Saturday 30 April 2016

Picture of the Day - 29.04.16: Weather Wonders

English people have a reputation for being slightly obsessed with the weather and always commenting on it.  This probably sounds super boring, but if you could see the weather we have had in the last few days you might think again.  

As a child, I use to hear my grandfather say "There are two things that you never know when they will change: women and the weather in Britain" - not sexist much then.  We have had two weeks of alternating snow, hail stones, bright sun, rain showers, blustery winds and thunder without any rain, and of course rainbows all over the place.  

The flowers in my garden look so pretty covered in raindrops:

The wind has blown all of the petals from the blossoms on my neighbours apple tree into our garden, it looks like a carpet of snow:

This morning hubby took us to a boot fair in the middle of a large ground, the grass was sharp with white frost and in between there were clusters of buttercups, which I absolutely love (even if my hands and feet were numb from cold):

So thats why we talk about the weather - it's unpredictable, fascinating and its effect on nature is so beautiful.  The forecast for the next few days suggests warmer weather, which I am looking forward to.

Tuesday 26 April 2016

Ramadan and Eid Planner 2016/1437


I have just published the updated Ramadan and EidPlanner for 2016/1437. This year it covers:
  • Clear 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
  • The beautiful and inspiring Ramadan Sermon of our beloved Prophet (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam)
  • Guidance to help you decided what you want to get out of Eid and how you can do that
  • A reading list of useful materials on Ramadan and Eid
  • Prompts to reflect on Ramadan after the month has ended so that you can retain some of the benefits of the blessed month
New additions include:
  • Ramadan Meal Planner’s with space to work out which ingredients you will need on which day
  • Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Adha Meal Planners, with space to plan ahead for snacks for guests as well as meals
  • Gift list for the two Eid’s including a budget column and checklist for gifts to be posted
  • Eid Card List for both Eid’s
  • 11 Ramadan Recipes – some of the most popular on 
This year the planner is a bumper 74 pages! I have tried to keep it fairly print friendly, with the exception of the hand painted watercolour cover pages – I could not resist!

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. 

You can click the link here or the image below to access.

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 insh’Allah.

Monday 25 April 2016

Post: Bead Therapy and Some New Bracelets

Sunday often turns into cleaning day in our house, with me trying to get the house clean and organised, cooking down for the next two days including packed lunches, laundry and uniforms to be uniforms ironed. I try to rope everyone in and alhamdulillah the kids are very helpful (even if Gorgeous’ idea of help can be counter-productive, picking something up and then putting it away by dropping it in a different part of the house isn’t very helpful)

I spent hours yesterday trying to get everything done and at about mid-day, I decided I could do no more. I gave the kids dire warnings about undoing all of my cleaning and then decided to treat myself to some quiet time and bead therapy. I spent a couple of hours a few weeks ago, sorting through my beads and getting rid of ones I knew I would not use. I could have done it quicker, but the sight of beads is usually enough to get Darling over to insist on “helping” and Baby trying to climb into the box and throw everything out or try and eat beads.

This time Darling was busy trying to boss her brothers (who she calls “my boys”) into changing the programme they were watching over for cartoons and baby was napping. I spent a lovely hour or two listening to TED talks and playing with beads, enjoying the texture and colour and testing how beads look together. I have been planning to make a few pieces to upgrade my accessories to go with my scarves.

This green and blue are lovely, the picture doesn't quite pick up the colour.  The white beads I have had for ages, I loved the smooth feel of them but couldn't decide on how to use them until now.

I struggled to find what I could pair these amber beads again, there were only a few and they are smooth and heavy, so I thought I would make them the centrepiece of these bracelets with white to set them off.  I haven't decided if I will keep these or re-make them into something else.

I adore anything green and I like to take inspiration for colour from nature, I don’t think you can go wrong with pairing colours that exist naturally: lavender with its grey-green leaves, the deep green of the leaves with a red rose, fields of corn against a blue sky.

So I paired brown beads with the green and used up some odds and ends that I had.  I love the oriental style of some of the beads.

I have been meaning to make a set of brown beads.  I used to have some which I wore to death for years until they started to break.  I plan to make a few more like the blue and brown below to wear as a stack and some with just mixed medium brown beads which I can wear as a separate set or with these.

Friday 22 April 2016

Picture of the Day: 22.04.16 - Pamper Session

I have been planning to have a pamper session with Little Lady for ages.  When my husband was away this evening, I thought it would be nice for us to spend some time together.  She helped me got the babies changed and into bed and the boys into their room.  Then once it looked like the coast was clear and it was safe to bring out the chocolate without Darling and Baby trying to fight us for it, we sneaked down and made ourselves a tray of treats.

We have both been eating sensibly, with me trying to lose weight and Little Lady trying to get into good habits. Little Lady has been a bit more disciplined than me and a real inspiration to me too (a bit like a personal coach or that little voice in your head that tells you not to eat another one). This being the case this was a treat for us with her eating very little of it and me eating the buttons, peanuts and some of the jellies. 

The products I pulled out to treat myself were:

Dr Organics Rose Otto Face Mask - I used to use face masks regularly years ago, but in recent years I could barely bring myself to use face cream.  In the last few months I have started taking better care of myself with supplements and skin care and have been keeping an eye out for a face mask I might like, so thought I would try this one.

I had to go and scare the boys after I put this on.  Then a little while later Little Lady felt the need to go and do the same, so they were not very impressed with us.
Tiana Organic Virgin Coconut Oil - My go to for very dry skin at the moment.  Sinks in leaving my skin soft.  I have been using this in place of a body lotion, especially as a treatment for my feet, by melting chunks in my hands, slathering loads on and putting socks on over it.

Body Shop Hemp Hand Protector - I found the Body Shop Hemp products many years ago when my skin was super dry during Ramadan.  I used the lip balm and later the Hand Protector and found them very, very hydrating.  The smell isn't great, but the product is really good.  I keep one on my bedside table and a smaller version in my desk at work.  I think this is probably a good product for men too because of the packaging and the non-girly smell, I once recommended this to a male colleague who was complaining about his very dry hands and he loved it.

Gosh Stardust Nail Lacquer in No. 629 (Milky Way) - I don't normally wear nail varnish and haven't done in years (since university when I wore black or my wedding), but in recent months I have started wearing this particular shade when I am not praying because it is fairly subtle, or my boys will ask how I can pray with nail varnish on (we have to make ablutions to pray and cannot wear nail varnish so that there is nothing between the water and our nails/skin, when you are on your period you don’t have to pray, so it's not an issue, but I don't feel the need to explain that to my boys yet).  The nail varnish makes me feel girly, lasts a few days and is light enough not to draw too much attention or look bad if it chips.  I can't find this exact colour either on Amazon or the Superdrug’s website, the nearest I could find was Gosh Stardust 628, I'm not sure how different the colour is.

I really enjoyed our me time and hope to make it a regular thing.

Wednesday 20 April 2016

My Mother-in-Laws Pakora Recipe

I mentioned my mum-in-laws pakoray (plural of pakora) recipe recently and said I would share. She is a decent cook and some of her dishes I like better than others, but her pakoray are just the best I have ever tasted. We sent them to a neighbour a few years ago during Ramadan and she knocked on our door to borrow my mum-in-law to show her how to make them (with Little Lady acting as interpreter between them).

I have tried to reproduce as closely as possible, but you will find that they will get better once you have made it a few times and adjusted the ingredients a little to suit your taste.

1 onion – quartered and thinly sliced
2-3 potatoes – peeled and cut into thin slices
1 medium bunch spinach – cut into thin strips and washed
400g gram flour
1 cup/ 250 ml water
2 heaped tablespoons coriander seeds, crushed
1 tablespoon zeera (cumin) seeds
1½ teaspoon ajwain seeds, crushed
2 tablespoons chilli flakes
1 level tablespoon anardhana (pomegranate) powder, if available
Salt to taste – I use 1½ tablespoons
1 teaspoon red chilli powder
Optional – 2-3 finely sliced green chillis 

I usually take the cumin, ajwain and the dhanya seeds and either crush them with my mortar and pestle, or better still whizz them in my grinder for just a few seconds to really release the smell and flavours, if you don’t have these, crush the dhanya seeds by hand and add the rest as they are.

Mix the gram flour and with all of the spices to form a batter, neither very runny, nor too thick, adjust the water to get a consistency that is a bit thinner than cake batter (but still thick enough to coat the back of a spoon). Add the spinach, potatoes and onions and give them a good mix. If you leave the batter for a while, you may find that the potatoes and onions release water and make the batter thinner. If this happens just add a little more gram flour until you get back the consistency you need. You will find a thinner batter gives thinner crunchier pakoray and a thicker one gives heavier, more dense pakoray.

Heat your oil so that it is quite hot and place the batter in a spoonful at a time. If the oil is too hot, the pakoray will brown too quickly and not cook through, if it is not yet hot enough they will sink to the bottom and sit there soaking in too much oil and becoming very greasy

Once the pakoray are in, let them cook on high heat for 30 seconds or so, then lower to medium so that they can cook through, which should take about 6-8 minutes. Once they are solid and a nice golden brown remove them from the oil and drain. Don’t wait until they are deep brown because once they are out they look darker and will end up looking over-cooked and be a bit tough.

I always recommend putting one in first to check the oil is at the right heat and also to taste the salt and chilli. The gram flour seems to soak up the salt and chilli, so I almost always find myself having to add a little more of both.

Pakoray at one of our parties:

Have you made Pakoray before?  What would be your tips for the perfect pakoray?

Tuesday 19 April 2016

Dawah for the Ordinary Muslim

A sister recently left a comment asking me about dawah, the work of sharing Islam with others. She asked if every Muslim was responsible for doing dawah, even if they were lay people and didn’t have much knowledge, especially in todays climate where it can feel as if everyone hates us.

I would always recommend that Sisters develop pathways to the scholars where they can, so that they can ask questions like these to people who have expertise and can answer confidently. This could be through the masjid, scholars that you meet through Islamic courses, or through the menfolk in your family asking the imam if you are not comfortable.

Saying that I am more than happy to answer the question as a lay person, but with the proviso that this is only my opinion and strong belief on the matter. There are a couple of things that inform the way I feel, the first is the following verse of the Quran:

The believing men and believing women are allies of one another. They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and establish prayer and give zakah and obey Allah and His Messenger. Those - Allah will have mercy upon them. Indeed, Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise. ~ Quran 9:71

All religions have the injunction to do good deeds and avoid bad ones in some shape or form, but for Muslims it isn’t enough that we do good deeds, we are instructed to call others to them as well. It isn’t enough that we avoid bad deeds we have to discourage others from them as well.

I remember a few years ago reading a news article about a Muslim charity who had been accused of using aid relief as an excuse to encourage people to convert to Islam, I don’t know the truth of the matter, but I remember thinking out loud that maybe aid should be given to those in need without religion having anyhting to do with it. My mum responded by asking “why is something so good for you, but not for others?”. Her words struck deep – the beautiful faith that is so good for us, would surely be a blessing and benefit for others too.

As a teenager I came across the following verse in a translation of the meaning of the Quran:

And there may spring from you a nation who invite to goodness, and enjoin right conduct and forbid indecency. Such are they who are successful. ~ Quran 3:104

I wondered at those words. Who were these lucky people that Allah SWT had promised success to? I wished I could be one of them, at the same time assuming it could not be an ordinary person. Many years later, after I was married, my husband re-engaged in the dawah work he had previously undertaken in Pakistan, through his local masjid. I was not sure about this, but when he encouraged me to participate I was willing to at least listen and see what it was all about. The experience changed my life profoundly in so many ways (that story is a post for another day insh’Allah), but it also taught me that those big promises in the Quran for the best of us, are not out of reach or only for others. Each ordinary person can do the work in their own small, imperfect way that will please Allah (SWT).

Not everyone has the courage to make dawah in a strong and passionate way. I know I get shy sometimes or am wary of how people might react. But for those who cannot stand on street dawah stalls to share the message of Islam, or knock on doors to call Brothers to the masjid, we have to do what we can within the means and courage we have:

On the authority of Abu Saeed al-Khudri (may Allah be pleased with him) who said: I heard the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) say, “Whoever of you sees an evil must then change it with his hand. If he is not able to do so, then [he must change it ] with his tongue. And if he is not able to do so, then [he must change it] with his heart. And that is the weakest of faith.” (Muslim)

Our beloved mother, Lady Aisha (May Allah be please with her) used to describe the beloved Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) like a walking Quran.  For the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), his every action and word brought to life the message and guidance of the Quran. His sunnah: they way he conducted himself in business, in marriage, in the community, with his children, were all so beautiful that they were like an invitation to the faith. In the same way, today you will find that when you act upon his beautiful sunnah, everything you do becomes beautiful and a call to iman (belief). 

I think that a person who tries hard to be a good person and to live in the best way they can according to their faith, undertakes dawah through everything they do. Their conduct, their good character, their kindness to others is dawah. Their good work in the community and their good treatment of neighbours is dawah. Their honesty in their work, business and day-to-day dealings is dawah. The way they dress is dawah and the way they conduct the ordinary business of their life: eating, shopping, playing with their children, caring for their parents, all becomes dawah.

The other thing that is important is to make yourself knowledgeable about the basics of your faith, even something like a children’s book on the basics of Islam is a good place to start (for those ready to learn more books like Taleem-ul-Haq and Heavenly Ornaments by Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi are brilliant). Because you will find that your good conduct and kindness will make you stand out in this insincere and harried world. Your dress will make you stand out as modest in a immodest world and for some of you, your dress will mark you out as Muslim. People will be attracted to your goodness or curious that the good they see in you does not reconcile with what they hear in the media and the news about Muslims. They will ask questions about Islam and Muslims. This is our dawah. Even before we think of going to others, when we work hard on making ourselves better, people will come to us. They will want some of the peace and serenity that they see in us, in our prayers and our family lives.

This isn’t a small thing. It’s an enormous blessing. Why is the reward so high?:

Abu Mas`ud `Uqbah bin `Amr Al-Ansari Al-Badri (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) said, "Whoever guides someone to virtue will be rewarded equivalent to him who practices that good action".  (Muslim).

Because there are so many people who are in so much pain. You find people who have every sign of success, who turn to drugs or commit suicide leaving people wondering why they would ever want to do that when they had everything: family, money, respect. You hear about teenagers picking up weapons and walking into schools to commit murder with no discernible reason except they didn’t see the point of life. In a more subtle way you will come across one person after another that is unhappy with their life, with the refrain of “What is the point?” or people who have so much but only complain about how miserable their life is. 

Islam provides purpose for our lives and a clear path to get to where we want to be. It teaches us to live in the world in the most beautiful way and benefit others as much as we can. It teaches us to serve our families, our communities and those most vulnerable amongst us and be grateful for what we have. How many people would find that this message and this faith would alleviate their pain? How will they ever know? If we cannot approach people, at the very least can we be open and ready for their questions?

The one other thing that stays with me is something that my husband said to me. Everything influences us: the media, our environment, society, marketing, our peers, our children even. We are all being influenced all the time. The exception is the da’ee (the one who teaches and shares Islam), the da’ee influences others and as long as he or she does so, their iman will grow and they will not be influenced by outside factors. Once they stop they are at the mercy of all of those things again.

So even if you don’t feel you have the courage, or the knowledge, or are not a scholar. Even if you are scared because of the times we live in, work on your character and make your conduct beautiful. Learn about the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam)’s life and try to learn his beautiful traditions and habits one at a time and make them part of your life. Then when people come to you looking for answers, answer patiently and kindly, if you don’t know, say I don’t know but point them to a scholar that does know. If that is too hard, smile, have a cheerful countenance. If even that is impossible, make dua, for yourself that Allah (SWT) accepts you as a da’ee of his religion and make dua for the wellbeing and happiness of every human being, Muslim or not, because at the essence of dawah is a anxiety and concern for all of humanity.

Monday 18 April 2016

Trip to Chessington World of Adventures

I usually plan trips with my children to places I think they will learn something from as well as enjoy: museums, the zoo, castles, somewhere that has beautiful scenery. In recent timers, my older children have mutinied and decided they would rather stay at home than see one more old house or castle. This half term, I had hoped to go away for a few days, but the cost of everything shoots up during the children holidays and with two of them still quite small (at three and one years old), I wondered if it would be as much work as rest for me.

In the end, I decided to do something I know they would want and book a trip to a theme park. Of the major theme parks, Chessington World of Adventures is nearest to us and I get a discount through work. I booked online for the family without telling the children where we would be going, except to promise it would not be educational, much to their joy.

On the morning, I packed the food from home (lamb kebab wraps, chicken mayo sandwiches and chicken nuggets and potato wedges). This is because there is no halal provision, there were vegetarian options, but my husband is particular, and often the vegetarian options are cooked with the non-veg (e.g. chips with sausages).

The theme park is sign-posted from some way away, so Little Lady realised where we were going, the boys were not paying attention, so only realised when we got there. I have to say I really enjoyed their reaction and their enthusiasm. We paid online, so we didn’t have to queue for tickets, but we ended up queueing for about 15-20 minutes to collect out tickets from another queue for people who book online. I can see why because it was a Saturday during Easter break, so a busy time, but in comparison when we went to Colchester Zoo during school holidays, we could print our pre-booked tickets from a machine and go straight in with no wait.

We had our bags checked in the way in, which I was happy to do and which was understandable in the wake of recent events around the world. The staff that did the checks, were very polite and not at all heavy handed about it.

We started by trying to work out the best way around the park as there are a number of different themed areas. I suggested going counter clockwise in the hope we could go against the crowds, but was voted out by the kids who wanted to get to the nearest scary rides as quick as possible.

Because we went at peak time, the popular rides for older children had significant queues of up to 50 or 60 minutes wait time.  I can't think of a worse way to spend my time than wait in long queues for rides I am not the least bit interested in.  Happily the kids didn't mind.  

Along the way, there are areas with animals (mainly the Trail of the Kings area and the Wanyama Village and Reserve area, but also other areas).  There was a good mix of animals including lions, tigers, rhino, zebra and giraffe.  There was also a reptile area, an area for birds and a sea life centre.  I have to say, this was one part of the theme park I really liked and was enjoyed by the whole family.

The rides were a good mix of those suitable for small children and older ones, there were quite a few that I went on with the babies and a number that Little Lady, who is a thrill seeker, went on with her dad. The rides were not really the seriously scary ones that some other theme parks have.  One or two were closed on the day, including the famous Ramese's Revenge ride.

There were also shows for little kids which Darling liked, which went on through the day and gave me and my husband an excuse to sit down.

I struggled with the layout of the park, even with a map, I felt as if I was going round and round in circles whenever I was trying to find somewhere.  This meant that by the end of the day I wasn't sure if we had missed bits of the park and we were truly, truly exhausted.

I really wanted to try the Zufari ride that has been promoted quite a bit by Chessington recently, the only problem was that the queue was 50 minutes.  We had to leave the pram behind and trying to hold onto Baby for that long with no pram, when all she wanted to do was make a run for it, was pretty punishing work. 

The Zufari ride itself was good fun and went past a good mix of animals including giraffe and a rhino, which was very cool.  However for queueing for an hour, it seemed to be over in a very short time.

I really liked the Sea Life centre in the theme park.  It was almost as good as the main one in London, beautifully presented with a good mix of fish and sea creatures, the only thing missing were the sharks which I suppose it was not big enough to have.

The toilets were plentiful and fairly clean.  I found that the baby changing room had toilets that were small enough for Darling to sit on without her own seat (she gets scared on the normal loos) and a regular toilet too.  This tuned out to be a good space for me to make wudhu.  The park was packed out, so we found that there was not a quiet spot for us to pray, except later in the day we ended up in a wooded area between Pirates Cove and Transylvania which would have provided a quiet space to pray.

Overall the kids loved it and there was enough to keep us busy all day.  I felt that the queues were too long and I would recommend trying to go during an off-peak time, although towards the end of the day the queues died down a little and wait time became 5 minutes or less.

To the Rude Hijabi at Heathrow

My mum flew out to Pakistan last week and my dad dropped her off at the airport. When he returned I asked him how it all went and his first comment was that there was a girl in hijab at the counter that was very rude to him. He then told me how mum was over her baggage allowance (no surprise there), how they unpacked and re-packed and finally got it all sorted.

The thing that stayed with me was the description of the young sister in hijab that had barked instructions at them and spoken down to them. Now I know that just because we wear hijab we shouldn’t have to be perfect all the time. People have a stereotype sometimes of hijab-wearing sisters, that suggests they are good and pious people. I often find that strangers turn to me for help, asking for directions or asking to help translate, assuming I would be happy to do so. Of course it’s not fair to put all of the pressure on sisters to always be good, never lose their temper, always behave in an exemplary way, always be helpful (although of course we should aspire to).

Of course when you work in any job that requires you to serve others and that is time-pressured, you are going to get fed up sometimes. You will see one difficult customer after another, some will be rude to you. One of my sisters works for a local authority housing department. She sees colleagues who are rude to people who ask for help, treating them as if they are some kind of benefit cheat or beggar. After a long time, my sister started to feel a bit fed up of certain customers too who behaved badly or tried to play games with the system. I mentioned this to a colleague of mine. Her response was simple – if you are working with people who need your help, if and when you start to become jaded, it is time to step away. She spoke from experience as someone who was a trained lawyer and had became burned-out after dealing with child abuse cases, so moved to working for a local authority.

I once wrote about my experience with midwives and my care during pregnancy, particularly how uncaring staff had had a big impact on me. One sister (the awesome Umm Zakariya of The Alif 2 Yaa of Motherhood) commented very similarly about how midwives that felt burned out and jaded need to step back and take a break from the work 

I completely agree, if you cannot provide service with a smile or at least with the minimum of courtesy, you should not be working in a job that requires you to deal with people. Your job may be tough and intense, but that does not give you the right to treat your customers like idiots who are wasting your time. The same goes whether you are working in a hospital or store or an airport.

My dad has respect for sisters in hijab, perhaps he was mistaken in some false stereotype of hijab-wearing sisters being good, kind people. Because we are pretty much like everyone else – some of us are good, kind and patient and some of us are less so, a few are down right crappy people. Our hijab shouldn’t mean that we are under constant pressure to act like a saint. But saying that, there have been so many time that someone has been rude to me, muttered under their breath or said something nasty in public. I want to be rude back, I want to tell them off, sometimes I want to swear, but I know how I behave will affect other sisters in hijab. Perhaps if I behave in a good way, it might even change what people think about us. I am mindful of the fact that I wear hijab and in doing so I am identifiable as a Muslimah. Kindness in the face of poor treatment can be an incredible dawah (not to mention is the sunnah of our beloved Prophet (salallahu alayhi wa sallam)). I note that the thing my dad remembered about you was that you wore hijab.

This morning I had a conversation with a colleague who used to manage a large complement of care staff. She mentioned that she usually found that the staff that treated clients terribly (she actually used the words “the most rubbish ones”) were almost without fail, the ones that had problems at home and were miserable. I hope this is not true for you, if it is I hope that Allah (SWT) takes your problems away insh’Allah.

In the meantime, I hope you can take a minute to think of the people you are serving as people, not irritating cattle. You don’t have to be nice, you don’t even have to smile, but at the least I hope you can bring it upon yourself to be civil and professional and talk to people as if they are people. If not, I suggest you find work that doesn’t make you so miserable that you have to take it out on others. I recommend a career change to a back office inputting data into spreadsheets, or to the great outdoors caring for sick ponies – anything that gets you away from decent people that have paid a lot of money to travel.

When asked about the best of the believers, the Prophet (salallahu alayhi wa sallam) replied, “They are those who have the best character and manners.” (Sunan At-Tirmidhee: 1162; Sunan Abu Daawood: 4682)