Friday 28 July 2017

Pulling Yourself Out of a Black Fog

I know things are getting me down when I get through a whole pack of chocolate button and didn’t manage to enjoy one of them.  Instead I feel sick and the feeling of dread and anxiety hasn’t shifted all morning.

You hear these sayings all the time, but you don’t really appreciate the grain of truth in them until you find yourself in a situation where they apply. Like “having the weight of the world on your shoulders”. Being in a situation where I am trying to deal with multiple problems and with hubby away, it actually does feel like I have something enormous weighing me down.

I am trying to secure a place for Little Lady at a local school, but have been told that I am unlikely to and will need to go through an appeal process.  For the first of her two GCSE years.  The only option available is a 30 minute bus journey to a school which is the borough’s last resort for children of parents who don’t make the application in time.

The boys have decided this is good timing to play up and bunk off madrassah, I realised something was going on because they were going without complaint, so I decided to wait outside and ask the teacher if they had missed any classes.  He confirmed they had missed some that week and then proceeded to lecture me in front of all of the other parents about supervising my children properly and how it was the mother’s role to make sure the children were being properly managed.  I told him I look after my disabled mum-in-law, have three other children, my husband is away and I work, so barely get home for 5pm when their class starts.  That prompted an even bigger moan about mothers caring for children and who was with them during the day.  He finished by pointing out that Gorgeous needed to cut his nails.  With the other mothers peering on at what the fuss might be about.  I felt very embarrassed and left with his mobile phone number so that I could message in future to check up on their attendance and progress.

Mum-in-law is pestering me to get Darling (who is four) started on her Quran classes.  My friend taught Little Lady some years ago and is an excellent teacher, she says she wants to teach Darling when she is six and not before.  So Little Lady is currently starting Darling on her alphabet and is amazed at her memory.  I am looking at finding someone for both boys and Darling either to come home or for me to pick and drop them daily myself.

I am also juggling our finances as one of our tenant’s has left this week and the other is due to go next week.  We had agreed to the second tenant after she gave the impression she would be staying for some time, but realised that she had only meant to stay for a short time.  The income from renting out rooms covered the cost of paying back for our loft conversion, so I will have to pay back the amount for this month out of pocket, as well as tenant number two’s deposit.  I am looking for new tenants, but I am always wary as to what type of person you might be allowing into your house, so am careful not to rush into anything.

With the school holidays I was hoping to have a little extra money to be able to take the children out on weekends, but with the tenant situation I will have to be creative and find things to do that don’t involve lots of money.

With hubby away with Tablighi Jamaat for six weeks and then visiting his family for two weeks sometimes I feel a little rudderless, as if I have no direction and no rock to lean on.  He is also a good person to vent to and share with and also split the to-do list of things to resolve with.  I try not to burden the rest of my family, but bits seep out with moaning to the kids or grizzling to my mother-in-law.  I also don’t want people to think badly of hubby, because I support him in what he does and believe in it and I know he must be missing us all like crazy.

Still, every now and again I get a message from my brother-in-law telling me my husband is safe and well and having a good time.  He has friends and family from all over coming to see him with gifts and spending days at a time with him.  I am grateful that he is well and safe, but a little bit of me bubbles up with annoyance at how stressed I have been.

Yesterday I went to lunch with a friend at work and apologised to her for moaning.  But it felt good to share with someone who I could trust.  Today I am consciously trying to shrug the feeling of a ten tonne weight on my shoulders and lift myself out of this feeling of helplessness.  There are two things I have learned to do when I feel stuck or depressed.  The first is to enter into conversation with Allah (SWT), I make dua, I ask for his help and I remind myself of my relationship with Him and His love for me.  But ultimately the thing that helps, is handing over my problems to him and acknowledging my trust in him:

“Amazing is the affair of the believer, verily all of his affair is good and this is not for no one except the believer. If something of good/happiness befalls him he is grateful and that is good for him. If something of harm befalls him he is patient and that is good for him” (Saheeh Muslim #2999)

The second thing is to get moving and take action.  Any action.  Break down the problem into small components, or just take one problem that is manageable and take any small or big action that can help you move towards resolution.  So this week, I have written to the local education department and requested a form to appeal the decision regarding Little Ladies school place. I have diarised to apply again on the first day of August for the next school year.  I have advertised the rooms to rent and started putting items on eBay and Gumtree to sell to make space and create some income.  I have asked a few people regarding a new Quran teacher for the children.  I am pestering my mum-in-law to make lots of dua for me which I know she does.

They are all fairly small things and more work is required to resolve some of these problems, but taking action helps you to feel a bit more in control.  More importantly it helps you change your mindset away from a very miserable one that leaves you feeling stuck.

I am trying to use my daily commute (a bus and three trains each way) to catch up on my reading (and maybe catch a few Pokémon for my sons).

I am trying to use the time without hubby to spend a little more time blogging, writing, planning on a family history project and in self-reflection and of course more reading.

I am trying to save weekends for fun and family time, enjoying my parents and children and trying new things insh’Allah

I am using this time alone to take sole responsibility for the children’s behaviour and habits and implement a sensible routine, with chores, no internet and daily Islamic study.  It must sound like hell for children, but after a few days of moaning, they are getting on with their chores, my evenings are easier and I feel blessed to have a little learning every day, even if it is five minutes.  The kids are being forced to find other activities like reading, board games and crafts.

I believe that there is no growth without challenge.  That exponential growth and personal development happen only when you are stretched beyond what you think you can manage and dragged out of your comfort zone.  I feel as if recent events have forced me to take stock of what is happening with my children and shed some of my naivety as a mother.  I feel as if I have had to reinforce my backbone with stronger stuff, whether when managing sneaky tenants, holding my ground with mutinous children or managing my mother-in-law’s fretting without being unkind or impatient.

So as always, I am counting the days until hubby comes home to us, but I am also working to make sure each day until then counts.

"Verily, with hardship there is relief" (Qur'an 94:6)

"...Bear with patience whatever befalls you...." (Qur'an 31:17)

"Be not sad, surely Allah is with us." (Qur'an 9:40)

"Verily, in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest." (Qur'an 13:28)

Our Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) said: "Verily, if Allah loves a people, He makes them go through trials. Whoever is satisfied, for him is contentment, and whoever is angry upon him is wrath." (Tirmidhi)

The Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) said, "Whoever Allah wishes good for, He inflicts him (with hardship)." (Bukhari)

“And if you would count the favours of Allah, never could you be able to count them. Truly! Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (Quran 16:18)

Picture of the Day 28.07.17 - Perfect Scarlet

My office is surrounded by construction at the moment with what used to be waste land selling for millions and being developed into shops, houses and offices.  This little flower seems to push through in all sorts of nooks and crannies and in every colour.  An absolute delight to see.

Tuesday 25 July 2017

Request for Guest Posts for Happy Muslim Mama

I love to write for this blog, but I also love to hear from readers. 
Do you have an urge to write?
Do you have a message or opinion that you really want to share
Do you have a blog and would like to share some of your content with my beloved readers.

If so I am open to guest posts from readers and other bloggers.
I am open to new, unique content that would be of interest to my readers, these are predominantly women, largely Muslim and mainly in the 25-34 years old and 35-44 year old age bracket.  Their interests include religion, travel, family and parenting, lifestyle, fashion, entrepreneurship, home making, gardening, books, food, self-improvement and beauty.

Potential content can include a recipe, an opinion piece, a photographic post, a how-to tutorial, even some good advice or dawah.

If you are interested you can e-mail me at with an idea of what you would like to write about.  Happy Muslim Mama is a well-established blog of almost 10 years with significant organic traffic from an interested and interesting readership.  In return for an accepted guest post, I would be happy to link back to your blog or business with a short bio about you (I cannot currently offer any payment for guest posts).

So if you have something to share, please get in touch!

Book Review: The Underground Railway by Colson Whitehead

I try so hard to read good books, worthy books and books that I will learn from.  But sometimes I just need a book that will grab me and take me out of the world and refuse to let go.  In other words a good story that I have to drop everything for.  The cover of The Underground Railway says “Winner of the National Book Award” and “Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2017”.  In the past the grand titles have meant that a book is likely to be worthy, but no guarantee that it is interesting enough to hold my often goldfish level attention.

The Underground Railway tells the story of a young woman called Cora from a cotton plantation in Georgia who decides to try and escape the utter misery and horror of life as a slave.  We follow her on her journey, with a slave catcher in pursuit.  The book doesn’t hold back when describing the horrific treatment of slaves at every step of their life.  It also throws light on the plight of freed men and women, who despite not being slaves are completely at the mercy of the whims of white people of the time.

The book highlights the thinking of the time that stated non-whites were inferior, barely human and even sinful (from the biblical story of Ham), requiring control and discipline or punishment from white people.  Even those who are considered to be comparatively sympathetic are shown to treat black people as subjects of ridicule of experimentation.

On her journey Cora also provides us with a window into the other forms of persecution of the time, whether medical experiments, arbitrary violence against black people, or the “clearing” of whole towns of any black people through public lynching’s.

The Underground Railway is written in clear, forceful prose.  The writer often builds up tension and suspense and then resolves it so suddenly and quickly that within a sentence the awful has happened, barely leaving you time to feel the full horror of  a situation. 

Cora is a complex protagonist, veering from thinking deeply about her situation only to dismiss it to being driven by a profound anger at her situation.  Interestingly, she never buys into the negative narrative about her race and situation.  She is always crystal clear that there has been an injustice against her race and that they are deserving of  justice and freedom, that the slave owners and sympathisers are the sinners.

The book moves from brutal scenes of violence to contemplative passages, meditating on the situation of the people.  Colson Whitehead’s writing and the themes of this book reminded me of the books of Tony Morrison, one of my favourite writers: moving, often painful to read, leaving you brimming with anger at the injustices brought down on generations of people in the name of money and justified through both religion and science.  Part polemic, part history lesson, this is a fascinating and engaging story, I think I will keep hold of this book for my children to read.

Monday 24 July 2017

Are Small Families Better?

I remember growing up the oldest of five, how much I yearned for a bedroom of my own.  I used to wonder what it would be like to be an only child and not have to share, then immediately feel guilty because I knew I would not want to wish any of my siblings away.

The other day, mum-in-law was encouraging me to delegate more chores to the children, saying I do too much for everyone and must be careful or I would be old before my time.  I agreed that with hubby away in Pakistan, working and managing a busy household was starting to take its toll.  I haven’t had a holiday for some time and unlike my five sisters-in-law in Pakistan I had never gone to stay with my parents for a break (they only live five minutes away, so I suspect my family would just follow me there).

Little Lady piped up that this was why small families were better.  For some reason this got me really cross.  I told her off a little and reminded her that it was not the size of the family but the character of the people in it and the quality of your relationships that determined what was better and that we should be grateful for our family.

I knew at the time why I had gotten annoyed.  A large family seems to imply carelessness.  That we decided to have lots of children and now can’t manage. Or that we are too stupid to understand the concept of family planning.  Comments about large families can feel like a personal attack whether they are intended that way or not.  There is the implication of being careless, ignorant or backward.  There are those who point out the greater use of resources and the difficulty and cost of raising one child let alone many.

I committed to the belief a long time ago that when Allah (SWT) decrees something it will happen even if you and the whole world are against it and if Allah does not will something, there is nothing that you or the whole of His creation can do to make it happen.  Every life has an allotted time to come into this world and an allotted span.  It is written and fixed and nothing to do with what we want but is what Allah (SWT) has decreed.

I was never that interested in babies.  I read Psychology at university and attended every class religiously except the Child Psychology module which I had no interest in and bunked off of.  I didn’t have Little Lady until three years into my marriage as I wanted to enjoy life with my husband and my first taste of freedom after the restrictions of my parents’ house.  But with each baby that came into my life, I was proud and grateful.  With each new baby we made space in our home, our heart, our family and in our vision for the future.

I remember when I found out I was expecting number five.  I had just spent the first week of that year making big plans for my life and at the end of that first week, I found out that I was pregnant.  I cried out of fear of the sickness and difficulty I knew I had to look forward to nine months of misery, but the timing also felt like a massive reminder that:

“They plan, and Allah plans. Surely, Allah is the Best of planners.” ~ Quran (8:30)

Now after four children that take after their dad’s family, I have a fifth who looks like me, has my energy and some of my nature (my short sharp temper and my interest in everything) and who is my beloved little doll,

With each child we did not worry about money, as a Muslim I believe that every child brings it’s own rizq (sustenance) with it into this worls and we trust in the abundance of Allah (SWT)’s blessings.  As Muslim’s we don’t necessarily ask for more, but for what we have to be blessed and sufficient, this is the concept of “barakah”.  We could have more and it might still not be enough to meet our needs.

My mum-in-law has six sons, they squabble, fall out and have each other’s back when needed, but the thing I admire, is how much they respect their parents and how all of them understand their duty to care for their elderly parents.  I know families who doted on their children, but now either complain their child does not bother with them or put on a brave face and carry on alone telling people that their children come whenever they can.  The number of children does not seem to be a deciding factor, but the sense of responsibility and duty does.

People complain that large families use up an unfair share of resources on an already overpopulated planet.  I believe that every one of us has an amount of resource or wealth written for us when we are born and we receive it whether we run after it, or it chases after us.  As one of five siblings and married to one of eight, I have seen my mum and mother-in-law take great care not to be wasteful.  My mum-in-law can re-use, upcycle and stretch a resource like no one else I have seen.  Take a men’s jumper and make a boys tracksuit? Take leftovers and make a whole new meal?  Take a something broken and repair it or use it for a different purpose?  Mum-in-law is a complete expert, if it was up to her, next to nothing would get thrown away and every penny would be well spent on a necessity.

As a child, four siblings felt like a lot, as an adult, I am grateful for my siblings, for the help and support we give each other and my parents and I pray for a future with them all in it for a long time insh’Allah.

So is a smaller family better?  I believe that it is not the size of the family, but how well-raised it is that matters.  It is not the amount of material resources you have, but how effectively you instil faith and good character into your family.  When all five of mine decide to start fighting or are stuck inside in rainy weather going crazy then five is a large number.  When they are all at school or asleep and hubby is away and the house has been quite for a few hours, even five becomes a very small number.

Peas, Beans and Muddy Boys

My mum called early yesterday morning waking me up, and asked if I wanted to go to a boot fair with her and my dad. I was up like a shot and asked the boys if they wanted to come too, thinking the walking around and fresh air would get the “I’m boooored” out of them for the rest of the day. We drove half an hour to find that the enormous Dunton boot fair was shut, so we travelled further out to Orsett, where we found a small market with two rows.  We ended up buying a wooden stationary organiser for me and a big bag load of new toys, thanks to Little Man’s persistence and persuasion.

It was still barely 9am, so my dad suggested we go somewhere else as the boys were with us.  He ended up driving all the way across the river into Kent and surprised us by taking us to Hewitt’s Pick Your Own Farm.  My mum had been dropping hints about the peas and beans being in season, so he thought he would take us to see what was on offer.

We have been going to Hewitt’s a few times a year since I was a child.  We have so many happy memories and have enjoyed taking our children there as well (here and here).  On this occasion it was very quiet and the fields were sitting empty.  We started at the plum orchards and found most of the fruit still a bit green and hard and not quite ready to pick. 

We moved on to the pea fields which were full of plants loaded down with fat, ripe pea pods.  We got our shoes an the bottom of our trousers covered in mud to our fairly quickly, probably not the best place to wear an abaya that is a bit too late.  The boys were guided by my mum to pick the best ones: fat hard pods, not too soft as they will be empty, not too yellow as they will be over-ripe and not taste as sweet.  We both filled bags to take home, some to eat and the rest to freeze.

Next door was the broad bean field, mum bypassed it saying they were not her favourite.  The next field along was French beans which are her favourite and which she picked enough to freeze and cook for most of the year.  I was going to bother, but she told me to get picking.  The plants absolutely full and it didn’t take long for me to get a small bag full.  My mum in law will cut these up for me to freeze and we will cook them with chicken, minced lamb or courgette and bell peppers.

We walked past fields that have been cordoned off because they were not ready to pick yet, the sweetcorn crop looked beautifully deep green and dense, but wont’ be ready for another month or two.

It was lovely walking through the shade of the orchards with the cool morning breeze.  The apples and pears have some time to go before they are ripe, but for some reason one end of the plum orchard had a row of trees where the fruit had ripened and was falling off, maybe it caught the sun a bit more at that end.  We picked a few handfuls, they were so ripe that you barely had to touch and they came away in your hand.

We sauntered back to the little shop at the entrance of the farm to pay for our vegetables and fruit, stopping for a photoshoot with the boys on the way.  More visitors were just starting to turn up as we were leaving (about 11am).

We bought some big strawberries from the farm shop along with what we had picked.  The kind lady in the shop gave my boys some tubs of raspberries for free.  I asked her about some fresh apple juice in her shop and she explained it was made locally with a variety that was made from sour apples, one that was mad from very sweet apples and one that was made from a mixture of apples to give a balanced taste.  I ended up buying a bottle of the mixed apple juice to try and look forward to testing it.

Picture of the Day 23.07.17 – June Harvest

We made a spontaneous visit to a Pick Your Own farm in Kent yesterday and came back with some treats to eat, share and freeze.  Fresh peas that were sent to neighbours, eaten raw by the children and shared with my visiting uncles.  Beans to cut and freeze, plums and cherries for my mother-in-law, raspberries and strawberries that got scoffed by the kids and their little visiting cousins – the raspberries had the loveliest mild taste without any hint of sourness.  Some apple juice to try out when I am next due a treat.

Book Review: City of Ember by Jean DuPrau

I picked this book up from the charity shop never having heard of the author and not knowing that it was a children’s book until I started reading it.  But put post-apocalyptic and fiction in the same sentence and I am on it like a bookworm getting her fix.

The book is set in a town called Ember, nothing exists outside of the town except for darkness and the town contains everything the dwellers will ever need.  All light is provided by electric lights during the day and at night there is pitch black.   Except the lights are starting to stutter and the food and supplies the town needs are starting to dwindle leading people to start asking whether anything lies beyond the dark.

The prologue to the book tells us that the “Builders” of Ember expected the people to live in the city for two hundred years and then gain access to instructions which would lead them out of the city, over time the instructions are misplaced and accurate time keeping of the two hundred years is lost, so that the period may have been exceeded by an unknown amount of time.

Lina and Doon are two children who have just finished their schooling and are expected to take their place amongst the adults of Embers and learn the trade assigned to them to help keep Ember running, Lina as a messenger and Doon working underground in the pipework’s below the city that keep it functioning.  When they come across a damaged old parchment they are convinced that within its directions lies the salvation of Ember.  How will they decipher it with so much of it missing and will they be able to do so before the town falls into permanent darkness?

This is a fast-paced, clever book, with the action moving at a cracking pace. The characters are easy to like, with many eliciting a lot of sympathy and sadness from the reader: Lina’s senile grandmother, her toddler sister left without parents at such a tiny age, the various lonely and frightened people of Ember trying to survive on less and less.  The world of Ember is fascinating and brought to life through its songs, way of life and the anxiety of the people as we witness the slow decline of the towns infrastructure.

The book was a little predictable and I knew what was coming towards the end, but I raced through it to see how the characters could possibly find resolution.  As with all of the best post-apocalyptic fiction, the ending leaves us with as many questions as answers and ends one journey with the start of another.  I would happily read the next book in this series to find out what happens next.

Tuesday 18 July 2017

Product Review: Crinkled Scarves by Modest Be

I was asked by Modestrove London if I was interested in trying out their newest line of scarves for a review.  I was open to trying them out and was sent two of their Modest Be line of crinkles scarves.

The scarves I was sent are made of a crepe fabric and measure 180cm by 70cm, in shades of grey and dusty pink (they are also available in black, baby blue and tint green - I like the look of the black one). 

The grey is a soft oyster grey shade, slightly warm for a grey.  I wore this scarf with a peach outfit for a party and it co-ordinated quite well.  The pink was difficult to pick up in these pictures and made me think of a vintage tea pink shade.

The scarves have a sheen to them and a textured look.  I wear my scarves quite flat (i.e. no high bun at the back), so these were quite nice to add a little shape.

The scarves are machine washable at 40 degrees and were easy to iron.  They did wrinkle quite easily, so I had to lay them flat after ironing until I was ready to wear them.

The scarves are quite nice for a special occasion, because the shine is quite subtle, I would probably feel comfortable wearing these to work also.   I tend to wear print scarves with plain abaya's, but subtle colours like these are quite handy to help co-ordinate party outfits.  

The scarves also remind me of the kind of outfit's my younger sister wears and would look great with the softer shades she favours:

Most likely I will be keeping one for myself and gifting one to someone as they look better than ordinary everyday cotton or viscose scarves and would make a nice present.

Palestine Expo 2017

I attended the Palestine Expo, an event organised by Friends of Al-Aqsa, this year with Shutterbug SisterHarlequin Sister and Little Lady.  The situation in Palestine is something that affects Muslims across the Ummah (global Muslim community).  My first memory of what has happened there, as a seven or eight year old, was a news report with an accompanying video of a young Palestinian boy with curly dark hair flanked by soldiers and with blood pouring down his face.  The image haunted me and for years after and I used to wonder what happened to him.  Did he go to jail?  Did he get married and have a family? Was he still alive? 

Over the years, we have followed what has happened in Palestine (1 , 2 and 3), with the siege of Gaza leaving us feeling helpless, ineffective and devastated.  So when the opportunity came to learn more about the situation and also about the culture and heritage of Palestine, we were keen to take the opportunity.

The event took place over five floors of the Queen Elizabeth II Centre close to Parliament and included lectures, film and documentary viewings and a market place celebrating Palestinian culture.

The first lecture was from Dr Inas Abbad, a political science researcher, lecturer and a political activist from Jerusalem.  She described how the education system of the Palestinians had been dismantled following the Ottoman period during British and then Israeli rule, with decreased number of schools, changed curriculum and children coming through checkpoints to cramped and unsuitable classrooms.  Something that really stood out for me was how she described the way a rich and beautiful Palestinian culture and heritage was being wiped from history and school books to support a narrative that said that there was nothing before the Israeli’s came and that they had turned the barren and empty desert land green.

The second talk was from Ronnie Barkan, an Israeli human rights activist and conscientious objector (he refused to complete his compulsory military service in Israel).  He spoke about the political element of the struggle, with even "liberal" Israeli politicians begrudging Palestinians their rights.  

The third talk we managed to listen to was from Soheir Asad, a Palestinian activist and Human Rights lawyer.  She broke down the way the Palestinian had been discriminated against using the law, in particularly how land laws had been used in different ways to confiscate the lands they owned.

We made a few trips through the floor with stalls selling ceramics, embroidered outfits, shawls, dates and oil, perfume, calligraphy, books, charities and about half a dozen stalls laden with halal sweets.

There was an area for children's activities including storytelling on the theme of Prophets of Palestine by well-known storytellers Hassen Rasool and Elizabeth Lymer

We took a break for lunch, with the girls queuing up for ages for a falafel wrap, I didn't want to wait around, so went for the shortest queue which was for a chicken biryani.  Then we went to listen to a lecture by John Pilger, a journalist whose work I have admired since I first came across his writings online and in book form.  I didn't expect how full the lecture hall would be and he received a standing ovation.  He spoke about his experiences reporting on Palestine, moving, devastating and infuriating by turn. He also spoke about the change he was seeing with people unwilling to ignore the injustices in the world whether Palestine, Grenfell Tower or the Occupy Wall Street movement.

It was a day well spent learning and trying to understand what we can do to help.  I am very glad I took my daughter along and I would take my two sons along in future, particularly as they were so moved by what was happening during the seize of Gaza.