Monday, December 14, 2015

Response from author April Fonti and the importance of discussion

There is no doubt that we are living in difficult times, there is a lot of confusion, throughout the world. Sanctity for life is rare and instead power, control and greed seems to have overtaken people. In this time, when its easier to dismiss people as "the other" than to actually understand one another, it is commendable to see people still interested in discussing, learning and understanding each other.

On this note, I recently posted a review of "Travels in a Veil" by April Fonti and I have had the privilege of having her respond to my review. I have posted her response below, because discussion is important and because the journey of understanding ourselves involves understanding other people as well. 

April's response is humble and insightful and it shows that there is hope for humanity yet when we have people like this who do not wish to cast away others, but instead hopes to understand and embrace differences. 

(In the same light I would also like to acknowledge two fellow bloggers who have been constant in their quest of understanding and discussion, Marie and Kim,- May you always be blessed with the ability to understand). 

April Fonti's response to my review:

Hello Zarina,

Thank you for taking the time to write such a generous review. It's very heartening to have someone with academic interest and personal engagement, take the time to discuss my book so thoughtfully.

I would like to provide some context and background in response.

Firstly, I would like to address your comments on my harshness of the Muslim women I met. This is the first book I wrote and I believe the harshness may simply be a reflection of my limitations as a writer.

Early drafts of the book treated the women I met with a much, much softer approach. These drafts were written with an ardent and at times myopic defence of Muslim women. But the story was really floundering. The problem is that I was trying so hard to 'present' a positive image that there was no real narrative. There was no journey because I had skipped the ugly truths of my instinctual responses, many of the negative encounters and my subsequent growth in understanding.

Real life is messy and there are multiple narratives I could have chosen from the raw material. In the end, I chose to dramatize my journey from a harsher to a more enlightened understanding. This meant exploring my more negative responses and not holding back. It was a very challenging process.

I chose this narrative because it was one of the many truths of my experience, but also because I felt very obligated about communicating with people coming from a Western ideological perspective and wanted others to experience my journey towards a more open-minded perspective. It might be of interest to know that these drafts were written in immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks and I felt a real passion to communicate to the hysterical and outrageous conversations going on around this time. 

It was a tricky balance and yes, I'm sure it does fail and succeed for different readers.

Finally, I would like to address your uneasiness about the social or political contexts I used to understand the women I met. It felt terribly audacious to write about other people's religious beliefs and I dealt with this by consciously limiting the content to my personal experiences or retreating towards academic perspectives. In retrospect, I probably did shy away from the women's personal beliefs too much. Asking women about their personal beliefs would have been a wonderful and very integral layer to the last stage of the story.

Thank you again,

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Book Review- ‘Travels in a Veil’, by April Fonti

‘Travels in a Veil’, could perhaps be described as a social anthropological study, although it does not intend to be this exactly. April Fonti writes about her travel experiences in Pakistan, Sweden and Iran. Her encounters with Muslims are described and more specifically the book centres on her experiences and observations of Muslim women and the issues faced by them. But I found that this book was not only a journey of discovery of Muslim women, but also a journey of discovery of herself and her own views regarding Muslims in general and women in specific.

Now, we all know that issues regarding Muslim women have become a very controversial and much debated discussion, and it is for this reason that I find books like these to be extremely important to read. As a Muslim woman myself I obviously have a vested interest in this topic and a need to know what is being discussed. This book has reminded me of something crucial and that is, that it is extremely dangerous to make generalizations about Muslim women. I have to admit that some of the things that April describes in her book are alien to me, which further emphasises the need for understanding, even amongst Muslims from different countries and regions. I like that April makes mention of the fact that generalizations cannot be made, and she backs up her own experiences with other studies and expert opinions, which I felt grounded the book within a broader context.  

The book is divided into 3 parts, and the chapters are named after women that April met in her travels, thus each chapter focuses on the experiences of those women.

The first part discusses April’s travels as a single woman travelling through conservative Pakistan. Here she experiences intense seclusion of Muslim women in a way that seems to really disturb her. She also experiences what it is like to transgress the social and cultural laws. Of significance is that this is the place where she meets Shaheen, an Iranian man who is someone who she initially admires for his liberal views. Shaheen is an important person in this book, not because of the relationship that develops between April and him, but because of how he allows April to come to certain conclusions about Muslims and gender issues.

The second part of the book focuses on April’s time spent living in Sweden with Shaheen, and mixing mainly with his Iranian friends. She becomes a sort of participant observer in Sweden, because as much as she is part of the Iranian Muslim community there, she still largely ends up feeling like she doesn’t exactly fit in.

The third and final part of the book I regard as a sort of re-discovery period. Here April travels alone to Iran and through Pakistan and India again, and she sees things through the eyes of someone who is older and much more experienced.

I have to admit that I liked reading the book, it was sort of like reading someone’s travel diary and it had a personal touch to it. I also like that the complexities involved in the discussion of Muslim women and liberation, freedom, seclusion and so on, was highlighted through experiences. Nonetheless, I still have some issues with this book.

My biggest issue with this book is that at times I find that April tends to judge women a bit too harshly. As much as she attempts to be open-minded and ready to empathize with the experiences of Muslim women, she still tends to view them from a Western ideological perspective. Her own ideas of empowerment and liberation still seem to take the foreground even when she makes mention of the fact that perhaps Western liberation is not such an easy answer.

I would have liked it more if she had met and observed these women without prior ideas of what it means to be a liberated and independent woman, but of course, I understand that this is not easily achievable. The reason that this is one of my biggest issues though, is that it is generally expected that everyone’s ideas of liberation and empowerment should be similar. However, studies have proved that people from different cultures have different understandings of what empowerment means. In my own Masters study conducted on the empowerment of Muslim women, I found that the Muslim women I studied generally would not be regarded as empowered in accordance with dominant empowerment theory, and the reason for this is because they see empowerment in very different terms. For instance, for the women in my study empowerment was not about individual independence but about being part of a group and giving back to the community through this group interaction.

I understand fully that April’s travels took her to particular parts of the Muslim world and she thus came to view Muslim women in a certain way. Perhaps if she had traveled to other parts and met different Muslim women then her ideas would have differed vastly. But, be that as it may, her encounters have left her with the belief that a reinterpretation of Islam is necessary in modern times. This again is a topic which has become debatable, I personally am of the opinion that Islam needs to be understood for what it really is, instead of observing Muslim practices (which most of the time are so closely linked to cultural practices that it’s hard to tell the difference between what is religious and what is cultural). I think that a true and unbiased understanding of Islam in its entirety and not the way Islam is being practiced by certain people is essential before making claims of the need to reinterpret, but this is just my opinion.

I admire April because unlike many other people, she has decided to write based on experience, but as a Muslim woman, I do not believe that the actions or reactions of the people that she encountered is representative of the real teachings of Islam. Islam emphasizes respect for women, it insists on no compulsion in religion, its rules and punishments are the same for both men and women (despite what many people practice and believe). In Islam it is not acceptable for a man to take advantage of any woman, it is not even permissible for him to touch an unrelated woman. Men are also not supposed to be mixing with women on an intimate level, and men also have a dress code. There are so many other things I can mention here, but I think it diverts from what is relevant to this book.

I will end by saying that there were certain parts of this book that left me feeling uneasy, and I couldn’t understand why it did, because after all, this is a book about someone’s experiences and it shouldn’t have to match my understanding of things, in fact, I wouldn’t learn from it if it did match my understanding. I took some time out to try and make sense of why I felt this way and I realized that it’s because for me and the women I know, Islam is about our personal religious beliefs, rather than only being a social, cultural or political system. So you will find me wearing the black abaya and not finding it stifling at all (yes even in the midst of summer), and you will find me content when I am wearing my headscarf, and you will find my friends happy to cover their faces, and many of us have made the choice to be stay at home mothers and wives without regarding ourselves as dependent, but the difference here is that we have made the choice ourselves.  I think that these choices we have made is the defining thing, perhaps if we had not made the choice ourselves then we wouldn’t be regarding these things as liberating while other Muslim women regard it as stifling or oppressive.

So again, one of the biggest things that this book has reminded me is that generalizations are extremely dangerous; just like generalizations of Muslim women are dangerous, so are generalizations of things like empowerment, liberation and independence. I’ve written this before on my blog and I will mention it now, I do not feel the need for any particular ideology to be “The Standard” by which everyone in the world lives their lives. I think that people should be allowed to make their own choices of what makes them happy, and I think that people should be allowed to define their own “Standard”.

All in all, I would recommend that you get this book and read it, look how much discussion it has generated in just one review. If anything, it is a book that brings about discussion, a book that has an intention of asking the difficult questions and a book that focuses on experiences instead of simply accepting hearsay, and for these reasons I recommend you to read it.

Read more about April and her travels here and here

Images from here  

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Rise of Narcissism

Recently I was perusing a site dealing with psychological issues and I couldn’t help but notice the influx on topics related to narcissism. This made me wonder about this, because it seems that more and more psychologists are having to deal with this issue. It’s not surprising though, because the truth of life is that you reap exactly what you sow.

Most societies of today have succeeded in fostering a culture of Individualism; where people are taught to fend for themselves, where families are small and extended families are rarely in the picture, where children do not stay with parents and move out to be on their own from a very young age. With this culture of individualism has come an independence like never before. People seem to be cut off from one another and interdependence between humans is an uncommon concept. I’m not saying that everything about this type of culture is negative, but it somehow seems that we have taken it a bit too far. In our insistence on individualism and independence, our determination to focus on ourselves, we have somehow managed to create an intense culture of selfishness, where people are so egocentric that other people may as well be invisible. Hence, the rise in narcissism does not come as a surprise to me, because with a “me “culture so intense, what else can we expect.

It’s scary though, to think that narcissism is steadily increasing as days go by. Imagine what things will be like in the future, imagine a world where no one even cares about the next person. I know that things aren’t exactly wonderful right now, but at least altruism and caring for others is still around. At least people still have feelings for fellow humans, at least atrocities against others still affect us; at least we are still not yet so self-absorbed that the world around us has no effect on us at all. Sadly though, if recent trends are anything to go by, then we are on our way to a world filled with narcissists and this does not seem like a world I want to be a part of.

As always I think that the key is balance, we need to be able to find a balance between ourselves and others, a balance between selfishness and selflessness, because without this balance we are bound to be dealing with many issues of concern.

 Image 1 from here

Image 2 from here 

Friday, October 2, 2015

Book Review- Without Shame- By Katherine Russell

My first opinion of this book was that it was going to focus on the typical discussions of women and shame. Set in a predominantly Muslim society, I expected something much more stereotypical and clich├ęd. So I was quite pleasantly surprised when the book turned out to be very different from my expectations.

Let me say at the outset that many of the cultural aspects in the book seemed foreign to me, despite me sharing the same religion as the characters. There were certain beliefs and practices in the book that would not be regarded as part of Islam for many Muslims. To give one example, the rules of Islam forbid a man to be married to two sisters at the same time. Similarly, some of the practices described with regards to illness and magic would also be frowned upon by many Muslims. Nevertheless, at the same time I do understand that this is simply just a portrayal of Islam, as observed by an individual and perhaps as it has been practised by a particular group of people. I have to at least commend the author for making an attempt to portray different angles and viewpoints. Having said that, I will now focus on what I liked about the book.

The book is set at a time in history when Bangladesh was still known as East Pakistan and when that country still didn’t gain independence, towards the late 1960s, early 1970s. The historic and political discussion which underpins the story in this book thus makes for interesting reading. I personally did not know much about the history of Bangladesh and reading this book encouraged me to research more into this. In this regard I think the author has managed to start a discussion on very crucial topics, topics that are still, if not more, relevant in today’s times.

For instance, she brings up pertinent issues of culture and language and how Colonialism affected people’s lives on these different levels. Moreover, she begs the question as to whether foreign education in developing countries actually works for the people or against them. I particularly enjoyed the intellectual debates between characters in the novel. One of the main characters Sajib, for instance puts forth the question as to whether English really is the language of progression and whether American education in East Pakistan was valuable or if it served to further strip the people from their culture. Interestingly I could relate to these discussions so easily as we are still having the same debates and discussions today, this is relevant to me as a South African as well and we often find ourselves having to grapple with issues of cultural identity in the global world.

The political angle of the book did not overshadow the narrative and because it was so naturally written as part of the main story, it was not boring at all, instead it proved to be insightful.

The most important focus of this book though was on female liberation and independence. The protagonist is a young woman named Sariyah. Sariyah has always been different to the women around her. She is a woman of spirit an adventure, always interested in pushing boundaries and obviously this doesn’t sit very well with the people in her small rural village, especially her immediate family members. Sariya is destined to meet Rodney, an American volunteer who comes to teach in her village. The relationship that develops between these two characters brings out some of the most pertinent issues in the book. This is where Russell focuses personal issues of female freedom and what liberation means to different people and I think the friendship between these two characters also gives us insight into the need to develop an understanding of other people as opposed to simply making assumptions.

All in all I found this book to be a worthwhile read. Not only was it an educational experience but the story was intriguing as well.

Image 1 from here 
Image 2 from here 

The book comes out soon, to find out more see the publishers website:

Read more of the authors work here:

Friday, September 18, 2015

Book Review- Best of Creation by Abu Muawiyah Ismail Kamdar

To be honest I have generally come to regard self-help books with some pessimism, mainly because a common trend is the focus on unlimited power of the individual. Frankly, some of these books put forth assertions that are just way off the mark, and people may easily find themselves in deeper despondency in their attempt to follow what these books put forth. Also, my work as a counsellor has shown me that many popular trends are attempted by people, but there is no sustainability and people often find themselves back where they began, thereby rendering self-help books to be not very helpful at all.

This is why “Best of Creation” by Abu Muawiyah Ismail Kamdar is such a refreshing read. It goes to the core of things by firstly establishing the importance of realising our reason for existence. Once this is discussed, the book moves on to focus on how we can become confident individuals and what is stopping us from reaching our potential. The entire book works within the framework of our lives as the Creation of Almighty Allah, and it is within this context that we are encouraged to find our potential and become self-confident and productive individuals. I think this understanding is crucial for us to find the balance between self-confidence and arrogance, and this is a point that is brilliantly covered within the book. In fact, the author takes the time to explain the difference between self-confidence and arrogance so that people are able to embrace confidence as an essential part of living a meaningful life.

At the same time though, the individual is not ignored. On the contrary, individual differences are embraced and encouraged and the author makes it a point to show exactly how we limit ourselves when we decide to blindly follow the society in which we live. He reminds us that we all have different capabilities, interests and potential, but it is through these various differences that we can have a society that thrives.

The book is practical and puts forth easy to implement skills. Most of the chapters end with “Action Points”, which are practical suggestions for working on the issues discussed in the chapter. This is a very helpful addition as it provides the direction in which to go, it also forces people to take action and in this way it becomes easier to remember and act upon what was discussed in the book.

I found myself needing to highlight some of the sentences as it just resonated with me. Here are some of my favourite quotes from the book:

“True Self- Confidence comes from understanding the purpose of our lives and our relationship with Allah.”  

“We must also understand that we are Allah’s creation and we are not allowed to mistreat the Creation of Allah, and that includes our own selves.”

“One of the ways that parents ruin their children’s confidence is by expecting perfection from them.”

“It is our duty as believers to never stop learning, growing and becoming better Muslims.”  

“The Self-Confidence of a believer is also free from arrogance. It is a humble acceptance that as a servant of Allah, we have great gifts that need to be used for a greater purpose. With this in mind, we develop our gifts and use them productively.”  

There are many other quotes that stood out for me, but it needs to be read within the larger context of the book in order for it to be effective. The thing I liked the most about this book is that it emphasizes that Self-Confidence is not only for some people, but everyone should be confident, because after all, we all have the responsibility to live up to the title of “The Best of Creation.”

I would recommend this book as a must-read for everyone, anyone who reads this is certain to gain some sort of benefit from it. 

Image from here 

To find out more about  the author, this book, and to purcahse it, here are some links below:



Tuesday, August 18, 2015

What has social media done to us?

The more I look at it, the more I am convinced that social media has turned us humans into a narcissistic, self-obsessed race. It’s all about documenting our lives like we are part of some sort of reality TV show. And don’t even get me started on the selfie trend; I could write a whole post on how much I hate the selfie trend, but for now, let me just say- that has really taken narcissism to different levels. Is it just me or do other people also find it weird to be this obsessive?  

I mean really, photographing your life and showing it off to the world just seems to be such a tiring task. It’s like we’ve all become our very own paparazzi crew, our own agents showcasing our “talents” to the world. At the rate we are going, the concept of privacy will soon be extinct.

The saddest part is that the pictures portrayed to the world often do not match what really goes on. Behind the fake smiles and glitzy images of peoples so-called perfect lives is reality, and we all know that reality is far from perfect.

This brings to mind a Shakespeare quote from the play “As You Like It”, it goes like this:
“All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances”

This honestly seems so appropriate to today’s world, far more appropriate than it was in Shakespeare’s time. Social media has indeed turned us into “players” in this “game of life”. Our lives are acts, shows put on for the world to see. A grand play for everyone to watch and comment on.

I just wonder, what will we do when it is our time to make our exit from this world? Have we done enough “real” things? Would our existence have made a meaningful difference, or have we wasted too much time showing off our lives for all the world to see?

How will we be remembered? 

I don’t know about you, but I would certainly want my life to be more than a portrayal on social media, and I definitely do not want to spend my life as an actor on a stage.

Image from here  

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Premio Dardos Award

I would like to thank a very talented and like minded blogger for awarding me with the Premio Dardos Award:

Please do check out her blog here, its a perfect combination of how messages, values and lessons can be put across through creative writing and it has been very educational and eye opening for me.  

So this award seeks to congratulate and recognize bloggers who pen and ponder on cultural, ethical, literary and personal values that are transmitted in the form of original and creative writing in their respective virtual spaces.

Award Rules
1. When you accept the award, post it on your blog along with the name of the person who nominated you and put a link to their blog.
2. Include the image of the award in your post.
3. Pass it on to 15 other bloggers worthy of this acknowledgement.

Here is my list of bloggers who I think deserve this award. 

(I have learnt something very valuable from all these bloggers and it reminds me that each individual has something of value to share with others. For those bloggers on my list who have stopped blogging,  I urge you to continue, this is a way for you to share with others positively.) 

The list is in no particular order, I have enjoyed reading all these blogs:

1. Into the depths of the ocean  (I've re awarded you because I think you deserve it, but you don't have to re post)

2. The missing pieces joined  (I know you have been awarded with this previously, more than once, but I also think you deserve it so I am awarding you too, you also don't have to re-post)

I hope to keep learning from all these blogs;-) And thanks again to my dear sister from Into the Depths of the Ocean!

Monday, July 6, 2015

Book Review- Brick Walls

I began reading this book with the intention of reading it casually over some time, but this was not to be. I was immediately hooked at the first story already, and subsequent stories easily managed to maintain my interest, keeping me intrigued and unable to wait to read more.

The book is a collection of short fictional stories set in Pakistan. Each story documents a different sort of struggle, but with the struggle comes perseverance, endurance and eventual triumph. I have always had a strong belief that important social and political issues can be conveyed effectively through literature, and Saadia Faruqi proves this belief to be right in ‘Brick Walls’. Through the stories in this book, the social, political and economic climate of Pakistan is vividly portrayed giving the reader a much deeper understanding and awareness of the dynamics that are present in a country like Pakistan.

The main characters in each story are multi-dimensional and I enjoyed how their emotions and conflicts were explored. It reminded me of the intensity that is the human experience.

Coming from a developing country myself, I could identify with the central themes of poverty and inequality, crime and corruption and abuse of power. The thing that stood out for me though, was that social, economic and even political barriers cannot hold back the human spirit.  Faruqi managed to show that things like morality, kindness, selflessness, ambition and perseverance are not restricted to those who are in power, and thus although the world is rife with inequalities, the odds can be beaten and overcome. I particularly like how she portrayed this in a story entitled ‘Making the Team’ about a little girl who desperately wants to play cricket with the boys in her community. This story was one of my favourites because it manages to successfully focus on power roles and bias in a non-conventional manner.

What was evident throughout the book were the themes of love and hope. The author seems to have a deep love and identification to Pakistan and the hope that she has for the people of this country is clear. Hope prevails in each story, and the potential for change and growth is a constant reminder. After reading this book, I have being made to understand Pakistan and the people of Pakistan in a different manner. There may be many issues to deal with in this country (as is the case in all countries), but as long as there are people who are willing to make a difference, no matter how small, the hope for a better future will continue to prevail.

In the end I am left with the distinct feeling that it is those people who work silently in the shadows to give of themselves, their wealth and their time to bring about positive change, who are the real heroes and role models of the world. Saadia Faruqi has illustrated this beautifully in this gripping collection of short stories.

Image from here 

Read more about the author and her work here  -

Get a sneak peek of the book here

What’s right in the world?

There are many things wrong with the world today, we all know this, we incessantly tend to focus on all that is wrong. The news reminds us daily of all that is wrong, there seems to be no running away from the myriad of things that are wrong in this world, but let’s forget that for today, even if it is only for a short while, instead, let us look at what is right in this world!

Yes, there is the flipside to every coin, and just because we don’t often turn the coin around, it doesn’t mean that the other side ceases to exist. In fact, the more we look for things that are right, the more we will begin to see it, all around us, everywhere.

Take for instance the hardworking team of aid workers when a natural disaster strikes. People who work relentlessly just to save other people’s lives when they could have been sitting back comfortably.

What about those people who stand up for injustice, even if it costs them their reputation, their jobs and more.

Then there are those simple occurrences, like the stranger who offers some kind words, or the person who wants to help ease the burden when there is nothing in it for them, or the lady in the queue who happily allows you to go before her, or the cashier in the supermarket who advices you to buy the product that is on special because you will gain more.  

What about the mother who treats her children with love and kindness, endlessly sacrificing so that her family is happy? What about good friends who share in each other’s burdens and worries? What about the concern that a community feels when something happens to one of its members? 

Of course I cannot forget what I think is the biggest thing that is right in this world, and that is the worship of The One True Lord. Without the awareness and worship of the Creator, everything in the world would be wrong. Now I know there are people who blame religion for all that is wrong in the world, but I obviously disagree with that assertion. For me, personally, being able to develop a connection with Almighty Allah has been the biggest positive thing in my life and this is what has made me more intent on becoming a better person. This is also what has made it easier for me to seek out the good in life in general and in other people. So it definitely goes down as the biggest thing that is right in the world!

May Almighty Allah guide us to always focus on the positive instead of the negative!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

In Tribute to a Great Woman

 Wednesday 24th June 2015 was a sad day for my family and I. This was the day my grandmother passed away. Alhamdulillah (Praise be to Allah), she was fortunate to pass away in the most Blessed month of Ramadhaan, and she was peaceful at her home, in her own bed. But naturally, her passing has left an open gap in our lives and we will miss her dearly.

My grandmother has left behind a legacy though, she did not do big things in her life, she was not famous, nor popular outside of her community, but her legacy is an important one, this is why I needed to share it.

At 85 years old my grandmother had obviously lived a full life. Don’t be mistaken, it was a life of trials and tribulations. Despite this though, she was always smiling, always happy and always ready to make the next person smile. She forgave easily and never held grudges and she had this talent for making every individual feel special. She genuinely cared about the well-being of others. For many of us, we will remember her jolliness, she loved telling jokes and singing old songs and rhymes. Most of all, she was always positive about everything, she didn’t dwell on problems, or become depressed, in fact she seemed to have mastered positive psychology long before the discipline was even established.

My earliest memories that stand out was when she would stay over with us and I would pray salaah next to her as a young child. I remember her reprimanding me for jumping off the prayer mat quickly, and she would tell me to sit a little while longer and make a small duaa (prayer).  And still at the age of 85, she was concerned about praying her salaah, she would get up in the early morning hours to make sure she performs her Fajr salaah, even in the cold, on Fridays she would stress out from early on in the morning to make sure that she had bathed and got ready for prayers early, she was fortunate enough to understand the importance of salaah, even when she became confused about what she needed to be reciting, and I wish that if I ever reach that age, I too will follow this example.

My grandmother's zest for life was remarkable, even when she was old and sick she looked forward to seeing people and socializing. She always wanted to look her best, and would always add some bling to her outfits. I remember when she was in hospital in Makkah a few years ago, she asked us to bring her eye pencil and joked that she didn't want to look like a sick chicken. I used to laugh at the fact that her social life was much more exciting than mine, and undoubtedly, my dressing and appearance was way too simple in comparison to hers. A woman full of life and joy, this was my grandmother. 

My grandmother has passed away, but her strength and positivity will live on, and the example she set as a strong an independent Muslim woman will not be forgotten.

I pray that Allah Almighty grants her the highest stages of Jannah (Paradise) and that she is in peace! Ameen. 

Image from here 

Friday, June 12, 2015

Book Review- “How to be a Happy Muslim- Insha’Allah”

When reading this book I couldn’t help but approach it from two different perspectives. Firstly, as a counsellor myself I automatically tended to read the book from the perspective of a counsellor. From this viewpoint I can sum this book up as an extremely valuable resource. It is definitely a book that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to all my clients. Throughout the book I felt almost as if the author was echoing my own thoughts and speaking my own mind.

What I found the most useful was that the book was written in such a simple and practical manner, there is no room for confusion or misunderstanding. The advice's are so clear and to the point that anyone can read it and implement the skills and lessons brought about, and further useful links to websites, videos and other resources are provided so that the experience of implementing change doesn't have to end with this book. Which brings me to the thing I loved the most about this book. The author takes an active stance instead of a passive/victim one and she encourages everyone to take control of their own lives and their own feelings. Instead of waiting for someone else to do something, she shows people how they need to do something themselves to become happy and she gives them the basic tools with which to do this. If anything, the thing that should be taken away from this book is that happiness (in terms of contentment and inner peace) is not something which only a few people can achieve, it is something attainable for everyone, but it involves some sort of action to be taken in order to maintain it.

In addition, the approach the book takes is holistic and it focuses on all aspects of human functioning and combines the different levels of functioning to show that happiness is a holistic thing in itself. In doing this, it highlights the need for us to view our lives holistically and from there to make the necessary changes on a more meaningful level.

My second approach to reading this book was from a personal level, with the constant awareness that this book applies to me as much as it does to any other person. On this level too, I was not disappointed. With every topic I found myself easily able to apply this to my own life. The thing that stood out for me personally was the discussion on gratitude and focusing on the positive in our lives over the negative. I can vouch that becoming more grateful leads to feelings of contentment and peace and the tools provided in the book to become more grateful and positive was very helpful in emphasizing this. I also found the Happiness Reflections and Happiness Hints to be very beneficial in bringing the topics back to my own life, thereby making the reading of this book a personal experience of reflection and self-understanding.

People often ask me the question, “but how can I become happy?” While reading this book I felt like I was getting a very in-depth answer to that question and I think that the next time I get asked this question, my answer should simply be to recommend them to read How to be a Happy Muslim-Insha’Allah. It is indeed a book which provides solutions to issues that many people are attempting to deal with and I am certain that many others will find it as helpful as I have, Insha’Allah. 

Image from here

You can read more on the author's website here 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Why I think fashion is oppressive

I might as well admit from the onset that my relationship with fashion has been a rocky one. It started out when I wanted to know fashion and I tried hard to embrace it and follow it, perhaps even understand it, but a long time ago this relationship ended, it just wasn’t sustainable, and it left me saddened and perhaps even on the verge of depression many times because I couldn’t live up to its standards. Then I came to the important realization, I am better off without fashion, because indeed fashion is oppressive and stifling! Let me tell you what makes me say this.

You see, I believe that while the clothes we wear can never define us, when we naturally choose what we want to wear, based on our likes and dislikes, then what we wear reflects our personality. When there are no restrictions, people tend to choose clothes that they really like, and this usually tells a lot about each unique individual’s personality. Someone may choose to wear long flowy dresses or skirts because that makes them feel good, or someone else may choose to wear tailored pants because they feel the most comfortable in it. In the same way, one woman may love wearing heels while another will never feel comfortable unless her shoes are flats. This diversity in choice allows us to choose according to our preferences and these preferences say a lot about our personalities.

So where does fashion fit in?

Well, fashion comes along and begins to tell us exactly what we should be wearing. It dictates to us that skinny jeans looks much better than baggy jeans, it tells us that the clothes we like are “so last season”. It chooses the type of shoes we should be wearing. It tells us what colours to wear, what accessories to match it up with, it even tells us what shops to buy our clothes at. And if we think we are special we will soon see that we are wrong, because fashion doesn’t consider our individual preferences or even what we feel comfortable in, fashion doesn’t care if we prefer skirts to pants, or whether we love flowing clothes instead of tailored clothes, no, fashion goes around dictating the same thing to every single woman, based on what fashion thinks is “in”,  until eventually we all begin to look the way fashion wants us to and fashions dreams of the perfect attire are realized.

Sounds a bit crazy doesn’t it? Yet that’s exactly what happens, and the odd thing is if someone really came about and told us exactly what to wear we would probably kick them out of our houses.

Now, before you think this doesn’t apply to Muslim women who have decided to wear abaya’s or cloaks or jilbaab (depending on what you refer to the clothes as). Let me tell you it applies just as much. If you think that Muslim women’s clothes are just pieces of black material sewn together to cover them then you are so wrong. Let me tell you, there are “in fashion” abayas and “out of fashion” ones, and there is such a thing as that headscarf that is “so last season”. Oh, and let me not forget the designer name brand cloaks, abayas, and hijabs, yes people, fashion hasn’t ignored Muslim women, and its role as the oppressor is exactly the same for Muslim women as it is for any other woman.

But wait, there’s more…

The most oppressive thing about fashion is how it makes us women feel. See, fashion uses perfect women as its models, and it forgets to tell us that only a very small percentage of us will ever look like these perfect women. So we strive and yearn to look like fashion’s models and when the things they model to us don’t exactly look right on us we don’t criticize fashion’s tastes, instead we blame ourselves. We use all kinds of labels against ourselves as we strive to follow what fashion wants us to, and we don’t stop to think that maybe we are fine the way we are and the problem actually lies with fashion!

So, my advice to all ladies would be, get out while you can!

It doesn’t matter if your style is “out of fashion” or “last season”, if it’s what you are comfortable in then that should be good enough. So what if you have been wearing the same shoes for the past two years. Who cares if no one else still wears the type of headscarf you are wearing? What’s the problem if the dress you are wearing looks like it belongs in the 1980s. Make your choices yourself, don’t allow fashion to dictate to you. I don’t know about you, but if I attempted to wear skinny jeans I would probably drop dead within minutes due to lack of being able to breathe properly! 

Image from here 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Best of All Creations

One of the most beautiful things to witness is true and positive human change. Alhamdulillah (Praise be to Allah) yesterday I had the opportunity to witness this again and it has left me humbled and in awe of how amazing Allah has created human beings. Indeed, it is the truth that humans are the Best of All Creations.

As I sat and listened to a group of Muslim Sisters share their experiences of growth and change I was reminded of the vast human potential that Allah has given us. It reminded me that we do not have to allow circumstances to shape us and neither do we need to remain stuck in a state of negativity. We have the ability to change and grow and become human beings who can contribute to others lives in a meaningful way.

It also allowed me to contemplate on what true empowerment really is and I’ve come to the conclusion that empowerment is not about getting what you want despite everyone else. It’s not about comparing yourself with anyone else and then deciding that you need to be equal. True empowerment according to my understanding is being so happy and content with yourself that you do not need to compare yourself with anyone, nor do you need to demand any rights. A truly empowered person understands that she is not more important than anyone else, that if she puts others before herself and if she gives to others then she will gain more than they do. A truly empowered person is the person who has the ability to admit to her mistakes, to understand her weaknesses, to accept the circumstances that she cannot change and to remain positive even in the worst situations of negativity. This may sound impossible, but Alhamdullillah yesterday once again reaffirmed to me that this is in fact not impossible at all.

I thank Allah Almighty for giving me the chance to witness the beauty of human beings becoming better people, this gives me a feeling I cannot properly explain, but it mostly it makes me understand the magnificence of the Ultimate Creator. Allah Almighty has made us the best of creations, we need to make sure we live up to that!