Monday 27 June 2016

Europe and Brexit: Racism and My 13-Year Old Daughter

With the vote on whether or not we should remain in Europe taking place last week, the campaign for both leave and remain had been going full swing. Everyone at work was discussing it with most people not sure which way to vote. Everyone at home was discussing it, with my children being very vocal in trying to convince me to vote to remain.

In the end I and most of my colleagues voted to remain. The winning result was announced the following day as leave. I told the children when I woke them up that morning, and they were not very happy. Gorgeous was worried that prices would go up and everything would be expensive by Eid (I told him it would take much longer than Eid if that happened) Gorgeous also wanted to know if there would be eight continents as we were no longer part of Europe (no). Little Man wanted to know if we would now be kicked out of the European Football Championship (no).

I came down to make breakfast and found them all on the computer trying to read up on what the leave vote would mean for people in Britain. Their dad thought it was funny to tell them they would all have to move to Pakistan now.

I have to say that I was disappointed, mainly because the vote would affect young people for a long time to come and I could see how strongly young people felt about staying in Europe. But at the end of the day I accepted the results as what the people of this country wanted. If the remain camp had won such a close race, my first concern would have been, all well and good, but how can we address the concerns of the other half of the country? I am hoping that the same occurs to the winning leave camp – half of the country have to live with an outcome that they did not feel was right for them, how can our worries and issues be addressed? But considering the tone of the leave campaign in recent weeks I am not holding my breath.

The focus on immigration and the amount of vitriol that has been levelled at immigrants, both European and Muslim, legal and illegal has been pretty depressing. Now that the voting is over, it feels as if the win has given legitimacy and voice to the most hateful, racist, bigoted people. All weekend I have been hearing about racist incidents, people being insulted, assaulted and generally told to go back to where they come from.

Usually I discuss these things with my children, but this time I have not wanted to expose them to the level of hate and what feels like the sheer volume of it. Instead I have been sharing my thoughts with my sisters and sister-in-law who are equally indignant at what is happening. Most of all, after all of the hard work, all of the outreach, all of the community building, the sharing of iftars, the feeding of homeless people, the getting to know your neighbour days, there is a sadness. Was nothing good we did worth anything? Do we really deserve this level of hatred? I ask myself, are these a few incidents or is this what most people really think about us? 

Then I think to myself that this is a time for us to rally ourselves. For those of us who want to look beyond, politics, hatred or prejudice, we need to make sure that we do not become complacent or let ourselves get depressed by current events. As Muslim’s we should be hopeful and positive. We should always strive to show excellent characters and to do our best to serve others. This is the time to renew our outreach, to step up out good deeds and to talk about the good things we do (like the results of thisJustGiving survey which found that Muslims were the most generous group of all religions when it came to giving charitable donations).

We need to think about how we can engage, educate others and try to change people’s hearts and minds. As a community sometimes we feel that we can barely defend ourselves let alone others, but I think we should be the ones that’s stick up for the victims of this racist abuse, for immigrants for refugees, for the poor and the homeless, all groups which have been stigmatised in recent times.

I may have tried to protect my children but not sharing with them what is happening, but that does not mean that they will not be affected by what this surge of hatred. Today I came home from work to find my daughter waiting to speak to me. She was visibly moved and described what happened to her on the way home from school today. She had an argument with a girl not much older than her who proceeded to racially abuse her saying unkind things about Muslims. I was angry, but more than that I was scared. Scared because she had held her ground and argued back and refused to be cowed. I am terrified that one day my fearless daughter will stand her ground with the wrong people and get hurt. I explained to her that things seemed bad at the moment because there had been a number of racist incidents since the Brexit vote, but that I hoped that things would calm down. I tried to explain a little about how bad things had been for her grandparents when they came here. I asked her to write down what happened to her to help her process what had happened and to understand clearly for myself. I know sometimes a racist comment or incident can seem like a small thing, but I also know that when you are subject to it through no fault of your own, how deeply humiliating and devastating it can feel.

I was surprised at the clarity of what she wrote and the things that she had said, so I asked her if I can include it here:

Standing Up For What Is Right

On the way home, I encountered a horrible, extremely racist girl not much older than me. I sat on the bus with my best friend talking about how Brexit could affect Britain and how it might impact our futures. She listened into our conversations as we spoke about how Brexit would change Britain’s trade system with the European Union and immigration to the UK. She butted into our conversation telling us how trade would not change at all as the UK could still trade with the US. I briefly mentioned that we (my friend and I) were talking about trading with the EU as a whole, not just the US. I eagerly pulled out my Citizenship book and began stating statistics and facts about the negative impacts of leaving the EU as I am strongly against Brexit. 

She became silent for a while as my friend and I discussed who could become our new prime minister as David Cameron had just resigned. We said we wanted someone who could make a big difference (for the better) and make Britain proud. We didn’t say anything negative about Cameron so we were slightly confused when the girl started to get really defensive on his behalf. I apologised if we had come across as offensive but she continued to angrily shout about how he provided jobs for UK citizens. 

She was beginning to annoy me so I blanked her and carried on talking to my friend. It was then she mentioned that it was because of areas like Forrest Gate and Tower Hamlets ‘full of Paki’s and Bengali’s’ that the referendum had to happen. Naturally I found this quite offensive. I tried to hide the fact the words that her words stung and held my ground – though this led me to wonder just how many people thought so low of me. She cussed Green Street too, I don’t live there but I wasn’t going to sit there and let her get away with being so racist. 

Unsurprisingly, no one spoke a word or tried to stand up for us, they acted so blind towards the racial abuse, so I stood up for myself. I’m not one to sit around getting roasted by some close-minded racist. I knew I had to say something otherwise it would keep replaying in my head and I would definitely regret it later. So I asked where she lived, she told me her local borough and I sarcastically replied “Right, cos your borough is so much better.” We began bickering back and forth as the argument escalated.

I knew that the media played a large role in promoting racism and it influenced many people. According to this 
 racism is a global issue faced by many countries. It is identified as a serious issue that can cause social unrest and moral panic in society. Racism also cause hate-crimes such as murder or racial harassment. I totally agree with this. It hurts to know that so many people look down at people like me. It is extremely saddening that people were being attacked because of their faiths, backgrounds and beliefs. No one deserves this.

In my defence I stated that neither I nor my friend lived in Forest Gate, Tower Hamlets or Green Street. We didn’t even live in the borough, we were just on our way home. I asked her why she was being so racist, she just rolled her eyes. That did it, my friend said to her “Yeah, just go on rolling your eyes. You might find a brain back there, you never know.”

The girl continued making stinging remarks about us ‘Paki’s and Bengali’s’. My friend argued that diversity and multiculture was something to be proud of, not shunned. Her exact words were ‘Yeah, multi Christian culture’. My jaw literally dropped at her utter stupidity. I have nothing against Christians at all but the words that came out of her mouth dripped with racism. She was racist, islamaphobic, xenophobic and downright rude. 

I did not make a single remark about her religion, race, background, faith or colour through all of this, yet she pressed on, enjoying watching me seethe and literally shake with anger. I held my tongue until I couldn’t take her taunts any longer. I had to let it all out.

“It’s because of close-minded people like you the world is a messed up place! You can’t see beyond yourself and respect others. YOU NEED TO GET OVER YOURSELF, GET OFF YOUR HIGH HORSE AND REALISE THAT YOU ARE NO BETTER THAN ME OR ANYONE ELSE FOR THAT MATTER!! I sat here taking your cr*p and listening to the trash coming out of your mouth. Well I’m tired of being the ‘better person’. I don’t need to take anything from you! Ever since I got on this bus you’ve been annoying me. Get lost, I don’t need any racist telling me how much they hate me, keep it to your disgusting self! ”

I fully acknowledge I shouldn’t have embarrassed her in front of everyone and I apologise for this but I hoped maybe next time she would think twice before insulting someone like she did me and my friend. 

However, some people just never learn. She carried on with “You won’t be accepted”. I was pretty sure she meant that society would never accept ‘people like me’. We (my friend and I) clearly told her that not everyone was simple-minded like her and that we did not need to be accepted by people like her when we were perfectly happy with ourselves and we accepted ourselves.

With no smart comebacks or rude replies left she swiftly exited the bus with “I’m leaving, you people get on my nerves, and I’m clearly wasting my time here.”

I think that we need to continue with our good deeds and sharing our good news and promoting when we do something good so people can see another side to us compared to what the media portray. We need to defend ourselves and others. I think we should also report these incidents. I recall a lady who was racially abused by a bus driver and a fellow passenger reported the bus driver and got him sacked. Little Lady described the girls uniform and I recognised which school she goes to, so I have e-mailed this account to the school to ask them to remind their students that racism is not acceptable. Finally I think we need to hold the media and the politicians to account for the vitriol of recent times. It has been far too easy for them to take the most vulnerable, voiceless people in society and use them to scapegoat and fear monger for votes and readership. People have read so many lies about us that sometimes even we start to think it is true. We need to step up our complaints and questioning of this causal racism and ignorant bigotry and prejudice.

We recently saw how the racist campaign for Mayor of London failed to prevent a Muslim Mayor being elected when Londoners saw through the dirty tricks. Now the onus is on each of us, Muslim or non-Muslim, immigrant or not to stand up to the lies and hate. Now it is no longer just a matter of principle, we are now witnessing it become real hate crime and racist abuse that even our children are not safe from.

Ramadan Journal 2016: Day 22 – 6pm

There is only one place where I am at the moment at 6pm….in bed!

I get home, check in with all of the kids and do a quick tidy up. Then I set my alarm for 6.30 and go to sleep.

I have been really firm and made sure that no matter how much work there is to do, how much mess and whether I still need to grab groceries and get cooking, I make sure I get my hours sleep. There was one day when he Baby climbed onto my head and refused to go away and the boys decided they were going to wrestle and complain to me every time they hurt themselves. I gave up and got up and went to the kitchen to get started with dinner. By 9pm, about 20 minutes before iftar I was so tired, I was falling over my feet. No one should be that tired and I learned my lesson.Now I put the older kids in charge of the younger two, or get them to nap with me if their dad is not around.

Insh’Allah the sunnah of the nap (or qaylulah) is something I want to hold onto after Ramadan, even if for 15 minutes, even if after Ramadan sleep will be so plentiful in comparison that I’m going to feel drunk on it.

Picture of the Day 27.06.16 - Surprise Iftar

I hosted an iftar for my parents this weekend.  No one seems to be able to eat very much and I ended up with so much food left over.  I decided we could eat the food for the next two day and I would not cook anything new.

This evening, just before iftar, a very sweet friend stopped by to drop off food for us:

I thought that was some serious amount of food.  Home cooked and tasted delicious alhamdulillah.  I felt very lucky today.

Ramadan Journal 2016: Day 21 – Listen

Quite a well-timed prompt for the 21st fast. Yesterday I was tired from fasting and having a busy day and didn’t feel like talking to anyone. So yesterday the kids thought it was a good day to drive me slightly mental and just not listen to anything I was saying. I wanted to visit my mum and ended up staying to help with an iftar (fast breaking) meal she was hosting. The only problem is that my number one rule for Ramadan has been both the babies must be fed and in bed before the fast opens. We put this rule in early in Ramadan as they both run riot. For some reason iftar is the exact time they go a bit mad. The one day I let my guard down and allowed Baby to join us, she tried to pour herself a glass of water and spilled the whole jug. She then managed to kick over my glass of water. That’s aside snuggling into my lap and eating my food. So now when she tries her big-eyed sad face on me because she wants to get out of the cot, I just think of the mess I know I will be cleaning up and stick to my guns.

Yesterday I couldn’t put them to bed because I was at m mums place with them. So by the time we were opening our fast I was so tired of asking people to lower the volume of the television and their voices, of asking people to sit down and trying to stop them squabbling, I just wanted to cry. I thought fasting might put have a calming effect on Gorgeous, but he too was in full flow, making silly noises, annoying his brother who was tired and teasing the babies. He informed me that I couldn’t stop him because he was fasting and I couldn’t tell him off. I soon put him right on that one. By the time iftar came around, I managed a samosa and some fruit then took them all home, leaving poor Shutterbug Sister with all of the dishes and mess. We went straight home, they went straight to bed and then I sat down with some coffee and chocolate to wind down before the taraweeh prayer. That is the last iftar I will have outside of home this Ramadan.

The other thing I have been listening to in the last few days is the sound of rain on my bedroom window. We have had thunder lightening and torrential rain on and off over the last week and a half or so. One day last week the roads on the way were backed up with traffic due to flooding, meaning either people couldn’t get to work or get and then struggled to get home (it took me an extra hour and a half that day). The house has looked like the inside of a laundry with every surface covered in boys t-shirts and endless little socks out to dry. But I am happy. I love the rain. The sound of rain on my window is one of the sounds I love the most and I find it deeply therapeutic. I also think there is so much mercy in having rainy days when Ramadan is in the middle of summer and sunny days can mean thirst and feeling overheated.

Ramadan Journal 2016: Day 20 – List

This time of year – with the last days of Ramadan upon us and Eid approaching, lists are a life saver for me. They allow me to write down everything I need to do and clear my head. This allows me to focus on prayer. They help put some structure around my thoughts and assuage the anxiety around all of the things I have to do and haven’t done yet.

My to do list changes regularly, sometimes appearing in my Filofax, sometimes a Word document, sometimes a rough exercise book and sometimes on index cards that end up in my Filofax. I have my to–do list for the days which can include anything from my dinner menu, ingredients I need, household chores and day-to-day errands. I have my list for an occasion – so for Eid I have one for my Eid menu, one for my Eid party, an invite list and a list of things I have to do and buy to be ready in time. I have lists of things to blog about and book reviews to write. 

Sometimes I add a few chores for the day, such as in the Filofax:

Occasionally I will do a brain dump, using my rough exercise book.

Sometimes when I know I need to get things done and there is too much, I will use the quadrant method I have shared before (here). Using this I spit the to-do list into Urgent, Important, Day-to-Day and Would Like to Do. This helps me to prioritise the most important and pressing things I have to do and defer the rest if I need to without worrying too much. 

It sounds like way too many lists, but it’ definitely better written down or typed up than in my head.

At the moment I have been listing everything on my quadrant, and making mini lists on index cards for Eid activities. These are going into my Filofax because many of them don’t need any action until next week.

What system do you use for getting things done? Do you rely on lists too or do you prefer to take a more laid back or natural approach to prioritising what you need to do each day?

Friday 24 June 2016

Book Review: The Girl with All the Gifts by Mike Carey

I came across some rave reviews for this book online, so decided to treat myself to it. I am a big fan of any kind of post-apocalyptic literature. I love the creation of a possible future world, whether positive or negative and the various scenarios played out in the new world and how humanity deals with them.

Zombie books I am less keen on. There seems to be a lot of the samey shuffling around, groaning and eating people and I don’t have much of a stomach for gore. Occasionally there is something different, like World War Z (detailed and intelligent) or Warm Bodies (funny and not too bogged down by endless boring zombie chases). I would put The Girl with All the Gifts into that something different category.

The Girl with All the Gifts
 is set in a future world which has been overrun and destroyed by a virus that causes people to turn into zombies (or “hungries”). Melanie is a very intelligent little girl that lives on an army base somewhere in England. Every day she is taken from a locked room, strapped to a wheelchair with a gun pointed at her head and taken to a classroom to join other children strapped in wheelchairs. They are taught about the world by various teachers including her favourite Miss Justineau. It is difficult to give an idea of what the book is about without giving too much away and spoiling the suspense. Certainly when I ordered the book, I knew every little and on reading it I enjoyed the story unfolding layer by layer.

It takes the book some time to reveal why the children are kept in this way and what the purpose of the base is. Throughout this part of the book we get to know Melanie – her genius level intelligence, coupled with ignorance about the world outside the base and her innocent questioning of what is going on around her.

Whereas the first part of the book cranks up the tension with its slow reveal and fascinating premise, the second part of the book changes gear. It is faster in pace, but I was somewhat less engrossed as the trajectory of the next part of the story felt a little bit more like familiar ground. Towards the last third, the book slows down and the intrigue and revelations start rolling again. I found myself hooked at the end again and reading the last part of the book when I was supposed to be getting ready for work so that I could find some resolution for the characters and the situation they find themselves in.

This book is elevated from the usual groaning and gore of this genre by its beautiful writing – we get to see the world from the perspective of someone who has only read about trees, butterflies and birds and then gets to see them for the first time with completely fresh eyes. The novel also does something else which zombie books don’t tend to do, which is to explore the human condition and relationships: guilt, despair, hope and the love between Melanie and her beloved Miss Justineau.

The book makes an intelligent and believable attempt at including the science around the Zombies and what has happened to Melanie and the other children like her without getting bogged down by it too much. I liked also that the book is set in England including locations in London which are certainly given a complete, rather terrifying, makeover for the future. The glimpses into the near past and how the government reacted to the virus as well as the hints about what might have happened to the people are haunting and one of the things that stayed with me at the end of the book.

This was probably one of the best books I have read this year. I think the writer takes a genre that can be treated quite superficially with a focus on gore and gives it heart and depth through the journey that Melanie is taken on. Rather than a simple blood-fest it becomes a thoughtful commentary on love, humanity and evil, still with lots of gross bits of course.

Ramadan Journal 2016: Day 19 – Help

I thought this prompt would be as good an opportunity as any to acknowledge all of the help I get. 

No one should have to handle their problems alone and especially in Ramadan every bit of help and support is welcome

I also want to be the kind of person that is grateful for the help that comes their way and appreciates the people who offer it.

So I am grateful for the help I get from:

My husband – for his moral support and for never nagging about a messy house or leftovers for dinner. It just gives me the space to rest or take a step back when I need it without feeling stressed.

My mum – by always guiding and advising me and holding me up to a higher standard, she tells me to lose weight, dress nice, keep my house clean and raise my children properly.

Little Lady –by keeping all of her fasts without complaining, so that I am in awe of her. She helps with the babies and will feed them if I am preparing iftar and help with the bedtime routine so we can get them in bed before we break our fast.

Little Man – by always been a rock and will help with distracting the babies and cleaning. At the moment the poor boy gets sent to the shops almost every evening because there is always one ingredient I have forgotten for our iftar meal.

Gorgeous – for keeping his sense of humour when everyone is threatening to kill him for his Tigger-like behaviour. I thought the day he was fasting would put a dampener on his craziness, but he spent the whole day annoying everyone, winding up the babies, teaching them how to play football (indoors) and giving them piggy backs.

My siblings – by helping me whenever they can, dropping off treats for me and the kids and stopping by on evenings and weekends to keep me company or have a good moan.

My siblings spouses – by having the patience to be married to an Ahmed sibling and putting up with our energy, tempers and general impatience at iftar time.

My neighbours – they are seriously the best neighbours I can ask for, one neighbour always helps me with child care whenever I need it and sends us lovely food for iftar. The other neighbour is an amazing cook, so whenever the doorbell rings and it is her with a plate, it always feels as if a dua has been answered alhamdulillah

My best friend 
– by being the one I can vent to knowing she fully understands where I am coming from and always says the right thing

Alhamdulilah for family, friends, neighbours and community and the help they offer.

My Current Supplements: Useless or a Massive Help?

I often come across the view that supplements are pointless and a waste of money and that we should focus on getting our diet right so that we can get the nutrients we need through our food. I would agree up to a appoint, except that I often eat the wrong foods because I like them, I am a very busy mum and I get very tired and there just isn’t enough sun here to get the Vitamin D I need a lot of the time.

I have been taking supplements since I got married in Pakistan 15 years ago. I came back from Pakistan having lost weight and feeling run down and after some research decided to start taking Royal Jelly capsules. Since then I have stopped and started a number of different supplements, with some having a more noticeable impact than others. My current supplements are:

Multi-Vitamins – I have tried a few brands: Centrium, Healthspan, WellWoman 
and to be honest haven’t noticed that much difference between them or even whether they have much of an impact. When I have taken them it has been in conjunction with other supplements, so it’s hard to tell if any energy boost comes from the multivitamin or the additional supplement.

Vitamin D – I became low in Vitamin D in both my fourth and fifth pregnancies and was prescribed the generic high-dose vitamin D capsules by the Doctor. They helped take away the intense aching in my legs that the deficiency had caused. I was later asked to do a review of D-Drops and sent a bottle to try. These were great and I could feel a little “lift” in energy when I used them, I got some for my mum-in-law and she reported the same. I really like these, but they are sometimes difficult to find on the high street, for this reason I am taking Vitabiotics Vitamin D tablets at the moment as an alternative.

Children’s Vitamins – I love the little jelly sweet vitamins for children, but I have found that most of them have gelatine and are not halal. I recently found one brand that does halal gummy bear vitamins: Herbal Traditions. My older kids won’t eat them, but the babies like them and have one a day, Gorgeous refused to have them at first and then started happily taking them until I realised he was giving it to his grandmother every day and telling her it was a sweet. My doctor advises that all children in the UK should have their diet supplemented with Vitamin D up to the age of 5, but Little Lady and Little Man are also low in Vitamin D so need a top up. 

At the moment I am trying these these Wellbaby Vit D drops with the babies and this DLux Junior spray with the older children. The only way I could get Gorgeous to take the spray is by getting him in a bear hug and telling him he can open his mouth or he can have it in his ear, but I don’t relish wrestling with him daily. Both of the babies also liked D-Drops for babies, but again sometimes they are hard to get hold of and the cost is a factor too.

Royal Jelly – This was the first supplement I started taking and the one I value the most. The main issue I have had is that the casing often used for these products is gelatine based, but I have come across some versions that are suitable for vegetarian or halal requirements (i.e. where the casing has fish product, it is halal but not vegetarian). I have used 
Healthspan’s Royal Jelly for years and I am convinced they have contributed to my energy levels and also having no lines on my face yet at 36. I like the Healthspan brand both for its service and because you can filter the products to see what is halal (I used to like them for their free delivery too, but they no longer offer that). More recently I have started taking Vivid Health's Royal Jelly with Bee Propolis (details below).

Bee Propolis – I read somewhere that bee propolis is great for energy. I tried a brand I can’t recall previously and found this to be the case. In the end I found the cost prohibitive and baulked at taking too many different tablets, so stopped. It was only when I was looking for Royal Jelly supplements and reading reviews that I came across Vivid Health's Nutrition Royal Jelly & Bee Pollen with Bee Propolis which combines bee propolis with Royal Jelly. I have been taking it for a few weeks now and I really like this product. I can be lazy about taking for a few days it and then notice a difference as I feel more tired by the end of the day. When I take it regularly I feel energised and my skin looks bright.

Spirulina and Chlorella – these are green algae described as superfoods that are supposed to have numerous benefits. You can get them as a powder, but I have neither the time nor inclination to drink the stuff although I have seen work colleagues use it in their drinks and you can see the glow of health they get. I have previously tried them as a supplement from Holland and Barrett. I am usually quite good at getting tablets down, but the Holland and Barrett ones were just too big and dry and defeated me. I also tried the Rainforest Foods Organic Combined Chlorella and Spirulina, but you have to take quite a number of tablets per day and again I gave up, partially because I didn’t see a significant effect. At the moment I am using Herbal Traditions Organic Chlorella capsules. These are easy enough to take (if a bit smelly) and I feel as if I am benefitting from them, but too soon to be sure.

image source 1 and 2

Wheatgrass – another superfood with a long list of benefits that I came across. It is supposed to contain all of the minerals known to man and have a healing and detoxifying effect. I tried the Rainforest Foods Organic Barley Grass and Organic Wheatgrass capsules and again had the issue of taking lots of tablets more than once a day. I can’t remember experiencing a significant effect from these, but may not have stuck with them long enough (they had an unpleasant taste also). As with the Spirulina and Chlorella the powdered version is supposed to be much more potent than the capsules. Because of the long list of benefits, this is one that I may try again in the future after careful consideration of other people’s experiences.

I would love to know what supplements Sisters take. What has benefitted you? Or do you think the whole idea of supplements is pointless and a waste of money?

Disclaimer 1 – I have tried to describe as accurately as possible the products I use and the effect that I have experienced when using them, it may not be the same for everybody. I would also recommend that the first port of call if you think you are deficient in a nutrient, have any questions or feel tired all of the time, is your Doctor.

Disclaimer 2 – The links to Amazon in the post are affiliate links which means if you click through and buy some of the products I get a small amount for them. However, this does not affect my review and I have endeavoured to be as honest as possible in my opinions on these products.

Thursday 23 June 2016

Ramadan Journal 2016: Day 18 – Iftar

One thing I used to do every day at iftar last year was share pictures of our meals with my sisters and sister-in-law on Whatsapp. It was nice to share what you had made and see what people were having and also a way to get ideas for subsequent meals. Every day before we ate, my mum-in-law would whip the covers off all of the food and say “go on then, take a picture”. This year she is not spending Ramadan with us and we have all been exhausted the first few days.

Now we are in the Ramadan routine, we have been sharing pics again:

Alhamdulillah for the blessings of good food shared with family.

Abu Hurairah relates that the Prophet (saw) said: “Allah says: ‘The fasting person has two occasions for joy, one when he breaks his fast because of his breaking it and the other when he meets his Lord because of the reward for his fast.” (Bukhari, 7492 and Muslim, 1151)

Wednesday 22 June 2016

Ramadan Journal 2016: Day 17 – Tiny

When I saw this prompt, the first thing that came to mind was my little "Tiny", our youngest, “Baby".

I love how upbeat and resilient she is.  I love her mischief and curiousness.  I love that after not saying anything much for so long, she has turned into a little parrot that copies everything we say.  Darling is always trying to boss her around, but Baby holds her ground, she may be the youngest, but she is determined not to be the least of anyone.

After spending the last year resolutely refusing to kiss anyone, unlike the very girly and affectionate Darling, she has decided she wants to kiss her mum.  All the time.  I am regularly caught in a head lock by her and covered in tickly, wet kisses aimed at random places around my face, head, shoulders and back.  When I am trying to nap, she comes and sits on me and tries to pull off the blanket I am hiding under and kiss me.

I am so grateful we were gifted this little doll full of energy and smiles alhamdulillah.

Tiny eating tiny grapes out of a mini colander :)

Ramadan Journal 2016: Day 16 – On the Table

We don’t have a dining table, but eat our meals on the floor with the food placed on this blue cloth which we use as our table spread:

We eat in this way because it is the sunnah of the beloved Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) to sit on the floor to eat:

It was narrated that the Prophet (
sallallahu alaihi wasallam) used to eat (sitting) on the ground. And it was narrated that he said: “I eat as a slave eats and I sit as a slave sits.” (Narrated by Abu Ya’laa, 8/318).

It is narrated that Anas ibn Malik (RA) said: “The Prophet (
sallallahu alaihi wasallam) never ate at a khiwaan or a sikrujjah, and he never had any soft bread.” I said to Qutaadah: “What did he used to eat from?” He said, “A cloth (spread on the floor).” (-Bukhaari, 5099 - a khiwaan is a kind of tray on which food is placed and a sikrujjah is a vessel in which appetizers are placed).

It also works for us because we have small children and it feels easier for us to clean up spills and mess than it might be from on a table.  You can just throw the cloth in the washing machine whenever you need to.

On our table spread this Ramadan we have tried to keep it healthy and avoid fried food and junk food, although it does creep in. We have fruit salad, dates and water every day and lime juice (or shekanjavin, recipe here) on some days. I have been trying out different things most days without straying from my rough meal plan too much. Dishes I have tried include pakoray (potato and spinach fritters), roast chicken, tandoori chicken, sweet dahi phulki’s (dumplings in sweet creamy, yoghurt), potato wedges, potato cutlets, lamb kebabs, chicken pasties, macaroni salad, channa chaat, mince lamb samosa’s and chicken and potato spring rolls.

We are also blessed with wonderful neighbours and friends so most days someone has sent us something to add to our iftar meal which always feels like such a treat.  Today's spread below is a mixture of leftovers from the fridge, leftovers from the kid’s fish finger and chips dinner and food sent by both neighbours alhamdulillah:

Book Review: Behind Picket Fences by Hend Hegazi

Hend Hegazi’s second book is a departure from her debut novel in many ways. Her first novel focussed on a significant issue and how the characters affected dealt with the fallout of it. We act as witnesses to the protagonist’s journey and desire resolution for her. In her second book, we are invited into the kitchens, bedrooms and living rooms of a host of characters living in one street. Hegazi creates their lives and their problems in front of us and takes us along with them as their lives are changed over a period of time.

Behind Picket Fences is the story of four couples and their very different lives: Faris and Sidra are the affluent young couple struggling with childlessness. Porter and Summer are the company executive and the bohemian artist dealing with her anxiety and feelings of being not being listened to. Hasan and May are a loving Muslim couple dealing with the impact of illness on their own and their children’s lives. Morgan and Mariam are the loving couple with small children whose financial problems begin to threaten their marriage. Each struggles with their own problems behind closed doors, appearing happy and successful to the outside world. 

Hegazi manages you to make you care about each of the characters and what happens to them. She lays bare their inner thoughts and creates interactions between the couples that feel truthful. The first thing I noticed about this book is how the writer’s writing style has matured and improved from her first novel. The prose flows over the pages, but most of all the conversation feels so natural and true to life. 

Whereas the first book made a point of how the protagonist relied on her faith to get through the trauma of what she suffers, in this book faith comes up in more subtle ways, for both the Muslims and non-Muslims. We see the need for faith in difficult times, but also the questioning of faith and the finding of faith when life feels unbearable.

We witness some of the characters change and evolve and I think Hegazi achieved this in a realistic way. We see the impact of the young stay at home mum finding work both on her husband and herself and how this affects their seemingly perfect marriage. The break down of the marriage is painful to witness and the conversations and inner dialogue of the characters at different points is believable and uncomfortably like watching someone you know self-destruct.

Key to the story arcs in this novel is how lack of honest communication can destroy our relationships or nurture them – whether through feeling unappreciated, through feeling outside of your comfort zone in your marriage or whether this is through hiding the pain that you feel. 

We come to care about the characters and hope that things will work out for them, when they don’t, Hegazi portrays this to devastating affect. When I read this book, never in a million years did I think I would feel so much for the characters that I literally cried at one point. The book ends as with real life without all of the characters stories tied up in into neat happy endings, we are left wanting to know more about where their journeys will take them. 

I didn’t think I would enjoy this book as it is not the type of book that I usually pick up, but I found it immensely readable and also very relatable. I also liked Hegazi’s gentle portrayal of a Muslim family, real and likeable without feeling preachy. I think everyone will be able to relate to some of the characters in this book or identify with their experiences on some level.  

You can buy the book on Amazon here, learn more about her writing here and on her Facebook page here.

Ramadan Journal 2016: Day 15 – Happy (or Reasons to be Happy about Ramadan)

One of the things that I and my best friend do when either of us is down is ask the question “Tell me 10 things that make you happy right now?”

I thought I would have fun with this prompt and give myself some things to feel good about. We are also just passing half way through the blessed month and I thought it would be good to remind myself of the great many benefits of this month.

42 Reasons to be Happy about Ramadan:

1. It is a special opportunity for us to develop and build on our relationship with Allah (SWT)

2. It is the month of the Quran and an opportunity for us to re-engage with the Quran

3. It’s an opportunity for us to increase our God-consciousness: Allah says [meaning]: "O you who believe, fasting has been prescribed for you as it has been prescribed for people before you so that you will (learn how to) attain Taqwa" (Quran, 2:183)

4. This month is the one opportunity in the year to fulfil the fourth pillar of Islam: sawm or fasting

5. The shayateen are locked up for the month

6. The doors of hell are closed

7. The doors of Jannah are open

8. Fasting saves us from the hell fire: "Allah said 'Every action of the son of Adam is for him except fasting, for that is solely for Me. I give the reward for it. The fast is a shield." (Bukhari)

9. Every night during this month Allah frees people from the hell fire: “At every breaking of the fast, Allah has people whom He redeems.” (Ahmad, 5/256)

10. During this month our dua's (prayer and supplications) are answered: "There are in the month of Ramadhan in every day and night those to whom Allah grants freedom from the Fire, and there is for every Muslim a supplication which he can make and will be granted." (Al-Bazzaar, Ahmad)

11. During Ramadan we have the chance to have our prayers answered every day and night: "every Muslim every day and night has a prayer that is answered.” (Al-Bazzaar, Kashf 962)

12. This month presents an opportunity for having our sins forgiven: “Whoever fasts during Ramadan out of faith and in the hope of reward, his previous sins will be forgiven.” (Bukhari, 2014; Muslim, 760)

13. Even Allah’s (SWT) creation prays for our forgiveness during this month: "On their behalf the fish in the sea seek forgiveness for the fasting persons until they break their fast." (Ahmad)

14. The taraweeh prayer falls in Ramadan: "Whoever observes night prayer in Ramadan as an expression of his faith and to seek reward from Allah, his previous sins will be blotted out." (Muslim)

15. Praying the taraweeh prayer is like praying the whole night: “Whoever prays qiyaam with the imam until he finishes, it will be recorded for him that he spent the whole night in prayer.” (Abu Dawood, 1370)

16. In Ramadan our non-obligatory deeds are as valuable as our obligatory deeds outside of Ramadan: “He who performs any righteous voluntary act within it, will be rewarded like one who does an obligatory act at any time other than during Ramadan” (narrated by Ibn Khuzaymah)

17. Lailatul Qadr (The Night of Power) falls during this month - a night which is better than a thousand months

18. The Night of Qadr is full of peace: (All that night), there is peace (and goodness from Allah to His believing slaves) until the appearance of dawn” (Quran, 97:1-5)

19. For those who undertake Umrah (pilgrimage) during this month the reward is so very great: The Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) then told her: “When the month or Ramadan arrives, go for ‘umrah, because `umrah in Ramadan is like accompanying me on Hajj.” (Bukhari, 1764).

20. The last ten days of the sacred month bring us the opportunity for seclusion for worship (ithekaf)

21. There is increased reward for those who love to share food and feed the fasting: “O People! One who gives Iftaar to a fasting person during this month will be like one who has freed someone and his past sins will be forgiven" (narrated by Ibn Khuzaymah).

22. There are great rewards even for giving a fasting person some water: “And whoever gave a person who fasted water to drink, Allah shall grant that giver to drink from My fountain, such a drink where after that person shall never again feel thirsty until he enters Jannah.” (narrated by Ibn Khuzaymah).

23. Fasting gives us the opportunity to think of the hunger and thirst of the day of Judgement: "...Remember the hunger and thirst of the day of Qiyamah (Judgement) with your hunger and thirst." (narrated by Ibn Khuzaymah).

24. We spend less time eating and thinking about food, giving us more time for other productive activities

25. Fasting encourages good manners: "If one is fasting, he should not use foul language, raise his voice, or behave foolishly. If someone reviles him or fights with him, he should say, 'I am fasting,' twice." (Ahmad, Muslim, and an-Nasa'i)

26. Fasting creates a sense of community and a shared experience amongst Muslims.

27. Whoever shows kindness to his fasting employees is freed from the fire of hell: “Whosoever lessens the burden of his servants (bonds-men) in this month, Allah will forgive him and free him from the fire of Jahannam” (narrated by Ibn Khuzaymah).

28. There are blessings in the dawn meal: “Eat suhoor; Indeed, there is a blessing in suhoor.” (Bukhari and Muslim)

29. Waking up for the dawn meal gives us the opportunity to pray Tahajjud salah (the night prayer)

30. Waking up in the night for the dawn meal allows us to experience the tranquil small hours of the night without the noise and distractions of the day

31. Food tastes amazing after fasting all day, even water

32. Your sense of smell becomes heightened when you are fasting

33. Fasting for long hours, especially in the heat, helps us to have empathy for those who suffer hunger every day and keep them in the forefront of our thoughts

34. Ramadan is also the month of charity, the Beloved Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) used to spend in Ramadan more than any other month.

35. Many people give their zakat, the annual amount of 2.5% of their wealth, during Ramadan. Zakat is an obligation on all Muslims, a means to purify our wealth and a way to help those in need starting with those nearest to us such as poor relatives. 

36. Muslims pay Sadaqatul Fitr during Ramadan for each member of their household. This sadaqah or charity helps to take care of the needs of poor households near to Eid.

37. Ramadan is an excellent time to start good habits in our eating, worship and the way we spend our time.

38. Ramadan is an excellent time for Muslims to try and stop bad habits, such as smoking, overeating, missing prayers and not making time to read the Quran

39. The physiological effect of fasting includes lowering of blood sugar, lowering of cholesterol and lowering of the systolic blood pressure (source) and fasting promotes detoxification and can encourage weight loss (source

40. Fasting for Ramadan is like fasting for ten months: Whoever fasts Ramadan, a month is like ten months, and fasting six days after al-Fitr will complete the year.” (Ahmad, 21906)

41. At the end of Ramadan the Muslims are rewarded by Allah (SWT): "On the last night of Ramadan they are forgiven”. The Sahaabah (RA) thereupon enquired, “0 Messenger of Allah, is that last night Laylatul Qadr? Rasulullah (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) replied, “No. But it is only right that a servant should be given his reward on having completed his service”.

42. All of those fasting are also rewarded with our feast day of Eid-ul-Fitr at the end.

What reasons would you add to this list?  Add in the comments insh'Allah :)