Sunday 10 November 2019

Turning to Allah

There are times when you have tried your best and it still does not seem enough.  
There are times when you have tried to do the right thing by your faith to hold fast to your Islamic principles and are judged, mocked, excluded or ignored for it.
There are times when you don’t feel strong enough and hold your tongue or relax a little thinking you can’t force your religion on others, but still it is not enough.
You cannot please this world: not your family, office, community or school. Not all of the time, often need even some of the time.
Not if you hold your tongue on indecency, not if you style your hijab to look less modest, not if you forego your prayers for convenience, not if you don’t talk about your faith in front of people to avoid discomfort,
But you can try to please Allah (SWT), a little effort for Whom, goes such a long way:

Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him)
said: Allah Subhanahu Wata’ala said: I am as My servant thinks (expects) I am. I am with him when he mentions Me. If he mentions Me to himself, I mention him to Myself; and if he mentions Me in an assembly, I mention him in an assembly greater than it.  If he draws near to Me a hand’s length, I draw near to him an arm’s length.  And if he comes to Me walking, I go to him at speed.’” (Sahih Bukhari)

As I get older, alhamdulillah I care less and less what people think and I am more comfortable being clear about my limits or requirements according to my faith.  I have to remind myself to implement this without becoming harsh or judgemental and to act from love always when living by my faith and understand that others also are in a different place in their journey.

A Moment of Gratitude

Alhamdulillah we go about our daily lives without a second thought when everything is good: our children are safe and well, we have a roof over our heads, our spouse is kind and our bellies are full.  All blessings and all taken for granted until something goes wrong and then we are upset and angry and wonder why Allah SWT is letting this happen to us.

Sometimes a moment to reflect on all that we are blessed with can leave us feeling full, loved and contented – to have so much, to be safe, to be whole alhamdulillah. I needed to take that moment today after I have been brooding over something for the the lat three days that I can't "think positive" my way out of.  I found today that a moment of reflection on what is good helped put my anxiety in perspective.

A spouse who is kind and thoughtful in a world that seems rife with loneliness, marriage breakdown and divorce.  Suddenly their flaws seem petty as do your complaints.

My children test me the most of any thing in this world I think.  But they are safe where I can see them and have all that they need (according to me, not them 😊) in a world where many children do not see a childhood.

I am most of all grateful for my faith and how it brings balance to my life and helps me find a way back to peace and acting from love when I feel lost or hurt

I pray that Allah (SWT) makes me grateful, that gratefulness to him settles into my bones so that it becomes a way of being an thinking for me insh’Allah.

"If you are grateful, I will surely give you more and more" ~ Quran 14:7.

" And whoever is grateful, he is only grateful for the benefit of his own self" ~ Quran 31:12.

" If you are grateful, He is pleased with you..." ~ Quran 39:7

Ibn Abbas (RA) narrated that the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: "There are four qualities, whoever is given them has truly been given the best in this world and the next. They are: a grateful heart (that is thankful to Allah), a remembering tongue (that mentions Allah often), an enduring body (to persevere through the trials), and a faithful wife."

Picture of the Day 09.11.19: Changing Seasons

A crisp, cold misty early morning walk in the park with some ladies from our local residents’ group. Lots of good discussion and ideas on how we can make our neighbourhood safer and better to live in.

It was a nice way to start the day: greenery and signs of the changing season from autumn to winter. Vibrant holly berries, all the colours of autumn in the trees and Egyptian geese of all things.

Friday 8 November 2019

Aunty-Zoned - Blaming the Victim, Reclaiming the Title

It seems that the word Aunty has become a bit of a bad word in recent times. Being called an Aunty is offensive because it implies you are old and old-fashioned, in a world where being young an attractive is everything. Auntie’s get grouped like a pack of wolves, or hyena's – upholding toxic traditions and the patriarchy. They are made to look like a bunch of sneering, gossiping, judgemental women. I'm seeing this lazy labelling more and more and it's bothering me for two reasons.

Firstly, the group of women we are talking about are often the most vulnerable in society. Women in their 40's to 60's, often with difficulty speaking English, no job or income, dependent on their families.  They are usually immigrants who have struggled through being uprooted, facing poverty and isolation to build communities and families around them. They often still have poor health outcomes (which we satirise as the Auntie’s talking about their various illnesses and complaints, or hypochondria). They are often still the most vulnerable to racism or hate crimes due to their faith or race.  They have spent a lifetime caring for others and then find themselves looking forward to the prospect of caring for elderly parents and in-laws whilst not getting the support from their children they had hoped for.

Secondly, I think young people forget the foundations they are standing on. I was the same.  I used to wonder what on earth my parents did with their lives, why they didn't fight back against racism, why they put up with so much unfairness. Until I started to see what they did do. Keep our faith and culture alive, build our places of worship, work hard and make sacrifices so that we could have the best chances at education and life.  We dismiss it because they weren't all on Instagram shouting about it, they did it quietly and without thanks.  My generation of newly-minted Auntie's built on this, we had jobs, money and a voice.  We knew how the system worked and we have tried to use it to benefit our children and our communities.

I have to admit, the first time a grown person called me an Aunty (in my thirties) I was offended. After all he was balding with a big belly and I looked young for my age (I think I used to get it because of my hijab).  A few years later, in my late thirties, I started to get used to being called Aunty by people in their twenties and took it as both a sign of respect and their short-sightedness, after all to many young people thirty is the limit to do anything and forty is as old as death.

There are two things that come from this for me. The first is the need to advocate for our mothers and auntie's not belittle them.  I believe part of the reason why Asian women of a certain age have poor health outcomes is that they are not taken seriously by health professionals, who will try to send them away with advice to take a paracetamol instead of looking into their problems seriously until they become serious. I have seen this time and again.

The second is to own our power as the new generation of older South Asian women, both to uphold our values where they are beneficial (e.g. faith and family) and to challenge where they are not (racism, casteism, misogyny). In a culture that mourns the birth of a daughter, look everyone in the eye and celebrate loudly. Where we are seeing young people being forced into marriage or religion being used to harm others – take people to task. Stick up for our young women, but hold them to account also when they take all of their education and opportunity and decide to focus on petty drama, make-up and materialism instead of all of the good they could do.

Where we see bad behaviours, those things that cause us to label people Aunties, don't lump women under one moniker as if to excuse, but call out the individual behaviours. Also, see them for what they often are: the actions of women who are bitter or isolated, lacking in self-respect or self-hating to the point they have bought into the most toxic parts of their cultures. 

This doesn't give young women a free pass either to misbehave (read be disrespectful, lazy or rude) and then expect older women to defend them when they are called out on it.

For now, I am taking up the Aunty label with a view to owning and re-defining it. As the women you go to for help, the ones that can take care of their communities, lead their young folk and stand up to and up for others.  One of the people who has really inspired me to own the word Aunty is The Village Aunty who hangs out on Twitter and talk about interesting stuff, you might want to check her out.

Picture of the Day 08.11.19: Mum's Kitchen

I had a good old catch up with my mum today, sitting in her warm kitchen with the smells of lamb kebabs on the grill and chickpea curry warming up as she made chappati’s. We talked about Pakistan, caught up with family news, she had a little vent, I teased her about the things that were annoying her and then we had dinner together, filling and nourishing. The older kids were at home, the babies went to hang out with my sister and I sat with mum reading while she watched her serials.  Came home feeling peaceful.  May Allah SWT protect my parents, keep them happy and grant them a long life full of good health insh’Allah.

Wednesday 6 November 2019

40 at 40: My Favourite Books

I needed something easy to write about while I was feeling a little brain dead and stuck and this felt like an easy list to make. Forty of my favourite books by the age of forty.

1.     The Sealed Nectar by Sheikh Safi-ur-Rahman al-Mubarakpuri – an important and easy to read biography of the beloved Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), covering all of the important thing you need to know.
2.     Life of the Prophet in Makkah: The Makkan Crucible by Zakaria Bashier – some details I had not seen anywhere else.  The part where the Kaaba was rebuilt and green stone found under the foundations gave me goose bumps
3.     The Autobiography of Malcom X – brutally honest, brave, eye-opening and inspiring
4.     Dracula by Bram Stoker – creepy, interesting and just a cracking good story
5.     The Chrysalids by John Wyndham – absolutely love this book: the characters, the setting, the way even the villains stayed with me long after and of course the brilliant story. Unlike any of his other books in tone or style.
6.     The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham – walking plants in a dystopian/utopian future – a favourite genre
7.     The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien – old fashion story-telling peopled with wonderful characters, who couldn’t love the hobbits?
8.     Cannery Row by John Steinbeck – unexpectedly funny book by a writer of usually grim novels.
9.     Finding Your Own North Star by Martha Beck – I find inspiration every time I open one of her books:
“The way to find your own North Star is not to think or feel your way forward but to dissolve the thoughts and feeling that make you miserable. You don't have to learn your destiny - you already know it; you just have to unlearn the thoughts that blind you to what you know.”
10. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini – sisterly love and sacrifice in a society that has no place for women, This one had me sobbing.
11. The Red Tent – an interesting re-telling of one of the bible stories from the point of view of one of the women. I loved the opening lines in this book:
"I am so grateful that you have come. I will pour out everything inside me so you may leave this table satisfied and fortified. Blessings on your eyes. Blessings on your children. Blessings on the ground beneath you. My heart is a ladle of sweet water, brimming over.
12. The Rice Mother by Rani Manicka – a heart-breaking, painful read set in a beautifully imagined place.
13. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell – expansive, mysterious, satisfying
14. Kiss Kiss by Roald dahl – deliciously wicked stories for grown-ups by one of my favourite children's writers.
15. Beloved by Toni Morrison (and just about everything else she has written)
16. Cold Comfort farm by Stella Gibbons – had me laughing out loud.
17. That Old Ace in the Hole by Annie Proulx (and all of her other books of short stories) – just such a good writer.
18. The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty – this scared me god when I read it in my early teens – as much because I was looking over my shoulder for moy parents who would never have let me read it as how scary the book actually was.  I think I am due to re-read this one to see which.
19. From the Holy Mountain by William Dalrymple - I wouldn't have expected a travel book to be so fascinating and Dalrymple's writing has a lovely humour (worth reading other travel books by him including White Mughals and City of Djinns)
20. The Olive Readers by Christine Aziz – didn't get the best reviews and the feel of the book changed abruptly midway, but I remember finding it quite satisfying.
21. Women who Run with Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes– paradigm shifting for me, made me rethink my approach to ageing:
“To take the world into one's arms and act towards it in a soul-filled and soul-strengthening manner is a powerful act of wildish spirit.”
22. Lightening by Dean Koontz – I'm not sure what it is about this book that stuck in my mind when I read it as a teen, but it always stayed with me.  I re-read it as an adult and enjoyed it, and it is still the archetypical Koontz book to me, but perhaps not the impact the first reading had (His The Taking had the most impact as an adult).
23. Zorro by Isabel Allende – so much fun.
24. Daughter of the Forest by Juliette Marillier – I love a good retelling of a fairy or folk tale and once you get started, you will want to tear through the Sevenwaters series.
25. The Handmaids Tale by Margret Atwood – cracking story, ramps up the tension.
26. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez – I rarely have patience for surrealism and other literary pretentions, but in this case the writer is justified, writing under a brutal regime of things that can't be said out loud.
27. Zen and the Art of making a Living by Laurence G Boldt – probably my favourite self-help book of all and one I still enjoy randomly dipping into.
28. Dune by Frank Herbert – fun, creative, dramatic space saga
29.  I Could do Anything if Only I knew What it Was by Barbara Sher – Read this at an impressionably young age and found it profound and eye-opening at the time, particularly how your future is laid out by the views and wishes of others.
30. Eucalyptus by Murray Bail – poignant story that stayed with me after closing the last page.
31. The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville – heart breaking love story or commentary on colonialism. No easy answers here.
32. The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon, mystery, romance, humour, a secret library, lovable characters, all the ingredients you need and well written too.
33. The Help by Kathryn Stockett – worth it just for the chocolate cake scene 😊
34. Tommy Knockers by Stephen King – creepy, archetypical Stephen King, I still have to read the Stand, but sounds like just my kind of book.
35. The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz – some good ideas to live by.
36. The Bees by Laline Paul – I didn't think I would like this, the characters are bees...but I loved it.
37. Toxic Childhood: How the Modern World is Damaging Our Children and What We Can Do About It by Sue Palmer – a must read parenting book.
38. The Underground Railroad by Coulson Whitehead – moving book on a difficult subject, loved the main character.  Also interesting insight into elements of slavery in America I had not known about before.
39. Jinnah, Pakistan and Islamic Identity: The Search for Saladin by Akbar S Ahmed – well written, accessible and insightful.
40. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R Covey – such a useful book.

I thought that would be a tough list to get to 40, but my brain is fizzing over with more to add 😊. Ones I loved but didn't make the list include:

Delirium by Lauren Oliver - a dystopian love story
The Grishaverse books Leigh Bardugo (the Six of Crows duology and the Shadow and Bone trilogy)
The Hannibal series of books by Thomas Harris
The Road by Cormac McCarthy – but too harrowing to include it in a favourites list
The King Killer Chronicles (Trilogy) by Patrick Rothfuss
Walden by Henry David Thoreau
Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa
The Giver by Louis Lowry
Big Magic by Elizabth Gilbert

Ok I better stop now...

On my wish list going forward for the coming year are:
More Islamic books including tafsir and seerah
The Stand by Stephen King
Something by Martha Beck to get me feeling inspired.
Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo, then King of Scars by her
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver (a sequel to Delirium which I didn’t realise until now existed).

What are you favourite books? What would you recommend me to read next? What’s on your reading wishlist?

Stop, Start, Stop

I've started writing half a dozen posts today and not gotten very far, starting, stopping, starting and then deleting most of it. I can't seem to hold a sensible thought and then follow it to its conclusion.  I think the pace of modern life and scrolling through scraps on the internet have broken my brain a little.  Work is overwhelming in the range of work and the amount of information I have to soak up.  I am trying to work out how to manage and sort through it all.  This has never been a problem before, but my sector has never been so short staffed and underfunded in the twenty years I have worked for public services.

I've started reading again after a long gap, and although most of it is junk or easy read stuff, I hope it is  a path back to reading more rewarding things.

Two things plague me about my current gold-fish brain state.  Firstly, that we are trying to do so much – why should we.  The second that the internet and the current way of entertaining ourselves and taking in information is making us a little useless – impatient, bored easily, always looking for instant gratification in the form of bite size content and information.  Our attention span is shrinking and our patience for long form content or detailed information or knowledge is fading, whether that is being too lazy to write or too impatient to consume.

As to the first reason, this has been on my mind.  Work is too much, life is too much, we want to do everything and have done it by 30. What drives us? Where is the lack or loss that makes us keep charging forward trying to do more, or achieve more or prove ourselves in some way? What is it that doesn't even let us sit in peace for a while and do nothing without feeling guilt? Even when doing nothing is a condition for creativity and innovation.

This morning, I was thinking about this and feeling so much resistance to doing anything.  I feel like I have chased for long enough.  Tried to do so much for long enough. My work is starting to see the beginnings of this change in approach with a gentle move towards saying no to more things, deleting more e-mails without replying and declining meetings.  At home, I find myself spending more time cooking, reading and listening to my children. Everything else has taken a back space and more and more this doesn’t bother me.

All that we try to do, all the hustle and chasing of opportunity, all the hard work.  How much of it is worth the effort?  I feel as if I am being a little negative or demotivating, but I find often that my thoughts come to this: is it worth it? How will we be judged by Allah (SWT) for it, what return will we get for our effort?

Perhaps there are decisions I should have made long ago to let go of some things and stop fretting about - work stuff, the stress of parenting teenagers, feeling obliged to write, blog, crafts etc. But I think there is a time for everything and an energy I had that would not have been thwarted at the time.

But that energy is not quite there right now.  I wonder if it has dissipated, if it is blocked in some way or if it is lying dormant for the right thing to set it free and create that sense of flow that I feel far from right now.  I am going to stop chasing and hustling and open my heart and self to whatever comes this way insh'Allah.