On love…

There is much to say about the consequences of the individualistic, self-centric world that we live in today.

One consequence is the impact it has had on relationships and people’s views of what a relationship should look like.

More specifically, people seem to have a keen idea about what a relationship should offer them, not what they can offer in a relationship.

What many seem to frame their relationship around is what it can do for them, how their partner will make them feel, what their partner should do for them.

I don’t think this only applies to a marriage-relationship though. I see that most relationships, friendships, even filial relationships are based on need, rather than sincere concern for one another.

Where people will only give you a call when they need something from you. Or when they will only reach out to you when they want to call you to something that they are organising, and need your support for.

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And these days, it’s barely a phone call. Mostly it is a text message. Or a Facebook message. Or WhatsApp. Or Telegram. Or… God knows what other form of social media we flood our phones with to ‘stay connected’. Forget actually visiting each other, or just dropping in to each other’s homes, unannounced, without fanfare or giving people the heads up.

When we were kids, our pantry was always stocked with sweets and biscuits for the guest who unexpectedly dropped by, or my mum would always make extra for dinner because it would either be eaten as leftovers the next day, or in the that case somebody dropped by close to dinner time.

We would often drop by friend’s homes as well. If they lived close enough, we’d take the opportunity of a soft, summer evening and walk to their home to share a cold drink and eat some fruit. The parents would chat whilst the children ran amok in bedrooms with toys and played games outside, being eaten by mosquitos and trying to catch our breath in the hot air of summer.

But beyond just the visiting and dropping in, I think we’ve also lost the skill of knowing how to go above and beyond to help others in need. We are so busy and caught up with our own lives, that we wouldn’t even know if somebody was in need, unless they shared it on their social media. When a family member falls ill, a mother has just given birth, when someone has injured themselves, when they have lost their job and have a family to support, or even simpler, if their car broke down, if their children fell sick, how do we as a community rally to support them?

Let’s bring this back to individual relationships, such as a husband and wife. Do we enter such a relationship with expectations as to what the other person can do for us? Give to us? Do we enter the relationship with visions for what it will look like for us, rather than ask ourselves what we will be bringing to the relationship… Do we ask ourselves how we will support our partners in their times of need, or just generally? Do we take the time to figure out their needs, their unique quirks of nature and do our best to aid them, to support them, to be patient with them, but even more than this, to intentionally set out to do our best to enrich their lives? To put aside our own ego when say, we’re arguing, and just let them have it out? Do we do our best to SEE the other person, to see what they are experiencing, to pick up on the fine detail of their emotions day to day, and how it wavers? Do we take the time to devise ways, gentle ways, soft-hearted, fun and caring ways to aid them? To uplift them?

Don’t try to constantly seek your rights, your wants, your needs from others.

Love is doing for the other person what THEY love.

This is Love…

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Brightness is not a dim place on the horizon…

I remember the first night that I was in the hospital by myself with my new baby. My family had left, my husband included, as hospital policy (in a public hospital) did not allow the husband to stay overnight. I was alone in a vacuous hospital, lights dimmed, with the constant beeping of machines, other patients around me, separated only by a thin curtain. It was cold too, as the hospital had its air-con blaring.

I was alone for the first time with my baby. I was exhausted after a long and difficult labour. I felt like I’d been hit two trucks, not one. I could barely lift my arms up, let alone roll out of bed and walk to the bathroom. I literally needed my husband and a nurse to assist me to walk the few metres out of my room and around the corner to go to the bathroom.

It was in this state that I was now left alone with a baby.

All night my uterus churned as it shrank. In my delirious, exhausted state, I was convinced that a baby was still inside of me. That the doctors had made a mistake. And yet, I’d look over at the bassinet next to me and see the sleeping baby.

She was mine, right?

Was it she who had resided inside me just hours earlier?

Then what was this movement inside of me now? It really felt like a baby. Maybe I’d actually had twins and the doctors forgot him/her inside me. Of course, the doctors had told me that my uterus would shrink and I’d feel the pain, but my irrational state wouldn’t fully accept this explanation.

I also felt a strange disconnection from the real, out-in-the-world baby next to me.

At the same time I was petrified that I would not be able to keep her alive.

My newborn actually slept for 5 hours straight that first night (alas this was not to last over the next few weeks) and when she finally woke up, and I rang the bell for the nurse for assistance, she reprimanded me for “allowing” the baby to sleep for “that long”. Didn’t I know that I was supposed to wake her up at least every 3 hours to feed her?

Um. No. I didn’t know that I was “supposed” to do that, because this was my FIRST BABY and I HAD NEVER DONE THIS BEFORE, oh and NOBODY HAD TOLD ME WHAT I WAS SUPPOSED TO DO WITH HER. (Two babies later, I know that this nurse was actually incorrect. If a baby is sleeping, they should just be allowed to sleep, and feeding should happen on demand rather than trying to stick to a strict schedule. So not only did she reprimand me and make me feel guilty, she was actually wrong.)

So now I felt like my baby was possibly going to suffer because I hadn’t woken her up for a feed.

Then it came time to actually feed her, and the nurse stripped J of all her clothes and literally shoved her onto me repeatedly, pushing me into J’s mouth. Yes. IT WAS PAINFUL and traumatic.

When I came home the next day, J would not sleep at night for more than 10-20 minutes. I was still in pain from the labour, and in pain trying to breastfeed (she probably wasn’t latched on properly, but breastfeeding for me was excruciating for the first few WEEKS).

On top of this, J was not gaining weight properly. She wasn’t “thriving”. She had some mild jaundice. She was constipated and not passing stools for weeks at a time. And well-meaning relatives around me were constantly looking in and commenting and asking “why isn’t she gaining weight, etc etc…”

I remember sitting on my bed and looking down at my new physical self, with tears streaming down my face. Yes I got a baby out of this body, but I no longer recognised a single part of myself. Everything about me was just so different. I still had the weight that I’d gained from pregnancy, stretch marks crawled their way across my stomach, my chest had swelled from the milk… None of my clothes fit me. And when I did get dressed, I did not look like myself at all. I mourned my pre-baby body. I scolded myself for not appreciating it and constantly complaining about how I had extra chub here or there. I would never look like that unscarred, unmarked by birth, self, ever again.

I remember again, sitting on my bed looking out the window and feel a heaviness descend on me. Tears were rolling down my face. My husband came and simply sat next to me, put his arms around me.

Sometimes whilst sitting in J’s nursery with her in my arms, trying to rock her to sleep, the same heaviness would descend upon me and the tears would once again snake their way down my face. And again, well-meaning relatives would tell me, “you can’t be sad! It will affect her. You’ll pass on your anxiety to her. So be happy!”

Of course, this only exacerbated the guilt I felt for not “being happy” and wondering why I even felt this way, and that omg now it was affecting my baby, wasn’t I just a horrible mother!!

The thing is, I felt that I couldn’t quite comprehend nor grasp the momentous transition that I’d just experienced. I couldn’t believe the pain that I’d been through to birth this child, I couldn’t comprehend the physical separation, and I couldn’t cope with the intensity of my feelings for her, which mainly manifested itself in anxiety and fear over her health. Every little thing that did not “go right”, such as her sleeping, her feeding, her constipation, her slow weight gain…everything… I couldn’t be rational about it. I felt that it reflected my failure as a mother, because I didn’t even know what me as a mother looked like and I was terrified of hurting her in some long-lasting way.

When I think back to those initial months, I can literally feel the stifling heaviness and anxiety that I experienced.

When I had Z, I thought it would be easier given that I “had experience”. But I was to learn keenly the lesson that “every baby is different”, and therefore you have to change and adapt to them. Although it was easier to fall into the newborn cycle with Z, she also was not a good sleeper, had colic, fed for hours, and did not want to be put down during the day.

So most of my days with her were spent on the couch feeding her, with J watching TV for hours (even though I tried to set up ‘play stations’ for her), and the time in between carrying Z in a baby carrier and trying to cook, or clean, or play with J whilst my back suffered from the constant carrying of a 4kg baby. Come around 7pm, Z, overtired from a day of not sleeping for more than 45 minutes at a time, would scream for around 2 hours and nothing, nothing that I did would calm her.

Again, I felt that familiar heaviness. That creeping, uncomfortable anxiety that I wasn’t doing things right. That sense of fear and insecurity about the health of my newborn, and this time, of the boredom of my eldest and frustration that TV was the only way we could get through those early days.

Anxiety was not unfamiliar ground for me. A few years before having J I had experienced anxiety disorder and panic attacks for quite some time.

Maybe this history of mine meant that I was predisposed to experiencing post-natal depression of some form after giving birth. I had feared that I should expect it whilst I was pregnant with J, given my history.

The midwives would ask me those standard questions, where we’d have to tick off on a checklist how we felt, and this would determine, supposedly, how ‘depressed’ or ‘sad’ we were. I remember a midwife who came to visit us at home after J was born told me that I had the “blues”. She left it at that. She didn’t really tell me how to deal with it.

Looking back, I would tell that fragile-as-a-baby new mother to be easy on herself. I would tell her, yes, you have been through an incredibly harrowing event that will mark the timeline of your life, that will unalterably and significantly change who you are as a person.

I would tell her that it’s ok to mourn for her pre-mother self. But that slowly, vestiges of that self would slowly creep back in, only this time she would be coloured and brightened by a new self, a new role, a new mission that will guide every decision that she makes henceforth.

I, I’d tell her that things will get easier. In those early weeks, it feels like the days simply drag on and that your baby will never grow, never sleep, never settle.

I’d tell her that “the days feel long, but the years are short” my dear. And if only I knew then how quickly the years pass, how quickly the fussy newborns morph into children of strength, curiosity and brightness… I would tell her to cherish the soft soft skin, the untainted smell of baby, the wondrously small toes and fingers…

And difficult as it might seem, I’d tell her to cherish this time when there is no other responsibility in the world but to care for this baby… even though some of the time this knowledge itself can exacerbate the anxiety. There will be years ahead to dedicate yourself to things outside your children… there is only a small window of precious time when it is just you and baby…

Giving birth, regardless of how it happens, and bringing that baby home is an incredibly difficult, strange and challenging time. Without proper support (I’ve written about what support should look like before) it can be almost impossible to cope with. The physical separation of mother from baby is itself a contributing factor I believe to the post-natal depression that women experience.

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So to all mothers, mothers-to-be, mothers who have experienced the crippling anxiety and the weight of heaviness descend upon them during a time that is supposed to be the ‘happiest time of their lives’, I want to reach out and hug you, and tell you, it’s alright. I promise it will get better. Remind yourself to have shukr (roughly, ‘gratitude’) for the beautiful being you have helped to bring into the world. Steel yourself with positivity. And when you feel that sadness, accept it, let it wash over you, but know that it will pass. It does not mean you are a bad mother… it just means that you are human, and that you have just been through a surreal, yet completely natural transition, and yes, you will experience an array of feelings.

And that’s ok.

It’s ok.

Brightness is not a dim place on the horizon, you carry it within you, you carry it in the love that you have for your child… and this will carry you both through…

*Images via Akira Kusaka. Featured image is “Dawn” and second image is “Stray”.

Best on the Net

It’s been a big week in the world, with much to ponder on. Here are a few inspiring, positive and thought-provoking links to make this week that much better…

  1. A beautiful new children’s book compiles tales from Syrian refugees.
  2. Carla Zampatti designed a uniform for Westpac and included a style for hijabis.
  3. Check out this Kickstarter for a company designing activewear for women who wear hijab. 
  4. Finland is taking their awesome schools further by abandoning subjects for ‘events’ and ‘phenomena’ in an interdisciplinary format.
  5. Speaking of teaching, here’s a video that explores how there is no scientific proof that homework improves performance in elementary school. BAN HOMEWORK I say!
  6. The biggest supermoon is set to hit our world tonight, but it’s cloudy and raining here in Sydney 🙁
  7. Did you read about the new screen time recommendations by doctors? About time they got onto this.
  8. Suzanne Barakat is an incredible ambassador for her religion, and this latest talk she delivered at TED is at once utterly heart-breaking but also motivating. She asks, what resources do you have and how can you use it for good?
  9. And lastly, I really want this dress.

‘Modest Fashion’ is an oxymoron…

‘Modest Fashion’ has become a catch phrase that is used to refer to a broad spectrum of clothing, generally in the milieu that is considered to be ‘covered up’. It may or may not include a head covering.

In the past five years, with social media platforms accelerating as popular bases for self-promotion, ‘modest fashion’ has experienced a huge (and this is an understatement) growth. With the aid of ‘modest fashion bloggers’ and ‘modest fashion businesses’ that have cropped up, the industry is now worth over $300 billion dollars, and is set to grow. Mainstream fashion houses such as Mango, DKNY and even Dolce & Gabbana have tapped into the niche by producing collections specifically for the modest market.

Modest fashion bloggers have been a huge part of this growth in the industry. They have amassed (altogether) millions of followers across their social media, from Instagram, to Facebook to Youtube. More specifically, ‘hijab bloggers’ are increasingly sponsored by and affiliated with mainstream fashion houses, such as Ascia Farraj’s collaborations with Net-a-Porter and Dior, to name just a few. Recently, Covergirl included beauty blogger Nura Afia as part of their #LashEquality campaign- because every woman deserves to have “bold, sexy lashes” ok? Even women who aim to live modestly, which is the EXACT opposite of being ‘sexy’. Even H&M got in on the action by including a ‘hijab model’ in their campaign to promote their ‘Close the Loop’ recycling initiative.

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“Bold, sexy lashes for all”= EQUALITY FOR ALL WOMEN

All these examples point to greater representation of women who wear the headscarf (or hijab) in mainstream media. I remember 7 years ago or so when I first put on the headscarf and was browsing the internet for inspiration or even a ‘hijab tutorial’, the only bloggers active were Hana Tajima and Dina Torkia. There were practically no companies catering specifically for women who chose to dress modestly, let alone for the customer who wore hijab. I bought my clothes and scarves from Sportsgirl, Witchery and other mainstream stores, enthusiastically buying any maxi dress that I could get my hands on with cropped jackets on top, or wearing short tunic dresses as tops with loose pants underneath. There were no straight-legged, peg-legged looser pant options back then. It was only skinny jeans.

Given the momentous change in the industry now, I think it would definitely be easier for a girl to make the decision to wear the hijab, or just dress more modestly, given that there are so many examples of how it is done, a plethora of companies catering to the modest consumer to purchase from, and also a general sense of empowerment given the increasing representation of modest fashion and bloggers in the mainstream media.

I’m going to throw a spanner in the works here though and discuss a few problems with all this. Sure, all of this increasing representation is great, but I feel that it comes at a cost. A cost of our core values and principles.

You see, dressing modestly isn’t just one, isolated value. It is and should be, part and parcel of a much greater ethos of humility that is central to the religion Islam, and to other religions might I add.

And what we are seeing in the modest fashion blogger is in fact quite the opposite of ‘modesty’. And no, I’m not talking about how they dress because I’m not here to nitpick at what people choose to wear. I believe that people are fluid in how they choose to dress, and that it transforms over time.

What I am calling out though are the bloggers whose Instagram pages are an endless stream of pictures…of themselves. Whether you choose to admit it or not, the “selfie” is at its core, a narcissistic undertaking. And we now have ‘modest fashion bloggers’ whose social media pages are full of photos of themselves in various outfits, close-ups of their faces… and not much else.

And this is what the public want. Do some research on how to “increase your followers on Instagram” and the type of post that receives the most traffic is one with someone’s face. It has become incredibly easy for somebody to take photos of themselves in a #modestfashion #ootd and amass hundreds of thousands of followers within months. Especially if you are “pretty” and “slim”.

Yes. This standard of beauty also applies to the modest fashion blogger.

The problem with this is that it essentially promotes and supports a culture of the self, of promoting a shallow version of oneself based on what you look like.

So sure, modest/hijab bloggers are much more visible these days, but how different are they from the average fashion blogger? What sets them apart?

What is more dangerous here also is that being swept up in the current of fashion blogging for the sake of mainstream acceptance promotes a culture whose values run counter to many of our religious principles.

We are just as susceptible of seeking acceptance by a culture that thrives on the objectification of women by creating a consumer culture and standard of ideal beauty by manufacturing beauty products and clothing en masse and literally brainwashing ALL women into thinking that they NEED these things to be presentable to the world.

If you have a Muslim hijab blogger affiliating themselves with these major corporations, then is it not creating an association between all the values that we should strive to espouse, and the values of these corporations?

Furthermore, it’s not just the polar opposites of humility and narcissism that is married in modest fashion blogging, there are other weightier values put at risk and being compromised here. Values that we compromise that have a much greater impact on the world.

When H&M used a hijab model in their campaign, the Muslim community (women mainly of course) celebrated this as a step forward in the mainstream “accepting”us and applauded H&M’s boldness. But who took a step back and looked at the company itself? H&M is well known for its unethical manufacturing practices. They represent all that is wrong with the fast fashion industry. In fact, their factories were involved in the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh. So whilst it may seem like a win for Muslim women to be ‘accepted’ and ‘represented’ by a company like H&M, the flip side to this is that we have just aligned ourselves with a company who epitomises values that run completely counter to our religion as a whole.

Islam has a strong social justice dimension. It heavily emphasises the importance of respecting human dignity, of treating workers fairly, but also of respecting the environment. It is evident that the cost of fast-fashion is not just on the workers who are forced to work in oppressive conditions, but also on the environment. This article for example outlines the climate costs of fast fashion amongst other issues such as worker’s rights.

When a Muslim modest fashion blogger affiliates themselves with companies such as H&M, Zara, and other major designers/brands, they are essentially promoting the company’s ethos and influencing their ‘followers’ to purchase from these companies. This is the point of ‘affiliations’. That a company would seek an ‘influencer’ (i.e. blogger) who they believe will market their products, but more so, the ‘lifestyle’ that they promote.

A cynical side of me also thinks (ahem, knows) that these companies are simply tapping into an avenue of profit. Do you think they really care for more representation of Muslim women?

What’s more is that when we think of ‘modest fashion’ what do we mean really? I can tell you that most of the clothes that I buy and own do not come from a ‘modest fashion brand’. The few clothes that I have bought from companies such as these have only disappointed me in their lack of consistent sizing and general low quality of their garments, for example in their use of synthetic fabrics such as polyester.

Essentially, it comes down to marketing. That when a company like Mango create a ‘Ramadan collection’ and it has items such as this…

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and then you go onto their site, check out their maxi dresses and find an item like this…

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the question has to arise… isn’t it just all marketing?  Isn’t it all JUST CLOTHING that we NEED to cover ourselves?

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“Modest Fashion” right? Or just clothing? Or just “fashion”? Image via Witchery (a mainstream company). 

I’m not here to be all cynical and whing-y. My intention in writing this is to call out some serious problems with the ‘modest fashion’ world that needs to be called out. We can’t be blind to these real issues, and we should be brave enough, courageous enough, creative enough and principled enough to challenge the ‘mainstream’, rather than do anything it takes, and compromise on values that form the essence of our beliefs, to simply be ‘accepted’, or ‘represented’.

And there are some brilliant examples of how people in the industry have done it right. Hana Tajima for example continues to assert her unique aesthetic and creative and artistic talents, and eventually teamed up with Uniqlo to create a collection specifically for Muslim women. It was available not just in the Malaysian Uniqlo stores, but also the US and Australia.

Ruh Collective is also changing the modest fashion marketplace, with its focus on ethical manufacture, transparency in their pricing and even (shock horror), moving beyond promoting the self and focusing on the garments themselves. Their campaign images do not show the faces of the models. They use their creative and artistic abilities to do something different. I’m not saying that I necessarily agree that a woman, in hijab, shouldn’t be photographed with their faces, but I applaud Ruh Collective’s efforts to appeal to a broader market by not portraying their models in hijab.

Also, it really shouldn’t be about ‘fashion’ at all for the one who chooses to dress modestly. The ethos of ‘fashion’ runs completely counter to what it means to dress modestly. Or live modestly. ‘Fashion’ is defined as “a popular or the latest style of clothing, hair, decoration, or behaviour.” The culture of fashion is linked to pop culture, by its very definition it requires acceptance by a mainstream, but also, it demands fast production methods of clothing so that one can keep up with ‘trends.’

Adorning oneself in the realm of ‘modesty’ is the polar opposite of this. It is quite literally about covering up your nakedness with good quality clothing that will last for years so that you don’t have to keep purchasing. Because constantly buying clothing is a sign of extravagance.

Dressing yourself modestly is about respecting and valuing the clothing that you possess, but not being attached to the item itself. The Prophet (pbuh) used to value his few clothes and even give them names. But when he (pbuh) saw someone in need, he easily gave the clothing to them.

Dressing well is also about ambassadorship… Because the reality is that how we choose to dress says a lot about who we are, and what we represent. Dressing beautifully is a good thing because we are naturally drawn to that which is beautiful. And we should strive to be beautiful ambassadors of our religion.

All of this runs counter to the aim and purpose of major clothing companies, who want you to follow trends and keep purchasing to keep up with ‘fashion’.

So, all in all, ‘modest fashion’ is actually an oxymoron. Two polar opposite words married into one phrase made popular simply for the sake of acceptance by the mainstream, or used by companies for profit.

Let’s be brave and do something different. Something that stays true to the source of why we prioritise modesty in the first place… Let’s go beyond ‘fashion’ and looking ‘trendy’ for the sake of acceptance by a culture that runs completely counter to our core values. Let’s take back what it means to dress ‘modestly’ in the context of our religion and be courageous enough to assert this.

Let’s talk about what we feed our children

Today I want to talk about what we feed our children. I know that it is an incredibly heated topic, one that can really make people (parents, I mean) defensive and emotional. I know that 99% of the time, the defences used will be something along the lines of…

“I just CANNOT get him/her to eat anything else.”

“There is NO WAY that we can get him/her to eat the veggies.”

“I’m too tired, and it’s so much easier to give him/her what he/she wants.”

I know, because I’ve used these lines myself.

But let’s be real with ourselves here. We are facing an epidemic on a scale never seen before. Our children are becoming increasingly obese. In Australia alone, “the number of overweight children in Australia has doubled in recent years, with a quarter of children considered overweight or obese.” (From betterhealth.vic.gov.au). And in adults the statistics are even more shocking. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics“in 2011-12, 62.8% of Australians aged 18 years and over were overweight or obese.”

Considering such ominous stats and facing the reality of being surrounded by an unwholesome food environment and culture, we decided to speak to someone who knows much more about how important it is to eat well, who is an expert in her field. We asked Iman Salam, who has three grown children of her own, from Afiya Live Well to answer a few questions about the importance of eating nutritious food and instilling good eating habits in our children.

What impact does eating ‘bad food’ (e.g. highly processed, high in sugar, soft drinks etc.) have on children’s physical, mental and spiritual well-being?

Junk food has a highly addictive nature for children. Although it can look appealing and of course taste great, children simply do not realise the ill effects it has on their health, as well as on their growing bodies. The physical complications are many; obesity,  diabetes, chronic illness,  low self esteem, and even depression.

As for mental and spiritual well-being eating a diet heavy in unhealthy foods including low nutrient dense foods can be a cause of behavioural and emotional problems, including anxiety, depression and stress.

What are some of the problematic eating habits amongst families that you have seen?

First of all not eating as a family. I’ve heard of families grabbing food and everyone eating in their own corner, on their phone, or in front of the tv. This not only causes a breakdown in family relations but eating in front of an electronic device creates an unhealthy relationship with food as well as a habit of mindless eating.

Second, the emphasis put on finishing your plate, food as reward, etc creates a long-lasting negative relationship with food. Often times being forced to clean our plates as children develops into emotional eating, overeating, and eating disorders. A healthy way to start each meal is to remember to praise God, make the intention to get the most benefit out of the meal and start with a small serving. Just as important is listening to your body and knowing when to stop before you get full. *Editor’s addition: Children have an innate ability to know when they are full, and will often assert when they have eaten enough. It is usually the adults who push them to eat more, thus breaking this natural instinct to stop eating when full. 

How can parents instil positive eating habits in their children?

Children learn from seeing so therefore setting an example is the best way to teach our children. We have to remember that our food is a blessing and it starts long before it gets to our dining table.  Teaching children the value of food and where it comes from is important. It helps to reconnect the child to mother earth and have a deeper appreciation for nature as well as the food that is put into their bodies. Being involved in a local CSA or visiting your local farm is a beautiful thing to do as a family. It’s also extremely rewarding for the soul. Don’t be afraid to get your kids to help in the kitchen, give them small tasks that they can do to help prepare dinner. This will give them a sense of ownership and pride and make them more likely to eat what they’ve helped in preparing.

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Image via Marche + Atelier

What types of food should children not be eating? 

SUGAR!!!!! (artificial).  You would be surprised to learn that it’s in everything, even toothpaste. Be aware of the different names for sugar. I know what you’re thinking, “it’s hard to avoid.” If you focus on what is in your control, your own home, then when kids are at their grandparent’s house or at a birthday party, you won’t feel so bad that they are most probably going to eat sugar.  Cut back on the amount of meat and milk as tons of hormones are injected into these animals and this is causing life-long damage on their growing bodies.

Which foods have the best nutritional value for children?

It’s important to keep in mind that children need a diet containing a variety of foods. Protein, Carbohydrates, and good fats are all essential for their growing bodies. When choosing animal protein look for grass fed, free range, organic meats. And keep in mind that protein can come from other foods as well, beans, legumes, and dark leafy veggies. Aim to have one night a week meat free.

Aim for five servings of fruits and veggies each day, but keep in mind that portion size will differ depending on your child and their activity level. If your child isn’t a fan of veggies sneak them into a smoothie. Get creative with veggies, you’ll often be surprised with what your child will love. *Editor’s addition: Don’t hold back from offering them new vegetables. The worst that could happen is that they don’t eat it, the best is that they try it, and like it. 

Some good sources of carbs include whole wheat pasta and breads, barley, acorn squash and green peas. Healthy fats include avocado, ghee, and salmon (look for non-farmed options, which you can ask the shop owners about).

Don’t get too stressed with picky eaters, do your best and aim for at least one healthy meal a day.

How important is it to eat organic foods?

Eating organic foods is important in this day and age. Yet, no doubt, it can get expensive. Decide what you can and cannot afford for your family’s needs and work accordingly within those boundaries. Being educated on the ill-effects  of consuming non-organic meat is important. If that means cutting back on meat, then do what you think is best for your family. As Muslims we are held accountable for the food we eat and that includes the care of animals. When it comes to whether something is deemed “halal”, we often forget that it includes more than just the way the animal is slaughtered but how it was raised and the conditions it was in before being slaughtered. *Editor’s note: It is important to consider and understand that if an animal has been raised and slaughtered in a stressful environment, it will affect its body, and therefore its meat. If we then eat this meat from a stressed and anxious animal, it does affect our own spiritual, mental and physical well-being. Eating does have a spiritual dimension, and we cannot disregard this. 

When it comes to things like fruits and veggies, there are some that have more pesticides sprayed on them than others. These are the worst contaminated fruits and vegetables:

  • Peaches
  • Apples
  • Sweet Bell Peppers
  • Celery
  • Nectarines
  • Strawberries
  • Cherries
  • Pears
  • Grapes (Imported)
  • Spinach
  • Lettuce
  • Potatoes

If you can stay clear of these and focus on organic, great! Otherwise a great tip that helps reduce the dirty film is a solution of vinegar and water (3 parts water to 1 part vinegar is most effective).

Can you give us some ideas for a healthy (and easy to put together) lunchbox?

  • My kids love hummus! I mean, who doesn’t 🙂 Hummus wraps with cucumber and bell pepper.
  • Tuna sandwiches on whole wheat bread. I like to use Avocado (insert heart eyes) mash, instead of mayo.
  • Whole wheat pasta with pumpkin.
  • Lentil soup.
  • Quinoa with chopped tomato,cucumber, and added black beans.
  • Sweet potato and black bean burrito bowl.

Iman Salam is an American currently residing in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  Her desire for a better lifestyle and health led her to study integrative nutrition. She holds a Diploma in Preventative Health & Nutrition,  Executive Master’s in Preventative Health and Nutrition, and is a certified Personal Trainer. Currently, she works as a Nutrition Consultant and is studying to be a Practitioner in Prophetic medicine.  Her goal is to revive the sunnah of well-being by encouraging the beneficial practices of prophetic medicine. Iman is the producer and host on DOPStv YouTube show “Afiya Live Well”, a program that promotes the Prophetic diet, nutrition, and overall well-being of the body

Featured image via Hideaki Hamada.

An (un)birthday party

It was my youngest daughter’s second birthday earlier this month and usually birthdays around here are small affairs where only the family gather for dinner and a cake, and presents.

This year I decided to do a little something different and throw a “birthday party” for Z mainly because she is about to become middle child in a few weeks, and I wanted to do something special to make her feel well, special.

As I planned the birthday I realised that I wanted it to be more about enjoying the company of our nearest and dearest, and for it to be an enjoyable day for the children.

Also, I really didn’t want to do the ‘typical’ birthday things.

For example, I didn’t want presents.

Exhibit A:

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My lovely friends and family still did gift the girls presents, which I wasn’t going to be annoying about. And I say ‘girls’ because they were gifts that both the girls could enjoy and use. We gift things to people because we love them, and this is a beautiful trait. My logic behind requesting no gifts was because I didn’t want the girls to expect present after present, which they would begin to not appreciate. I also didn’t want this day to be about an exchange of gifts, I wanted it to be a day to enjoy each other’s company…

I also did not want party bags. You know the ones filled with junk food, lollies and cheap plastic toys. Instead I decided to organise some arts and crafts so that the kids could:

  1. Be entertained, rather than go crazy with all the toys that we had (which happened anyway.)
  2. They’d have something to take home in lieu of party bags.
  3. It would get their creative juices flowing (but I think it was the adults who got more creativity out of this than the kids lol).

I also really did not want to do the whole ‘dessert table’/’grazing table’ that is trending at parties these days. I didn’t want the big floral backdrop to take photos with. I just wanted to bring out the sweets when the time came, and have a moment to bring out the cake, candles lit and everyone singing ‘happy birthday’ like we did in the good old ’90s.

My reasons for not doing a dessert table/grazing table:

  1. I didn’t want my children’s eyes to become accustomed to a table overflowing with lolly jars, cakes, towers of sweets and so on. I felt that this would simply promote greediness and extravagance from a young age.
  2. My aim for this party was to keep it simple and a table with a backdrop seems over the top and unnecessary for a two year old.
  3. I didn’t want a backdrop to take photos with, because it’s actually kind of weird to have people lining up to take photos in front of it. I didn’t want the children to see and engage in this form of ‘selfie’ (ahem, narcissistic behaviour). If we were taking photos, it would simply be a natural part of the day.
  4. What the hell is with the ‘grazing table’ anyway? Are we field animals that simply ‘graze’ lazily on food? Again, it’s just too extravagant and sends the wrong message to our children about what is acceptable eating behaviour.

I still wanted it to be beautiful, because it is a way of honouring our guests. So I bought some flowers (stock) from the local farmer’s market, and we trimmed down some foliage hanging over my back fence and hung it around. I also couldn’t resist buying these plates from Lark Store because they are just gorgeous.

The day before, my eldest daughter J, and I had some fun making some desserts. We made blueberry and cream and strawberry and cream popsicles, and butter cookies dipped in chocolate decorated with some sprinkles.

Here are the recipes we used:

Blueberry and Cream Popsicles (just replace the blueberries with strawberries)

Butter Cookies (we simply melted some chocolate, dipped the cookies in it once they were cooked and cooled, then sprinkled them with some pink sprinkles).

As for the crafts, we made wands and pipe cleaner crowns. For the wands, I cut out some star shapes the day before and got the kids to collect some sticks from the park with their father. The children simply painted the stars with glitter paint, attached ribbons to the sticks then stuck the stars on.

For the pipe cleaner crowns, we used this tutorial, and got creative with some fake wire flowers and ribbon.

All in all, it was a lovely day, reconnecting with friends and family and having the children to reconnect with each other as well. When I asked my eldest what she loved most about her day, she said, “playing with my friends, making the wands and eating the popsicles…” In that order lol.

Here are  a few more pics from the day…

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Pictures by my sister Subhi Bora.

Easy chicken tray bake

Recently I’ve been developing go-to recipes that I can throw together with things I’m guaranteed to have at home, that are quick and easy, with results that the kids are guaranteed to love.

To be honest, since I got married I’ve really struggled with the whole cooking dinner thing and keeping my pantry and fridge stocked with the right ingredients to throw a meal together.

I really think it is a skill that you need to be taught.

Or you just learn as you go, you learn what works for you and your family.

I’ll go into what I’ve learnt about keeping one’s pantry and fridge stocked another day. For now, here is my recipe for an easy chicken tray bake. And when I say easy, I mean literally chop it all up and throw it all together then shove it in the oven and forget about it, and I promise it will taste great.

So, here goes…

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You will need:

Chicken thigh fillet, or chicken breast, or wings, or basically whatever chicken you have in your freezer. (In saying this, I will specify that I only buy organic chicken, not because I think I’m some posh hipster, but because eating organic matters.)

Potatoes

Pumpkin

Onions are optional based on how picky your kids are. Mine don’t like it so I don’t use it.

Lemon

Olive oil

Tomato paste

Turkish red pepper paste (you can find it an Coles in the ‘international foods’ aisle)

Chicken seasoning

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How to cook it:

  1. Peel and chop the veggies. With the lemon I only use a few finely sliced wedges.
  2. Throw them in a casserole dish.
  3. Chop chicken. Throw that in there as well.
  4. Put chicken seasoning and olive oil over it. Be liberal with the seasoning, don’t be afraid to use a fair bit. If you don’t use enough, the flavour won’t come through.
  5. Take a tablespoon of red pepper paste and tomato paste, put it in a medium sized mug with water and stir until both are diluted. Pour over the veggies and chicken mix.
  6. Cover with foil (this is also optional).
  7. Put it in the oven on 200degrees for around 30 minutes-40 minutes, depending on your oven etc.
  8. Stir it every now and then (you don’t really have to) and adjust seasoning. Sometimes I add ground cumin and a bit of extra salt.
  9. It’s done. You now have a meal that is healthy and nutritious and tastes great.

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You can cook any sides you and your children like as an accompaniment to this meal. I usually cook rice, or if I really can’t be bothered I just serve it with bread. For extra veggies I’ll cook some corn or broccoli in boiling water. Also, a trick I use to get the kids to eat the pumpkin without them realising is to mash it into the rice. The pumpkin cooks beautifully in this meal and is so soft that you can just mix it into the rice. They never even realise that they are gobbling down pumpkin. #MumWin

That’s it.

Easy.

Newborn essentials-things that you will actually need, Part 2

 

  1. Rest: Do not, under any circumstances, attempt to get straight back into work (if you can of course), or cleaning for God’s sake, or even cooking. And yes I’ll throw in the disclaimer that every mother is different and different things work for them. But I’m talking about a mother (first-time or not) who has just been through hours of the most physically painful task that she will ever endure in her life (or undergone a major operation i.e. a caesarean), and is now expected to keep a human being alive by feeding it. So I say to you, just rest. Don’t try to be a superhero and do everything on your own. Trust me, there will be PLENTY of time later when doing EVERYTHING will fall on you. For now, just be easy on yourself and give yourself and your body time to heal, to adjust, to reset. For all those hormones to do their thing, for your uterus to shrink, for your tears to heal, for your stitches to heal, for your aching and full breasts to adjust to the milk, for every muscle in your body to fall back into their place. Just, rest.
  2. Support: In saying that, a crucial prerequisite for a mother with a newborn to rest is having support from family/friends/community. Obviously she cannot simply rest if there is nobody around to take care of the older children, or the housework, or even cooking food to feed herself and her family. The state of post-natal care in this country is already miserable, and what doesn’t help is the increasing distance between family members and friends, the lack of sincere concern, the unwillingness to sacrifice one’s own time to help someone in need because we place ourselves, and our work, first. So if you know someone who has just given birth, swing by their house once a week and drop off food, or clean their house, or play with the other kids, or just keep this woman company. Trust me, she needs it.
  3. Wisdom and Tact: To add to this, a VERY important prerequisite to supporting a new mother and being there for her, is to do it with wisdom and tact. If you are going to be there everyday judging her every move, or being insensitive to her struggle with her child, or feel the need to offer your “advice” on how to rear children, or you constantly throw out your observations on how skinny the baby looks, or you KISS THE BABY ON THE FACE, or don’t give the baby back to mum WHEN SHE ASKS FOR HER CHILD who is CRYING, it’s best that you just stay away. Just don’t visit. It will do her much more harm than good. I will say here though that as mothers, we really need to learn to be more relaxed and not so hyper-sensitive about everything. We also need to stop acting like we know everything the second we give birth just because we’ve read an article on the internet about how to (or how not to) put your baby to sleep etc. etc. We should be wise enough and dignified enough to take on the sage advice of our own mothers, or more experienced mum friends/family, and not offend them by constantly asserting our ‘knowledge’. That we got from the internet. What needs to be simultaneously happening though is that the support network (grandparents, aunts, friends etc.) need to take a step back and allow the mother to just be a mother. To give her space to consolidate her new role as a mother, to figure out her relationship with her baby, and even to just figure out the baby. Like I said above, wisdom and tact is necessary on behalf of the support system.
  4. The Father: The husband really needs to suck it up and pull his weight more than usual. The early phase (and when I say early, I really mean the first 6 months at least) is a turbulent time. Your wife IS going to change. And if you think it’s wrong or weird that she is different, well I really only have this to say to you…DUHHHH. Your wife has literally just been a conduit for life and you expect her to be the same girl she was when you married her? Not happening. And you shouldn’t expect her to be. You should expect her to change, to grow, to mould into a different self. One that will be defined wholly (initially) by motherhood. More than this though, there will be difficult moments when your wife is irrational, moody, hypersensitive, and so on, because she is so focused on keeping this creature alive. And whilst I’ve already given my warning to mothers about being hypersensitive, what I would say needs to happen on the part of the husband is to simply muster your patience and let. It. Go. Don’t try to nitpick her every moody moment every single time. Know that she is trying to negotiate a very tough phase, and hey, she is literally keeping YOUR progeny alive. Give her a break. Later (like, MONTHS later), you can tell her how mother-lion-y she was. And you can laugh about it. Maybe. I think a crucial point to keep in the forefront of your mind for both mother and father at this time is that you are in it together, and you should both be helping each other to navigate through it. I am emphasising the father’s role more heavily here though because evidently, it is the mother who experiences the most upheaval during this time, and is the one who needs more support, care and attention.
  5. Perseverance: This one is mainly for mum and dad, but can be for everyone involved in supporting and raising baby. Those early days are tough, and unless you have been blessed with some angel baby who feeds well and sleeps through the night, let me tell you, you are going to have to steel yourself and utilise some perseverance. When we brought home our first child, we had NO idea what we were doing, nobody told us anything really, and our baby would not sleep for more than 20 MINUTES AT A TIME. At night. And we were already on barely any sleep what with the labour lasting all night and so on. I’m telling you, sleep deprivation is literally a torture method and by the end of the first week, my husband and I were insane and questioning every decision we’d ever made that led to having this baby, including marrying each other. For reals. Throw into this the fact that for me, breastfeeding was pure torture. The only thing I can say to our credit about how we handled this time, was that we persevered. Through every sleepless night, and every painful feed, we pushed ourselves to keep going. And eventually, as the weeks passed, things got easier. We learnt our baby. So my advice, particularly for first time parents, is that the labour is one hurdle, but bringing that baby home is quite another, drawn out hurdle. Prepare yourself by steeling your nerves and endurance. And know that things WILL get easier. I promise.
  6. Thankfulness: Lastly, but certainly not least, a crucial part of surviving this tender phase is ensuring that we have shukr, or thankfulness and gratitude for the baby that you have been blessed with. It can be very easy to get caught up in the difficulties, the struggles, the lack of sleep, the complete change in our lifestyles and even our bodies and throw into this mix the crazy things happening with your hormones. One thing that I have learnt in retrospect, after having two children, is that there will never be a time like the newborn period. Your baby will only for around 6 months of their entire lives be a being of pure light and sweetness, of overwhelming fragility, of tiny toes and hands and heavenly newborn smell. So take a moment or two to just be thankful, to marvel over this perfect creature that you helped bring into the world. The struggles will still be there, but it will allow you to capture the magic of this time, to soak it all in, and therefore to give you the resilience to get through the difficulties.

Featured image is of me (editor Saltanat) with my first born in her newborn phase. Tough times. Don’t be fooled by the cute pic.