Preparing for Ramadan!

Not having fasted for the last two years because of pregnancy and nursing, I have to admit I was nervous about fasting this year. For one, the fasts will be incredibly long. Sunrise to sunset (roughly from 3am to 9pm) would be 18 hours. My second concern was not having properly participated in Ramadan for the last two years, I may have lost my ‘Ramadan spirit’.

So in search of some motivation and inspiration, this Friday I attended an event in London called ‘Your Best Ramadan Yet’ organised by City Circle. The event featured a talk by Shaikh Haytham Tamim of Uttruj Foundation, followed by practical fasting and health related advice by two medical doctors.

While for some the talk may have lacked the ‘wow’ factor, I got from it exactly what I was looking for.

The main point which the Shaikh drilled into the audience was about the purpose of fasting. Why do we fast? According to him, the abstention from our desires is a prerequisite to connecting with our spirituality. Or in other words, it is only when we silence the constant ‘I want this, I need that’ that we can connect with God.

This is the shared link between salah (prayer), haj and fasting. Through all these acts of worship, we try to create a space for ourselves (physically and mentally), where we can take refuge from the onslaught of our desires, the constant consumerism and media messaging telling us to indulge ourselves in this and that. Although this may sound like an obvious point but a lot of us forget this during our ritual prayers and while fasting. Ramadan is about the victory of the spiritual self over the material one, ultimately restoring the balance between the two.

Inspired by the talk, I vowed to keep my ‘wants’ in check, whether these are for buying things, cravings for junk food or never being satisfied with anything in life. Instead of always wanting and whining, I want to create sabr (patience) and contentment. In trying to live this ideal, I’m finding out how difficult it is.  Take a very small example: I decided to gradually cut down my calorie intake in the lead up to Ramadan. I’m ashamed to report that one day spent at the mall was enough to throw all my good intentions out the window. But I’ll persevere.

Another point raised during the talk which I really appreciated was that we should never forget the power of the mind and how resilient our bodies are. A lot of us have been grumbling about how difficult this coming Ramadan would be. But we forget that if we enter something with a negative perception and anticipation, we will most likely find the experience to be negative. However, if we create a positive mindset and send positive signals to our body, we may radically shift our experience. Positive thinking- feeling hopeful and excited about something- goes a long way in shaping our actual experience.

Finally, being a woman and a mother I also appreciated the acknowledgment on the part of the speaker that sometimes (especially in traditional families and cultures) Ramadan for women amounts to preparing and cooking food all day and clearing up at night while the men go for taraweeh prayers. We really need to take our focus away from this attitude of ‘feasting’ at iftaars and also share the responsibilities with women. He went so far as to say that during the last ten days of Ramadan (considered to be a special time of quiet reflection and prayer) women should not cook at all and families should have take aways. He may have been exaggerating his stance just to drive home the point that women should also focus on their spirituality.

The challenge for me to is to find quiet time for myself when my whole day is consumed with childcare responsibilities and in keeping my super curious 16 month old entertained and out of trouble. The only quiet time I have is the two hours of his nap during the afternoon. Generally I spend this time in mindless pursuits like facebooking and watching tv, or doing essential stuff like cooking or showering. I tend to shy away from any activity that may require me to use my grey cells. I realise that this is an excuse to be lazy.

I hope in Ramadan I can counter this attitude that ‘my day is not mine’ and take control of my time. Instead of forcing my baby to fit into my routine or being totally driven by his, I need to find a balance. For example, while he may not allow me to use my laptop (he wants it himself), I could listen to audiobooks or recitation of the Quran in the background while I perform other tasks. If you have any advice or tips to share with me on how I can achieve this balance, please do share!

Ramadan Mubarak everyone!



A whirling dervish

By Munnaza Inam

Haji lok Makkay noun jaandey

Mera Ranjha Mahi Makkah

Nein main kamli aan!

Pilgrims go to Makkah

My beloved Ranjha is my Makkah

O! I am crazy

(Bulleh Shah)


Standing in the courtyard of a mosque and looking upon a structure made of bricks and covered with a black cloth. It is hard to imagine, just from that bare description, what a feeling of pure bliss courses through you at that moment. Yet, that experience can serve to reaffirm the invisible bond that tethers you to your Maker as well as rejuvenates your soul.

A few weeks ago,when I came to know that I was going for Umrah, I was in ecstasy: experiencing intense joy, delight, a trance, frenzy, cloud nine, walking on air, a state of extreme happiness… I can go on and on and on. The couplet of Bulleh Shah, mentioned above, aptly encapsulates the emotions that I felt at the thought of returning to the holy city.

I never had this feeling before when I went for Umrahs, but during Hajj a few years ago, I felt akin to a whirling dervish. My whole being felt as if it was whirling, suspended in time and space, and drawn towards this magnetic force which was the center of my universe. And now once again, during the course of this Umrah a few days ago, I returned to that state of total submission. Truly, I became a whirling dervish, spinning my body in circles around the Kaaba. The aim was not uncontrolled ecstasy and loss of consciousness but the realization ofsubmission to Allah.

Happiness! It is a truly powerful and radical exploration of life’s most treasured goals. I never complained or grumbled at the weather, pain, illness or anything else I experienced during my journey. There, everything in life pleased me and I found everything agreeable. In the very midst of my prayers, I found myself happy at being miserable.

I must confess that the greatest of all my delights is, and always will be, religion. In the state of submission, I felt mentally, physically and spiritually charged and alive; as if I had attached the belts of my machinery to the power-house of the universe. More than ever before, my belief was reaffirmed that the underlying cause of all sickness, weakness or depression is the human sense of separateness from that Divine Energy which we call Allah.

About the Author

Munnaza Inam is an artist, housewife and mother of four. Her interests include interior design, reiki and art of living.

I dare to dream

It is ironic that when we are little we dream of all the things we would do or become when we grow up. And when we finally grow up, we stop dreaming.

Some dreams like becoming an ‘air hostess’ or ‘astronaut’ are considered foolish or unlikely and given up. Others are abandoned because we realize that we may not have what it takes to achieve them. For me one such dream was to become a writer. Not just any writer. An author of great fiction.

At age 10, I was a prolific letter writer, or correspondent shall I say. I regularly wrote to my grandparents, especially Daddy, my maternal grandfather. When my best friend moved from Abu Dhabi to Pakistani, I used to write her long detailed letters almost twice a week.

Around the same time, inspired by the newspaper the sisters in Little Women write together, I started a little book with my three sisters called *ahem* TAWZ (the first letter of each of our names)  to write original ‘articles’, poems, stories and also copied stuff that we liked, including gems such as ‘limericks’. We also shared comics or drawings. I was a bit of a dictator in getting my sisters to write in it and even at that age (my sisters all younger than me), we knew it was a bit lame. Predictably, it didn’t last long.

Well into my teens I wrote poetry. Most of it of the rhyming variety. Not all if it was bad. But it definitely wasn’t good. I stopped when I realized that.

At around 14, I attempted to write a book, but gave up when it started to become a Pakistani version of Sweet Valley High. I was dismayed and put writing fiction out of my mind forever. I told myself that if I could write at all, it would be non-fiction.

What has brought on this nostalgia?

Two things. A friend posted on Facebook about a Creative Writing Workshop that will take place in LUMS in August. The workshop is aimed at 18-26 year olds. I wish there were such workshops targeting younger writers because by that age, most of the kids who used to write, like me, may have already given up. I know as a kid, I would have given anything to attend such a workshop. Who knows, I may have continued to write poems and fiction.

The second thing that made me acknowledge this dream was a cute little book I recently read called Live What You Love and from which I shared an excerpt recently. The book is about a successful entrepreneurial American couple who started many different businesses together, their latest a gourmet restaurant in the Caribbean. While they had their ups and downs, they just continued to take an unusual path in life by working together and doing what they loved.

In the book, they ask the reader to acknowledge their dreams. And when I first read that, I was almost annoyed at them because I couldn’t think of any ‘dreams’. I asked in a huff, what dreams? I could think of goals, ambitions and plans, but not ‘dreams’.

So the last few days, I’ve been deliberately asking myself that question: what do I dream of? Or rather, what did I used to dream of? In answering it, I’ve started unearthing stuff like wanting to be a writer, travelling the world, being an astrophysicist and so on. For some past dreams, I may have missed the boat and they don’t hold that lustre any more. But others, like wanting to be a writer, still make me ache with longing. It is something I did not even share with others for fear they would ridicule me or worse that I may jinx it by admitting it.

I realize that I should not just rely on past dreams. I should come up with new ones. By writing this, I am dusting off the cobwebs and I dare to dream again.

Naya Saal

Ay naye saal bata, tujh main naya pan kiya hai?
Har taraf khalq nay Q shorr macha rakha hai

Roshni din ki wohi taaron bharee raat wohi
Aaj hum ko nazar aati hai har baat wohi

Aasmaan badla hai afsos na badli hay zameen
Ek hindsay ka badalna koi jiddat tou nahi

Aglay barson ki tarha hongay qarenay teray
Kisay maaloom nahi baran mahinay teray

January, February aur March main paray sardi
Aur April, May, June main hogi garmee

Tera munn dahar main kuch khoye ga kuch paye ga
Apni miyaad basar karkay chala jaye ga

Tu naya hai tou dikha subha nayee shaam nayee
Warna in aankhon nay dekhay hain naye saal kayee

Bay sabab detay hain Q loge mubarakbaadain
Gaalibann bhool gaye waqt ki karwii yaadain

Teri aamud sey ghatti umar, jahan sey sab ki
Ay naye saal bata tujh main naya pan kya ha?


-Ahmed Faraz



Emel and Oxfam organised the screening of ‘Miral’ last Thursday in London and I am glad I attended it. Director, Julian Schnabel stirred controversy with this daring film, based on a biographical novel by Rula Jebreal. I was shocked to hear in the introduction, that earlier this year on April 4th, a few days after the film was released in US, Juliano Merr-Khamis, an actor and peace activist who played a role in the film, was murdered outside his own theatre in a Palestinian refugee camp.

I grew up hearing the horror stories of Palestine. It is one of the biggest humanitarian disasters of our time. The so-called “civilised” world knowingly has put a blind eye towards the unjustified atrocities committed by the Jewish state since it’s creation. In retaliation the other side also uses all means possible to inflict pain to their enemy. The fact is that human beings are suffering on both sides.

It’s very rarely that we get to see a glimpse of the lives of ordinary Palestinians. Miral is a daring endeavour to voice the human side of this conflict. It tells a story spanning 60 years, of 4 Palestinian women living under the conflict.

The first account is of Hind Husseini and her brave effort to establish an orphanage in Jerusalem after the Deir Yassin Massacre in 1948. Hind was an influential lady of Palestine, who one day finds 55 children on a street, orphaned by the massacre, and takes them home to give them food and shelter. Soon the number reaches over 2000, giving birth to an institute she names Dar Al-Tifel. The striking thing about her is her patience in the worst of situations. She knows there is very little she can do other than using her influence to shield these children from the wrath of the occupiers. Hind believes that education is the only way towards peace.

The story continues with the account of a female fighter, Fatima, who is serving 3 charges of lifetime after a bomb attack and the circumstances that led her to commit that act. In parallel, it shows the disturbed life of Nadia, Miral’s mother. In 1978, the 5 year old Miral (played by Freida Pinto) is brought to Hind’s Institute by her father following her mother’s suicide. Hind protects her too from the world outside the walls of Dar Al-Tifel. One day the girls are assigned to teach at a refugee camp when in an Army raid a local family is dragged out of their house and the house bulldozed to rubble. The rebel in Miral suddenly wakes up to the troubles surrounding Palestinian people.

She later falls in a romantic relationship with a character named Hani, who is a Palestinian political activist. Miral struggles to choose between her desire to join the cause of her people and Hind’s path of academia, keeping away from hostility. She gets involved briefly with the political activities but eventually decides to take on the route Hind paved for her. The film ends with her taking up a scholarship in Italy later becoming a journalist helping her people. Her courage throughout this struggle must be commended. Rula is that journalist who eventually wrote her biographical story under the name of Miral.

I don’t think the aim of the film was to highlight the conflict as a whole, but rather it focussed on highlighting a unique side to the lives of ordinary local women: from Hind’s patience, love and determination to Miral’s struggle from an early age and her dilemma to decide her path in life.

The film has still received a lot of criticism from the Jewish circles as it seems to put them is a negative light. Julian Schnabel however believes that “the film is about preserving the state of Israel, not hurting it. Understanding is part of Jewish way, and Jewish people are supposed to be good listeners. But if we don’t listen to the other side, we can never have peace”. He said this at a rare screening of the film at the United Nations.

I must say it is an honest and brave attempt by the Israeli Director.

Pakistan Diaries 2: Wedding Season

Leena’s wedding is now just over two weeks away. Our house is becoming a scene from Monsoon Wedding, with dance practices and family dramas galore. While my sister and her friends have choreographed dances to almost 11-12 songs, I’m down to 2. For this I will squarely lay the blame on my baby’s 9 month old shoulders. Although Elhaan is now familiar with all family members and especially crawls behind his grandfathers like a little puppy dog, he is still super clingy with me. If I’m out of sight for more than an hour, he launches a search party to find me. I kid you not. He will insist on being picked up and point with his arm from room to room until he finds me!

As with every other “shaadi ka ghar”, no matter how much I try to tell my sister that everything will fall into place, every little glitch on the road to marital bliss is considered a crisis. Being a perfectionist really doesn’t help matters. The cards arrived a bit smudged and were sent back to the printers. Her wedding outfits were altered at least two times each. Stage decor and arrangements continue to give her sleepless nights. To top it all, being a corporate lawyer, she has a full workload which she will continue as close to her wedding date as possible. I remember being the same way when it was my wedding. I now realize that all that stress really wasn’t worth it. But retrospective wisdom is hardly ever appreciated and always unwated- unless it’s gained from one’s own experiences.

December/January is always wedding season in Pakistan as we’re more able to cope with freezing cold than sweltering heat. Also now with everyone having at least a few relatives who live abroad, every wedding gets pushed into a two week window of the last week of December and first week of January to accommodate the Christmas holidays. So this year, apart from Leena’s wedding, I have four other weddings I’ve been invited to. Two friends and two of Asim’s cousins. And that brings us to the very important question of what to wear. Although I’ve shed most of my baby weight, I’m still a size bigger than what I was when I got married and am getting a lot of my outfits altered. Asim arrives from England in a week’s time and I hope to finish my rounds to the tailors, dyers and lace wallahs before he arrives.

Pakistan Diaries- Part 1

Whenever I visit Pakistan, I never get a chance to blog. Part of the reason is because my trips are really short and I want to spend each moment with family in “real time” mode rather than online. Another reason is that I get really lazy and feel disconnected from my life in London and all activities I associate with living there, including blogging.

This time I’m in Pakistan for over two months, so the first excuse isn’t applicable. As far as the second psychological disconnect is concerned, it doesn’t need to be that way. So this trip, I’ll try my best to blog as often as possible in a series called “Pakistan Diaries”.

I arrived in Islamabad with Elhaan on 7th November and after the first few cranky days when Elhaan was sleep deprived and unsettled, he seems to be adjusting well to both homes now (I’ve been oscillating between my parents’ house and my inlaws’ place).

My biggest nightmare had been to travel alone with Elhaan on the plane. I had stressed about it for over a month before travelling and while preparing for the trip, meticulously packed his baby bag preparing myself for any eventuality. My worst case scenario was that he won’t sleep and I’d have to walk with him for 8 hours on the flight. Thankfully that didn’t happen and for the most part, he slept and behaved well (it’s another story that I had to keep him in my lap for 6 of the 8 hours). My other nightmare, which unfortunately did come true, was Elhaan doing a poo and having to clean a wriggling baby in the tiny airplane toilet. I’ll spare you the details, but let’s just say that somehow I had my nerves intact and managed to perform that feat as well as I could.

Since we’ve arrived, Elhaan has been showered with attention and is being spoiled by doting family members. He’s enjoying his carseat-free rides and being carried around by numerous uncles and aunts. I’m struggling though to keep control over his feeding and realize that advice is always well-intentioned and also, that I don’t always have to take it. For example, my decision to not put salt and sugar in Elhaan’s food is looked at with surprise and mild skepticism by women who have raised numerous (healthy) children. That’s no surprise given Pakistan is one of the largest consumers of sugar in the world and low-sodium diets are meant for old ailing grandparents not healthy children. I realize that doctors aren’t always right and medical advice keeps changing every few years, so I’m willing to be flexible at times, but for the most part I like to err on the side of caution and moderation.

The highlight of my trip has been my sister’s nikkah ceremony. It’s hard to believe she’s married! We had a traditional Pathan segregated ceremony at home with just close family. She looked stunning in a green beautifully embroidered outfit which her mother-in-law had brought for her (her inlaws trace their roots to Uzkekistan and the colour green is an Uzbek tradition for wedding dresses). I was able to really participate in the ceremony and help out at home as I didn’t have to constantly look after Elhaan. He was happy being carried around by my cousins and uncles. That’s one of the best parts of being in Pakistan: I can hand over my baby to other family members while I get a little bit of time to myself. After the nikkah, we decided to have a girls’ night out and took my sister to dinner to a really nice Thai restaurant. I left Elhaan with my parents for a few hours. Since his birth, it was the first time I’d been able to step out of the house at night without him. I feel more alive and like my old self here rather than constantly being a “mother” with a baby on my hip at all times.

Of laziness and dying grey cells

Today I was feeling really tired and bored and depressed. Didn’t feel like doing anything. Had been a few days hadn’t gone to the park for a walk. So finally Asim dragged me to the park despite my half hearted protests. Being out in the sun was exactly what I needed. It was a beautiful day and it was good for Elhaan to get out as well. Yesterday I realized something horrible: Elhaan was spending most of his waking hours infront of the TV! Of course he’s too young to really comprehend anything but he’s fascinated by the light and colours and keeps staring at it.

So now I’m making a conscious effort to not let him be in front of the TV. Sadly that means my hours of being a couch potato have been curtailed. Gilmore Girls, Desperate Housewives and 60 Minute Makeover cannot be compromised on; so I guess the Food Network will have to take a cut. Although I sprinkle in a few minutes of Al Jazeera or BBC in between mindless entertainment to feel less guilty, I think I’m losing a few thousand grey cells a day. The proof: A few weeks back when it was time to vote on the Alternative Vote; I looked at the pamphlet mailed to us and couldn’t comprehend more than a few lines. It sounded needlessly complicated. And this is after taking 4 years of political science at uni. Pretty soon, all I’ll be capable of reading would be food labels.

Shisha – is it less harmful?

Shisha is smoking too!I switched on the TV this morning to see a programme on Geo TV about the dangers of smoking. Apparently it is “Anti-smoking Day” today.

A cancer patient was crying live on air pleading all smokers to quit the evil habit of smoking and chewing of Paan.

Many of us know the effects of smoking and yet prefer to be in denial. Isn’t that suicidal? Even if some of us refrain from smoking because of its harmful nature, most of us love socialising with the “apparently not that dangerous” alternative ‘shisha’ and even consider shisha as “not even smoking”. I have also tried shisha a few times on Edgware Road with friends but let me share what I think about it now.

For the benefit of those who don’t know what it is, Shisha (also knows as hookah in Pakistan) is a single or multi-stemmed instrument for smoking in which the smoke is cooled by water.

So, is Shisha as bad as smoking?

According to a research conducted by the Department of Health in the UK, smoking shisha equally exposes people to high carbon monoxide levels. In fact, what’s shocking is that one session of smoking shisha results in carbon monoxide levels at least four to five times higher than the amount produced by one cigarette. High levels of carbon monoxide can lead to brain damage and unconsciousness.

The study also revealed that the level of carbon monoxide in the breath of a non-smoker is three parts CO per million parts of air (ppm) (less than 1% of blood not working properly), a light smoker has 10-20 ppm (2-4% of blood not working properly), and a heavy smoker 30-40 ppm (5-7%). Now when it comes to Shisha smoking, the study found that they had 40-70 ppm of CO in their breath – affecting 8-12% of their blood.

“At the worst, shisha was 400 to 450 times more dangerous than having a cigarette”. Dr Hilary Wareing, Tobacco Control Collaboration Centre

Many researchers have been warning about the dangers of shisha for some time now but yet the number of people getting addicted to it and its social acceptance in general is growing exponentially. Christopher Loffredo, Ph.D., Director of the Cancer Genetics and Epidemiology program at Georgetown University Medical Center said in an interview with Medical News that “people who use these devices don’t realize that they could be inhaling what is believed to be the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes in one typical 30-60 minute session with a waterpipe”.

Smoking is known to be the cause of many fatal illnesses including:

  • heart disease
  • cancers of the lung, larynx, oral cavity, and esophagus
  • chronic bronchitis
  • emphysema
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD or COLD)

In the programme this morning they also mentioned that each year, approximately 100,000 people die from tobacco-related diseases in Pakistan. That’s way more than the innocent casualties of terrorism.

Quit smoking and don’t kill yourself.

The joys of fatherhood

“I won’t lie to you, fatherhood isn’t easy like motherhood”. Homer Simpson image

I won’t go as far as commenting if one is easier or difficult than other but for sure know now that being a parent is the best thing that can happen to any couple. Both roles come with a huge responsibility, that of raising a human being. Knowing that I am responsible for what Elhaan will be like in the next 15 to 20 years is quite an eye opener.

What a life changing experience last few weeks have been. Only a father knows what fatherhood is like and likewise I can never even imagine the joys of motherhood. One thing you fathers out there would agree with is that after the birth you end up taking care of two children instead of one, if you know what I mean ;). Saying that, I don’t blame them, it’s not easy for them.

Mothers spend more time with the child naturally and as someone wise once said that a best start a father can give his son is to love and take care of his mother. After going through the process with Tamreez, I have a new found respect for women, especially mothers.

My experience has been wonderful. It’s tiring, no doubt, but one tiny little smile takes away all the aches and pains in the world.

I pray that we are able to raise Elhaan in the best possible way. I believe my biggest achievement in life would be raising him to his true potential – serving humanity in his own way.

A truly rich man is one whose children run into his arms when his hands are empty. I wish and pray I am that man.

Elhaan – welcome to our life.