Thursday, 25 August 2011

The last ten nights,

When Ramadhan began I have to admit to having more goals than the ones I've managed to accomplish. But sometimes you just have to give in and settle for less. I'm not even using that first list of goals as a marker for what I've managed to accomplish this ramadhan, and in the end my goals were whittled right down to just three.
  • to spend more time reading my Qur'an...
  • to establish nawafil salat...
  • and to break my dastardly nafs...
I realised I would never be able to finish my Qur'an this ramadhan..the workload has just been a bit too intense. But my focus has shifted and now I make time to read masha'allah.

The nawafil has been easier to establish than I thought it would be. Taraweeh and Tahajjud in the masjid have fostered a deeper love for praying and I'm hoping that eventualy it will have a knock on effect on my concentration. Already the mind tends to wander less, khushoo is such an elusive treasure.

My nafs has been the hardest element to deal with. but all of this is a work in progress and when Ramadhan is over the work on refining our characters and coming closer to Allah will need to continue. This year more than any other I have become intensely aware of the aspects of myself that I am least happy with and need to change.

Qiyyam has been a blessed experience. Exhausting though, both mentally and physically. I can't describe the pain and tiredness we're feeling. We hear it now even in the recitation of our shuyook in the early hours of the morning... the tone is more subdued and the voices huskier than before, and so charged with emotion that we are moved to tears. Prayer can be such a humbling experience.

We only have a few nights of Qiyyam left. I'm savouring every early morning journey to the masjid, using the time before salat to read my Qur'an, and the time after for adhkar. I some changes in myself already...but not enough. We're getting such little sleep at the moment that it's making us more sensitive to everything around us. and I'm trying to use it positively. I don't always succeed of course... but I'm always drawn back
to the quote that "Islam is a state of becoming not a state of being".

And I have been reminded through all of this, that this is (in part) was what my hijrah was all about. Seeking nearness to Allah ta'ala. This has been the antidote I've needed to the intense homesickness I was feeling in the past couple of weeks. I feel exhausted but content, alhamdulillah.

How has your ramadhan experience changed you this year?
Has it been different from previous years?
I'd love to hear some of your ramadhan experiences insha'allah..

Saturday, 20 August 2011

The last ten days, a personal journey

The last ten days of Ramadhan are here, and all too soon our beloved month of fasting will be over for another year. For me Ramadhan normally passes in the same way, with LOTS of cooking and some Ibadah thrown in wherever I can fit it. This year has been no different, however this year for the first time I've been able to attend Taraweeh Salat at our masjid.

Taraweeh in the masjid was never really an option in the UK, but finally I'm living in a muslim country and our masjid is literally on our doorstep.

We set out at a little after 2am, it was so calm. There were small groups of people everywhere, either waiting outside or waling their way slowly to pray qiyyam.

We were early of course, in our excitement to pray Qiyyam we left with more than enough time to take our place in the front row of the womens Gallery. It was so beautiful watching our lovely masjid slowly filling up with quiet, sleepy muslims all wanting to pray, to give their thaks to Allah and to make dua.

I can't do justice with words how it feels to pray Qiyyam. To pray Qiyyam is a serene enough experience in itself, to pray in congregation and to share the emotion of standing and bowing and prostrating is so spiritually uplifting it moved almost all of the women around me to tears.

Ramadhan is nearly over, and many of us will be asking ourselves if we used our time wisely enough, if we made enough progress, if we were sincere enough in our worship.
Last Ramadhan our sheikh told us that "anyone of us who enters the month of ramadhan and leaves it with the same bad character traits we went in with had wasted their Ramadhan".
There is still time. The most Important days of this beautiful month are now with us and we need to grasp them tight and make the very best of the time we have left.

My month of fasting hasn't been perfect, I look back at the twenty days just gone and already wish I could have done some things differently.
 What I'm looking forward to now are using the last ten days as a catalyst for change, a way of renewing my relationship witrh Allah and the Quran. To nourish my eeman and increase my knowledge.

Last night was my first night of Qiyyam... in a few short hours I hope insha'allah I'll be fortunate enough to join those on their way to pray another night of Qiyyam for the sake of Allah ta'ala. I want to weep with my sisters for His sake. I want to find the peace and serenity that every person craves and which can only be achieved by the grace of Allah ta'ala.

Ya Rabb forgive us and bless us with goodness in the Dunya and Akhira, ameen

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Anyone for dessert?...

The origional inspiration for this dessert came from the lovely Heni
it's a crazy simple dessert and has becom a firm favourite in our house this Ramadhan.
We tweaked slightly, and opted for plain yogurt and no coconut..
but this flan is so forgiving you could tweak it just about any way you want to flavour wise.

We also added a biscuit crumb base...
basically just a standard size packet of biscuits
mixed with enough melted butter to press it into the base of a flan case
Once the biscuit base has been chiled for a while in order to firm up, 
continue with recipe as normal...

We've already made this three times in the first two weeks of fasting, which proves what a hit it's been for us.
Go ahead and visit Simplicity's kitchen for yourself and be inspired to make a simple and tasty dessert.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Le Tart ....

if you want to be posh..Jammy Dodgers if you've been missing home as much as we have this week.

It's a simple recipe, easy on the pocket masha'allah and it's even moderately child friendly if you feel that way inclined.

As you can probably tell from the pictures, we were feeling a bit to precious to have the littlies join in with this one, but do try it with them sometime they'll love jamming and sandwiching bits of biscuit together.

 In a large bowl, place 250g of butter

 add to that 250g of icing sugar

and work wonders with your spoon till it looks something like

next in are two eggs, 
beat them into the butter and sugar
 you'll end up with lushness like this insha'allah..
then 2tsp of baking powder.

 then incorporate as much flour as is needed to create a soft unsticky dough

roll your dough out to a nice even thickness 
about 1cm or so and then cut out your shapes.
What you're aiming for are an even number of tops & bottoms...

as you can see we went the high tech method of cutting holes,
and went for a bottle top.

lightly grease and flour a baking tin and bake your biscuits in a moderate oven till they're cooked through
but not coloured....

once they're out and cooled , dust the tops and jam the bottoms 
and once they're stuck together finish them off by adding a little extra jam in to the centre.

The origional recipe came from my bestest friend
who has given me the push I needed to try lots of Algerian recipes 

 Why don't you give them a try insha'allah...

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Counting down the days...

Every year we try to find interesting and fun ways for the younger children in our lives to get through their fasting days. And one of our best loved family traditions is our Ramadhan advent.

Over the years we've tried all types of calender, but this year we opted for a wall hanging with nifty pockets to hide a daily treat. In true last minute fashion I was late with my calender this year, So even if you havent made one yet and feel like having a go, its not too late and there are plenty of easy alternatives.

If you want to have a go at making one like ours for next Ramadhan, here's how we did it.

You'll probably need...

  • two large pieces of material for the front and back of the calender
  • some material scraps for making pockets
  • some plain scraps for embroidering numbers onto
  • embroidery floss
  • lots of patience
In the intrests of being earth friendly, all the material we used was either previously thrifted or recycled from other previously loved things in our life, so have a hunt around and see what you can find insha'allah.

I should also add, that I am by no means an expert fact most of what I create has a distinctly rough and ready feel to it, and thats mainly due to my rough and ready approach to making... what this means of course in real terms is that if I can make it, anyone can!

We took a 30 by 30in pice of plain canvas.

Cut out 30 squarish pices from scraps for pockets, and 30 smaller plain scraps to backstitch our numbers on to (though if i had had some to hand the numbers would defiantely have been done in less labour intensive fabric markers!)

The size of our pockets were determined by how many we could fit on each row (high tech I know!)

5 rows of 6 in our case

After backstitching the numbers we handstitched the smaller squares onto the faces of the pockets and then ironed down roughly a 2cm hem around three edges of each pocket (to make it easier to sew onto the canvas), and a slightly deeper hem along the top of the pocket.

The pockets are then pinned to the canvas, and machine stitched on.

and now with right sides facing, take your canvas with pockets and your contrasting piece for the back and sew around the two sides and bottom, zig-zagging the edges for strength.

along the top edge we turned over the edges of the fabric, and placed two bits of ribbon on either end for ties, then machine stitched the top edge closed.

and there you have it, a simple advent calender that you can fill with treats and small gifts for your special people to enjoy throughout ramadhan insha'allah.

Children & Ramadhan: Making It Work

Amidst the general chaos of Ramadhan children often become forgotten in the turmoil – falling victim to our pursuit of a higher plain of spirituality, while they languish in a repetitive rut, neither understanding nor contributing to a time of year most constructive to the character building of a young Muslim.
It is in introducing children at a young age to the beauty of Ramadhan that we will eventually improve upon the nature of it, exposing a Ramadhan, that is on the whole more nourishing and fulfilling, paving the way to a success that will Insha’Allah allow us to reap the seeds of this Dunya in our Akhira – and fill the hearts and minds of children with a constant and growing awareness and love of Allah.
There are many ways of introducing children in our day to day activities without it becoming a strain on our patience, creating a small niche in an otherwise packed day to dedicate some genuine time to learning, loving and creating, together.
Below is a detailed list of some of the ways we can make Ramadhan a fun and loving time for children.
1.     Helping: The prospect of engaging children in our daily activities may at first appear to be a daunting task, after all, why go though the hassle when you are sure to accomplish the  task quicker and more efficiently on your own? And while the majority of children are sure to be more receptive to activities that are specifically tailored to suit their fun loving wants, it doesn’t account for the fact that the majority of parents are unable to fulfil it, simply due to a lack of time, especially during Ramadhan. That’s where ‘helping’ comes in, and the difference between devoting time and sharing time – our inability to direct all of our attention towards our children doesn’t mean that quality learning time is impossible, allowing children to participate in even the most mundane of tasks can create an entirely new atmosphere, making Ramadhan not just set activity times, but something special that lasts the whole day long even if it is only helping to prepare Iftar. The theme of ‘Helping’ can be extended in many ways, from your own household to others, teaching children the importance of charitable acts and working together. So rather than setting the children aside while you get on with your tasks involve them and work together.

2.     Reward Chart: Whilst it is important to constantly and continuously prompt children to perform good deeds simply for the sake of pleasing Allah, it is also important to give children the initiative and incentive to do so, which is where the nifty idea of a reward chart comes to hand – giving the child visual proof of their progression and something to look back to at the end of the month, that will hopefully encourage them to continue their good deeds the whole year through. There are many great ideas currently circling the web for easy, adaptable Ramadhan reward charts – and we will Insha’Allah be posting links and tutorials to make sure that everyone can join the fun.

3.     Count Down: Presenting children with a goal is essential for a smooth ride, and counting down the days to Eid the perfect solution. Children often become impatient with the repetition of day to day activities, and you may find that this becomes magnified during Ramadhan, leaving you with irritable and bored children, and that is why it is important to build up the excitement and give them something to look forward to.

4.     Favour Bags: Another idea that has remained a firm favourite with our family are Ramadhan favour bags – small homemade bags filled with small treats to be given to children at the end of the fasting day, the content can range from anything like sweets and biscuits to small toys, but as a rule always contains a small Hadith or daily reminder to keep the Islamic spirit alive. There are many varied ways these can be made and we will Insha’Allah be posting a tutorial and some links so you can try these at home.

5.     Qur’an: While the prospect of reading Qur’an for adults often appears to be a daunting task that is put-off regularly and when read, barely understood – it is understandable that it then becomes an even bigger hurdle for young children – its a shame considering the wealth of wisdom and beauty contained within its verses, and even more because this manner of learning doesn’t have to be the case – there are many ways of teaching Quran to children in ways that will capture their attention and awe them with stories of those righteous people who came before them, and Ramadhan is the perfect time to introduce them to it. It doesn’t just have to be about reading and memorising, and this ought to be emphasised at every possible moment, it is the knowledge and understanding gained when learning that is important – that is why it is a good idea to choose specific Surahs within the Qur’an that have a relevant story, for instance that of the Prophets. This can then be teamed up with Islamic story books and even evolve into a small project to be done over a period of time. The more they understand through active learning the more they will be willing and eager to learn. Far too much emphasis is put on reading Quran speedily through Ramadhan, with people reading through their Qur’an up to three times and yet not absorbing a single word, so this Ramadhan make sure to stress the importance of ‘Slow and steady wins the race’, and overall enjoy it!

6.     Family Halaqah: The above ties in well with this next suggestion, family Halaqah time. It is important to take time out and dedicate an allocated time in your week to teaching your children about their faith, it is in fact a priority that we often forget – which is why this Ramadhan we ought to make the intention to try and allow room for this special moment. A family Halaqah can take place at any time, on any day, the only requirement is that everyone sit together communally and learn something new, share ideas or even read a story. A non-fuss family sit-down where everyone contributes to the fun.

7.     Crafts: Children have a natural love for making, and the process neither has to be stressful nor expensive and only requires a little time and some cheap materials. And there are plenty of things to make! Banners, calendars, charts, pictures, cards, cookies, wall hanging, streamers... the list is endless, and the crafting world your oyster! But here are some to get you started:

a.     Sadaqah Box:  We’ve made two versions of these over the years – the best we dressed as a Ka’bah by painting an empty tea box (With a removable lid) black, with a gold strip running round the top and golden doors, with then made a small slit in the top to allow for coins to pass though – at the end of Ramadhan we opened the box to find it full, the children had collected with their spare coins over £30 which was then donated to charity.
b.     Ramadhan Garland: I love garlands, they almost instantly spruce up a dull room with a fabulous burst of colour – you could try spelling out the word Ramadhan on your garland, or even stars and crescents would be lovely and in keeping with the theme.
c.     Streamers: These too are wonderful for dressing up a room and could be made during Ramadhan in time for Eid – tutorials to follow.
d.     Crescent Biscuits: We have come across the idea of crescent biscuits quite often in the run up to this Ramadhan – It is always a nice idea to have a theme, it keeps things feeling special. So why not make some crescent biscuits to welcome in this special month. (Recipe to follow)
e.     Ramadhan Calendar: I’ve always loved the pleasure of opening the small boxes in calendars to expose the yummy treats inside and Ramadhan doesn’t have to be an exception and there is no need to splurge either. This Ramadhan we have created a fabric calendar with pockets, each numbered and filled with lovely treats, so there is no need to miss out the fun, stay tuned for the tutorial!

Overall, it is clear that big or small, Ramadhan is a special time for everyone – so this year go the extra mile and make sure that everyone in your household is able to enjoy and gain the pleasure from it. Insha’Allah.

Ramadhan: Getting Started

With a fresh new month of  fasting having only just begun, our attention naturally turns to matters of faith and how best to achieve the pleasure of Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala 

Muslim women accross the ummah will be focusing their thoughts on preparing themselves, their families and their homes for a month dedicated to bettering relationships, not only with their creator but also with their loved ones and wider community, be it muslim or non-muslim insha'allah.

We want this Ramadhan to be the first step towards change, not just for ourselves but for as many sisters as we can motivate to join our quest for inner peace and and a greater connection to Allah and one another.

We all know that Ramadhan for a woman can start with the best of intentions and quickly deteriorate to nothing more than a feedathon spent largely in the kitchen with no time left to nourish the Eeman, which is why we want this year to be a catalyst for change. A step forward out of the kitchen, away from the shorba pot and towards a more enriching and enlightening experience.
So in the remaining days of this beautiful month we'll be bringing you a series of articles designed to help you gain the most from this years Ramadhan experience.

We know it's not possible to abandon the kitchen completely, and we recognise that there is great reward in feeding the fasting person, but we want to help find the balance that will hopefully create the opportunity for our sisters to find as much fufilment out of their Ramadhan as our brothers seem to.
So please join us, for the whole of the month of ramdhan (and insha'allah beyond) for hints and tips and creative features to help you live this wonderful month to it's fullest insha'allah.