I’m fasting, not dieting….

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Every year Muslims around the world will observe fasting, which makes up one of the five pillars of Islam. Ramadan is the 9th month of the Islamic calendar and usually lasts between 29 and 30 days and is based on the visual sighting of the moon. Muslims will abstain from drinking, eating and sexual relations. Please note we do not starve ourselves for 30 days in a row.

The word Ramadan comes from the Arabic root “ramida” or “ar-ramad,” which means scorching heat or dryness.

Chapter 2, Revelation 185 of the Quran states: The month of Ramadan is that in which was revealed the Quran; a guidance for mankind, and clear proofs of the guidance, and the criterion (of right and wrong). And whosoever of you is present, let him fast the month, and whosoever of you is sick or on a journey, a number of other days. Allah desires for you ease; He desires not hardship for you; and that you should complete the period, and that you should magnify Allah for having guided you, and that perhaps you may be thankful.[Quran 2:185]

Ramadan is a time of self-reflection, spirituality and devotion to Allah. Ramadan teaches us self-discipline and allows us to relate to the poor and hungry. I will not suffer in health through fasting and neither will it kill me. In fact it teaches me to become stronger and make me realise just how much junk and crap food I eat in a day.

Typical day of fasting:

I begin my day by waking up for sehri (before dawn) and treat myself to a feast of one banana, glass of water and three cake rusks. If I have time I often have a mango as I love them. A person can eat anything as long as it is halal and before fajr (dawn). I then close my fast by brushing my teeth and saying a prayer. I have to wait a short while before the morning prayers (fajr) start. I perform wudhu (ablution/wash myself), don my abaya and hijab (a Muslim women must be clean and covered before she can pray), find my prayer mat and pray the morning prayers.

Through out the day I try my best to refrain from swearing, back biting, stealing and being horrible. I am only human so at times I may lose my patience and be tempted to yell at the person who stood on my foot on the tube. Muslim’s should pray five times, Fajr (morning), Zuhr (midday), Asr (afternoon), Maghrib (sunset) and Isha (evening) a day and I fit in my prayers where I can and carry a scarf and long cardigan in my bag to help me. In the month of Ramadan I try extra hard to pray five times a day.

I try to break my fast with either water or dates and with a prayer. I prefer to break my fast with others as for me this is what Islam is about, being part of a community. I ventured to Regent Park Mosque as I wanted to see what it was like to open my fast in a mosque. The mosque provided free tea and dates for people fasting. I looked around and saw women from different corners of the world, speaking various languages and dressed differently. I wait for the azaan (call to prayer) and then open my fast with the various women. It is amazing to see young and old women at different stages in their faith coming together to pray and eat.

Eid Ul’fitr:

The muslin holiday Eid U’l Fitr (“festivity of breaking the fast”) marks the end of Ramadan and the beginning of the next lunar month called Shawwal in Arabic. This first day of the following month is declared after another crescent new moon has been sighted or the completion of 30 days of fasting if no visual sighting is possible due to weather conditions.

On Eid Ul’ Fitr I wake up in the morning and realise that I can eat and drink freely. My brothers and dad go to the mosque to read the Eid prayers. Once they return we greet each other with ‘Eid Mubarak/Kareem’ and have a feast.

Zakat:

At the end of Ramadan Muslims are meant to give zakat (the amount of money that every adult, mentally stable, free, and financially able Muslim, male and female, has to pay to support specific categories people). I calculate my zakat which is 2.5% of my savings (money saved for a year) and then donate it to a worthwhile charity.

This category of people is defined in surah at-Taubah (9) verse 60: “The alms are only for the poor and the needy, and those who collect them, and those whose hearts are to be reconciled, and to free the captives and the debtors, and for the cause of Allah, and (for) the wayfarers; a duty imposed by Allah. Allah is knower, Wise.” (The Holy Qur’an 9:60).

The obligatory nature of Zakat is firmly established in the Qur’an, the Sunnah (or hadith), and the consensus of the companions and the Muslim scholars. Allah states in Surah at-Taubah verses 34-35: “O ye who believe! there are indeed many among the priests and anchorites, who in Falsehood devour the substance of men and hinder (them) from the way of Allah. And there are those who bury gold and silver and spend it not in the way of Allah. announce unto them a most grievous penalty – On the Day when heat will be produced out of that (wealth) in the fire of Hell, and with it will be branded their foreheads, their flanks, and their backs, their flanks, and their backs.- “This is the (treasure) which ye buried for yourselves: taste ye, then, the (treasures) ye buried!” (The Holy Qur’an9:34-35).

Fasting is not hard and it is really mind over matter. This year we Ramadhan kareeare not able to eat and drink for about 18 hours. It is hard to explain, but your body gets used to not eating and drinking. I love the month of ramadhan as it’s the one time of year, that I am able to have two meals with my family every day.

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I’m an alien; I’m a Muslim in France

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Bonjour, aslamailakun ca va? ka fa hal? Both greetings are the same, hello, how are you? In France, you can often hear a mixture of French and Arabic being spoken.

Are the French islamphobic? Do they fear Muslims? Do they welcome Muslim or ethnic minorities? I cannot answer this question.

France has one of the largest Muslim populations in Western Europe 5- 6 million (8-9%), yet you will struggle to see many Muslim people in senior management positions. Muslims from all over Africa especially Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria come to France with the hope of making a better life for themselves.  I personally did not experience any form of Islamaphobia from French people during my weekend in Paris. But, then I do not wear a hijab and have an English accent. However, the story is different for some Muslims living in France and the subject of racism is a taboo subject.

In London, you can see Muslim women roaming the streets head to toe in black with only their eyes showing. In Paris, I didn’t see one women with an abaya in all the different neighbourhoods I explored. I spotted a few women wearing the hijab and Muslim men wearing traditional attire from their home countries. I am not saying I want to see women wear the niqab or that I support it. However, I am a firm believer that a woman and a man should be able to wear what they want to.What is it about the hijab and niqab that scares some people? I admit speaking to someone whose face I cannot see is NOT a comfortable experience. However, seriously it is not hard to converse with someone who covers his or her head. What is so scary about that? Please tell me as I am struggling to figure it out. Is the hijab such a sore sight and who are we to tell people what to wear? What happened to freedom of expression or the freedom to wear what you want?

In France on January 25 it was announced that the parliamentary committee, having concluded its study, would recommend that a ban on veils covering the face in public locations such as hospitals and schools be enacted, but not in private buildings or on the street. On 22 June 2009, at the Congrès de Versailles, President Nicolas Sarkozy declared that the Islamic burqa is not welcome in France, claiming that the full-length, body-covering gown was a symbol of subservience that suppresses women’s identities and turns them into “prisoners behind a screen.” A parliamentary commission of thirty-two deputies and led by André Gerin (PCF), was formed to study the possibility of banning the public wearing of the burqa or niqab.[35]

As I enjoyed my weekend in Paris, I spoke to various Muslims from Tunisia, Lebanon, Africa, Algeria Senegal and Ivory Coast and they all have the same story to tell, that in France Muslims are feared and the hijab is not allowed in public places.  . In France, the French people will not admit they are racist or do not like Muslims or minorities. However, realistically, who is going to openly admit that they do not like a certain set of people. This is a view shared by the people I encountered and other Muslim or minorities in France may have a different tale to tell.

Islam, niqab, hijab

The problem in France is that it asks children who are born here and grow up here to eat French, sleep French, but they still don’t accept me as French,” said Bigaderne, the son of Moroccan and Algerian immigrants.

“A real Frenchman is white,” he explained, “not black or Arab.”

It saddens me that in 2012 we still discriminate against minorities and cannot fully accept other faiths and people and have to pose restrictions on people and what they can or can’t wear. I hope with the new French President Hollande things for Muslims in France will get better.

Fanatical about religion…

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Does the way you dress and look determine your religious belief and identity?

If you see a bearded man or a woman with a hijab on, do you automatically think terrorist or Islamic fanatic? Do you assume the bearded man or covered woman walking down the street is oppressed or uneducated? The amount of types I have heard people say things like ‘”Oh my god, I feel so sorry for her. It’s hot and she is forced to wear that black thing”. “Why does she cover her face or her hair”? You may not do, but some ignorant people in our society do. Having a beard or wearing a hijab is a choice for some Muslims who want to be identified as Muslims and form a closer relationship to Allah. Not all Muslim women wear a hijab out of force. It is their choice as they want to make a statement, form a better relationship with god or don’t want men staring at them. The hijab is about modesty of the body and the mind. The woman in the hijab can look at scantily clad women on a Saturday night and think, “Aren’t these women cold, it’s freezing and they have no clothes on.” “Looking at them is making me feel cold”.

An educated man and woman can make a decision to represent their identity and still have a brain and opinion. The woman with the hijab sat opposite you could be a brain surgeon, speak five different languages fluently, and be a martial arts expert. However, some see her as an oppressed fanatic who needs to inject some colour into her life and try wearing a different colour to black.

The bearded man walking across the street has not forgotten how to shave and is not going for the hippy look. He wants society to identify him as a Muslim or just likes sporting a beard. It is not cool or funny to shout Bin Laden or the Taliban as he walks past. It is immature and ignorant. So even if you think it, don’t say it out aloud as a sarky comment or rude reply back can offend. Do not be cautious of this man or speak very slowly as he can understand what you say and may have a PHD in nuclear physics and likes Cold Play.

I am fed up of society and the media that depict Muslims who choose to sport a beard or wear a hijab as Islamic fanatics. They are not fanatics. Nuns dress modestly and wear all black. Do you see a Nun as an oppressed woman and feel sorry for her because she isn’t wearing the latest mini skirt in summer? Or when you see an Orthodox Jew or Greek, do you see them as fanatics with their beards and skullcaps. Why is it acceptable for them to dress in this way and not be classed as fanatics? Figure out what a person is truly about before making assumptions. The media loves to portray Muslims as fanatic. I am a Muslim educated middle class woman and I don’t wear a hijab, but I pray, fast and believe in my religion. Am I fanatic to?

Yes I’m #Pakistani and what?

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Yes I’m #Pakistani, but if I don’t choose to talk to you, that doesn’t make me racist because you’re not the same colour as me, I just don’t want to talk to you, but don’t call me a  paki…”

Why do men take offence if you turn them down?

Why can’t a man take it on the chin when you’re not interested, instead of lashing out? I mean seriously did “I ask you to speak to me or approach you? No, I didn’t, so why should I share the same air space as you”

What makes a man approach a woman and think he’s in with a chance? “Yeah baby, I’m the Mcdaddy, what you saying”?” “Ermmm, nothing at all to you, so leave me alone” this is what we’re thinking in our heads, but don’t actually say it out loud. Are some men so deluded that they think that any and every woman is interested in them?

How can you politely refuse this type of man? You can’t, as they don’t take kindly to the words “no, go away and not interested”. This kind of man can turn nasty and hurl abuse as you’ve hurt his manly pride. So you’re in a no win situation really. The best thing to do, is to just ignore this type of man, or be prepared for abuse if you choose to answer back.

Mixed relationships…How do we view them?

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Have you heard of the song Ebony and Ivory?

Does black and white mix as good football and men. Are we more drawn to races that are different to ours? Do we secretly desire the unknown and want to taste forbidden fruit? Do you like blue eyed blonde’s or bearded men or chocolate skin with big brown eyes.

What do you think when you see a black and white or black and Asian or Asian and white couple? Nothing at all, it’s normal. Sell out and traitors. Can they not find their own kind? Stealing our men and women. Are these the thoughts that enter your head. I’ll admit when I was younger and more ignorant I did not like seeing Asian men with white women. I would wonder what they saw in them and secretly thought to myself, he isn’t going to marry her and it’s just a time pass. Now I am a lot and wiser. At least I like to think I am. Mixed relationships do not faze me and I welcome them.

In big cities like London mixed couples blend into the background and don’t stop traffic. But, in some Northern or rural cities mixed couples can raise eyebrows and turn heads. How many times have you seen a mixed couple and took a double take? When I was growing up in the Midlands we were the only Asian family in the the town and the white boys never looked twice at me. For them I was dirty and not worthy. Or it could have been that they just didn’t find me hot.

Mixed children can find it hard growing up, as often they can be rejected by both races. The mixed Pakistani and white girl does not look Asian at all, yet can speak Punjabi. The Asian kids at schools don’t know what to do with her. Some find her fascinating and others think she is not one of them, so don’t include her into their group. The English children tease her about her colouring. What is this girl whose torn by two identities meant to do? What culture should she accept and embrace. It is not easy fitting into two cultures as you can never please everyone. Therefore, it is better to just be true to yourself.

The mixed black and white girl has crazy afro hair, green eyes and tanned skin. She has both Caucasian and African features. The girls hate on her, as the black men go crazy for her skin colour. She doesn’t have to spend as long as her black sisters taming her wild mane. When she straightens her hair you cannot tell that she is mixed and some can mistake her for being Spanish. But is it her fault? No, so don’t hate on her and accept her.

Do these mixed people get the best of both worlds? Are they are at advantage? Or do they find it harder to fit in? How do you react towards them? One of my closest friends is mixed, half black and half white. She says she is more accepted by white people than she is by black women. Black men don’t think she is black enough due to her taste in women, and some black women hate on her because of her lighter skin tone. She did not ask to be mixed, so treat her fairly and equally.

Fashionably late or always on time?

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How much of our life do we spend rushing around to one place or another? We spend most of our time travelling to work, home, leisure or anywhere that takes our fancy. How important is time? Are you always fashionably late or punctual? My time keeping isn’t the best and I can often miss appointments by a few minutes. I’ve missed a tube and train by 30seconds and had to buy a new ticket. Why didn’t I just leave a few minutes earlier? Because, I thought I could make it. I even calculated the time I needed in my head. But, one single delay caused me to miss my train.

Do you often sit around waiting for people to show up? Half an hour you said, it’s been an hour and your still not here. How we hate others being late, but its fine if were not on time.

How important is a minute? A lot when you have a train or flight to catch. Timing can be crucial at certain moments of our lives. A passed encounter can cause you to meet someone unexpected.

Fashionably late is fine if you’re a diva or pop star, but not so great if you’re a mere employer…

takes our fancy. How important is time? Are you always fashionably late or punctual? My time keeping isn’t the best and I can often miss appointments by a few minutes. I’ve missed a tube and train by 30seconds and had to buy a new ticket. Why didn’t I just leave a few minutes earlier? Because, I thought I could make it. I even calculated the time I needed in my head. But, one single delay caused me to miss my train.

Do you often sit around waiting for people to show up? Half an hour you said, it’s been an hour and your still not here. How we hate others being late, but its fine if were not on time.

How important is a minute? A lot when you have a train or flight to catch. Timing can be crucial at certain moments of our lives. A passed encounter can cause you to meet someone unexpected.

Fashionably late is fine if you’re a diva or pop star, but not so great if you’re a mere employer…

Asian women – the stereotype broken

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Weak/sexy?

Submissive/fiery?

Traditional/independent?

Which one are you?

A decade ago, it would be outrageous to see an Pakistani girl in a club, smoking or roaming the streets after 9pm without her dad, brother or mum. Today we can spot Pakistani women after 9pm,sporting the latest fashion trends and hanging out with boys. Gone are the days when they had to meet boys 30 miles from their home and before 6pm.

The last decade has witnessed a dramatic transformation in the term ‘typical’ or ‘traditional’ Pakistani women in terms of attitude and dress. What does a typical Pakistani women look like? Does she wear shalwar kameeze with a duppata on her head with her gaze lowered? Or does she wear a pair of skinnies, t-shirt, heels and a short bob? Chances are the latter image will not come to your head. But,why? Look around you and you will see hundreds of Pakistani women all looking different. When the word traditional comes into our head we think of an innocent, homely woman who wears traditional clothing and can make a tasty curry with round chapattis. Why can’t the two images fuse together to represent the modern Pakistani woman who knows that Tibet, isn’t just a cream that promises fair skin and who has travelled further than India or Pakistan? This is the woman I want to converse with in the street and exchange in dialogue about politics, economics, culinary delights and the latest Bollywood flick.

When Destiny’s Child sang ‘Independent women’ millions of women all over the world clapped their hands, moved their feet and sang along. Pakistani women are not often linked with the word independent and are instead portrayed as weak and submissive. We can find Pakistani women in the city,  holding their own as doctors, lawyers and accountants. Today’s Pakistani woman is educated, sophisticated and has a good balance of eastern and western influences and is anything but weak and submissive.

Let us help break the stigma associated with Pakistani women by recognising that they are sassy, intelligent women who can hold down a job, raise children kids keep a home.