Friday 25 January 2019

Back to Basics with Tajweed Classes

After my reflection at the start of the year on what is important and what I want to priorities or focus on, I have been looking for ways to connect better with the Quran. My focus has been on learning Quranic Arabic and trying to understand Allah’s (SWT) message to us better insh’Allah.

A few weeks ago, my dad gave me a leaflet for tajweed classes starting at his masjid – for women! On the weekend!  I might be overreacting, but I struggle to find something locally for women on weekends, whether classes, fitness activities or faith related activities, so I was very happy.  I last studied tajweed whilst on maternity leave with Little Man and he has turned 14 today, so I felt this was a welcome time to check the accuracy of my tajweed, or pronunciation of the Quran.

I turned up last weekend on time at the beautiful masjid Dad attends and in true South Asian (or is it Muslim?) fashion women kept arriving for the next twenty minutes.  We eventually started half an hour late, but I was heartened to see the sheer number of women who came along, all ages, abilities and not even all South Asian (there are a lot of us in this neighbourhood 😊 ).

The class started with the basics of why it is a sinful to mispronounce the words in the Quran and why.  We then moved to familiarizing ourselves with some of the Arabic terminology: makharij (where the sound originates from), haroof (letter) and more. 

The ustadhah (teacher) was young, but very knowledgeable and had a warm but firm style of teaching. She taught us the five places where makharij originate (throat, lips, nose, tongue, air of the mouth) and got us to practice the letters of the alphabet and get the sound right.

I am looking forward to getting to know some of the sisters and I am really grateful to get the opportunity to review and improve my reading of the Quran insh’Allah. I pray that I am someone who is a student of deen until the day I die insh’Allah. 

image courtesy of Shutterbug Sister at

Good Deed for Friday: Hygiene Kits For Homeless Women

Sister Afra Khan has been in touch from Chicago USA to tell us about the hygiene kits she is trying to put together for homeless women.  On her GoFundMe page she tells us a little about her project:  

"As a community service project, I have decided to work on creating hygiene kits for the homeless and extremely low-income women of Chicago.  It is stated that, poor personal hygiene can lead to medical problems, prevent job opportunities, influence access to services, contribute to low self-esteem.  The funds raised will be used to purchase the necessary items needed for each kit.

The kits will be composed of the following items: sanitary products (pads), feminine cleaning wipes, deodorant, face lotion, body soap, pocket tissues, first aid kits, hand sanitizer, body spray, toothpaste & toothpaste, towels, socks & gloves, some snacks, and gallon size ziploc bags.

The cost of each kit will be approximately $10.00.  My friends & family will be helping me put together the kits on the 15th of February, any time before that the funds would be greatly appreciated so we can purchase all the items needed."

Homelessness has become a big and very visible issue where I live in recent years, so this hits close to home, especially during winter.

I truly believe that Muslims should be of benefit to everyone and that our value is in what we can do for others.  No woman should have to struggle for the basic necessities required to keep clean and healthy.  Please visit Afra’s page to find out more and donate if you can insh’Allah.

Thursday 24 January 2019

Picture of the Day 24.01.19: Beautiful Skies in Winter

The cold, crisp winter mornings seem to be giving us the most stunning sunsets and sunrises at the moment.  Because the day is still so short, I get to work as the sun is rising and get a beautiful view. 

My camera skills and the glare from the windows leaves much to be desired, but I have been enjoying this sight very much the last few days.

Picture of the Day 23.01.19: First Snow of the Year

After the blessing of a fairly mild winter we have had a cold snap over the last few days.  It felt cold enough for snow, and finally yesterday we got a flurry.  Fashionista sent pictures from her home just a few miles outside of London of snow around her house and made me yearn for some.  The boys have been wishing for it too.

After a busy day of work, hubby and I headed to Little Ladies parents evenings which was 90 minutes of queuing to meet teachers and then trying to hear what they were saying over the noise (mostly good alhamdulillah, except some comments about the sudden teenage attitude, I had to hold my tongue and tell them we had been getting a taste of since she was about two).

We came out to a beautiful spray of snow floating down in that magical way it does, illuminated by the street lights.  I might have got a bit excited because Little lady told me to stop cackling and being so embarrassing outside her school.

I didn’t manage to get a decent picture except for what gathered in our garden, but enjoyed the excitement and beauty in the moment.

Picture of the Day 22.01.19: Apple Crumble

Every few weeks Gorgeous brings me home a gift from his food tech class.  So far I have had fruit salad, chocolate yule log and couscous.  One the whole it hasn’t been bad and he seems to enjoy it.

This week he brought home apple crumble.  Everyone refused to try it and he remarked that it did look strange.  I googled apple crumble and showed him that it looked just how it was supposed to.  He remarked that it looked gross and probably wouldn’t taste nice then looked out of the corner of his eye to see if I would taste it.

I had some after dinner.  It lacked both enough apple and sweetness, otherwise it was almost there.  He didn’t have enough time to cut the other apple so had eaten it. I might need some cream or custard to sweeten it and make it a a bit less dry..

Picture of the Day 21.01.19: Diorama Fun

This week I came home from a busy day at work to a litany of requests: my oldest two need new travel cards (one has broken his and the other lost hers a few days after I replaced her broken one), Gorgeous needed ingredients for his food tech class the next day and both of the babies had homework projects.  We were meant to do these over the weekend, but the trouble with a Tuesday deadline is that you end up leaving things for Monday evening.

I decided that everyone would get what they need insh’Allah, but that I would make a space for myself first.  So I unwound my hijab, took off my shoes, got changed, unpacked my work bag and in the process let go of the day and wound down.

I sent the kids to look for shoes boxes for their homework project and settled down with a good book and some the last few Ritz crackers the kids left for me.  I gave myself twenty minutes of quiet/quiet as it gets time and let my body and mind get some rest.

Once I was done, I called hubby and asked him to find me some boxes on the way home from the masjid. He has been on box duty for school projects since the oldest was little and always manages to come up with the goods.

We ended up with two diorama’s: one of the solar system and one of the Savannah (you get extra credit for adding a lion).  Neither are the best, but I wanted as much as possible to provide materials and let the girls do the drawing and sticking (I do the cutting).

It feels like ages since I have done projects with the children, they older batch got too old and the younger ones were too small.  So alhamdulillah I get to experience the fun years (post dependent baby, pre-hormonal teens) again insh’Allah, although I have to admit Gorgeous is still a big messy, fun kid.  Look forward to many more projects and lots more self-care insh’Allah.

Picture of the Day 19.01.19: Socialising Again

My husband mentioned in passing recently that we had not been having many guests around.  The last year I had been so focused on my new job and the rowdy teens that by the end of it I felt the lack of a social life too.  I plan to spend more time this year hosting, visiting friends and perhaps even going out with friends.

I barely made the intention and find myself with a lunch invite from a close friend and wedding related functions for the next five to seek weekends alhamdulillah.  In reality though I wanted to focus on making sure I visit all my family friends and the sisters from the masjid in turn and host once every month or so insh’Allah.  I was blessed with a childhood where I lived with extended family.  My grandparents were very sociable and we would have a stream of guests coming and going virtually daily.  In turn we would visit a different family every weekend for tea and get to play with their children.  It is a way of living and building community I admire.

The first dinner this year was for a friend who made Umrah (pilgrimage).  I made pea pilau rice, lamb curry, chicken and bell pepper curry (which was well-received, I will share a recipe insh’Allah) and baked chicken (from this wonderful recipe from Fauzia’s Kitchen Fun). We also had channa chaat, green chutney and salad.

My mum and my friend got talking and found that they had come to Britain in the 1970’s in the same year, a month apart.  That gave then fuel to reminisce about shillings and the last days of coal use, much to our amusement.

One of the best things about hosting though, is being left with lots of leftovers. I refused to cook for the next few days.

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?