Friday 9 March 2018

International Women’s Day 2018

My office marked International Women’s Day 2018 with a series of talks by women discussing success, how they got to where they are today and how they balance the different parts of their life.  The conversations I am hearing around me are about gender parity, career progressions, self-belief and equal pay.  As a believer in fairness and justice all of these seem like noble things.

But when I think of International Women’s Day I think of my nan, a women I never met.  She died in childbirth when my mother was a little girl, her baby having died a few days earlier.  Maternal health and maternity care is a subject close to my heart, having been through seven pregnancies and having had five children.

Perhaps people don’t realise quite the impact that poor maternity care and the death of a mother can have on her family, her children and even the generations that come after.  My mother was never sent to school, no one bothered to send her, if her mother had been alive perhaps she would have fought for her daughter’s education in the way that her step mother ensured that her daughters went to school.  She married young and came to England where she was not always treated well by her in-laws.  Her illiteracy meant that she was isolated and in those days she could not always contact her family easily.  Her lack of a mother meant she was missing the strong advocate that could have fought her corner at such a testing time of her life.

Her illiteracy also meant that she was too intimidated to be involved in our school life and could not help with our school work, although later she pushed us all hard to get to university, even when my dad was against the idea for me.

Another impact on her of losing her mother at such a young age was that she never learned to show affection to her own children or to manage her own anger and pain in a reasonable way for most of her childhood.  It was only later as adults she started to hug and kiss us much to our absolute pleasure.  But it meant that for much of my early adulthood I was certainly a cold fish, being completely clueless about how to behave when friends hugged or showed me affection.

When my mum had her own children she missed out on all of the special care you receive from your mother following childbirth: the special food, the extra rest and care.  When it was my turn to have children, she simply didn’t know what was required of her, asking friends for advice that would have been passed down from her mother.

The point is that the influence of my nans death was felt through two more generations at least, perhaps more as I know I am still mitigating the effects of her death on my life.

People might complain that in the modern world there is no longer the need for feminism or International Women’s Day, but I would disagree.  Whilst there are places in the world that women cannot access decent healthcare or education, there is a need to keep pushing for progress.

Thursday 8 March 2018

Guest Post: Harlequin Teaset and International Women's Day 2018

I haven’t had time to write as much as I like today for International Women’s Day, but luckily my little sister has and I love how she has personalised it with anecdotes from my family.  She shares how precious having sisters is to us despite our squabbles and how we have come so far on the sacrifices that came before us:

Harlequin Teaset: International Women's Day 2018 

Today we celebrate International Women’s Day – a day which honours women’s achievements, their lives and the struggle for equality in this post-modern world. I’ve already heard criticism and grumblings though – some from women saying this day is full of hypocrisy, where companies cash in on a cheesy holiday, before going back to the uncomfortable reality where women aren’t all equal. I’ve also heard some from the men, who feel targeted, pushed out, marginalised and feel that it is unfair (to be honest, there is an International Men’s Day in November, but I’ve never seen it be celebrated).

One of the reasons why I always like to talk about this day is because I know how much the women in my family have struggled in order for me to have the position, and privilege, that I enjoy today. My paternal grandmother spent her life looking after her husband, then her children, and then her last few years with her sons and grandchildren – but we all saw her as the matriarch, the Queen Bee of the family, and have such fond memories of her. We never knew our maternal grandmother as she died very young, but we have always held her in such high respect – the stories we grew up with about her focused on her being the jewel of her family, a much-wanted daughter and sister. One of the stories I remember being told was about her travelling in her ‘doli’ on her wedding day, and asking to stop so she could pray her salah – this for me was such a humble, awe-inspiring thing to do in the midst of a special day, and a reminder to not get too big for our boots.

And my mother. I could write pages about her. Whenever I read poetry about our roots, our struggles, our blessings, (“Our backs/Tell stories/No books have/The spine to/Hold” – Rupi Kaur), I always think of my mum and what she has taught us while she raised us, as well as what she has endured. My mother married young, and spent her life caring for others, where she never came first – her younger siblings, her husband, her children, her in-laws. I’ve heard a lot of stories from friends, colleagues, bloggers and many more about the relationships they’ve had with their parents, difficult or otherwise which all talk about how they impacted them as adults.

It’s harder to explain the more complex things someone who may not have the same upbringing as us – the emotional-blackmail, the cultural-family politics, the superstitions and the ingrained racism, misogyny and general random weirdness that seems to come part-and-parcel with Asian society. One of the things I was always grateful for was that my mother spared my sisters and I a lot of this headache – she realised the value of letting us be ourselves without forcing us to follow the route she had gone through. We spent our childhood running to the parks, riding bikes, dressing in boy-jeans (well, one of my sisters did anyway), wearing princess dresses (me), devouring books and jumping up and down to Bollywood songs (me again). Our parents were not well off, but my mother spent most of her spare time tailoring, and saved money carefully so that when we needed (or usually just wanted) something frivolous, we always got it.

And shall I tell you about my sisters? One is literally Superwoman – she blogs, works full time, raises five children and still has time for a good natter, to cook, to take her children somewhere fun or find something interesting to do, watch or read. Almost every person I know who also knows her ask me how she does it – I’m a little baffled myself. Then there’s another sister of mine – possibly the most humble person I know, and also the most reliable. I always take her shopping with me (because she lets me be rude to her when she picks out clothes) and she’s always my go-to person for taking photos, organising events or just generally random bits of handy-man advise. And lastly there’sthe baker in the family – when we were younger we used to get asked if we twins (we look nothing alike but used to be the same height as kids), and she’s probably one of the few people who loves horror movies way more than I do. I often find that she’ll say something I was thinking, usually the more stupid the more likely! When I was in school, I got told by one of my friends that I talked about my sisters ‘too much’, which I found weird – I always thought I was lucky to have sisters and have always felt sorry for those who don’t.

Having said that, as much as I understand how important it is to recognise and acknowledge the bounds and leaps that women have taken over the years, I feel that it is just as important to understand the issues that women still have. In my workplace I’ve often come across women who have problems, and still have them now. I met a very sweet Afghani women a couple of days ago who broke my heart with her story – she was a teacher in Afghanistan who taught a girl’s schools, but received many threats for doing so. Her son was abducted, his body found a year later. Her husband was injured in an explosion while driving to work, and she fled the country to Britain in fear of her life. When I went to visit her, her landlord took me aside and quietly asked me to be gentle with her – she had just found out her husband died the day before. Yet when I spoke to her I found her incredibly sweet, thoughtfully asking me if I wanted to sit, to drink anything. I found her strength of character amazing – she was in the middle of grieving yet had time to think of others. There are still countries where women do not have access to basic necessities – clean underwear, sanitary items, clean toilets and even basic rights and freedom. Its things like this which make us realise how much we take for granted, and how much the world still needs to go before we can consider ourselves equal or fair.

You can read the full article here and see more of her writing, art and general wierdness here and on her awe-inspiring instagram account here.

Book Review: Its Jummah! by Najia Rastgar and Lyazzat Mukhangaliyeva

Growing up Friday was always a special day in my home.  There were particular rituals and actions  for the day – My dad dressed in pure white salwar kameez for Jummah (Friday), the house scented with his attar and any new clothes we bought were saved for Friday for their first wear.  I have tried to replicate this feeling of a special day of the week with my children. 

It’s Jummah! is a board book for babies that tries to share a few Sunnah and etiquettes of Friday for Muslims. It is the first in a series of books by the authors that’s aims to combine Islamic knowledge and pre-Montessori education (like shapes, colours, fruits and vegetables, etc.), so babies can learn them both at the same time.

The book uses very simple language and beautiful high-contrast illustrations for smaller children. I really liked that it helps us to introduce Islam to smaller children with easy instructions for Friday like having a bath, cutting our nails, wearing our best clothes and reciting Quran.

My little girls enjoyed the book, it is aimed at slightly smaller children than my three and five year olds but it was a nice little resource for me to teach them about the sunnaan of Friday and to test them by asking questions.

The writers say they plan to translate the books into Urdu, Kazakh, Russian, Arabic, Bengali, and other languages in futures, I think these would make nice little books to get started with teaching little ones another language.  I look forward to see what else come forth from this series.

Book Review: The Muslims by Zanib Miah

When my older children were quite small, I used to buy them books with an Islamic theme, not necessary just instructional, but often something to motivate and inspire: colourful picture books with stories from the lives of the Prophets (peace be upon them) and the Sahabah (companions of the Prophet - may Allah be pleased with them).

As they have gotten older they have lost interest a little for more mainstream books which perhaps they find a little more entertaining.  Both of my boys are fans of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, Zanib Miah’s The Muslims is in a similar style.

The book follows our loveable, cheeky but slightly disaster-prone young protagonist Omar, as he introduces us to his very likeable family and moves to a new school.  The book is funny, but not always fun.  Omar gets into plenty of escapades, but unlike the light-heartedness of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, The Muslims touches gently on deeper themes of how children cope with change, in this case with an imaginary dragon that grows and shrinks as his worries do.  The book also deals with bullying, in this case because Omar is a Muslim.

In an interviewpublished late last year on Happy Muslim Mama, Zanib Miah described how she wrote her book The Muslims in response to the surge of faith-based bullying as, reported by Child Line and the NSPCC.

Interestingly it also touches on how children pick up on the worries from things happening around them – for instance, his fear that all Muslims and Asians could have to leave the country.  This was something I have had conversations about with my children in the past after Brexit and other events that they have picked up on.

This makes the book sound very heavy for a child, but in fact these things are dealt with, with a very light touch.  The book is written from a child’s point of view with illustrations that are almost comic-like.

My favourite parts were those that included the neighbour who started off calling the family “The Muslims” (hence the name of the book) and eventually is won around enough to invite herself to their iftar meals and join in the countdown to Biryani (where she feeds Omar alcoholic chocolates)

I like that the book weaves Omar’s faith into his daily life in the way Islam does in real life for Muslims.  Sometimes this centres on their daily routine, like the way they celebrate Ramadan and Eid and sometimes through his actions, in the way he makes dua (supplication) when he is in trouble.

And the important verdict?  Both my boys utterly loved this book and both said they would read more instalments if they could get them.

Tuesday 6 March 2018

Good Deed of the Day: Support the Quran Stories with HudHud App

I usually share a charity programme or a good project on Fridays and encourage people to support in any way they can. I haven't in a while and I really like this project, so I am going to share in the hope that others might want to support also insh'Allah.

The project is a free app called Quran Stories with HudHud. The designers of the app, say:

"Through this app, children will be able to build a connection with the Quran and find true role models of Patience, Honesty, Generosity, Wisdom, Bravery, and Good Character.

Children will learn about the stories of the Quran in a fun and engaging way."

I like this because as my children get older, I have come to realise more and more that teaching children about faith has to be interesting, relevant, interactive and if possible fun.  You have to find ways to keep children's interest and keep them motivated or the whole process can become very painful for everyone involved.

The app includes stories told by professional story-tellers, games, puzzles and animations, the creators also hope to translate the stories into a number of different languages.

You can find out more about the app on the Launch Good page here including how to make a donation to the project or raise awareness by sharing on your own social media.