Monday, 14 January 2019

My Annual Reading List for 2019

I have never done this before, but I came across the idea in this post by the wonderful Shaunta Grimes: an annual reading list. My goals for 2019 include some books to read as does my 2019 100 things bucket list (although I haven’t got quite to 100 yet 😊).

I like the idea and It would be nice to check back at the end of the year and see how many I managed. 

Islamic Books
Read the Quran completely at least twice or more, including one reading during Ramadan.

Tafsir Ibn Kathir – This is considered to be one of the most comprehensive and complete commentaries on the Quran. I have this at home in ten volumes because my husband randomly turned up with it one day from a removal job.  Top of my list to read insh’Allah

Eight Islamic biographies – I have some at home including those of the four caliphs (RA), the great military strategist and companion of the Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) Khalid bin Walid and Salahuddin Ayyubi.  Hopefully the rest will be of women, including the Mothers of the Believers (RA).

Hayat-us-Sahabah (Lives of the Sahabah) by Muhammad Yusuf ibn Muhammad Ilyas Kandihlawi al-Dihlawi.  I have this in five volumes and have read bits in isolation.  I would like to read the whole series again.

Beheshti Zewar (Heavenly Ornaments) by Mawlānā Ashraf Ali Thanvi, this is a wide-ranging breakdown of various issues for women including law (fiqh).  I read this some twenty plus years ago and it stood me in good stead over the years in helping me understand how to practice my faith with confidence and take away a lot of the uncertainty around key areas like child birth, menstruation as they pertain to faith.  One I hope to read again this year for a refresh.

There are a few more Islamic books sitting on my bedside table that I have started reading at various points and not finished.  I hope to get through some of these.  Other than this I would like to learn more about the lives of the Mothers of the Believers (RA) and the female companions (RA) of the beloved Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wasallam).  I am intensely interested in the everyday lives and the ordinary details of their lives: what they wore, ate, looked like, how they ordered their days.

There are two areas of non-fiction that interest me: political/opinion and self-help.  For political, in particular those that touch on themes of race and Palestine interest me deeply. There are a few I have at home that I am trying to finish:

I have been a fan of self-help since my teens and have quite a few at home I still haven’t read.  I gave my book shelf a big clear out at the start of the year, so what is left are the ones that appeal:

The Secret Lives of Colour by Kassia St Clair is a book I have been eyeing up for weeks at the bookshop near my office.  I treated myself to it on book store points and look forward to indulging two of my loves together: books and colour.


Ever since I organised my bookshelf, changing from thematic ordering to colour blocking, lots of the books that have been hidden at the back have come to the front and are inspiring me.  I hope to make a dent in some of these stacks.  Little Lady has already read TheHate U Give (THUG below) and is encouraging me to try it.

I would love to read the third instalment of The King Killer Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss, after really enjoying the first two in the series but I don’t think there is any news on a release date. Other than that, I plan to sneak in some really fun books with a cracking story line: the type you just can’t put down, perhaps Young Adult.

I had so much fun with my office book club last year, I am also hoping to read another ten to twelve books through that.  Hopefully this year they will be ones I enjoy, last years choices were hit and miss.

I think this book list is probably a bit ambitious for one year, and I am not too confident that I will get though all of it, but I intend to have fun and learn something trying.  I hope to spend less time on my phone and internet surfing and more time reading insh’Allah.

Picture of the Day 14.01.19: Books and Cookies

Gorgeous and I are doing a first for us at the moment.  We are both reading the same book. Its’ Dracul by Dacre Stoke and J. D. Barker. I picked it because it is a prequel to Bram Stokers Dracula which is one of my most favourite ever books. He read the blurb and thought it looked interesting.

The way it works is that it lives in my bedroom, when one of us puts it down, the other can pick it up and we both keep our own book marks.  So far I am ahead, but I started earlier.  I am enjoying the book, but I am loving that he is reading a big book and also that we can discuss it as we go.

I came home from work today to find him settling in with the book and a pack of cookies, crunching away loudly.  I just hope he doesn’t give away too much if he gets ahead.

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Grateful for Ordinary

Late last year I picked up the habit of morning journaling again.  I have done this on and off for the last fifteen years or so.  I have my paper journals which I fill with thoughts and ideas and bits of wisdom that resonate.  These are left out where anyone can read them and I have no problem with this.  In fact, I hope my children take an interest one day.  Then I have the journal I keep on my laptop on a Word document, this is to capture my inner thoughts and anxieties.  I write these to help understand myself better.  They have helped me through dark moments and helped me reflect when I can’t make sense of my feelings.  I am happy to delete these at the end of the year or even when I finish writing that morning.

I was digital journaling this morning and it brought back some powerful memories of journaling when I was expecting Baby.  I remembered how absolutely miserable I was at the time.  Both from the nausea of pregnancy and working in a really boring and uninspiring job at the time.  I remember feeling like I could not lift myself out of the hole I was in.  It felt like such hard work to get up each day, to get started.  I would sit at my computer at work, trying not to cry or just sit with my head in my hands.

I had a similar, but much worse experience after Gorgeous was born.  He was a beautiful and happy baby, placid and easy going.  Yet I didn’t want to care for him.  I had three children under five and suddenly I didn’t want to look after them.  I didn’t want to do anything.  Looking back, that is what I find so terrifying, I was not sad, or down or miserable.  I didn’t care, I didn’t feel anything at all.  I thank Allah (SWT) that the feeling, or lack of,  lifted after about three months, but in that time, every day was an uphill struggle and I could see no way out of it.

This morning I wrote: “I feel inspired to write, to move, to go about my daily work, it is a good feeling.” It is a good feeling, one we take for granted.  To be normal, to feel normally, to have the motivation to get up and start our day.  But we are not even aware of it until we lose it.

I have plenty to deal with at the moment: stroppy teenagers, work stress, a killer to-do list, little ones with chicken pox, but I can deal with them one at a time. I am well enough and I want to.

So this morning, I have my chores to do: ironing uniforms, the last of the laundry, cleaning the house, cooking for the next few days.  But I feel like celebrating normal.  I want to enjoy the ordinariness of the day, because there are much worse things to be and feel like than ordinary. 

Saturday, 12 January 2019

Word for 2019: Acceptance

My words for last year were Quran and Khidmat (Service), I wrote here about how well I did with these as inspiration.

This year, the word was easy to choose, I have been moving towards it for a long time: acceptance.  Sounds not very ambitious and perhaps a little cliched but the reality for me is significant and encompassing.  It relates to everything: myself as a person, my faith, my parenting, work, my place in the world, my weight, ageing, everything.

This year as I turn 40 and I have decided to be open and honest about my age.   More than ever I went to move into the next decade of my life with acceptance. This is the age that women start to feel embarrassed about ageing and try to hold onto their youth. I believe we live in an age where youthfulness is idealised and ageing demonised.  Rather than valuing women’s wisdom and experience as we age, middle-aged women start to become invisible. I want to accept my age, accept ageing and actually revel in it.  I have learned so much in the last few years, I have tried to use my time well and live my life well insh’Allah. Perhaps it will be nice to be treated with a bit more respect and authority than younger woman sometimes are.  I think this is an age where women can move into their power and strength.

I also accept my body and weight.  I have gained and lost and gained some more weight.  I have been running 20-30 minutes on the treadmill every morning and still managed to gain a little weight because of all the chocolate and carbs I have been eating.  My target this year is to lose two stone. It’s in the front of my Filofax, its in my journal and it’s on my mind.  It’s in my prayers and dua’s.  I will keep on running every day, I will try to eat well and rest properly.  But I won’t get annoyed at myself, engage in negative self-talk or dislike the way I look.  As I teach my daughters: be grateful for what you have, look in the mirror and say to yourself “alhamdulillah, not bad!”. In any case, the running has made me strong and given me a massive energy boost alhamdulillah. 

I will accept my parenting.  I tried my best, I have castigated myself for not being strict enough, for being too strict, for working, for being a bit of a day dreamer and not paying attention enough, for shouting and losing my temper, for not being religious enough, for not putting them in Islamic boarding school, for not sacrificing enough like the mothers of the great and pious.  I love them all, unconditionally, always.  I need to remember if my mum is a great blessing for me, I am a blessing to them too.  Even if they don’t see it that way.  I will try my best, but I will accept my parenting, even my mistakes and that I am not a bad mother.

I will accept that I work.  This has been the hardest for me.  After years of questioning whether as a Muslim I should work, whether I was damaging my children, whether I was committing sin.  I held myself back at every turn.  I avoided the limelight and never took credit for my work.  I lived with tremendous guilt.  I still question myself.  But to what purpose and benefit?  I am done with it, I think.  I can see myself working for the next ten years or so and then I will see.  I am enjoying myself at the moment and I might as well step into it and make the most of it.

I will accept where I am with my faith.  I have struggled for years with the fact that many of friends in my faith community wear niqab and I don’t. I have struggled with the fact my prayers often lack the quality of concentration and devotion they should.  But I know my heart is in the right place.  I love my faith, my beloved Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) and my Creator (SWT).  I love this ummah with all of its faults.  I think sincerity is a good place to start.  I will try to build my iman (faith) every day, and especially improve the quality of my salah.  I will try to do better each day.  But guilt and self-criticism are not much use to anyone.  Perhaps this requires an exercise in stepping back, reflecting and starting again each day.

Part if this is also about being in the moment and conscious and mindful.  Not being caught up in my emotions that then turn into a whirlwind of guilt and anxiety.  I don’t want to rush through life looking for more and more or the next thing to tick off my list:

“You are nothing but a number of days, and whenever a day passes away, a part of you passes away” - al-Hasan al-Basri (RA)

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. ~ Annie Dillard in the Writing Life

So my word for this year is a acceptance – of what is, of what might come my way and of who I am alhamdulillah.

Picture of the Day 11.01.19: Little Volcano

I told my youngest two off for fighting and told both to leave my room.  This usually results in Darling refusing to leave and Baby leaving in an angry whirlwind.  I could hear her from the other room talking loudly to herself about something being not fair and nobody liking her.  I found her in her room like this:

I quite like her approach to the world, if it annoys you shut it out and have a good moan. I pulled her out and she started giggling. So thankfully her temper is like mine: erupts mightily but fizzles out in minutes, soon to be forgotten.

Picture of the Day 10.01.19: A Beautiful Invitation

I got the loveliest invitation this week.  A friend that returned from umrah (pilgrimage) invited me to her home for dates and zamzam water.  She followed this with - and of course lunch, like it was no big deal.  Usually we make a fuss of going to visit people who return from hajj or umrah (the main or smaller pilgrimages).  She not only invited us herself, but made us a gorgeous lunch.

I happened to be working that day, but from home, so took a slightly longer that usual lunch and found something nice to wear.  I have learned from experience that you can never be overdressed for these gatherings, the ladies wear hijab, abayah and in many cases niqab, so these are one of the few women’s only opportunities for them to dress up.

I arrived to find the water and dates laid out beautifully with mini cups for the zamzam, while our host kept lunch ready and warm.  This is one sister I admire for her ability to be organised, on time and cook for large numbers of people alhamdulillah.

She had made us Gujarati-style biryani, lamb with lentils, salad, Gujarati-style round pakoray and naan bread.  It was aaaalll good alhamdulillah.

As good was the company, my friends from the masjid were there and so welcoming and loving.  They always make such a big deal of the fact that I have taken time off work to come.  Good Muslim sisters as friends is such a beautiful blessing.

I had to eat and leave to get back to work, but such a nice detour in the middle of the working day.

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Book Shelf Therapy

My bookshelf has been a mess for some time with more books than I can read anytime soon, everyone dumping all sorts of things on it and the whole thing looking cluttered.  With encouragement coming from the unlikely source of Harlequin Sister wielding Instagram snaps of aesthetically pleasing book-shelves, I decided to give in to my inner organiser and give it a tidy.

The first step as to be brutal about getting rid of those books that I would never read again, or that didn’t really appeal to me.  These are some of my university textbooks and I have held on for sentimental reasons and because perhaps I thought they might come in handy if I ever did my Masters.  20 years later, they are pretty out of date. In the end I filled about a dozen bags of books to get rid of.  I am wondering if they are any good to anyone, otherwise I will take them a few at a time to the charity shop.

I have always grouped my books by genre and theme. Non-fiction by parenting, self-help, biographies for example and fiction by classics, horror, Young Adult for instance.  It just makes sense to me.  After looking at the mess/dumping ground my beloved bookshelf has become over the last few months, sense went out of the window and I did the easiest and most pleasing thing to the eye.  Ordered everything by colour.  It goes completely against the grain, but I love how it looks:

I am enjoying my book shelf at the moment, it makes me smile every time I go past.  Now I have to make sure no one tries dumping their junk on it.

2018 and Word of the Year in Review

I don’t celebrate New Year’s and the changing of the date does not hold a particularly great significance to me, but it seems it as good a time as any to reflect on the last year and set intentions for the coming year.  2018 was a full year for me, both fulfilling and challenging and leaving me wanting to do better.

I started the year with a new job and high hopes working for local government in areas I was interested in: policy, equality and diversity, community development, social action and research.  Over the year, my knowledge grew as did My passion about some of these things.  I think I can safely say that it has been the most enjoyable and rewarding year of my working life.  I’m looking forward to the next year, but also thinking about pacing myself better, managing workload, attention and energy levels. At the end of the year I feel as if I need to re-think how work balances with other elements of my life.

I worry that my work takes up so much headspace that it impacts on other elements of my life.  I have always struggled to pray my salah (daily prayers) with full khushoo (concentration and devotion) and have found certainly when I pray at work, I have to work harder to set work aside and clear my head for a little while.

My Word of the Year last year was actually two words: Quran and Khidmat (Service). For the first, I am not satisfied that I was able to dedicate enough time and energy to the Quran and this is something that I intend to work on this year.  Every other goal and intention pales into significance in front of this one, because I keep telling myself that this is what we are here to do: to understand Allah’s blessed word and live by it.

For khidmat, or service to others, this is the type of worship that comes to me most easily and that I enjoy – whether cooking for others, filling out forms, hosting or accompanying someone on an appointment.  Various opportunities present themselves via the masjid and my family and neighbours and it is always a blessing to get the opportunity to serve others.

In terms of family, hubby is my rock as always and my one dependable anchor I can trust alhamdulillah.  This year he has been busy with work, the affairs of the masjid and demands on his time by attendees of the masjid.  By the end of the year I did start to feel a little neglected and sorry for myself.  But being me and unable to keep anything in, it wasn’t long before he was appraised of the situation and buying me dinner (take-away solves everything right?)

The kids were another matter.  As the older three move into their teens we have butted heads over so many things – technology, phones and internet access, freedom to go out, prayer and Islamic studies, getting into fights at school.  It has made me questioned everything about my parenting of my children. It has also made me grow – in patience and in trusting Allah (SWT).  This means I have had to loosen up about some things and accept they are teenagers and try and remember what it felt like when I was their age.

The babies are now both full time at school and enjoying it…most of the time.  Darling is a regular swot and good girl mashallah, whereas Baby veers between excitement and telling me school is boring.  I am now looking at Quran instruction for them, Little Lady has been teaching them a little, but is about to start the final few months to her GCSE exams insh’Allah.

The loveliest blessing among many was my new little niece Baby Z (I think I just made her sound like a baby Zombie). We are all mad about her and enjoy cooing at her.  We were also blessed with my cousin’s sweet engagement, so are looking forward to her wedding this year insh’Allah.

With respect to my health, I had plans to lose weight this year, I did during Ramadan and put it back on again. The one thing I did change was that I run every morning for 20 to 30 minutes on a running machine that my husband got me.  I haven’t lost any weight, but I feel stronger, can take the stairs more easily and have more energy for longer in the day, so it is a step in the right direction.

For one of the great loves of my life, books, I have been somewhat neglectful.  The lure of social media, surfing rubbish online and reading on my mobile phone, meant I didn’t read as much this year.  But towards the end of the year I found some books I loved and got back into reading again.   I intend to read lots and lots this year insh’Allah.  I was also very happy to find that my office had a book club, so although I haven’t been mad about every choice of the club, I have more than enjoyed finding people to talk about books with.

The other thing that I got involved with this year, both through work and my neighbourhood, is some community work.  This is something that has been close to my heart for a long time, but I just haven’t had the opportunity to do anything about.  Hubby and I have joined the newly formed local resident’s association and he has applied for training for our local Street Watch scheme along with about fifteen people from his masjid.  We have been worried about the state of the neighbourhood for a long time, so perhaps now we can contribute towards doing something about it.

Insh’Allah 2018 was a beneficial year for you too. What did you learn last year and what was your greatest achievement?

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Picture of the Day 01.01.19: Comfort Food and Blankets

I haven’t been cooking much at the moment, because no matter what I cook, one of my fussy children doesn’t want it.  So my view now is if there is lots of food in the fridge, we need to eat it rather than making more, or you can make yourself eggs and toast.

This evening, the babies asked for eggs (whisked egg with salt and red chilli) and parathas (chapatti’s with lots of ghee).  I handed them a plate each and went back to clean the kitchen.  I came back to find them snuggled up under a blanket enjoying their dinner.

The boys in contrast decided they didn’t want to leftovers or eggs and toast, so would happily stay hungry.  They then helped themselves to biscuits.  I am going to let this slide and try and work out tomorrow, what food exists, junk food excluded, that all the kids will happily eat.

Fun and Games

I didn’t do much sale shopping this winter break, but I did pick up some jigsaw puzzles and games to keep the kids busy.  We don’t do anything special for New Year's eve or day, but I was looking forward to the free day to spend with the family.  We took all of the games to the mum, with a plan to at dinner and play games with my sister (Shutterbug Sister)

We ended up obsessing over this puzzle I picked up from the charity shop for £2 and annoying the children so much they left us to it.  They got sick of us taking the pieces from them and telling them to stop putting them in the wrong place.

We were excellent role models for the children, deciding it was too hard and we were going to give up midway. This was as far as we got.  My mum commented at regular intervals, what a waste of time the game was.

You forget sometimes, how much fun childhood games can be.  We didn’t play Ludo this time, as it was just the babies and me left at this point, but we did play a few rounds of snakes and ladders.   Darling won every game and Baby lost each game loudly and with much complaining.

They were still at it the next day at home.

We haven’t cracked open the quiz games, but these are my favourite. I am the annoying family member who calls out the answers every time I see a game show on someone’s TV.  I am hoping to do a big family quiz night soon if I can get my extended family interested.