Friday 30 December 2016

Morning Bliss - Starting the Day Peacefully

I have always been an early riser and I have always found myself having better, more productive and more satisfying days when I wake early, particularly during that part of the year when I can stay awake after Fajr (dawn) prayer easily.

During the current break from school and work, the whole family have been sleeping in late. This has been good for catching up on my sleep, but it also mean that we all wake around the same time and I don't get any quiet time during the day at all.

So today after praying Fajr, I determined not to go back to bed, but to get a few hours of peace before everyone else woke up. 

There was plenty to do and sometimes I use this time to get a head start on housework and chores. The sink was full of dishes from the night before (this lot is from after I have already washed up the dinner dishes):

There was a load of letters and filing to sort through:

The view into the garden was not much better. The recent building works on our house are pretty much finished now, but the garden has paid the price.

This morning I decided to leave all of the mess and chores for later and take the early morning hours for myself. I made some coffee and got to enjoy it in one sitting, whilst it was still hot.

I wrapped up against the frost we have been having the last few days in my beloved, ugly and very warm giant wrap cardi. I bought this new at a boot sale for 50p from a lady who said it had cost her a lot of money but she never got to wear it. It really has kept me warm over the years.

I used the time to update out family calendar for the coming days and my Filofax too which I used to keep myself organised.

I even managed to take a look at my beads.  I have finally made a set off brown wood and glass bracelets that I was planning to make for months and a few colourful bracelets.  At the moment I am trying out combinations of these black beads as I would love to have something in black that went with most of what I wear.

In all I managed to get about two leisurely and peaceful hours this morning before the kids started to wake up.  Because I had some time for myself, I was so much more relaxed as everyone else got up and so much happier taking care of them.

Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) asked Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala) to bless us in the early morning hours, he said: “O Allah, bless my Ummah in its early hours” [Tirmidhi]

Monday 19 December 2016

Some Space and Time

I have had the sincerest intention every day for many days – to write, to blog, to answer e-mails to catch up with the various things that go with running a blog (like broken links, editorial calendars and queries about reviews and advertising).

But life seems to conspire to distract and obstruct me. We are still living and sleeping in the downstairs two rooms of our home. This means that there is nowhere for me to sit comfortably for an hour or so without putting pressure on my back. We mostly sit on the floor and I can’t quite find a comfortable position with the laptop.

My laptop surrounded by mess.  I sat cross legged on the edge of my mattress on the floor to access it.

A few months ago our van was rammed whilst we were sitting in traffic and alhamdulillah although we are ok, my back took some of the impact and I am trying to be careful not to strain it.

I have been working on updating my Annual Planner to publish on the blog for 2017, but have only been able to do it in fits and starts. This was supposed to be followed by the Inspirational Journal for Muslimah’s, a project dear to my heart, which also remains a work in progress.

The good thing about stepping back from blogging a little, is that every time I do so, I find tons of inspiration and motivation to come back to it.

Except I caught a nasty cold which left me drained and light headed. Then today the kids appear to have come down with nasty colds, so I have three of them with various aches and pains sleeping all day and me pestering them to eat and take their medicine.

Sleeping Babies

So in the end, I have decided to give myself a few days of grace.  No writing, no feeling bad for not having answered e-mails, no worrying about anything.  I will give myself a few days to see if it is enough to get my home and life in order and some space until everyone feels well again.  To find a place to sit comfortably to write regularly.  To not be surrounded by things.  To fall into the gentle rhythm of family, holidays from work and school and unrushed prayers that I am looking forward to for the next two weeks insh'Allah.

Insh'Allah I will get on with posting more blog posts and answering e-mails as soon as I can, just not in the next few days. xxxxx

Sunday 11 December 2016

Is Raising Good Muslim Children in the West Impossible?

Even as I write the question in the title I have to admit that I am a little biased. I was born and raised in London and I am trying to raise my children here. So what prompted the question? I went to pick up Darling from nursery this morning and said hello to some of the mums I meet there sometimes. One of them mentioned her daughter was Darling’s best friend, and I told her that her daughter’s name was mentioned daily in our home often alhamdulillah.

Another mother asked Darling’s besties mum how long before she was moving to Pakistan. She explained that they were still setting up a factory there and would move the family back there as soon as production had started. The other mum asked her why she wanted to go back and she replied that she couldn’t see a future here, that no matter how much you worked it wasn’t enough to live comfortably and the kids turned our strange here. She did mention too that they had no family here.

A tiny part of me did feel like exclaiming “we aren’t all messed up!!” Over the years, I have heard stories of families, including one of my dad’s friends, selling up and moving to Pakistan either because they thought their money would stretch further or because they thought their kids would get a better upbringing. Some stayed, many came back once their money ran out and they realised no one wants to know you if you are penniless, even all the relatives that helped you spend the money. Sometimes their children grew up and insisted they wanted to come back to the UK. One of my friends moved for the benefit of her daughters’ religious education, she struggled with the change in the environment, but stayed long enough for both daughters to become alimah (scholars) and then returned here with them. Then there are numerous friends and acquaintances that talk about moving to places like the UAE to provide their families with a more halal environment.

So are kids raised “back home” in Muslim countries better brought up? Do they have better manners? Are they more religious? My own thought on this matter is that it depends on the way they have been brought up and how you define well brought up. From my experience of my family and the families of friends, there is no shortage of spoilt, ungrateful or messed up kids back home. We also hear about the ones that have turned out well.

I do think it is a little bit easier back home in some regards: some values, such as care of the elderly and respect for your parents are ingrained into society and internalised in a way that they are not as much in other parts of the world. The way our children talk to us here is much more familiar and can be taken for rudeness. On the other hand the things that are influencing our children here: internet, mobile phones, social media etc. are now present in Muslim countries too and the children there are as up to date on the trends as the ones here are.

At the same time, I questions what we consider as well-brought up. There are some things that I think are universal: respect for parents, respects for teachers, and kindness towards your extended family, there are others which I think are not. My mum would often tell us how good our cousins are, massaging their mothers feet when she would come home from shopping. We would just go “eeewwwwww, we’re not doing that!” and think how good our cousins were at playing the grown-ups.

My kids are comfortable in disagreeing with me and debating an issue with me. In Pakistan, this might be considered as bad manners, but I don’t see it in that way. I have always said they can disagree with me as long as they do so respectfully. Here we are taught to question and be critical as part of our education. In Pakistan, I haven’t seen this in the past, certainly my husband’s generation was educated through rote learning, I suspect this may have changed now.

I hope this lady is happy if she moved to Pakistan, I hope her children are raised beautifully and she is pleased with them. In contrast I love the approach my husband has taken. He believes that you get what you strive for. If you are here to make as much money as you can, then perhaps you will. If you are here for your children to get the best upbringing, whether that means academic schooling or Islamic upbringing, then perhaps you will achieve that. In doing one, you may miss out on one of the others, who knows. But if you are here for your faith, as a da’ee, one who shares and teaches the faith and who’s biggest anxiety is that of our beloved Prophet (saw), to share the message of Islam, then, again, you can hope to get what you have worked for: a life filled with the beauty of faith, and perhaps the same for your family. My husband would say that you either influence your environment as a da’ee or you let it influence you. I you are a da’ee, then I think there is no East or West for you and I believe that Allah (SWT) will take care of the tarbiyyah (correct upbringing) of your children and safeguard their iman. I am reminded of a beautiful poem by the Pakistani poet Allama Iqbal, which was left in a comment on this blog:

Tu woh Yusuf hai ke har Misr hai Kan'aan teraa
You are the Yusuf for whom every Egypt is Canaan

(from jawab-e-shikwa, by Allama Muhammad Iqbal)

For the da’ee every Egypt is Canaan.

I would love to hear from readers about their views and experiences. Is it better back home?  Is environment too big a factor to ignore? Are children better brought up there? Are we doomed to messed up kids in the West? Or do you think it’s less about where you live and more about how you bring them up?

Friday 9 December 2016

Things That Make Me Smile - 10

I haven't done one of these posts in ages (no. 9 was in 2011!), but I thoroughly enjoy doing them and when I look back at them, I really enjoying reading through them.

At the moment, the things that make me smile are:

A Sindhi Ajrak shawl.  I had one and wore it until it was in tatters.  My mum has the same and has worn hers carefully and keeps offering it to me.  I can't bring myself to take it, but would like to get myself another, perhaps the next time my mum-in-law comes over from Pakistan...

Pomegranate - these are in season somewhere and we are getting loads in the local shops - cheap and so sweet.  I am taking advantage and peeling and de-seeding a couple every day for everyone to share.

Colour - The days are so short here, that we barely get any sunlight on days where we start work before it is light and find it dark by the time we leave.  I have always been besotted by colour, but at the moment even more so, whether my favourite green, jewel like colours, complementary palettes or rainbow spectrum's of colour.  I can't get enough of them.

After living in our home for almost 14 years, we finally saved enough to get it refurbished.  I am thinking about the children's rooms and for the boys there is one thing that I love: maps!  I will see where I can incorporate them: trunks, bedding, wall art etc

At the moment the short days and the cold clear weather have meant that we are getting spectacularly colourful sunsets and sunrises and skies full of stars with the moon in full clear view.  I am thoroughly enjoying the beauty of it all.  Something like this most days:

I have been looking for a boxy bucket-type bag for some time to carry my snacks, journal and Filofax to work or my mums place.  Something I can see into easily and that will keep things organised, a bit like this:

These last few weeks I have been obsessed with goal setting, life plans and journaling.  I have looking at all sort of planners and journals and ways to organise my to do lists and thoughts and various goal and plans.  The bullet journaling method has been on my radar quite a bit during the last year and some elements match the way I use my Filofax.  I love the effort and art that goes into these.

Friendly Strangers and Your Children

I took my youngest, Baby, for a stroll to the shops today. She is quite small with a petite pixie face and I often get comments from people saying she looks like a little doll, obviously they can’t see that she has a temper like a little wasp. It’s always nice when people stop to coo over your little ones or say hello to them or make a nice comment. It’s even more gratifying when you live in times that are not very child friendly or even Muslim friendly. A kind comment can make your day. 

But where do you draw the line? It’s one thing when a smiling elderly lady says a nice word, but often people can come into your space or touch your child. I recall one occasion when Little Lady was two or three years old and a very elderly, quite frail, gentleman approached us in the shopping mall. He said hello to Little Lady and started to talk to her. I thought it was quite sweet until he took hold of her hand and started to walk away with her. He walked a few metres with her and then said goodbye and left us there. I had followed, but I had absolutely no clue what to do. The man was about 90 or so and looked so fragile. He was also from a generation where there seemed to be less of a terror of stranger danger or child abuse. I am embarrassed even now writing about it, but I could not bring myself to say anything to the man and was utterly relieved when he said goodbye.

I think part of it was his frailty, another part was his age. We have been brought up to respect and think well of our elderly and to indulge them. 

Today, Baby got cooed over by two men in the charity shop I went into. They kept commenting on her smile and her face. Both appeared to have mild learning difficulties and it seemed to make them happy to say hello to her. One reached over to tickle under her chin which made me a little uncomfortable, but he then walked away. When I went to the till, he strolled past again and kneeled down to talk to her and tickled her knee, which made me reaaalllyy uncomfortable. She pulled a face to show she didn’t like it and I mentioned that I didn’t think she liked it. He didn’t seem to notice and did it again until the other man on the till told him to go and do some work. 

I couldn’t bring myself to tell him bluntly not to touch her. He wasn’t frail or elderly either. Perhaps it is the English habit of being too polite and not being direct about things, certainly I didn’t want to be rude. I think if he hadn’t stopped then, I would have said something, or just swung my pram around away from him.

Curiously, some other countries are known to be more child friendly, and it’s not a big deal for a passing stranger or fellow traveller to engage with your child. Certainly in Pakistan people will randomly start talking to you or want to pick up or even kiss your child. It’s not as much of a big deal I don’t think, although people have become more wary and protective over time.

I’m curious, what would readers have done? Would you have been very clear and told the man not to touch your child? Would you not mind if the other person had become offended or embarrassed? Or have you dealt with these things differently? Do you come from somewhere where this is normal behaviour from strangers? Do you routinely interact with people’s children and feel that there is no harm in it, or that parents are too protective these days? Would love to hear people’s thoughts.

I have no idea why she decided to sleep like this...

Sunday 4 December 2016

How to Deal with Difficult In-Laws

A sister recently left a comment on the blog describing problems she was having with her mother-in-law. You can see the original comment here and a truncated version below:

I am also a daughter in law. I made the intention to live and look after my mother in law who is currently in her 40’s and so her son can also do so. 2 weeks after my marriage I overheard her tell my husband; Leave her, you can get better from your back home country; He of course did not agree to that. She then started to lie to him and say I tried to punch her. I had a lot of house work being heavily pregnant straight after the wedding but she hardly helped with anything. When I asked, I was ignored. When her son asked I got told off by her. She is not a very honest individual and keeps cursing me. She threatens me by saying she will make her son divorce me. She has made me cry and laughed in my face saying I act like a baby. She turns the water switch off so neither I and my husband can have a shower in the morning which we of course need. I did everything to please.

Over time I have had a number of comments and e-mails on the theme of struggling with in-law’s. It seems to be a recurring issue for so many people at different level – from disliking each other’s way of doing things to physical abuse and neglect. I think there are a number of issues at play: different backgrounds, cultures and lifestyles colliding, a difference in values, personality differences, and a lack of understanding of how a family unit can work from an Islamic perspective. I think another part is that a lot of fear, anxieties and insecurities can rear their ugly heads and influence the way women behave towards each other. 

I don’t believe in women being martyrs and enduring cruel behaviour or abuse because they should “just be patient”. I don’t believe in turning the other cheek if it is only to offer it up for another slap and not to resolve the matter. I think a lot of the time we internalise behaviours that we see in our families and around us without knowing it: putting up with bad behaviour and not speaking up, not answering back to our elders, having a desire to please. We internalise values and an understanding of how women should behave and of how a daughter in law should behave: helpful, patient, sacrificing, submissive even. Which is very noble alhamdulillah, but not if it is not appreciated and not if it means putting up with unkindness or unfairness.

One of the biggest lessons I have learned in life has been that you cannot change others very easily or sometimes at all. You cannot choose how they behave. But we can change ourselves and we can choose how we want to behave. I think Muslim women should work to become confident and empowered. We should find our voice and share our opinions. We should value ourselves, our dream and our needs. We should stick up for ourselves and others. I don’t think these things are un-Islamic. I think they are an essential part of being a Muslimah who is strong enough to be positive and live according to her faith in the best way.  So my first advise to this sister would be to look at yourself and ask the question: if you truly see yourself as one of Allah SWT’s blessed, beloved creation, would you settle for this behaviour? Would you put up with it if this was happening to your sister or best friend? Why is it so important to please someone who doesn’t care to be pleased by you? Why not please yourself?

I don’t mean to sound harsh when it feels like the problem is not yourself, but someone else. But the other person is unlikely to see it that way or change any time soon. There is no easy solution. Another life lesson alhamdulillah: when you are clear on what you want and don’t care what others think, suddenly people’s behaviour towards you changes. When you stop looking to them for approval, they start looking to you for approval and agreement. To stop caring what others think is the hardest thing in the world for me, but some things you can do are:
  • Become clear on what you want out of life, how you want to live and your plan to get there
  • Understand what internal measures of success you need to set for yourself, such as achieving a goal or feeling accomplished. These should slowly start to replace any need to please others
  • Work on building your confidence and sense of self-worth in the face of those who do not value you.
It seems as if you are not what your mother-in-law envisaged in a daughter in law. That’s not your fault. It does seem that you are what your husband required in a wife, hence he is with you despite your mother-in-law’s opposition. I find in many families parents overstep their limits in finding a spouse for their child. They will look for someone that fits their requirement and values and matches their view of what a son or daughter in law should be like. They forgot that the purpose of our spouses is to fulfil our own needs in a partner: emotionally, spiritually and physically. Only we can know what we need, which is why Allah (SWT) gives us the right to choose who we want to marry. I think a lot of parents are still some way from understanding this concept.

Perhaps when we find ourselves in situations like the sister who commented, we need to re-evaluate our roles as a daughter-in-law. Is it to cook and clean? To exclusively take care of all of the care of parents and elders? To mould ourselves into what someone wants us to be? If we choose to help with the housework and care of parents, then this is a kindness on our part, it should be done for the pleasure of Allah (SWT) and not to please our in-laws or others. No matter how much we do, there will be a time when they will seem ungrateful and hurt us. But when we do things for the sake of Allah (SWT), He will never let us down, we earn the reward no matter how small the good deed.

In traditional families, this kind of thinking is scary and takes courage. To step back, assess and decide to change how we behave or react and what we tolerate from others. To make a decision to accept and deal with the consequences of doing this – which are usually not as much as we have allowed ourselves to imagine. 

At the same time, it can be challenging to deal with the range of behaviours you find yourself up against: misunderstandings, arguments, passive aggressive behaviours, emotional blackmail etc. You need to be able to recognise them for they are and armour yourself against them. When I see a grown women who is old enough to be a grandmother, resorting to passive aggressive behaviour or emotional blackmail, it tells me she feels powerless to deal with things directly, she either lacks the courage or be lives that her views or decisions do not hold enough weight to stand on their own without resorting to this kind of behaviour. I think I would feel very sorry for a person who even at this age feels so powerless.

When I have had to deal with this kind of behaviour, on the first few occasions I felt stressed, anxious, guilty and helpless. Over time, I decided that I will be the adult, carry on behaving in the best way I can and carry on doing what I have to (the bit about having a clear vision and plan). This was met with sulking, refusing to eat and hypochondriac type behaviour (saying they felt unwell). Throughout I carried on speaking to the person as normal, which confused them. I behaved as normal and was polite. In the end the person realised there was no point in playing games and went back to normal.

I know this is easier said than done, but at some point we are no longer young girls, new brides or 

We must take the difficult steps to becoming strong Muslim mothers, wives and women. Women who fear Allah (SWT), strive to do the right thing, fulfil their responsibilities, but also respect themselves and inspire respect from others.

May Allah (SWT) have mercy on the many sisters I have come across that struggle with this issue and may he reward their good intentions and resolve misunderstandings and bad feeling that develop between them and their in-laws insh’Allah.

Picture of the Day 01.12.16 - Beautiful Winter Sunsets

After a mild autumn, the temperatures here have dropped giving us bright cold days and clear nights.  It's rare to see the stars in the middle of London, but the last few days have been so clear that you can see so many so clearly.

The sun rises and sunsets have been quite eye catching too, with the sky awash with bright shades of pink, purple, orange and blues.