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Dear Principal and teachers,

Every March 17th, my children and I dread school. I don’t know what the basis of the custom is but every year, I have my children complain that they were pinched and humiliated because they were not wearing green to school.  This sort of behavior would never be tolerated on a day to day basis but it seems like on this particular day- it is a free for all. I am addressing this issue ahead of time, in hopes that last year will not be repeated.

I  bring this up with you as last year was particularly hard. All three of them complained of people pinching them, at times very painfully. The simple answer would be to send my children to school wearing green but why should I have to? Is it a school sanctioned affair? I know the school will ask on certain days to send them in wearing a particular color because they are learning about that color but this particular custom is not educational in any way.

Why is this behavior tolerated in school? Please make it a point to ensure that my children are safe.  If a student is hurt, annoyed, or embarrassed because of their belief and choice in NOT participating in this “custom” it is the school’s duty to ensure that the child’s sense of safety and security is PROTECTED, by not permitting such behavior to continue both in the classroom and in the playground.  As in every multi-cultural environment, we must have education and awareness in the classroom, that not everyone follows the traditions/ customs being perpetuated and that teachers, yard duties and other students need to respect that.

Sincerely ,

This is the letter that I send to my children’s principal. I am sure Patrick was a gracious Christian soul, who would not want his memory to be associated with this obnoxious custom.

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This year Ramadan coincides with the first day of school for many families. Realizing that many of our Muslim brothers and sisters do choose the public school system for their kids’ education, this is a resource to help make the best out of Ramadan in public school. This blessed month is such a vital part of being Muslim that enjoying it and sharing it with others, instead of hiding it, goes a long way in maintaining Muslim children’s Islamic identity while attending public school. After the will of Allah, it begins with parental involvement in the lives of their children. You owe it to them.

Elementary School

Send in a letter or email to the school principal and the classroom teacher introducing your family and informing them about Ramadan. This sample letter to your child’s principal includes an offer to come into class and do a presentation on Ramadan.  You can correlate it to the phases of the moon in science especially for first and third graders as it is a part of the curriculum. One year, we did the phases of the moon craft and asked the kids to watch out for the waxing and waning of the moon throughout the month.

To preempt any misunderstanding, meet with the teacher and/or principal and show her your material. For example, the Adam’s World Ramadan DVD is a great resource, so I asked the classroom teacher to preview it beacuse she is more familiar with the school disctrict’s rules; she chose to show the second stanza onwards of thenasheed “We scanned the sky” by Dawud Wharnsby Ali – it was such a hit!! The kids kept asking her to replay it over and over again.

There are several great books on the subject that are perfect for sharing during story-time.

My First Ramadan by Karen Katz – this little book is perfect for preschoolers – 2nd graders and makes a great gift for the class library.  You can mix in a nasheed. It was amazing watching my daughter’s preschool class holding hands in a circle singing along to the chorus of ‘These are the days of Eid.”

Hamza’s First Fast by Asna Chaudhry – I read this book to my daughter’s third grade class, which led to a great discussion where kids of all different faiths talked about how their parents fast too. “Oooh, my mom fasts too, on Lent! Mine fasts to lose weight! We do it too on Yom Kippur” The kids gushed after I finished my presentation. My daughter loved being the center of attention and the discussion was alive for days.

The Three Muslim Festivals is a beautifully illustrated book that has stories of Muslim kids celebrating Ramadan, Eid ul Fitr and Eid ul Adha in a western country. It is a must-have for every Muslim kids’ library, and to educate others, gift it to your school library.

Print out some Ramadan activities for your kid’s classmates to color or crafts that they can make.

Send in Eid gifts – its great dawah. It’s the beginning of the school year; it will break the ice and help your child feel special. Alhamdulillah, the children in our elementary school look forward to being in my kid’s classroom and remember that Zahrah doesn’t celebrate Christmas. They don’t have to be elaborate; pencils, dollar-store toys, chapsticks, ahandmade rendering of their names in Arabic, etc. Attach a tag that says Eid Saeed/Happy Eid.

If your school has a newsletter and the administration wishes the students on their religious holidays then do ask for Muslim holdays to be acknowledged as well.  This little note started the beautiful tradition of wishing Muslim students Happy Eid in our elementary school.

For Middle/Junior High and High School Kids-

Fasting is fardh for most Muslim youth this age. A letter should be sent to the principal, homeroom teacher and especially the P.E. teacher. In this letter, explain your child’s physical and spiritual needs. This sample letter for high school can be adjusted to fit your family.With so many Muslim kids participating in team sports, coachs have to be included in this conversation. They are often concerned out of care and liability issues but a friendly letter or talk can ease their worries.

If your son wants to  follow the example of Muslim atheletes i.e. Hakeem Olajuwon and Husain Abdullah and man up to attending P.E.class, then let them. It is hard being the only guy in class sitting on the sidelines. (My maternal instinct says no way in this 102 degree weather, but  I give this advice based on talks with Muslim teens).

Make sure you make them get up for suhoor – if they are in the pratice of getting up for fajr this should be easy if not, use these tips for waking them up. Have them eat a healthy breakfast, say yes to the smoothies, multi-grain pancakes, oatmeal, and eggs their way. This is not the time to insist on a traditional meal from the home country. Keep them hydrated through the night with a water bottle designated just for your teen at their bedside.

Don’t go back to sleep after fajr – this is a great oppurtunity for family time. Read Quran together. It is one thing to tell your kids “Go read Quran” and quite another to read Quran to each other. They can also study at this time and do homework as well. This frees up the afternoons for dhikr, helping around the house, reading Quran and napping so your teenager is fresh for taraweeh.

Empower your children with information. When they are younger role-play with them so if friends ask them why they are fasting or if they are made fun of, they have some standard answers to give. For high school kids, have honest discussions about Ramadan, its virtues and its spiritual aspects; listen to or watch a lecture together.  They want their whys answered – so talk to them about the psychological aspects, about reflecting on their lives, about cleansing their spirit, about using this time to set up good habits for the rest of the  year.

Ask you teen to go to the library during lunch time or help out a teacher in class. Staying away from the cafeteria helps makes fasting easier.

Urge them to have a good attitude – “If you complain and say I am hungry – that’s just not good dawah and frankly people don’t care or will urge you to eat.” Listening and sharing other Muslim youths’ stories on how they handle Ramadan in school can spark great dialogue between teens, their parents and siblings.

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  1. Wake up for Suhoor. Have a healthy breakfast.
  2. Keep moving- it creates oxygen in your blood and keeps you energetic. Do not sleep the whole day. If you exercise regularly- go for a thirty minute walk (make dhikr)
  3. At iftaar time eat no more than you can fit on a saucer
  4. Keep yourself hydrated- drink 2-3 liter of water
  5. After taraweeh go to sleep.

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On route from DC to LAX alone with all four children. So far so good. Except…you know how we are supposed to be good to our fellow travellers. Well!! the Virgin America counter was right next to Saudi Airlines- plenty of Muslims around to salaam to. We did not even get ONE!! When my seven-year old said salaam to the Chanel clad sister with her Gucci luggage encased in plastic cover- all she got was a cold stare. LF#2 looked at me bewildered.  “Its ok jaani you still got the reward”, I said stroking her back. Undettered, I tried with another sister. Total ignore- my brother-in-law who was dropping us off smirked- he makes fun of my “muslim” antenna- ‘it beeps whenever a Muslim esp. a desi passes by and she HAS to make contact”. Oh well- maybe I can smile at the ladies at the counter- sorry I forget we aren’t in LA anymore- don’t people smile on the East Coast?

Maneuvering my brood, 3-year-old in his stroller, 4 backpacks on my girls, my camera/laptop case and purse, the 4-year-old on a monkey leash up and down Dulles Airport, I smiled.

I smiled at security even after they threw away my baby’s organic chocolate milk box- LF# 1 said “but but they let us bring it when we came from California!!” Californians are nicer we all agreed. I smiled when they asked me to take off my abaya- “it’s not a jacket, sir.” I smiled when they wouldn’t give us priority boarding even with so many little kids.

We get on board. An empty seat next to us. OH look someone left their head phones – trying to be the good Muslimah, I pick them and turn around to call the steward in black uniform, “Hi, someone left their earphones” I say to the young man in black leaning over my seat.” ERR those are mine” That was his SEAT yikes- he probably thought I was stealing them. Grrrrr, next time should I be so quick to ‘help’??

Mom packed Persian kebabs & rice for lunch for us, they smell across the whole plane!! I see fellow travellers twitching their noses. Some have a dreamy look in their eyes. Should I offer them some, I should shouldnt I? They have a right over me.“ No thank you!!”  It is hard being nice. I pack up the rest envisioning  lawyers suing us because I shared my lunch. Things were simpler in the past, you could share a meal with strangers and fulfill your deen’s requirement.  The more we become technologically advance the less we connect.

“I wanna drink, I wanna drink” ” I need to go to the bathroom”- oops the trolley was blocking the steward motions at us, “Go use the bathroom in the front.” After standing in line for seven minutes as two people use it, as my little one is hops around. “You can’t use this restroom- it’s for business class passengers ONLY!” My hijab makes me wimpy at times. Maybe if I didn’t wear hijab I would have thrown a hissy fit and told her off, “My kid can just pee on the floor and I’ll make you clean it”. Wimpy or a better human being- I don’t want her to hate all Muslims because I yelled at her.  Without it I could be from anywhere where people are brown, with it I am conspicuously Muslim.

I am just glad I am home. Alhamdulillah

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I am in the midst of wedding hungama ( craziness) my sister-in-law is getting married. Amongst the angst of what to wear and what to pack and the matching shoes, the menus and the favors & decorations- I feel like I am losing contact with Allah; salahs are read hurriedly because the tables needs to be set up and centerpieces are waiting for a final touch up. Monday fast are delayed because the abundance of food, scrumptious desserts and hospitality.  My soul’s connection is shaky, interrupted by the many loved ones coming together from places far and near. I read the following story on Haq Islam, it brings me down to reality, May we remember Allah (SWT) in our festivities, in our happiness as we do in our sadness, Ameen.

A pious man relates that in one of my journeys I once saw a young Bedouin girl.

“Where do you stay?” I enquired

“The jungle”, she replied.

“Do you not feel lonely?” I asked curiously.

She answered, “Oh Shaykh, one who befriends Allah and keeps His company can never be lonely”.

I asked, “Where do you eat?”

She replied, “Allah knows best from where He provides for His creation. He gives it to those who believe in Him”.

Then she went on to say, “The hearts that are alive with the recognition of Allah’s oneness and have relented to His love, their food is the love of Allah and His Company”.

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Its been more than two month since we switched off the cable- but we still have the basic channels, like PBS and ABC. To be honest I miss my favorite shows on Food Network and Home & Garden TV but do not regret turning it off for a second.  People are getting all worked up about some out of control satellite killing their cable, it was on the radio this morning and then I read this on the LA Daily News:

A TV communications satellite is drifting out of control thousands of miles above the Earth, threatening to wander into another satellite’s orbit and interfere with cable programming across the United States, the satellites’ owners said Tuesday. Communications company Intelsat said it lost control of the Galaxy 15 satellite on April 5, possibly because the satellite’s systems were knocked out by a solar storm.

If this does happen around May 28th as predicted, please take the opportunity to kick the cable. I grew up in Khartoum, Sudan. There was no TV, except a poor excuse for a local channel that played old ABBA songs and grainy ‘iftah ya Simsim’ the Arabic version of Sesame Street.  My siblings and I spent many lazy afternoons biking, making zip lines and reading Enid Blyton. We baked mud pies and jumped over walls into our neighbors’ yards to catch our rabbits.  Treasure hunts and impromptu plays ruled the bougainvillea-covered house on 33rd Street.

If you ask my kids, their memories revolve around cartoon characters or Disney princesses. I have to prompt them to talk about vacations or fun trips, which they enjoy but come second to the GREAT TV moments. I am jealous.

We were totally TV free (except for some pre screened DVDs) for at least 6 years after my daughter was born.  Then one day, Mr LF sign up for three months of free cable, thinking we would turn it off after the offer expired.  I was away visiting my parents during summer break. So three years went by and we never shut it off.  It is depressing to see the look of total absorption when the kids are watching and 1/2 an hour turns into two and soon the whole afternoon is gone.

I lived in constant fear of inappropriate ads and uncensored language. They would wake up in the morning and switch it on and would want to watch something before being tucked into bed. It wasn’t that they were watching too much by ‘normal’ standards. I was following most of the tips suggested by parenting websites. The incessant asking for more and the whining was out of control and I felt it in every part of my soul. I was sick of saying NO no more, turn it off- Listen to ME- they were wearing me down.

I threatened to have the cable turned off and when the words came out of my mouth, I realized if I didn’t go through with it they would never take me seriously. It was my moment of truth.

So far the biggest change is in LF#4. Since he can’t watch his favorite shows ie. Diego he doesn’t want to watch TV. He is no longer throwing hissy fits when we turn off the telly; his tantrums one of the major reasons I ‘pulled the plug’.

It is amazing how he knows that those shows are no longer available and so he is stopped asking for them.  I let him watch one or two ‘educational’ cartoons. He wants to play with blocks and his train set. I am working on going 100% TV free, please pray for me.

If you need more info check out this e-book the Awful truth about TV.

Trashyourtv.com has some great info as does this great website filled with articles and resources to help you make the decision of turning of your TV.

Unplug your kids has great alternative activities for TV free kids as does this site. For a Muslim perspective read Brother Khalid Baig’s article and this kutbah by Brother Shareef on TV-The Third Parent.

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Planning my weekly menu

Meatless Monday: Mattar Paneer  Cheese and Peas Curry ( can substitute Tofu for Cheese)

Tuesday: Chicken Palow, Raita & Kachumar

Wednesday: Pan Roasted Steak with Toasted Broccoli Sunflower Seeds

Thursday: Boneless Chicken Pasta with Spinach in a Bechamel Sauce, Salad

Friday : Still planning this -I have to cook a fabulous dinner b/c my sweet sister in loves (inlaws) & brother in loves are coming for the RIS Conference. InshaAllah. I am soo excited about this conference, finally my kids are old enough to attend one. Will be writing about it through the week iA.

Between our weekend school graduation, planning our Road to Jannah Summer School for our masjid, organizing a family oriented Islamic Camp/Retreat for our community, waiting to become an aunt (first one from my hubbie’s side) and RIS this is going to a crazy week- Allah taa’la help me. Pray for me.

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