Saturday, December 28, 2013

Tribute Awards-South Africa

I have decided to host the Tribute Awards-South Africa, for Muslim women bloggers that are making a difference with their words.

For those of you who are familiar with this blog, you’ll know that we had two previous Tribute Awards, but this time it will be slightly different, and here’s why.

This time the Tribute Award nominees will be restricted to South African blogs only. I apologise to all my international blogging sisters who are doing good things and spreading positivity, but this time I decided that it would be nice to motivate South African bloggers. Please do join in the voting though as this will be open to anyone.

So here’s how the awards will work:

Nominees can be sent in by anyone, but they have to meet the following criteria:
      Nominated blogs should be by a South African Muslim woman (because as you can see my blog is a tribute to Muslim women). Exceptions may be made if a blog is regarded as making a positive difference to all people with its general messages.

-          The blog has to be aiming to make a positive difference- that means we have to be able to learn and reflect on the writing. It should be discussing or illustrating important messages for example.

-          It should be uplifting- we have to be able to learn something that will help us improve our lives.

-          The genre doesn’t matter- it can be a fictional story, a motivational blog, real life story, even a photo blog, as long as it’s aiming to convey some sort of positive message and making people think about things differently.

The Process:

Nominations should be e-mailed to by the 4th of January 2014.

Please note that a short motivation for your nomination has to be provided and I have the final say in deciding whether a nominated blog fits the criteria above. Please also add a link to your nominated blog.

Inshaa-Allah on Sunday 5th January 2014 the final list of nominees will be put up and public voting will take place for one week, i.e. until 12 January 2014.

Winners will be announced on my blog on Monday 13th January 2014, Inshaa-Allah.

The first place winner will be gifted with a copy of my book, “Butterfly Wings”.

There will be two runner-up’s who will be mentioned as well.


Thursday, December 26, 2013

Book Review: Sandcastles & Snowmen by Sahar el-Nadi

The first thing that attracted me to this book was the title. Sandcastles & Snowmen is an intriguing title and it’s almost as if it immediately invites the reader into a world of adventure. True to the title, the book did provide an interesting journey of discovery and even rediscovery, highlighting the fact that there are many different perspectives in the world, all worth learning and understanding.  

As a workshop facilitator and psychologist I would like to regard this book as a manual of sorts, something that I am sure will prove to be an important reference guide which I can refer to over again, for self-development as well as to assist other people with their own self development.

As a Muslim woman and researcher of issues relating to Muslim women, this book has personal significance and it sheds light on issues that are universal and applicable to Muslim women in diverse settings.

Yet the book is so much more than what it initially seems to be. Although written by a Muslim woman, it does not exclusively focus on issues relating to Muslims. Instead it offers information on a variety of topics, and helps the reader understand Islam as a whole system, and it does this in the most refreshing of ways.

The topics of discussion range from spiritual intelligence, the basics of Islam, ethics and morality to politics, trade and business and science, to arts and culture, and of course gender relations. Each chapter is written in a way that draws the reader in, making you want to read more.

Not only are the topics extremely well researched, but the author has somehow managed to bring it back to the average person’s everyday life experience in a manner that is practical and applicable to modern day times. After reading this book, no one can make the claim that Islam is a religion stuck in ancient times and that it does not relate to modern day people or societies.

The thing that stood out the most for me however, was Sahar el-Nadi’s insistence on unity. Not only did she consistently come back to the idea of all human beings as a unified race, as descendants of the same ancestors (i.e. Adam and Eve- may Allah’s peace be on them), but she focused on the unity of people and other creatures, and the unity of people and the environment. Moreover, she managed to eloquently present Islam as a unified and holistic system. A system which fits the natural inclinations of mankind, leaving the reader to think that if Islam is adopted and practised correctly then the end result can only be complete unity and of course peace would be the resultant effect.

To call this book inspiring would be doing an injustice to it, and I think that it was the appeal not only made to the readers emotions, but their intellect as well that provided the impetus for me to want to be a better person. That Islam appeals to people as whole beings to make use of their various talents, to research, study and learn, and mostly to ask about things that are uncertain was enlightening and a great reminder to me that as a Muslim it is my duty to be the best that I can be.

I have to admit that I felt sad when I read through the rich historical accounts detailing remarkable achievements by Muslims. Sad, that Muslims today have divorced what they call “secular education” from “religious education”. I particularly enjoyed how the author revered knowledge and how she emphasised that Muslims should have knowledge in all fields and that in fact our love for the Quraan in itself should naturally incline us towards gaining knowledge in all fields. Perhaps in keeping with the theme of unity, this highlights the need for unity in knowledge as well. Knowledge in all areas of life is important for us to excel, not only as Muslims but as human beings. The author’s insistence that knowledge and good education is the key to many of the world’s problems today is something that vividly stands out for me.

At the same time, I was pleased that she did not leave out the causes of some of the problems we are faced with today, and the roots of the inferior education systems and some of the warped ideas that have become popular.

This book illustrates perfectly that values such as love, peace, caring for others, respect and tolerance is something that all human beings have in common, something that can connect us as fellow humans. In an atmosphere filled with negativity and division, it is refreshing to read a book which focuses on so many ways in which the people of the world can find common ground. Sahar el-Nadi gives credibility to her ideas because she actually lives and practices what she speaks about, emphasizing that her discussions are not merely idealistic discourses.

I cannot classify exactly what type of a book this is, but I think that’s a good thing. In keeping with its ever so dominant theme of unity, this book unites genres so it is all at once a book on spirituality and religion, self-discovery and motivational, a history book, a book on politics, science, art and culture.

The journey that Sandcastles & Snowmen takes you on is definitely a worthwhile one and I would recommend this book to anyone.

Monday, December 23, 2013

What If?

What if we all followed the rules of Islam to perfection?

Women wouldnt have the obsessive need to validate themselves by appealing to men. We wouldnt spend hours making ourselves look good so that males could be attracted to us (please note this does not apply to making yourself look attractive for your husband). We wouldnt put ourselves through physical and emotional pain just so that we can experience love and a feeling of belonging. We wouldnt try so hard to make unhealthy relationships work. We wouldnt risk our psychological well-being and more importantly our faith and religious beliefs simply so that we dont become old maids who never marry.

What would women be like then, if the rules of Islam were followed to perfection?

Its simple really, wed be like Queens. Precious pearls protected by beautiful shells. Men would have to first get permission to speak to us and even then, the interaction would ensure that they do not take advantage of us. Men would have to be straight up and honest because while they might get away with playing on the sympathy of us soft and caring females, our male relatives will be able to see right through deceit, lies and all types of falsehood. We wouldnt have to make ourselves look fake or spend hours trying to look like perfect supermodels. Instead, we would realize that we are a whole human being and that our piety, our character and our intellect is far more crucial than the way we look. We wouldnt care if some human being was impressed with us, because wed know that we should impress our Creator above anything else, and wed be certain that when we impress our Creator then He will put the right people in our lives.

In short, we wouldnt have to try so hard, wed be happier, wed be more accepting of ourselves, wed be grateful for all that we are and our self-esteem would be stable and healthy (as opposed to continuously receiving a bashing from none other than ourselves).

Islam has given women importance and respect, we have traded that importance for the illusion of love and attention.  So instead of spending our time becoming closer to Allah Almighty, we spend our time hopelessly waiting for messages from strange men, for signs and signals to show us that hes interested, for the time he will say he loves us and wants to spend his life with us, and more often than not the waiting is accompanied with the obsessive need to make ourselves better, just so that a mere mortal can be interested in us and give us love and attention, because somehow, somewhere, the message that a woman can only be validated or important if she has a man who adores her, has managed to be planted into our minds.  

But what if we focused instead on pleasing the One who will never let us down?
What if we tried hard each day to make ourselves better for Allah Almighty, Glory be to Him?

What if we stopped telling ourselves that we have failed if we did not manage to hook the perfect catch?

What if we understood that by forgoing the rules of Islam, we as women are giving away the royalty we have been afforded, by none other than the Creator! And by letting go of this we open the doors to being abused and used, physically and emotionally.

What if we reminded ourselves that we are beautiful enough for the One who has made us and we dont need to have the painful makeovers or incessant diets, or waxing and threading and lazer treatment and all the other things we do that a sane person wouldnt voluntarily put themselves through.

What if we gave ourselves more credit and focused on ourselves as a whole being?  

What if we truly understood the elevated role of a woman in Islam?

I for one can vouch that once we begin to understand the way Islam intends for a woman to be, then everything else becomes insignificant and instead of restlessness your life is filled with peace.

May Almighty Allah be our guide and help us to always see truth beyond the falsehood, and may we have the patience to accept what Allah has willed for us, Inshaa-Allah Ameen! 

Image 1 from here
Image 2 from here

Monday, December 16, 2013

Blogging with a difference

Recently there’s been an upsurge of South African blogs by Muslims, mostly young Muslim women. Suddenly blogs are popping up all over the place and it seems like it’s ‘the new in-thing’. While I am glad that South African’s have finally decided to take to this platform to voice their opinions and share their views, the downside is that some of the blogs out there leave me a bit ill at ease.

First let me discuss my observations of this new blogging trend, then you can understand my reservations in context. Strangely most of these new blogs have taken on the nature of a fictional story. This is great, I have no problem with this, and how can I take up issue with this when I myself have found fiction to be a wonderful means of getting important discussions out there. The problem for me is that the emphasis in most of these blogs seems to be on ROMANCE and LOVE.

Now again, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, many bloggers out there are writing as a means of entertainment and we all know that nothing sells better than a good old romantic love story. I just find that a fictional blog story would've been the perfect move away from typical television programmes- that is if it didn't decide to adopt the very ideas and images of the American television shows we are all so easily taken by.

I personally think it would've been much better to stick to our roots and tell a South African story, because that is after all who we are. While there are a few blogs which attempt to tell a purely South African story, the majority have managed to intermingle South African and American ideas to such an extent that the story seems hard to place within a South African context and it very closely mimics television shows like ‘Gossip Girl’, ‘ 90210’ and the likes of it.

Many commenters on these blogs make it clear that if you don’t like what you are reading then it’s simple, just don’t read! Which of course is the most logical way to go about it, except that I have continued to read these blogs and probably will continue, because it gives me insight into what our people are thinking and the framework from which they function. And because admittedly I am a story addict and my addiction threshold for stories is very low.

Nonetheless, just as I was beginning to think that every blog I read is almost like the other, I got invited to read a new blog, and I must say this gives me hope that diverse thinking and unique story telling still does exist. This blog has managed to capture the perfect combination of seriousness and humour, while shedding light on issues that have affected us all or continue to affect us. It’s a brilliant read and definitely an educational experience. But since I always like to encourage people to form their own opinions, don’t take my word for it, please go and check it out for yourselves, the link is below:

Let me end by saying that I am still glad that South Africans and specifically South African Muslims have taken to blogging, it’s a brave thing on its own to put your writing out there and open it up to all sorts of comments and criticisms. However, I still believe that as South African’s we have a rich heritage and a unique perspective and the pseudo-American writing that has emerged does not do justice to this at all. I encourage bloggers to keep blogging, but do it on your own terms, please do not use Americanised television programmes as your frame of reference, create your own frame of reference, use unique experiences, focus on themes other than love and romance, create characters that do not match the typical blue-eyed, light haired, dreamy good looking ones, and use this platform to change minds and ideas. Love and romance may attract readers, but is this really the way to leave your mark? 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

My two cents on Nelson Mandela’s passing

In the late hours of Thursday evening/ early hours of Friday morning we heard the news that everyone knew was going to come, but no one knew exactly when. Nelson Mandela had passed away! People immediately hailed the ‘First Black President of South Africa’. His icon status seems to have skyrocketed with his death. All over the world people are in mourning. By donning the colours of the South African flag, even the Eiffel Tower and Empire State Building showed the world that they mourn the death of Mandela. News headlines are still filled news of his passing and events that have followed. The question has to be asked- What has made an otherwise ordinary man into a world hero? 

I envisage people saying- DUH! Why ask such a silly question, isn’t it obvious? And then I’ll get the usual answers to this question, you know, answers which include the 27 years spent in prison, the fight for freedom, the uniting of a country and of course, the fact that he was instrumental in the demise of horrid apartheid. These are of course correct answers, but I think the thing that what made Nelson Mandela so popular was his HUMANITY.

The simple human values, moral conscience, caring, kindness, warmth, empathy, the need for unity- these are things that stand out, these are the things that turned him from a leader into an icon. Whether people admit this or not, in the end, it is the basic humanity that everyone is attracted to, because deep down basic human goodness and kindness is what we all seek. It is this very basic humanity that is sorely absent in so many world leaders today, and the contrast is vivid. This is evident as masses of people are in mourning, millions of people loved Nelson Mandela because he in some way or the other he reminded people that if you are good and humble then you can change the world, and let’s face it, how many people today actually stand by that principle?

He’s left behind a legacy people are saying, and this reminds me that to leave behind a legacy you don’t have to be rich, famous or beautiful. To leave behind a legacy all you have to do is be a good person! Display good manners and good character to the world, treat everyone with respect and remain humble, the good news is that we all have the ability to do achieve this, which makes it a possibility for all of us to leave behind a legacy. This is reassuring for those of us who watch people get to the top through any means necessary (most of which don’t exactly fall under the category of goodness).

And in our struggle to make a difference, in our insistence to leave a legacy of our own, we should not and cannot forget that the actions of every man is recorded by the greatest Being. Allah Almighty sees all that we do, Allah hears all that we say, Allah watches all of our actions and sometimes the people who have seemingly left nothing behind, those that we overlook and regard as insignificant- sometimes those people have left a greater legacy than any of us can fathom.

I do not minimize the efforts of Nelson Mandela when I say this, I simply point this out to remind us all that perhaps we don’t have to strive to be recognized by people. Surely Mandela didn’t sit back and say, ‘hey I want to become a world icon so let me fight for freedom and justice’.  The world icon status was a by-product of him standing up for what was right, and at the time, this cost him his freedom and he was regarded as an outcast, a terrorist even. So yeah, sometimes standing up for what is right is the hardest thing to do, but it needs to be done, because doing the right thing in all circumstances whether you are the lowest of people or the highest, this is what turns ordinary people into legends.

And in our quest to do what’s right and while we work to achieve our mission of leaving something good behind, let us try and remember that our intentions are the most important and if we choose to act so that people can recognize us then we may end up wasting our lives, but if we perform deeds because we want Allah Almighty to recognize us, then well, we will be legends in our own way because anything done to please Allah will never go unnoticed.

When we remember Nelson Mandela, let us remember the good lessons that he has taught and let us practice upon it, otherwise, well, his legacy will just be a part of history and his efforts will not live on. The world needs good people, people who are unselfish and who put others before themselves, it’s time we make an effort to become these good people that the world longingly awaits.

May Almighty Allah always be our Guide, Inshaa-Allah!

Images from here