40Days to transform my life!

Feel like you are letting yourself down? Know you can do better but aren't sure how? Make great resolutions but don't follow through? Sounds just like me. Which is why I am resolving to commit 40Days to making a lasting difference to my life, insha Allah. This blog is the online home of my personal 40Day Challenge - you can join me or simply follow my progress (or lack of it!).

Saturday, October 28, 2006

A Calm voice in the storm


No, the calm voice in the sea of this 'Operation Veil Storm' isn't mine. Have a look at this piece of reflection - it had me nodding my head all the way...

Veil hang-ups may pass

Huw Thomas
Published: 27 October 2006
Recent news reports about the wearing of the niqab have raised important questions about inclusion

For years I worked in a school where a number of memorable parents wore the niqab, a full veil. These women taught me a lot about Islam. They also challenged my understanding of inclusion. However strange I felt in our first encounters, I now remember their faces with fondness. Aisha Azmi’s tribunal, coming in the wake of Jack Straw’s discomfort over veil-wearing, challenges our society from the top down. When government minister Phil Woolas calls for her sacking, saying she “can’t do her job”, I have to ask whether he’s taken any time out of publicity-seeking to explore alternatives. If not, can I call for his sacking?When Mr Straw clumsily complains that veils make him “uncomfortable”, I can’t help but wonder if the key to community relations really is to keep men like him comfy. Would he like us to fetch his slippers as well? He needs to guard against turning a preference for facial contact into a need. And when the Prime Minister refers to the veil as “a mark of separation”, I have to point out that he usually wears a tie. If ever a silly piece of clothing reinforced separatism it’s that absurd, class-bound strip of silk.Surely these hang-ups are in the eyes of the beholders. I can’t help but think that if Ms Azmi’s face-covering was the result of some form of facial scarring, then these ministers and her local council would bend over backwards to accommodate her. The real issue is that this case tests our society. It begs the question: rather than remove the veil around Ms Azmi’s eyes, can we confront the blinkers around our own? Inclusion starts with the assumption that Ms Azmi should be free to wear a veil. I’m sick of non-Muslim commentators pontificating about how the Koran doesn’t require the wearing of the veil. Like any faith, Islam has varieties within it. The fact is, for Ms Azmi’s variety this is a matter of conviction. Let us also dispense with the assumption that wearing the niqab is inevitably an act of submission to dominant males. We should start from the assumption that the veil is here to stay, then calmly look at how Ms Azmi can keep her job. Her choice does raise issues. I would want to investigate the wearing of a veil while teaching phonics, where the mouth may need to be uncovered, but I would also urge a look at adapting classrooms or timetabling to enable this to happen. In my previous school, I needed to cough loudly to let veil-wearers know that I was entering their coffee morning. Such working together recognises that our schools should be showcases of inclusion. We would also work better together if, instead of asking women to remove the veil, we asked them why they wear it? I can honestly say such conversations shifted my perception of the whole matter. Personally, I still don’t think women need to wear them, but I understand why they do.I hope the sort of change I’m arguing for is the stuff of our future. According to a recent poll, only 31 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds share Mr Straw’s discomfiture, compared with 65 per cent of over-65s. Given the right example, the generation coming through will one day ask why there was ever a debate. Nobody these days questions the licence with which we permit married women to teach, something forbidden prior to 1945. Given time, we’ll get used to it, and so will the kids in our classrooms. I think of the excellent Emmaus Catholic and Church of England primary in Liverpool, an ecumenical school in a city where the uniting of faith traditions has been a hot potato. I once asked the head and governors what the key lesson was for working together. Their answer was that, as they began to collaborate, they found that the Catholics had to look out not for their own tradition but that of their Anglican partners. And their Anglican friends did likewise. Similarly, could it be that inclusion requires us to look out not for ourselves but for those we include? Anyone can re-hash the well-established practices of multiculturalism, but the real measure of inclusion isn’t what you embrace already. It’s about how much wider your arms can reach.

Huw Thomas is head of Emmaus Catholic and Church of England school, Sheffield.
His latest book, Steps in Leadership, is published by David Fulton

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Return of the Blog

What a terrible shame it is to begin something and leave it unfinished! That is how I feel about my blog - so much promise and then nothing...
Well, it is my intention to return to my blog insha Allah and get as much out of it as possible this time.

So, I will begin by quoting someone else's words, the words of a very talented Muslimah based out in the States named Maliha. This being the month of the Qur'an (Ramadhan), I thought I would share with you her piece entitled 'The Qur'an: When Beauty Speaks'. Enjoy...

In the time before I had any real memories to keep; its rhythm lulled me within warm layers of comfort. Later, my soul would be hushed in quiet awe; when I heard melodious voices of various degrees competing to perfect its recitation. Within those hazy recollections, I can pick out strands of soulful expressions blaring from the tapes my mother would play during those busy mornings when I would keep my eyes shut a moment longer to let its beauty soak into my soul.
An eternal memory etched into my consciousness displays my mother; sitting on her favorite spot on the couch, reciting in her usual matronly cadence, heavy with a touch of softness; methodical with no hint of haste. She regularly welcomes the first sun rays with her own host of Angels.
During those times when I couldn’t fully discern the lines between reality and imagination; and everything was touched by sparkles of magic and carried on wings of fantasy; I remember still being impacted. Somehow every time I heard what were then incomprehensible verses and words, all the noises around me would mute and inside I would be perfectly still, trying to listen, to discern. The potency of those moments nestled within my budding sensibility stayed with me, ingraining my first and most fundamental lesson in poetry:
For a collection of words to qualify the elite circle of what is deemed poetic; it must move not mountains but souls (and all dusty matter crumbles in its wake).
A timeless eternity later and I am steeped in its verses; every year unfolding more layers of meaning that sometimes shatters the comfortable boundaries I have foolishly drawn for my mind.
My journey through its pages is a living testament to the highs and lows of my own spiritual state.
Those few precious moments, when every word reverberates through my being; when I feel adored in its light; gently chastised by the beauty of its compassion; those indescribable moments when my soul is called from a far distance to pay attention to all that I am supposed to remember but apt to forget.
The cyclical nature of my own seasons keep me going back; to re-learn the fundamental whys of my existence; to retrace the path of mankind; our downfall and rise; our foolishness and arrogance. I keep going back to seek causes and consequences; to grasp responsibility and meaning.
I go back to find an imprint of His signs when my vision fails to discern beauty. When the eloquence around me is muted; I turn to its pages for inspiration.
At times the walls of this world threaten to cage me and I feel too large for my surroundings; I then go trekking the unseen uncovering timeless archetypes drawn and redrawn implanting imperceptible seeds of truth pregnant with wisdom deep into my soul. Historic wars and epochs, transcendent personalities embodying grace; exhortations and remembrances; Angels and Jinns; Hell and Heaven; Light and Darkness; Twin souls of sleep and death; I trail the outer limits of our space and time and come back with a shifted perspective, the largess of the universe overwhelms me once more.
Other times I am all a raging storm of conflict, fighting the verses with bitter tears, questioning why? Why the suffering, the inanity of this life when death beckons in every direction? My fingers strike lightning across the pages and I rage, raining tears of pent up frustrations, finding those bookmarks of comfort and losing my self over and over again; until I am spent. When the billows of darkness recede, I find myself alone and realize how foolish I looked fighting my own soul.
From a young age I was taught the proper rules of its recitation, which I keep breaking and forgetting, remembering and neglecting; and I can’t quite recall the time when I didn’t understand at least the surface meaning of the words. Yet, every time I peel a layer, I am faced with the certainty of how little I really know; and the profound gulf that exists between my Creator and I.
I implore Him by all the Names He has taught me; O’ Compassionate One , ya Merciful, O’ Knower of All Subtleties, Forgiving, Wise, My ultimate Protector, O’ Ever Living, Source of All Goodness, Perfection, O’ Guiding Light, Originator of all that came into existence, O’ source of peace…
I appeal to Him through all the rote prayers that were drilled into me as a young child; which I repeated at first dutifully, at times resentfully, hurriedly, sadly, absently, and pushed until one day something broke within me; and words, prayers, actions melded together into one large heart rending inarticulate space keeping me prostrated by the weight of all that I should be grateful and penitent for. That place where the illusion of “I” is emptied and I am left begging, pleading, reaching “Ya Salaam, Ya Salaam, Ya Rahman, Ya Raheem”…and nothing matters…nothing matters…nothing matters, except Him.
And at times I still forget.
So when Ramadhan descends yet again and the doors that are closed are opened (momentarily) and those that are open are closed (momentarily); the weight of those verses take a hold of my soul and with crystal clarity everything comes back again; and I remember again to never take this window for granted. Somehow this window encompasses my whole life.
As I hold these reverent pages in my trembling hands; time stops; the world is on mute and my soul is once again suspended in the audience of her Fashioner in that place where silence is complete and emptiness engulfs everything. And yet again, I am left standing, bare, alone with the piercing realization that I have run out of excuses and my time is finally up.

Taken from her blog entitled Lightness of Being... deep and truly beautiful, thrilling the poetic soul, stirring yearning in the heart of the beliver, to be that close...

JazakAllahu khairan wasalaam until the next time...
Na'ima B.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

First Impressions


What a difference three days makes! I have only been in South Africa since Thursday morning and it feels like a month away from home. Could it be because of the sheer intensity of these last few days? No doubt.

These last few days have become a blur of faces and places, speeches, chance encounters, laughter, tears, inspiration and exhaustion. Amazing! Masha Allah!

After every event, be it a visit to a madrassah, a sisters' gathering, a talk, a gala dinner, a bookstore appearance or interview with a journalist, I have tried to record mentally the sights, sounds and memories. But alas! I have not yet had time to fully document all these amazing experiences. Although my journal pages are being filled, the story is making little progress: there is so much to write about.

So let me just try to convey a little of the experience.
We are staying in a guest house in Lenasia, a predominantly Indian area in Johannesburg, or Gauteng. 'Indian' is the term that is used to refer to what we would call 'Asians'. The guest house is neat and spacious, on a quiet residential street lined by medium-sized houses with a penchant for asymetrical architecture and Roman-style pillars. At night, the house is lit up by purple and green lights. That, coupled with the bright green curtains in our room, means that it always lookes like it is almost Fajr time at night.

The store that is stocking From My Sisters' Lips is a quiet 5 minute drive away, past a park of scrubby grass and a school surrounded by red red earth. The children seem to be on break all the time, judging by the noise! Not that we have had much time to savour these sounds of carefree youth - we have not spent an afternoon at the lodge since that first day! After we settled our bags at the lodge, we were whisked off by our lovely hostess to the mall where the store is located - a bright and airy building not unlike others I have seen in Pakistan and Egypt. All white tiles and atriums and escalators and water features.

After a delicious meal at a local steak house chain, (should I name-drop? Ok, it was Spurs. And no, they are not paying me to advertise for them!) we returned to the lodge to change for the evening's entertainment. This was a fairly informal dinner with the women of the broadcasting family. Well, there I met some real characters! The radio presenter who is famous for having brought previously taboo subjects up for discussion on her show but who has now dropped out of the ratrace and presents a lifestyle magazine-style show instead! We got into a fascinating conversation about all sorts of topics, so much so that we were blissfully unaware when all the delicious food had been cleared away and the gathering were patiently waiting for the 'sister Na'ima from the YouKay' to give them a talk. I met the wife of one of the team that will be bringing the Chicken Cottage chain to South Africa - chicken and chips with a twist: theirs will incorporate fried chicken, grilled chicken (a la Nandos, arguably one of South Africa's best exports!) and rotisserie-style chicken. I tasted some of their garlic chicken and it was wonderful, masha Allah - let's see if it catches on in the YouKay...
I met the auntie who after 31 years is still called a 'new Muslim'; the auntie who left her drug-dependant husband in the YouKay and returned to South Africa and, after 20 or so years, married again (she did have a twinkle in her eye, masha Allah!); I also met a group of crazy sisters who were full of fun and interesting stories, including a theory that the reason ISlam didn't spread when the Indians came to South Africa was that they never 'ate the onion of the land'. This curious expression is meant to be taken from a hadith or narration where the Muslim is advised to eat the onion of the land, meaning marry the women of that country. This sparked a very lively debate about polygamy and whether sisters should be pushing their husbands out to 'eat those onions'. Needless to say, there were few takers, until we were all castigated by a widow who showed us the other side of the monogamy coin: that of widows having to fend for themselves and their children without any support, let alone a loving relationship... This gave everyone something to think about. We talked late into the night, so late that our host was frantic with worry taht we would not be able to get enough rest. But there were so many sisters to meet, so many things to talk about! That first night left me with a warm glow and happy anticipation for the days to come.
More about those when I next get access to the Internet insha Allah. And please remind me to tell you about the sister who is being held back from Allah by her own reflection in the mirror...
Til the next time

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

That old devil


Shaitaan is on my back.
He's on the attack.
He won't leave it alone
Until I turn back.

The night before I left for South Africa, I said what I had been feeling all evening, I said it aloud: 'I don't want to go'. I'm thinking of packing, of forgetting things and remembering them again, of my family left behind, of my family that awaits. I'm thinking of confusion and misunderstandings, of a crisis of confidence: 'I shouldn't be doing this. I'm not who they think I am'. Maybe it's that old devil, Shaitaan, trying to throw me off-course, wanting me confused, disoriented, creating bad feelings to leave behind as mementoes.

Then... calm.
Allah is the author of all that exists, all that has been and will be.
And He has written this for me.

For what purpose? To what aim? As a test? As a reward? As an opportunity to grow? In all of life's ups and downs, there is an chance to grow. From the stillest and most meaningful of prayers when your heart is tranquil, your limbs at ease, your focus firmly fixed on your Lord, your Creator, Al-Wadood, Ar-Rahman; fixed on your ultimate goal and your ultimate end. This is a chance to grow.
From the bitter pain of a lost or stolen dream, when your heart cries out and your tears sear your cheeks - and you are forced to re-focus and reflect and find acceptance and find peace. This is a chance to grow.

So I pray that, whatever this trip has in store, of good or bad, I will take the opportunity to grow and come back enriched and refreshed, inspired and energised. For grow I must, in closeness to my Lord, as a Muslim, as a woman, as a sister and a friend.

There is so much work to be done.
Am I woman enough to do it?

"I take refuge within Allah's perfect words which no righteous or unrighteous person can transgress, from all the evil that He has created, made and originated. (I take refuge) from the evil that descends from the sky and the evil that rises up to it. (I take refuge) from the evil that is spread on the earth and the evil that springs from her and I take refuge from the evil of the tribulations of night and day and the evil of the one who visits at night except the one who brings good, O Merciful One."
Du'a said to ward off the deception of the obstinate shayateen; Ahmad with an authentic chain

Friday, May 05, 2006

To blog or not to blog...


"To blog or not to blog,
That is the question.
Whether 'tis nobler and more pious
To keep ones deeds and thoughts
Private and hidden away
Or to take arms against a sea of misconceptions,
Apathy and ignorance
And, in doing so, end them..."
A William Shakespeare and Na'ima B. Production

"Well, everyone else is doing it, why can't I?" I asked myself before succumbing to curiosity and the excitement of something new and signing up to join the bloggers' universe.
As a Muslim, and a Muslim woman at that, I had to ask myself why. Why did I want to join the fray and launch my thoughts onto the world wide web for all to see? Well, a part of me thought against it. After all, what about riyah, what about hiding your sins as well as your good deeds, and all of that?
And then I thought about the other side of the coin: sharing your life's journey, sharing what you learn, maybe even inspiring and advising others as you yourself are inspired? I thought about it long and hard then decided to give it a go (obviously!)

This blog is quite specific: it is a record I intend to keep of my travels, local and international, sharing the journey, describing the places, people and things I see and do. Through this, I hope to create a blog that will be interesting, thought-provoking and meaningful; a tall order, I know!
Well, if you are reading this and you know me, please send me a shout-out. If you don't know me, read my book and you soon will!
I hope that this journey is blessed. Climb aboard the ship, come one, come all. May we all benefit in this life and the Next, ameen.

Thursday, May 04, 2006