A day amongst Bhalil’s cave dweller

Ever since I was a young girl, maps fascinated me. My father had gifted me a globe on my 7th birthday. I would look at it for hours, and lose myself in the glories of exploration. “We are here ma’am” said Ibrahim, our driver, a stout man with sharp features approaching his mid-40s. And there we were. I wouldn’t have believed it myself, that here I was, parked outside a small village in Morocco. It had been a long time since then; now twenty-two, yet the explorer in me smiled a hearty smile as I exited the vehicle.

Bhalil, a small village tucked away beside the distant mountains, stood calm and tranquil. To the unaccustomed eye it was just an ordinary village that reeked with poverty. “Is this it??” I asked myself. “It couldn’t be” replied the voice inside. Ibrahim led the way. I followed him on a narrow and deserted street, a dead, calming silence had taken over me. The sun stood distinct in the sky. The street ended, leading us right into the village. I stood momentarily and peered across the uphill on which the village rested. I was mesmerized by the eye-catching houses that were painted in pastel shades of pink, yellow and blue. It was a spectacular wave of colour and life that stood on the dusty, barren land. I could hear soft gales of laughter from the children playing with stones on the side. We ascended uphill on the dusty broken roads. The sun smiled at us.

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I wanted to capture every detail of this alluring town that even blinking felt like a loss of precious time. I’d been in Morocco for four days, and visited beautiful places but this struck me as something authentic, away from the tourist facades that occupied the most popular parts of the country, this was real.

Cool air blew our way, stronger the more climbed up. On left hand side ran the remains of what seemed to be a canal, neglected by the mountains which once used to provide it with fresh streams of water, now stood there dry and dead.

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We carried on until we reached an uneven platform, with two women sitting beneath the shade of a lonely olive tree outside a broken door, its paint decaying as it struggled to hold firm its handle which was half falling off. The women were carefully forging some strings together. ‘Ah they must be making the buttons’ I thought to myself. Prior to our arrival I was reading about the women of Bhalil, who are known for creating the traditional jelleba buttons. Each versatile string forged together using a complex technique, I know I certainly wouldn’t be able to master, yet the end result; a subtle ball of extraordinary detail, used as buttons for Morocco’s traditional attire.

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‘Wait wait’ signalled Ibrahim as he approached a petite old woman stood at the door of what seemed to be a residence of some sort. Her warm smile was surrounded by loose folds of skin; she wore a black head scarf tied in a knot under her chin, and a faded yellow maxi accompanied by a chequered apron around her waist. After a brief conversation with her, Ibrahim insisted that we come in “please come please.” We were welcomed in by the very endearing old lady, Naima.

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Ibrahim
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Naima

The interior of the house was something I’d not quite ever seen; the walls had a stalagmite texture and formed an uneven arch above our heads, the ceiling lazily painted with a sharp shade of yellow. “We are standing inside a natural cave house” said Ibrahim, snapping me out of my fascination into a whole new realm of curiosity. He went on to explain that the village of Bhalil is notable for its unique cave houses located in the old part of the village. We sat down on the assorted sofas aligned across the edges of the cave, my eyes couldn’t help but wander around every corner, when I realised that the sink had no tap, Ibrahim explained to me the cave houses have no access to water inside so they have to go outside to the local water source to get the water every day. Its only when you sit amongst those less fortunate than you that you realise that things you take for granted are actually blessings.

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Naima didn’t speak much, but her hospitality spoke for itself, she prepared fresh Moroccan tea and walked slowly towards us with the tray in her delicate hands, she glanced up at us with a brief toothless smile she softly said ‘Marhabba’ (Welcome). She placed the tray on the crooked table in front of us which was scattered with photographs and letters. It seemed like Naima was used to having visitors from all around the world.

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Her late Mother Um Aicha was frequently visited by tourists, who sat with her and took photographs, it soon become a tradition that whenever someone would visit the cave they take a photograph and later post it to Naima with a letter. Her mother was 90 when she passed away two years ago explained Naima, her family had been cave dwellers for over 300 years, generation after generation living in this very cave. Ibrahim pours the tea into a cup, if you’ve ever had tea in Morocco, you will most likely notice two things: the tea is poured from very high up and an extra glass is also poured. I watched him carefully, wondering if I’d ever be able to master the art of Moroccan tea pouring, most likely not!

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Naima’s (late) parents

We sipped on the fresh mint tea, the very smell of it reanimates the spirit,  Naima sat quietly for a moment then pointed at the tea and with her limited English, she  jokingly said “Moroccan whisky” she giggled to herself; it was hard not to join in.

I sat next to Naima and asked for a photograph; every time she smiled her eyes would squint a little, just like mine did. Ibrahim burst into laughter every time he attempted to take the photograph. “what’s so funny Ibrahim” I asked “You and Naima same same” said Ibrahim, he’d obviously seen some sort of resemblance, he showed me and Naima the picture and she smiled, she held my hand and said ” abnatay”, Ibrahim told me that it meant “my daughter” my heart melted, I felt overwhelmed that someone I’d just met could treat me with utmost respect and love, it was beautiful.

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Naima and I

Everything about Bhalil touched my soul, how such a shattered and deprived neighbourhood sang blissful songs of hospitality, unity and contentment. How its women found happiness in every strand of the buttons they made with love, how the village men knew one aother by name as if they were all part of one big family. How for its children, imagination was enough to make playtime last until the sun set, as shades of crimson, amber and tangerine were thrown into the dusty sky over Bhalil , its beautiful colours embracing the heavens gracefully.

Kelvin MacKenzie ‘entitled’ to express his xenophobia?

I’m sick of it, sick of the fact that Muslim women who wear a hijab simply cannot be seen singularly without the constant unnecessary focus on the scarf worn on their heads.

Oblivious to the apparent Islamphobia and xenophobic remarks, The Press Regulator has cleared Kelvin MacKenzie over his attack on Fatima Manji, the Channel 4 News presenter, for wearing a hijab while reporting on the Nice terror attacks.

MacKenzie accused Channel 4 News of “editorial stupidity” for allowing Manji to wear a hijab when “there had been another shocking slaughter by a Muslim” in Nice.  Kelvin’s linkage of the hijab and the act of terrorism which took place is, in itself a remark of ignorance.

In its ruling the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso) said he was “entitled to express” his view.

It states: “The article did refer to the complainant but it did so to explain what triggered the discussion about a legitimate subject of debate: whether newsreaders should be allowed to wear religious symbols”

Freedom of expression is one thing, but using the debate about whether newsreaders should be allowed to wear religious symbols, provokes a made-up fear of visual Muslims, as intimidating, as a threat and as the other.

Her capabilities as a Channel 4 journalist were undermined by Kelvin and he drew attention to her personal and religious freedom of dress by intentionally associating her visual appearance with her profession and creating a narrative which was nonexistent to begin with.

As Manji explains “He is not a public philosopher of our time, he’s not interested in religious symbols.”

It is truly shocking that even after Kelvin obviously suggested that Manji shares common ground with the perpetrator of the Nice attack, the Ipso has failed to highlight the vile effect this ignorant perception may have on the readers of Britain’s most widely read news paper.Thanks  to them, this  so-called validated  ‘freedom of expression’ has now fuelled the already-misunderstood perception of hijab-wearing women.

Fatima Manji is a journalist, a brilliant one, it is absolutely unfair that her personal choice may become a topic of discussion for the population when all she was doing was her job, But as Manji said the ruling signified “open season on minorities.”

If the Ipso can clear Kelvin Mackenzie of such apparent remarks, then I’m entitled to lay blame on the organisation  for turning a blind eye on Islamophobia and xenophobia.

Dear Bollywood, please stay out of politics.

Emotions run seventy years deep in the hearts of Indians and Pakistanis, so much so that the anguish has now spilt into the film industry. The killing in Kashmir of 17 Indian soldiers on the 18th of September by alleged Pakistani separatists is what caused the latest bout of aggression, resulting in the banning of Pakistani actors, singers and technicians from India and the boycott of Bollywood films in Pakistan. Whilst some may argue that cinema is one of the strongest forms of dialogue that can go a long way in shaping public opinion and spreading a message of peace across the border, when it comes to patriotism, all avenues of peace are seemingly denied because at the end of the day none of this means more than ‘Jai hind’ and ‘Pakistan Zindabad’. But if Bollywood can surpass borders when it comes to art and cinema then why can’t politics look further than nationalism?

The Kashmir conflict is a devastating and excruciating battle, and every life lost on either side is a great loss for humanity. From Its conception in 1947 when Maharajah Hari Singh decided for the region to remain neutral as the majority of the population was Muslim and he himself was a Hindu, until now where Kashmir has become the world’s most militarized zone, is a reminder that both sides have failed to co-exist and without a robust political solution, the dispute in Kashmir will continue to aggravate.

But wait, what’s Bollywood got to with it? It seems as though no corner is untouched by the strong sense of patriotism on either side, whether its cricket, fashion or cinema the ‘us’ and ‘them’ paradigm is embedded within the attitudes of many.

Interestingly, I recently read two very direct open letters confronting the issue, one by an Indian journalist and the other by a Pakistani writer. Indian journalist Soumyadipa Banerjee also known as the ‘Bollywod journalist’ directed his letter to popular Pakistani actor Fawad khan, requesting him to return to Pakistan, in his letter he says:

“Sorry Fawad, cultural exchanges cannot happen over dead bodies of our soldiers. We cannot shake hands with your country when their hands are covered in blood of our own countrymen.

Soumyadipa Banjree constantly mentions the amount of money India has invested in Fawad, He says “We have given you more money in two years than what you could have possibly earned in Pakistan in 10 years”.

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Fawad Khan in ‘Khoobsurat’

Unsurprisingly a Pakistani writer Asif Nawaz responded to this with an open letter titled ‘Dear India, our actors don’t need Bollywood to become stars’

He says’ India didn’t make Fawad Khan a superstar; it roped him in because he was one already, and marketed the product where the demand was brewing already’

Both letters expressed a deep sense of loyalty to their nation, the constant use of ‘our nation’, ‘your country’, ‘our land’, ‘your people’, reinforced a strong ‘us and ‘them’ narrative. Although Bajree doesn’t represent the consensus of the 1.311 billion Indians and Nawaz, the 190 million Pakistanis, they both highlight an underlying theme, nationalism.  This is the exact crux of the issue which lead to the banning of Pakistani actors form India and the boycott of Bollywood from Pakistan, and is the unfair result of what happens when Bollywood mixes with politics.

Dragging Bollywood into politics will only do more harm than good. The banning of actors won’t stop the blood which continues to drench the land; it will only prove to be a loss for the film industry in both countries.

Bollywood producer Rahul Aggarwal has quit his job at the Indian Motion Picture Producers Association following the ban of Pakistani actors, he says “art is above politics and we should use it as a means to bring people together”.

Popular Bollywood actor Salman Khan also condemned the decision ‘They are artistes not terrorists. It’s the government who gives them permits and visas’

Sadly, art doesn’t seem to surpass the brutal reality of politics.

Bollywood is the world’s most prolific cinema factory, the industry produces around 1,000 films annually about double of Hollywood, and now with cultural exchange from Pakistan, it has admitted huge success.

If you are a Bollywood fanatic like me you’ll be aware of the likes of Pakistani actors and singers in Bollywood who have recently been making it big in the industry. Actors such as Fawad khan, Mahira khan, Ali Zafar and singers such as Rahat Fateh Ali khan, Atif Aslam and Adnan Sami and many others are amongst the great Pakistani talents that have made a huge space in Indian hearts by being an extraordinary part of the Bollywood industry.

Many Indian actors have also flown to Pakistan to act in their drama serials such as Sara khan, who is currently shooting her from a new drama serial ‘Yeh kaisi Mohabbat Hai’ in Pakistan, Shewtea Tiwari, Alyy Khan and many more.

Pakistani drama serials are favoured over Indian drama serials and believe it or not but most Indians would agree! By her own admission, Shobhita Dutt, an Indian journalist blogs about the “15 Reasons Why Pakistani TV Serials Are Better Than Indian Ones”. By the same token, Bollywood films are by far better than Pakistani films, in fact Indian film industry and its stars have the biggest fan following in Pakistan than in any other part of the world. This only goes to show that both industries recognise the demand in the market and use it to their advantage, whether its Pakistani actors in Indian films or Indian actors in Pakistani films, business is business.

So dear Bollywood, please stay out of politics, It’s time to stop playing the blame game with those who aren’t even part of it. let us enjoy the great films which you have and continue to create, if not for the sake of cultural exchange, bridging gaps or offering a hand in friendship, then do it for the sake of art, for the sake of your fans and mostly importantly for the sake of your business.

 

 

 

 

Post graduation blues

The-oh-so proud photograph of me holding my Journalism BA degree has been hung up on the wall for everyone to see… The three years that might have been the best three years of my life have now passed. Now what?

The hustle and bustle; attending lectures, occasionally missing lectures, spontaneous plans with friends, it was all great.  But maybe the transition from university life to real life hit me a bit too hard and I’m sure I’m not alone in this.

Being so used to having a schedule gives life structure and structure provides stability. Since we were as young as three years old we’ve been used to structure, going to nursery, school, college and then university. Life after university is like an endless ocean, and with no direction, one could end up feeling very lost.

So many of us lived out for university, from having your own place and enjoying the remarkable freedom while it lasts, coming back home can be very hard. Once we’ve rinsed out Netflix, enjoyed random naps and made the most of our fridge, we eventually need to wake up and reflect on where the hell our life is going!

We naturally hold the perception that after graduating, life will be an easy ride. Most of us were motivated by the mere fact that our degree will be a huge stepping stone towards our dream job, not knowing that the job was more than a long leap away.

Behold the applications!

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So we take to Google, searching and searching for jobs that may seem befitting for our graduate-selves, applying the s*** out of them!

Upon completing around 85 applications (probably more, I’ve lost count),  I came to realise that my degree is only the foundation, that a ‘graduate’ job or internship doesn’t solely depend on one being a graduate, but the experience that you obtain to date, is the actual bulk of the application. And that experience doesn’t include the 36 modules I passed which were tailored for nearly every aspect of journalism, no; experience meant
everything other than that.

Some are lucky enough to secure a job shortly after graduation, some not so soon… The wait can be extremely frustrating resulting in loss of confidence, self-worth and above all the will power to carry on trying.

One may think; Wow, have I just wasted three years of my life? But the answer to that is no, university is an amazing experience, a pivotal part of our journey of self-exploration and if I had the chance I’d do it all over again just for the bants!

I remember asking one of my friends why she chose to pursue a masters straight after her undergrad, her response was “I don’t want to stop being a student, it feels too soon”.

Envisage your goals; one step at a time.

We make the mistake of giving ourselves so much to do and think about, that we end up doing nothing at all! Like I’d wake up with 101 things on my mind but end up ‘utilising’ my time by being a sloth on the sofa watching Friends; even though I’ve seen every episode a ridiculous amount of times.

We should first and foremost define our objectives; each and every person needs to have a purpose in life, an objective that prevents our actions from being barren and meaningless. If there is no reason for what you are doing, nothing will be worthwhile.Image result for to do list

What I find helps, is having a goal of the day instead of trying to achieve everything at once. Write it down if it helps, t-do lists actually work! Be realistic though; instead of having “become a doctor” have something like “complete three job applications”. Never underestimate the joy of being able to accomplish every task on your to-do list!

On top of this having an idea of the ‘bigger picture’ is very important because our daily goals help us to reach the end goal. We can section our plans into long-term and short term plans. Long term plans may include what you want your life to be like in ten years time in terms of religion, health, family, social life, career and prosperity. The short term goals can be broken down into monthly, weekly and daily plans, as you move up the pyramid the fields will gradually narrow as you incorporate more specific details into your life plans

Give yourself a break!

Investing our time and energy into being productive is great but we can easily forget about a very important aspect of our lives, our inner selves. What makes us happy and relaxed?

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I recently read a book by Amira Ayad  called ‘The True Secret’ where she describes this using a beautiful analogy she says, think of yourself as an apple barrel. The apple barrel is only useful if it actually holds any apples, if we keep distributing our apples to our friends, family and into our work, we are left with no apples and feel worthless, to restore our function in life, and we have to replenish our supply of apples.

You have to find the source of your apples. What makes you really relaxed and replenishes your depleted energy? For you it may be reading a book, watching a movie, going out with a friend or simply having some ice cream! Make a list of things that make you happy, and reward yourself with one thing at the end of each week.

We’re in this together

So chin up, you’re not the only one whose facing the post-graduation blues, we’re in this together and it will get better! For now just take it easy, grab every opportunity you get, volunteer, intern, read, discover and explore as you walk into the next chapter of your life!

Browse for a spouse: The online Muslim matrimony industry

 

How is it being a British Muslim looking for a spouse? Well let’s just say it can be a mixture of awkward family-orchestrated matchmaking pursuits, and a frustrating mission to find “the one” in a totally haram-free zone.

Not having the right family contacts or so called “rishta links” (in Asian terms) can be very challenging, and somewhat exasperating for Muslim Britons, and bumping into the love of your life by chance? Well, the chances are quite low.

Many young British Muslims resort to online endeavours which have become the latest alternative in the spouse-finding conquest.

But is because all hope of finding someone in the real world has been lost? Or is it because we live in a world where we are more inclined towards convenience, where we get to be and choose the person who ticks almost all our boxes, or perhaps that online offers us the freedom that the community arguably lacks?

Faraz, 27 joined Muzmatch, a revolutionary Muslim marriage app upon a recommendation by a friend, now he is happily engaged and plans to get married next year.

“An escape from the thought from arranged marriages” was the initial motivation behind him joining Muzmatch. He also found that getting to know someone who is actually serious about marriage is easier online because it is very goal orientated, everyone is on there to eventually get married.

I met the mind behind Muzmatch, Shahzad Younas, the CEO and founder of Muzmatch.

“We diTunesArtworkon’t really have scenarios where a girl and guy would mix, the point of the app was essentially to make that a little bit easier for anyone that is thinking about marriage, here’s a place for them to actually go and find someone”  Shahzad Younas

The app has become hugely popular with over 80,000 sign ups, 900 success stories and users from around 123 countries.

Muzmatch is made for all Muslims worldwide; it can connect to your GPS show you other single Muslims looking to get married who are nearby. You are able to set preferences in terms of age, nationality, and ethnicity and how practicing you wish your spouse to be.

Muzmatch certainly keeps up with time, unlike traditional marriage websites, which have also admitted great success; it allows users to carry on their search wherever they are. With its technically advanced features in unquestionably replicates some of today’s social media features, which is arguably why users prefer this type of platform as it is easy to use and very convenient.

Online platforms expose people to a variety of ethnicities, people are  more exposed to talking to people from diverse backgrounds,the demographic has also shifted which now includes divorcees who can get married through the app. This is definitely a major plus point as interracial marriages and re-marrying has always been a taboo amongst most Muslim communities.

However people can have an online persona, the same way we tend to build an image on social media Platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, where we get to be our wanted-selves in a controlled environment. It’s only when you actually talk to or meet the person in real life you find out what they are actually about.

“The worst thing for a girl is coming across a guy who on paper ticks all the boxes, but whilst speaking to him he’s not giving any real serious thought about getting married, even when they want to get married, it’s just some of the basics that people need have more of an idea on” says Shahzad

However online platforms such as Muzmatch have strict safety guidelines to ensure users feel comfortable and protected.

Some may argue that Islamic values are subjective, so how can they possibly be judged on a simple scale of ‘how practising are you’ or ‘how often do you pray?’ To this Shahzad responded that the premise of Muzmatch is for any Muslim who wants to get married or anybody who wants to marry a Muslim.

“We don’t care how religious you are or how much of a ‘Muslim’ you would say you are, within the app we allow you to somehow express it and show some initial compatibility, I know plenty of girls who have said, if someone doesn’t pray at all, I’m not interested” says Shahzad.

Therefore the scales provide a simple foundation on which one can decide whether the person is religiously compatible or shares the same religious values.

Shahzad agrees with me that the problem in general with modern society is that we seem to have endless options for everything and you could argue that online doesn’t help that because when you have too much choice and things too readily available, it can become a problem as you never settle for someone because you think that ‘oh what if there’s someone better’.

But by the same token, he argues that marriage is such an imperative aspect of life that you want to be sure before you get into it.

Although common, many are embarrassed of signing up in fear of being labelled ‘desperate’ or simply paranoid about being noticed by someone they know.Screenshot (47)

Alif and Ain is a new online marriage platform that provides a completely anonymous
service with human matchmakers!

I spoke to the co-founder of the brilliant idea, Omar who told me that it all started on
Instagram. That’s how ‘Alif and Ain’ met. Aaminah, one of the co-founders, whose name begins with the letter ‘Alif’ in Arabic, met Omar, which begins with the letter ‘ain’ in Arabic met on Instagram and shortly got married.

They both realised there was a real crisis in the Muslim community when it came to marriage.

“We looked at all the other Muslim matrimonial sites, we went to events, and there was something that wasn’t right. The marketing wasn’t great, people felt embarrassed and awkward. People had doubts and serious reservations about joining an online service. We wanted to do something new, innovative, to get people married and have an online environment in which people felt comfortable. Thus, Alif and Ain was born.” Omar said.

There are three stages to how Alif and Ain works, after creating a profile you will be sent the profile of a potential spouse which includes their personality details etc chosen for you by human match makers. This will not include their name, photo or video at this stage.

Then if you both like each-other’s anonymous profile, you can request to see each-other’s video and photos. This request will only be accepted if you both show a mutual interest in each-other.

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Omar says the human match-making aspect gives it a more personal touch. “A robot doesn’t have a heart, or feelings, or gut instincts” he explains.

The feature video tells you so much more about someone than a photo, which may just be a lucky shot, often ending in awkward catfish scenarios.

“How much can a thumbnail sized image really tell you about someone? Very little-  The video, which only has to be between 10 – 30 seconds, gives you more of someone’s personality, their demeanour, characteristic, tone of voice etc, it’s bridging the gap between online and reality” says Omar

Alif And Ain aim to change the perspective that online is only for those who fail to find a match in the real world, and say there is no reason why it can’t be your first port of call when you’re looking to get married.

Some prefer the more tradition online websites such as Pure Matrimony which has reached 1500 success stories since its inception in 2010.

pm-logoI spoke to Arfa Saira Iqbal, Head of Pure Matrimony who says the big advantage with Pure Matrimony is that everyone you talk to is serious about their religion.

“You don’t need to waste time working out who is practising and who isn’t! We make people swear and testify by Allah they are telling the truth – and this in itself is a HUGE deterrent for those who want to mess around”.

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Arfa advises users to be clear about what they are looking for, and not to let attraction persuade you to look past someone’s faults or shortcomings. She says you should always keep your Family involved at all times for your own safety, and avoid speaking unnecessarily two people who clearly don’t fit your criteria.

“Finding the spouse is a proactive process – you have to actively be looking and not just sit there doing nothing, hoping the right person will fall out the sky!”

Sana, 24 and Hakim, 23 met on Muzmatch and got married shortly after. Although Sana had embarked on her search for a good couple of years, Hakim describes himself as ‘really lucky’ as he had found Sana after just one week on Muzmatch.

Did they both have an idea of what they wanted before they started their search? No.

“Personally I didn’t think I’d marry someone who wore a headscarf but after getting to know Sana and why she chose to wear it at a later stage in her life, I was happy about it”, says Hakim

Sana says “It’s funny because I showed Hakim an old biodata that I made and he got upset because he hardly matched my criteria. I knew what I wanted and I saw that in Hakim but it’s hard to translate in a bio-data or profile but His character outweighed everything.”

Online has certainly offered Muslims in Britain a solution for the overwhelming challenge of finding a spouse, it has undoubtedly admitted huge success, offering British Muslims a chance to take marriages matters in their own hands, rather than it being an affair which involves the whole family, not to mention the rishta aunties!

Some may even argue it makes it a lot easier for those whose family have a fixed criteria; you are able to alter your preferences accordingly. It all depends on what you’re after, there is an online platform tailored for every kind of Muslim!

But above all if you are embarking on your spouse-finding conquest, online or offline, be patient and remember this is real life. It’s not as simple as a pretty picture of a Muslim couple walking hand in hand peacefully through the gates of Jannah as they ‘complete half of each other’s deen’ It’s a lot more than that, and we sometimes forget that marriage is a lifelong commitment that requires a lot of thought so make sure you know what your signing yourself up for…literally!

This article also published on :

Browse for a spouse: The online Muslim matrimony industry

Jenni Steele: “Using the bricks of life to build your thrown”

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Magazine: Afro Sensation

Meet the amazing red-haired beauty Jenni Steele, recognised as a strong, inspirational mentor. I  was privileged to have Jenni Steele talk to me about her inspiring journey.

After enduring domestic violence as a teenager, she finally found the strength and courage to research her way out.

Finding the courage to walk away

“I was left very badly injured and after a heart to heart with a nurse I knew I could not go back this time…”

Re-building her self-worth was the first step Steele took towards her ever so remarkable journey. She was determined to support others who were living with abuse and that’s exactly what she did!

Her achievements are endless, from having her own Global entertainment show, to starting her own campaign and she’s even co-author of a book; this woman really has done it all!

Having gone through such a traumatic experience in her teenage hood, during her unhealthy relationship Jenni was unable to go to university. However, she explains that her success came from opportunities, creativity and networking.

Aspiring to inspire

Lioness ladies set up by Jennie Steele in 2009 is a unique network opportunity for women to socialise and promote business over dinner. Primarily formed to support women by allowing them to feel comfortable opening up to one another, this proved to be one of the first and most successful events of its kind.

 “Us women can achieve so much together, women supporting women is a must if we are going to create change for the future leaders”

Jenni’s vision slowly started taking shape; she had launched The Jenni Steele Foundation in March 2015, an organisation that believes in creating opportunities with a support network for the next generation of Leaders. The foundation has supported many young people through lectures, workshops and partnerships with other youth organisations, in order to provide a large platform for the youth.

She is now one of 12 co-authors on the book ‘Wounds of Wisdom,’ which is an empowering book about rebuilding your life after the trauma of Domestic violence.

“I have been given the chance to help break cycles for the next generations to come; turning a negative experience into a positive solution is such a blessing. It was not easy, I made it through the darkness… If I can, you can”

Positive vibes

Being a person that spreads positivity, how does Jenni deal with negative emotions?

“We all have ups and downs. I have more inspired moments than negative. By looking at how far I have come always inspires me to do more. My biggest inspiration and motivation is my children. If I am feeling tired I listen to music singing and dancing gives off good energy. My home is a music loving household… There is always music playing”

Jenni believes confidence is the key root of our soul and in order to be confident you must learn to love yourself and believing in yourself is a must… as Jennie says- If you don’t why would anyone else?

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“Away from the mic I love shoes my favourite comfy bold leopard print heels glam up nice with my red painted toes”

“Be good to yourself recognise your strengths and develop them. This will not only help you improve your skills but also your confidence in your own abilities.”

Talking about confidence, how stunning is Jenni’s red hair?! Red hair has become Jennie’s trademark; she can’t go anywhere without being recognised

“Red hair chose me, I love it, and I have been a red head for about 18 months, its healthy and growing, possibly because it’s not relaxed with lots of treatments in between colouring. I won’t be going back to black for now!”

Time / diary management is the key for Jenni! Her children are young adults now so it’s easier, but when they were younger she had to choose jobs wisely so they had their time together.

“We have great family time, the same support and advice I give to the community I give to my children first! Again breaking cycles that run in many people’s family where parents work so hard they don’t bond with their children. That is not happening in my home…”

Onwards and upwards

Jenni is thankful for her journey, from being a victim of domestic violence to creating a life full of amazing, positive experiences: seeing her children become young adults, working hard, achieving and living her purpose are the highlights of her journey so far.

So having done so much throughout her life to date, whats next for Jenni?

“My personal book is coming 2017 and the world is my Oyster anything is possible!”

If you or your friend fear your partner then you need to talk to someone. DVUK.org offer support services on their website.

You can call the National DV Helpline 24/7 on 0808 2000 247.

If you don’t feel comfortable with the above you can contact Jenni directly on officialjennisteele@gmail.com she would be more than happy to help!

 

 

 

Power of Patience

Timer-686x350We live in a generation so fast paced that we expect too much from the world in a short period of time; we expect quick results, reactions and resolutions. The importance of patience is fading away from the aspects of life in which we need it the most. The word patience (sabr) has been mentioned in the Holy Quran around 90 times, therefore it is not something that should be overlooked but rather it is an element that needs to be embedded into our daily lives and in every single thing we do. By learning how to implement patience into our daily lives, we will begin to open doors that we never knew existed.

It might be easier if we break patience down into three different types; the first type of patience in Islam is the endurance needed to fulfil the commands of Allah, the second is the ability and intention to abstain from that which has been prohibited and lastly, the one which we tend to focus most on is patience when calamity befalls upon us. However it is important to know al all three types of patience are equally important and need the same attention in order to live a tranquil life.

Allah has mentioned patience alongside pillars of Islam and Imaan. Patience is mentioned in the Quran alongside righteous actions, gratitude, compassion, faith and truth. Therefore in order to fulfil these attributes one must adopt endurance into their attitude whilst faithfully fulfilling the commands of Allah.

1. Righteous actions:

 “Except for those who are patient and do righteous deeds; those will have forgiveness and great reward.” [Hud 11:11];

2. Gratitude:

“…Verily in this are Signs for everyone who patiently perseveres and is grateful” [ash-Shura 42:33];

3. Compassion:

“…And then being among those who believed and advised one another to patience and advised one another to compassion.…” [al-Balad 90:17];

4. Faith:

“…And We made from among them leaders guiding by Our command when they were patient and [when] they were certain of Our signs” [as-Sajdah 32:24];

5. Truth:

“…the truthful men and truthful women, the patient men and patient women…”[al-Ahzab 33:35].

How ignorant would we be if we expected good to come to us when we hinder our own paths? Restraining oneself from what has been prohibited is a sign of strong faith and patience. Take the famous story of when Prophet Yusuf (AS) for example, who was faced with his second trial, seduced by the chief ministers wife, instead of taking advantage of this temptation, Prophet Yusuf (AS) held back from what had been prohibited for him. This is one of many examples of how patience is used to hold back from sins.

And she, in whose house he was, sought to seduce him (to do an evil act), she closed the doors and said: “come on, O you.” He said: “I seek refuge in Allah (or Allah forbid)! Truly he (your husband) is my master! He made my stay agreeable! (So I will never betray him). Verily, the Zalimun (wrong, evildoers) will never be successful.” Indeed she did desire him and he would have inclined to her desire had he not seen the evidence of his Lord. Thus it was, that We might turn away from evil and illegal sexual intercourse. Surely, he was one of Our chosen, guided slaves. (Ch 12:23-24)

In this story it is clear that the Prophet Yusuf’s (AS) fear of Allah had been present throughout and through patience, he was able to remind himself in such an alluring situation that he must resist for the sake of Allah. Therefore it is vital to have patience during temptations; after all we have been placed on this earth to be tested, it’s how we react to the test that counts.

Lastly, we all face hardships in life -that is the nature of the world; we go through ups and downs, highs and lows. However what seems to be the issue amongst us today is that we only ever remind each other to be patient when we face struggles. We need patience throughout our lives, no matter what it is. Calamities are placed into our lives, only to by the will of Allah, and He does not burden a soul more than it can bear. Therefore we must trust and surrender to the will of Allah, with a heart full of hope, knowing that this difficulty is for our own self growth and will help us become closer to Our creator if we face it with patience and faith.

The prophet The Prophet (SAW) said:

“How wonderful is the affair of the believer, for his affairs are all good, and that does not apply for anyone except the believer. If something good happens to him he gives thanks, and that is good for him; if something bad happens to him he bears it with patience, and that is good for him.”

Saheeh Muslim, 2999

Always remember that your patience will never go unrewarded whether it is in this life or the next. The reward of every deed is known except for patience, imagine being amongst those who the angels will salute on the day of judgement- yes those will be the people of patience.

“…And the angels will enter upon them from every gate, [saying],”Peace be upon you for what you patiently endured. And excellent is the final home.” [ar-Ra’d 13:23-24].

Islamophobia Unveiled

as

A few years ago I had interviewed a very inspirational woman for one of my assignments at university -Ahlam Saeed, who at the time was a student at the University of Roehampton, aged 22 but is now 25.

To my surprise, as I scrolled down on The Evening Standard website, I came across an article where I had noticed Ahlam’s name mentioned under the title”Women subjected to Anti Muslim abuse while trying to buy sweets in London newsagent”. I was in shock; it was the same Ahlam I had interviewed about 2 years ago

Ahlam was verbally abused by a man at her local news agent; she was allegedly called “Batman” for wearing a niqaab. Ahlam, being the brave individual I know was courageous enough to record the verbal abuse as it happened and soon the footage was shared amongst different platforms of social media

The man, who was with two young children, could be heard saying: “My kids can’t even see your face, who the f*** are you? Are you a man or woman?”

Despite his young children watching the dispute the man repeatedly swore at Ahlam asking “why are you wearing that” referring to her niqaab. “Are you ISIS” he asks

This video was very frustrating for me to watch. Having spoken to Ahlam before I felt inspired by her decision to wear the full face veil and received such a positive aura from the things we spoke about.

But it frustrates me, not only because I’ve spoken to Ahlam before, but the fact that cases of verbal and physical Islamophobic abuse are becoming more and more common in a country which used to encourage multiculturalism and respect for all religions.

Unfortunately, the visual representation of Muslim women who wear the hIjab or niqaab, are the ones who are more likely to face this kind of abuse, not only because they are most vulnerable but because they are the most obvious representations of Muslims.

It is upsetting that the way one chooses to dress has such a negative impact on a person’s perception of another. How quick was this man to attach negative connotations to a woman he has never met, a woman who was simply minding her own business?

As Ahlam said in the video “I’m not going to keep quiet due to your ignorance” and that is exactly what needs to be done, people like this man and many other racist and Islamophobic individuals cannot keep getting away with such hurtful remarks.

I will end with something that Ahlam had said to me during my interview with her

 “The way I dress is my voice, why should something on my face completely put me in the dark and differentiate me from you”

 

Watch the video on:

 

 

#PlacesYoullPray- There’s Always a Place to Pray

"The first time I prayed here was in 7th grade with about 15 other brothers. At first, it was awkward praying in the courts, but after some time, it felt like every other salah at the masjid."

In a world where social media makes sharing our lives easier than ever, the doors of distractions and reminders  become equally open. By having our feed clogged up with swathes of  pictures of meals, outings and friends, we often forget to feed our souls. As Muslims, a spiritual connection with our Creator is key to life’s successes which is accomplished through our Salah.

‘Places You’ll Pray’ has become a well known hash tag on social media across the globe. Places. You’ll. Pray.These three words merged together in a hash tag, will bring you real life pictures of people performing their Salah in different places around the world. Salah- the second pillar of Islam, lays the foundation of our religion and should be fulfilled 5 times a day at all times, seeing Muslims around the world performing their Salah in various locations on social media is a great way for the Ummah to connect, as the powerful photographs speak for themselves. Whether it is in a library, on the street or in a changing room, this hash tag explores the wide possibilities of places you can pray. It is hard to believe that what started as a small project has now become a universal connection for many.

tree tops park

Tree Tops Park

“Prayer for me used to be just like something I had to do, like one of the five obligations, but as I got older and I guess especially now that I’m in college, prayer is one of the things that’s most familiar to me and it’s kind of like one of the times of the day, or one of the five times of day I have peace of mind. It relaxes me and it keeps me stable because that’s honestly the only stable thing (really) in our lives.”

"The first time I prayed here was in 7th grade with about 15 other brothers. At first, it was awkward praying in the courts, but after some time, it felt like every other salah at the masjid."

Ivanhoe Basketball Courts

“The first time I prayed here was in 7th grade with about 15 other brothers. At first, it was awkward praying in the courts, but after some time, it felt like every other salah at the masjid.”

Sana Ullah, an American Bangladeshi, is the mastermind behind this brilliant idea! Sana started the ‘Places You’ll Pray’ project in January 2015 as an initiative for fellow Americans to pray and embrace their faith. Her passion for visual storytelling and her constant need to produce stories is what lead to the creation of ‘Places You’ll Pray’. She is currently pursuing a Masters Degree in New Media photojournalism at George Washington University’s Corcoran College.

She explains:

“Whilst Post-processing may be exaggerated at times and Instagram filters can often be abundantly used, the idea behind of these images is not to pose the subject and flaunt ones blessings, but rather to share with the world how easy it is to be a Muslim as well as spark healthy, educated conversations about religion, spirituality and Islam”

sanaullah photography

Seen praying inside the UN headquarters in New York, USA

Sana’s project is not only interesting and visually stimulating, but it is also a much needed reminder that the remembrance of God should have no excuse, no matter where you are in the world…

 “Verily, man was created impatient, irritable when evil touches him and ungenerous when good touches him.  Except for those devoted to Salah those who remain constant in their Salahs…” (Quran 70:19-23)