the women went into labour and vomited her medication and could not get more in time. After the baby was born she had to wait to find out if her child was affected. This in a time where we have free health care, free medication for pregnant women and access to regular health checks.

When Little Man was born I remember my grandmother congratulating me on the birth of my son and my life. It seemed strange at the time but we forget how pregnancy and labour are still life-threatening experiences in much of the world. My maternal grandmother died giving birth with the baby dying a few days later, leaving my mum to spend a lifetime haunted by the loss.

All of these things, but certainly the article I read when I was pregnant, have made it very clear to me that I am amongst the most fortunate people in the world and I have no right to be ungrateful. That Allah (SWT) has blessed me with every comfort and every help. What right do we have to be ungrateful? How can we ever be grateful enough? The fact that we have so much when others have so little, is there a reason behind this? A responsibility that comes with it?

“Therefore remember Me (by praying, glorifying). I will remember you, and be grateful to Me (for My countless favours on you) and never be ungrateful to Me” ~ Quran 2:152

“And surely, We gave you authority on the earth and appointed for you therein provisions (for your life). Little thanks do you give” ~ Quran 7:10

Just to put what we have in context:
  • Just 2% of world have indoor toilets – this was the statistic that stopped me in my tracks, that was the really big reality check about the state of the world today for me.
  • The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that about 795 million people of the 7.3 billion people in the world, or 1 in 9, were suffering from chronic undernourishment in 2014-2015 (source)

  • According to UNICEF, 22,000 children die each day due to poverty. And they “die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world (source).
  • Under-nutrition (including fetal growth restriction, stunting and wasting) is a cause of 3.1 million child deaths annually or 45% of all child deaths in 2011 (source)
  • The number of children in the world is 2.2 billion, the number in poverty is 1 billion (every second child) and the number not in school is 121 million (source).
  • Wars, conflict and persecution have forced more people than at any other time since records began to flee their homes and seek refuge and safety elsewhere (source).  War, violence and persecution left one in every 122 humans on the planet a refugee, internally displaced or seeking asylum at the end of 2014 (source) - that's before the refugees leaving Syria throughout 2015 were even counted.
  • 1.2 billion people lack access to clean water; 2.4 billion live without decent sanitation; and 4 billion without waste-water disposal (source)
  • As of 2015 (2011 statistics), the World Bank has estimated that there were just over 1 billion poor people in developing countries who live on $1.25 a day or less (source).
  • 1.6 billion people — a quarter of humanity — live without electricity (source)
The numbers make you think. They take you our of what you think and feel and put some perspective around what is real out there. Then it makes you think about where you stand in this picture. The luckiest 2%? The luckiest 1%, the luckiest one million in the world out of the over 6 billion souls on this planet? Each one as precious and important as us. Each one deserving of us much as us, but so many tested by poverty, lack of resources and opportunities and war.

How can we stop our ungrateful thoughts and behaviours dead in their tracks?

How can we show our gratitude?

Why do we have so much when others have so little?

What are we going to do with what we have been blessed with?

“If you tried to number Allah’s blessings, you could never count them.” ~ Quran 16:18

“If you are grateful, I will certainly give you increase.” ~ Quran 14:7

It was narrated that ‘Aishah said: When the Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) prayed, he would stand for so long that his feet became swollen. ‘Aishah said: O Messenger of Allah, are you doing this when Allah has forgiven your past and future sins? He said: “O ‘Aishah, should I not be a thankful slave?” ~ Narrated by al-Bukhari and Muslim.
Ibn al-Qayyim (may Allah have mercy on him) said: "Gratitude may be in the heart, in submission and humility; on the tongue, in praise and acknowledgement; and in the physical faculties, by means of obedience and submission." ~ Madaarij al-Saalikeen (2/246)

Picture of the Day: 02.12.15 - Lunch Invite, Pakistani Chinese and Octo-Baby

I got a lunch invite the day before yesterday from the a local sister.  I know her because our husband's are active at the masjid and a group of us have become friends.  Because I am at work, I miss the weekly sisters circle they all attend and have been missing seeing them.  When I got the invite I requested half the day off for today and was out of the door at midday.

I wore my outfit from Eid al Adha, the tunic below with straight black silky trousers which was simple and comfortable.  I have gotten so much wear out of this outfit and always feel smart in it.  I paired it with red bangles and solitaire earrings and pendant (not real diamonds unfortunately, but luckily I don't mind).

It was lovely to see my friends and I felt so much love and affection from them all alhamdulillah. The sister who invited us is known for her amazing cooking and went for a Chinese theme for all of her food. I have always struggled with Chinese food because most places are not halal and the veg options are sometimes limited (although a few halal Chinese places seemed to have opened up near us recently). I once went to a work lunch at a Chinese restaurant near my office and the only thing that wasn't cooked with the meat was the plain rice, so I had to have that on its own.

The Pakistani version of Chinese is something else though - a fusion of Chinese and Pakistani food that is what we call chatpatta (I explain what that is here), absolutely delicious.  The sister made a number of dishes and each one was delicious.

I have these pictures to prove I ate, but I have no idea what I ate because I spent the whole of lunch wrestling with Darling and Baby.  Darling wanted water but I knew she would spill it or Baby would spill it for her all over the cloth spread out or right in someones lap.  So we spent the whole of lunch with her crying for water, lying down and saying she wanted to sleep and then getting up and asking for my food and ignoring hers.  She lay down and pushed Baby behind me with her feet to give herself more space.  Obviously Baby gives as good as she gets and tried to climb on top of her.

Holding onto Baby is like holding onto a demented and very strong octopus.  At home we have the type of seat you tie onto a chair and we belt her in and have a tray at the front to put her food in (this one).  I probably should have taken it with me.  She spent the whole of lunch kicking both me and Darling and I spent the whole time trying to hold onto her so that she couldn't kick other people around us, which made her angry enough to howl.  I remember the days I used to eat in peace and other people's children used to act like little barbarians.

Everything we did eat was delicious and it has totally inspired me to learn some "Pakistani Chinese" dishes.  Also, next time I think I will feed the babies first and take the belted seat along with me anyway.

Tuesday 1 December 2015

Keeping on Going: Little Man and Hifz

Little Man and I are having a daily moan-fest at the moment. He wakes up and moans at me, I listen and try not to get annoyed. I come home from work and he moans at me a bit more, I’m a bit more wake at this point (marginally) and listen and try to be encouraging.

He isn’t usually a whingy child but at the moment he is enrolled in before school Quran hifz (memorisation) class. This means he has to go to bed a bit earlier so he can wake earlier. At this point we have been waking him up for fajr (dawn) prayer for about a year and then letting him go back to bed for a while. After about three months of hifz class he is still moaning that “It’s not fair”, “I hate it” and “I’m tired”. The fact that Gorgeous isn’t going to the class yet is another sore point and we had to spend a few weeks calming him down when he was getting really angry with his little brother over seemingly trivial things.

Usually I make my children try something at least once before I let them write it off completely. This has been the exception and we have kept on going through the whinging, despite feeling sorry for him at times. We went through something similar with Little Lady a few years ago when she used to do sports before school and was adamant she hated it, hated the boys who wouldn’t pass the ball to her and didn’t see the point. I asked her to persist for the rest of the term because I had paid and at least she could say she gave it a go and was sure she didn’t enjoy it. It turned out she loved sports, got very good at being assertive about knocking boys out of the way to get the ball and ended up playing for her primary school girls football team (the “Lightning Bolts”), who were pretty terrible but had sooo much fun. I’m happy she still likes sports as I think this is something that will benefit her for life.

It’s the same for Little Man, I firmly believe that memorising the Quran , or even some of it, will bring comfort and guidance to him for the rest of his life. I know as a child I did not enjoy studying Quran and would do anything to get out of it. As an adult I am grateful for what I learned and the little I memorised, my only regret would be to not have done more as a child.

My youngest brother-in-law has memorised the whole Quran mash’Allah, and I remember him as a child trying to get out of lessons and getting in big trouble with his madrassah teacher for it. As an adult his mum is so grateful for the fact that one of her sons is a hafiz (person who has memorised Quran). A neighbour of mine was telling me how her mother was gentle by nature but had to be tough with her youngest son to get him to complete his memorisation and felt sorry for him because of the discipline it took. As an adult he is grateful to his mother for making him stick to his studies and puts his achievement down to her.

So for now, despite the moaning, the early mornings, the tears, I am encouraging him to stick with it. I think he will find a point where it no longer feels like a chore and becomes an achievement. At the same time as trying to be firm and answering his complaints without getting annoyed, I am trying to explain why we are doing what we are doing. At the same time as being a sounding board for him to absorb some of his annoyance and let him vent a little, we are continually reminding about the benefits of memorisation.

It’s making me understand a little, why the rewards and benefits of memorising the Quran are not just for the memoriser but also the people around them, because it requires everyone involved to have discipline and to be motivated to make it happen.

It is narrated from Hadhrat Abdullah ibn Amr (RA) that Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alaihi wasallam) said: Allah will say to a Hafiz (upon his death and on the day of Qiyaamat) 'Recite the Quran and (upon reciting each Verse) climb (a stage in Jannah) and continue reciting as you used to in the world as your abode in Jannah is upon the last verse you recite.' (Mishkaat vol.1 pg.186; Me'raaj)

“Mu'aadh al-Juhani narrates that Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alaihi wasallam) said, 'Whosoever recites the Quran and practices upon its injunctions, the reciter's parents will be given a crown on the day of Qiyaamat. The brightness of that crown will be more intense than the brightness of the sun in your actual house.' Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alaihi wasallam) further said, 'What do you think will be given to the Hafiz (reciter) of the Quran himself?'” (Mishkaat Vol I.)

“Hadrat Abu Hurairah (RA) says: In the house where the Quran is read, the household members increase, virtues and blessings multiply, angels descend upon the house and Shaytaan quits the home.” (Fazail-e-Quran)

A person who memorized the Quran, adhered to that which is permissible, and refrained from that which is forbidden, Allaah will admit him to Paradise and allow him to intercede for ten people of his family, all of whom deserved the fire." (Tirmidhi)

Wednesday 25 November 2015

International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

Today is the United Nation's International Day for the Elimination of Violence against WomenThe Day is to raise awareness and announce the start of 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, with a focus on strategies to prevent violence against women and girls. The UN's website states that:

35% of women and girls globally experience some form of physical and or sexual violence in their lifetime

As a woman and a mother, that is a frightening and depressing statistic.  You would think that technology, education and globalism would have changed the world enough that people understand that it is just not acceptable to abuse a woman.

As a mother I am very clear with my children that it is never okay to hit a women or to accept being hit as a woman.  I support that with the guidance from my faith (from the Quran and the sayings of our beloved Prophet PBUH) that says:

O ye who believe! Ye are forbidden to inherit women against their will. Nor should ye treat them with harshness, that ye may Take away part of their dower ye have given them,-except where they have been guilty of open lewdness; on the contrary live with them on a footing of kindness and equity. If ye take a dislike to them it may be that ye dislike a thing, and Allah brings about through it a great deal of good. - Quran (4:19)

Retain them [women] in kindness or release them in kindness. But do not retain them to their hurt so that you transgress (the limits). If anyone does that he wrongs his own soul. Do not take God’s instructions as a jest“ (Qur’an 2:231).

“The Believers, men and women, are protectors one of another: they enjoin what is just, and forbid what is evil: they observe regular prayers, practise regular charity, and obey Allah and His Messenger. On them will Allah pour His mercy: for Allah is Exalted in power, Wise.” (Qur’an, 9:71).

"The most perfect of the believers in faith are the best of them in morals. And the best among them are those who are best to their wives." [Narrated in Mosnad Ahmad, #7354, and Al-Tirmidhi, #1162]

A companion asked the Prophet of God what is the right of a wife over her husband?’ He said, "That you feed her when you eat and clothe her when you clothe yourself and do not strike her face. Do not malign her and do not keep apart from her, except in the house." (Abu Dawud).

In his last sermon Prophet Muhammad, peace be on him, cautioned the believing men to "be kind to women-you have rights over your wives, and they have rights over you." He also said, "Treat your women well, and be kind to them, for they are your partners and committed helpers."

That is not to say that Muslim's always act on Islam as they should or that violence against women is any less a problem for Muslims.  I think that's why its important for us all to be clear on our stance on it and for brothers to be clear in their position, as the white ribbons pledge says:

To "pledge to never commit, condone, or remain silent about violence towards women"

I love the Muslims for White Ribbon campaign here that offers resources and a khutbah (Friday sermon) campaign to help promote the issue.

image source (original infographic here in large size)

Thursday 19 November 2015

Bookshelf Therapy

I have a thorough tidy up of our bookshelf every few months and sort through all the books that are in the wrong place and all of the random junk that accumulates on the shelves.  We are planning a party for the weekend, so that was a good excuse as any to tackle the latest mess.

I recently came across this picture and was intrigued.  I love order and neatness, I am very visual so I love things in colour order to.  The way this book shelf had been arranged really appealed to me.  I could never do this to my bookshelf though, how would I ever find anything again?

I roped the kids in and spent about two hours pulling all of the books out, cleaning the shelves and taking out the ones I knew I wouldn't read again.  

I have held on to my university books for the last fifteen years with the intention that I would study for my masters at some point.  I figured that the books would be outdated now as there are newer editions and that if I do study further, pretty much everything I need I could find online.  I ended up filling three big bags of books to donate and feeling lighter for it.

It's funny, with giving away that many books, you'd think I would suddenly have lots more space.  But when I tried to put them all back in, I gave the kids two more of my shelves for their books and still couldn't fit all of their books in without most of the shelves holding books two deep. 

I tend to group my books my theme: self-help, cookery, parenting, politics, sci-fi next to horror, even books from the same country go next to each other, like the Dewey Decimal System used in Libraries but more intuitive rather than by exact categories (yes I know I am a geek and proud of it).

By the time I finished the kids had disappeared and I had hardly noticed as I obsessed over which book to put next to which, I was covered in dust and I realised it was way too late for everyone's bed times.

I am so happy with my (comparatively) neat and tidy shelves that I want to put a big fence up in front of them with a guard dog.  Failing that I have been watching it like a hawk and making whoever is nearby put back whichever books Baby has just pulled out before running off.

Feels so good to have neat bookshelves.

A book is a dream that you hold in your hand. –Neil Gaiman

"The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go." ― Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!

"Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home." ― Anna Quindlen, How Reading Changed My Life

"Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counsellors, and the most patient of teachers." -- Charles William Eliot

"The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man. Nothing else that he builds ever lasts. Monuments fall; nations perish; civilizations grow old and die out; and, after an era of darkness, new races build others. But in the world of books are volumes that have seen this happen again and again, and yet live on, still young, still as fresh as the day they were written, still telling men's hearts of the hearts of men centuries dead." -- Clarence Shepard Day

Sunday 15 November 2015

Yearning for Peace

There are no words for what happened in Paris this weekend, I cannot imagine the terror those poor people went through.  I have been mulling over the attacks and the multiple responses the last 24 hours or so: the anger, the fear, those trying to rise above it and reach out on all sides.  I am an innate optimist, but with the events of recent years, I sometimes find it harder and harder to be true to my optimistic self.  Yet it seems even in times like these humanity prevails.  There is that spark of goodness in people that pushes through: the Parisians in the wake of the attacks that immediately offered their homes to strangers to stay the night, the non-Muslims that took the time to remind people that this is not Islam and that most of us are just the same as anyone else.

Then this morning it occurred to me that London had already been through this.  London experienced its own terrorist attacks in 2007, I was on maternity leave at the time and due to go back to work in the City the following week.  I remember being  so worried that day because one of the bombs went off near my sisters university (SOAS in Russell Square) and one went off at Edgeware Road where my brother worked at the time.  We accounted for my sister and spent hours trying to confirm my brother was ok, to find that he had taken the day off that day and been in bed asleep.

I remember feeling heart broken that this had come to the city I love and call home and hurt so many people (52 died that day and over 700 were injured).  I also remember being scared about going back to work the following week and travelling on public transport and how people would react to me.  

London can sometimes feel like a hard-hearted and cold city, where people have no time for each other.  But I remember that following week when people were back at work, they harnessed what we call the "blitz spirit" and just carried on.  I also remember that people that week smiled at me and offered me their seat, something you normally wouldn't even get in London if you were pregnant.  I remember feeling proud of my city and more than a tad relieved.

I hope human kindness and understanding prevails again.  I pray that we all show understanding towards each other and don't let these events divide us.  

For those that think that this terror is part of Islam, I would like to join my voice to the throng of voices saying this is not who we are, this is not what we believe, this is not our Islam.  The Muslim world has had its own share of terror and suffering from both the war on terror and the antics of terrorist groups.  Figures compiled earlier this year (by the Physicians for Social Responsibility and by Physicians for Global Survival and International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War) put the total number of civilian casualties from US-led counter-terrorism interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan at between 1.2 and 3 million dead. The New York Times puts the death toll in Syria at more than 200,000 people having been killed in the four-and-a-half-year Syrian civil war, with four million fleeing the country leading to a refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe.  I still can't forget the children that died in the school shooting in Peshawar last year that killed 145 mainly children - they looked just like my young cousins and nephews in Pakistan and I still think of what their mothers must be going through.

Muslims Around The World Rally Against Extremist Antics Of Islamic State by Lori Hinnant in the Huffington Post

Muslims around the world condemn terrorism after the Paris attacks by Heather Timmons for Quartz

Paris terror: Muslim leaders around the world condemn 'heinous' attacks by Rose Troup Buchanan for the Independent

Paris attack: As a Muslim I'm disgusted how Isis can carry out this violence and claim to represent my faith by Miqdaad Versi for the Independent

What Muslims Are Saying About The Paris Attacks by Haytham Soliman, Muhammad Wajid Akhter and Hena Zuberi for Muslim Matters

Je Suis Muslim by Hamid Dabashi for AlJazeera

Muslims Around The World Condemn Paris Attacks Claimed By ISIS by Jack Jenkin for Think Progress.

Muslims Globally Are Condemning Islamophobia By Tweeting Support For Paris With “I Am A Muslim” - Andre Borges for Buzzfeed

I thought this talk by Sheikh Hanza Yusuf about ISIS and how they are far removed from Islam brought some real light to the matter:

“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible but in the end, they always fall – think of it – always" - Mahatma Ghandi

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.

Friday 13 November 2015

World Kindness Day 2015: Small Actions and Big Ripples

Today is World Kindness Day. I do find that there seems to be a day for everything whether serious, frivolous or just commercial, but this is one that I really like. When I look at the world today, I think there cannot be too much kindness and perhaps it would go a way towards solving a few of our problems too.

For Muslim's kindness is part of good character and good behaviour.  The first we are told will weigh heavier on our scales when we account before our Creator than anything else.  The second comes under good deeds and actions which we are supposed to spend our lives performing:

Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Every act of kindness is a Sadaqa (charity)” (Bukhari, Muslim).

Kindness is sometimes associated with weakness, but sometimes the ripples of a small act can be so far-reaching as to be life-changing. An incident from my own childhood comes to mind. For a school trip, I had to take the bus and meet my class at the train station. I found that the bus driver would not take the £10 note my mum had given for the day. I started to panic, thinking that I would miss my trip and be left behind, the only child in school. A lady getting on behind me stepped up and told he driver not to worry and paid my (at the time) 20p fare for me. A small thing that anyone might have done but as the late Maya Angelou once said:

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

I went from feeling panic and embarrassment to relief and gratefulness. The lady who paid the fare probably never gave it a second thought, but what she did stayed with me. As an adult I resolved to pass the same kindness forward to anyone I came across who needed it – whether a bus fare, letting them jump the queue in front of me at the supermarket, offering my seat on the train or bus or offering money if they are slightly short to pay for their tea or coffee in the work canteen. Small things that take little effort, but small things that let people breathe a small sigh of relief, or help you to look at each other in a new light of understanding or create the opportunity for connection. In my case a small thing that I never forget and taught me to “pay it forward” when it came to kindness.

"And what will explain to you the path that is steep? It is: freeing the bondman; Or the giving of food in a day of privation, To the orphan with claims of relationship, Or to the indigent (down) in the dust. Then will he be of those who believe, and enjoin patience, (constancy, and self-restraint), and enjoin deeds of kindness and compassion." (Quran - 90:12-17)

"Those who are kind and considerate to Allah's creatures, Allah bestows His kindness and affection on them. Show kindness to the creatures on the earth so that Allah may be kind to you." (Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi).