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Community

One of the things I really love about Egypt is the sense of community.  Maybe it is due to the lay out of the city and the close proximity of housing.  Or perhaps its just part of the culture that doesn’t have the same value of individualism that you tend to find in the west.  Whatever it, I am touched by people’s willingness to help one another in ways that I have never really seen before elsewhere.

Life is very different here in Egypt as compared to how things are in Australia. Generally speaking, in Australia you leave your house, hop into your car, and you’re away. However, the process of leaving your home is quite different in Egypt.  Going out usually involves going down several flights of stairs, during which you are likely to bump into somebody. When you leave your block of flats somewhere nearby there will be a corner store, another shop of some kind, all with a store owner and possibly even a group of locals who congregate outside. All people you are likely to see on a daily basis, people you will greet, and people you will form a bond with.

You don’t really notice the bond until something happens. The arrival of gas truck brings to life the group of men who congregate in the street, they help out by passing on the orders of those too far away to be heard. A traffic jam brings out a man from the take away shop across the road, he is still wearing his apron as he directs the traffic and allows it to flow once more. Last but not least,  sending my 6 year old son across the road to help him learn some independence resulted in the man from the local corner store leaving his store unmanned to hold his hand while he crossed the road with him, ensuring his safety. It was nice to see him go to the same store that I had gone to countless times as a child.  The store hasn’t changed a bit, Ummi Gabra has only aged slightly, but now he was serving the new generation.

What is even more inspirational is learning of people’s generosity.  With the lack of any real social security system there is a lot of poverty and hardship in Egypt.  Perhaps personally knowing people in need is both more humbling and more rewarding than donating to people who you will never see or know.  Of those more fortunate, there are some who will give monthy salaries to those in need.  They personally know these families, watch them grow, and are happy to help out when there are extra expenses to be met.  Its a constant reminder that the only thing that prevents us from being in that situation is the blessings that Allah has given us, and we will be questioned as to what we did with them.  Did we let our neighbours go hungry while we filled our stomachs?  Did we force them to lose their dignity and beg in the streets?  Or did we share our blessings and support them, and watch their children grow up until they were able to take over and support themselves?  Its a constant reminder to never forget those less fortunate than ourselves.

The older generation here speak like there is no longer a sense of community.  They speak of a time when neighbours were like family, constantly passing on plates of food to one another, caring for one another’s children, helping one another out in times of need, and most importantly, always being there for one another.  Its sad that today’s community, a community which in their eyes is a pale comparison of its former glory, to me is a community of warmth and generosity that I have never seen the likes of.  It also saddens me that my children, like myself, will probably never know what its like to grow up surrounded by people who will always look out for them.  The harsh reality is that most the people they are surrounded by probably won’t even know their name.

In our search of material thing, the need for yet more money, our busy lifestyles, our bigger houses and our quest for complete independence we have lost something very special, something we can probably never get back.  I wonder how many of our social ills are directly related to this?

Nowadays, there is a new trend moving towards community once again,  but this involves different type of communities – online communities.  Those who have never been part of one will dismiss them a not real, empty, and meaningless.  However, those of us who have been fortunately enough to have been a part of a caring online community have seen the positives – the friendships, the generosity and the sense of belonging.  Like most things online, it will never be exactly the same as those in the real world, it will have some advantages and some disadvantages, but for most of us we don’t get to chose.

The world is changing rapidly, and as I watch my children grow with things around them, thing which at their age I had never even imagined, I wonder how different things will be when they are my age, and what their children will have.  Technology is leading the way to a different world, I only hope that our destination is a better place.

Home is Where the Fires Are

Bismillahi ir-rahman ir-rahim – In the name of Allah, most gracious, most mercifu

A few days ago I woke up to the news of the bush fires in Victoria. Hour by hour I heard of the growing death toll and I read of the death and destruction. It is difficult for me to comprehend that such a peaceful place is currently facing so much devastation. It feels strange for me to be away at this time, almost like being away from your family at their time of need. It has forced me to realise that no matter what happens, Australia is, and always will be the place I call home.

I know for most this would go without saying – the country where you were born and lived your entire life, would naturally be the country you would call home. For the vast majority of my life I would have agreed. However, after September 11th that all changed. Its difficult to truly feel at home when you don’t feel welcome. When your government seems to go against everything you believe in, when you are regularly told to go back to where you came from, and when you constantly hear stories of those like you, Muslimah’s in hijab, being abused, both verbally and physically, merely for their attempts to live their lives modestly and piously.

I have always known that some people hate Muslims, that has never been in doubt. But occasionally, when I hear or read the opinions of not only one or two people, but sometimes that of the majority…I am truly in shock. I sometimes find myself walking in the streets and shopping centres, looking around and wondering how many passers by despise me just because I am Muslim.

Its not that I ever stopped thinking of Australia as my home, but it wasn’t quite the same. Like many other thousands of other Muslims in Australia, whether we are migrants, born here, or our families have been here for generations – we have all been made to feel unwelcome.

However, news of the bush fires, and the desire to return home in our hour of need has made me realise that despite everything, despite what anybody thinks and feels about me, Australia will always be the place I call home.

Beyond the ashes there is hope. Hope that we can put our differences aside and try to make life that little bit easier for those mourning the loss of loved ones. Hope that we can put our differences aside and unite to help the thousands left homeless. And hope that we can unite to do everything in our power to plan and prepare to try to avoid this scale of destruction from ever occuring again.

Let not the deaths be in vain. Not only do we need to review our fire procedures and learn from what has occured, but also this is an opportunity to become a pivotal moment in our history and to learn to put our difference aside to work together for a greater cause.

I hope that through this ordeal, others who may have previously viewed us with disdain, will come to realise that we are humans, and like them we have also shed a tear for those who have lost their lives and those who have lost their homes. We have been just as affected and touched by the current events as the next person, and just as both individuals and community groups in Australia have pulled together to donate and help in whatever way they can, so too has the Muslim community within Australia.

The Prophet (may Allah’s peace & blessings be upon him) said, “The most beloved people to Allah are those who are most beneficial to the people.” Let us be among those who are the most beloved to Allah, and hopefully our attempts to fulfil our Islamic obligations will help the wider community realise that Islam and Muslims are not the enemy.

Has the world gone mad?

Bismillahi ir-rahman ir-rahim – In the name of Allah, most gracious, most merciful

When I was a little girl I had a Barbie doll.  I think she was the only genuine Barbie I ever had and oh how I loved her!  I had to beg and beg my parents to make the purchase.  I still remember the day they finally caved in, I must have been the happiest girl in the world. I spent countless hours with my new prized possession, trying her out in her various pink outfits, her high heels, and her diamond earrings.  I longed for her beautiful blue eyes and long blonde hair, but that is not all I longed for.

Barbie had become everything I wanted to be.  She was a role model that instilled in me a desire to possess nothing more than empty beauty.  No dreams, no aspirations, no goals – all I wanted to achieve was to be beautiful like Barbie.  It mattered little to me whether she was good or bad.  Inside beauty meant nothing – outside beauty was everything.  And of course I could never live up to that goal, after all I did not have the blonde hair and blue eyes that not only my Barbie possessed, but that almost every doll in my possession had. It is not something that I thought day and night about at a conscious level, but I do remember feeling sadness as a little girl with the knowledge that I could never be what I aspired to be.

I now have two little girls of my own, the older one is almost 4, and our baby is one.  They are blessed with everything that little girl wanted to be – they are blonde haired, blue eyed, and beautiful.  It has been many years since that little girl grew up, and I have since developed many different goals, but I am sadly conscious of a small part of me that is happy for them that they are naturally what I so desired to be.

As a result of the effect that dolls had on me as a child, I have become weary of the role and influence dolls have on little girls.  I am very careful with the dolls I purchase for them.  I do not want them growing up thinking that this is the only form of beauty there is.  Not only are other different shapes and colours equally (and sometimes even more) beautiful, but I also want my girls knowing that superficial beauty means little, and that what is important is that they are beautiful on the inside.

So I’m sure you can imagine how I feel about Bratz dolls.  I don’t think hate is a strong enough word to describe how I feel about them, I totally loathe them!!  Perhaps I am reading a little too much into this, perhaps their promiscuous clothing are not as obvious to little girls.  But then I remember when I was a little girl, how people underestimated me, how people dismissed me, how they didn’t realise I understood what they were saying, and how I sensed things beyond my comprehension despite not really understanding them fully.  Children are very smart, much smarter than most give them credit for.  They are like little sponges, absorbing everything around them.  Although they will not immediately look at a Bratz doll and interpret it like an adult, they may think that dressing like that is more fun, they may even notice that those who dress like that will attract more attention, and most likely they will want to dress like them…they will want to be like them in every way, just like I wanted to be everything that Barbie was.

Sadly, however, it doesn’t end there.  There is now a Bratz doll with the word “enter” on her belt.  Apparently a representative explained it as being like a seat belt, an explanation you might swallow if you were dealing in a cute innocent doll with pink frills.  A picture of the doll (as well as the story) can be viewed here, and I think most would agree that you would have to be a little more than naive to buy that explanation.

So where will this end?  Perhaps in the future we will have little girls playing with dolls dressed in lingerie ?  Where do we draw the line? And when will doll manufacturers take responsibility for something beyond the number of dolls they selll??  Little girls need to play innocently with dolls without the pressure to be something they are not, and certainly without sexually suggestive messages.  Childhood should be a time of innocence, let them play innocently without these adult concepts that will change their worlds forever.  It seems that with each passing day its getting more and more difficult for children to retain this innocence, but I for one will be doing everything in my power to let my children just enjoy being children for as long as I possibly can.

One body?

Bismillahi ir-rahman ir-rahim – In the name of Allah, most gracious, most merciful

There’s a hadith that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.  Day and night – I cant stop thinking about it.  I wish I could say otherwise, but the thought of it pains me.  Not because of the hadith itself -  on the contrary, it is a beautiful hadith that shows the special bond between believers, the love we have for eachother, the dedication to one another, and the unity of purpose.  The real reason behind my sadness is because as an ummah today we fall so very short of this ideal.

The similitude of believers in regard to mutual love, affection, fellow-feeling is that of one body; when any limb of it aches, the whole body aches, because of sleeplessness and fever. (Muslim)

I can’t help but ask me self over and over again…how many of us are aching..truly aching??  How many of us feel pain??  And more importantly, as an ummah, what are we doing about it?

Its with a heavy heart that I sit here, in the country that once boasted of its military might, still calls itself the “mother of the world” and yet I see nothing but apathy.  Yes, most people are not happy about the situation in Gaza…many are making dua, many are donating, and some are striving in the cause in whichever way they can.  But where is the so called mighty Egyptian army?  Not only do they not help their brothers and sisters, but they are actually policing the border to ensure that no Palestinians can escape the massacre, and no goods can be brought in to help their brothers and sisters.  I honestly don’t know how they can sleep at night.

People aren’t happy…but really feeling pain would entail the willingness to make some sacrifices to eliminate the pain, but that’s just not happening here.  I speak to people, and I hear the same sentiments.  ‘If the other Arab nations think that opening the border is such a great idea, why don’t they open their borders??’  ‘Its just the excuse that Israel is looking for to attack Egypt.’  Although they are not saying it directly, I keep reading the same words between the lines  “better them than us”.  

My Arabic teacher was telling me an interesting story the other day.  I can’t remember it exactly word for word, but it goes something like this.

There was a wolf and three sheep; a red sheep, a black sheep, and a white sheep.  The wolf naturally desired to devour the sheep, but as they were three and he was one, he was powerless to do so.

One day when the black and white sheep were grazing alone, he approached them.  “The red sheep is so bright, he will attract the attention of preditors…he is putting your lives at risk!  Why don’t you let me help you and get rid of him for you?”  The black and white sheep thought about it, he was right, the red sheep was rather bright, and it was possible that he would bring them danger.  And so they agreed.

The next week the white sheep was grazing on his own when the wolf approached him:  “You know that black sheep is a bit eye catching as well, you’d do much better if you were on your own without having to worry about any attention he may attract.  How about you let me take care of him for you?”   Fearing for himself the white sheep thought he may have had a point.  And so he agreed.

Then there was only the white sheep.  The wolf approached him one day, ready to devour him. Alone and vulnerable the white sheep realised that he would be powerless against the wolf.  “But we had a deal!” he cried.  The wolf replied “You made this possible the day you allowed me to kill the red sheep”.

Let us not be like the white sheep, plotting with our enemies, and sitting idly while our enemy devours and slaughters our brothers and sisters.  All the while we take comfort in the fact that it is not us that they are after.  But we need to ask ourselves…who do you think they’ll come for next?

It reminds me of a famous quote, ironically written about Nazi Germany:

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak out for me.

They have successfully divided us through artificial borders, nationalism, sects, and petty differences.  Each group focuses on themselves and disassociates themselves from one another in order to acheive some imaginary benefit, and thus we become  weaker and weaker.

I don’t care what colour you are, where you’re from, or if you have a differences of opinions – we need to stand together and unite.  We have a common book, a common belief, and a common cause. We need to once again remember the words of our beloved prophet, we are but one body, now how about we start acting like it?

Touching Base

A lot of time has gone by since my last entry, more than I’d realised. A lot has happened during that time, which is why I stayed away for so long.  My husband and I are not spontaneous people, but we did something rather spontaneous.  It was a big move, and due to the lack of time and planning I was extremely nervous about making it.  Not for myself, but when you have three kids aged between six and one, last minute decisions like this can be very nerve racking.  In fact it was so nerve racking that I was very tempted to just dismiss the idea, to play it safe and just continue as we were.  I remember laying in bed thinking about the countless things that could go wrong.  But then I would think about the huge potential for great benefit, and remind myself that very little is acheived through playing it easy.  In order to acheive things in life you have to work hard, you have to get out of your comfort zone, and you have to take risks.  Not that what I am hoping to acheive is something remarkable, on the contrary, I consider it a bare essential, and am quite ashamed of the fact that I never took any concrete moves to remedy the situation.  So in the end I turned to Allah, I prayed istikhara, and put myself in His ‘hands’.

So now I’m sitting here typing this from Egypt.  Due to our circumstances we realised that we had an opportunity to spend a decent amount of time here, an opportunity that may never come again, or at least for a long time – so we took it.  We have hired Arabic tutors and are focusing our time on improving our Arabic.  Alhumdulilah there has been a big improvement, but there is so much more to be done.  The kids have met their relatives that they didn’t know, and their arabic which varied from avoidance to non-existance is getting so much better alhumdulilah.

It hasn’t all been smooth sailing though, I’m getting quite home sick.  I’m feeling quite trapped here and feel like I have lost my independence.  Not because of the culture or society here, but because of my lack of experience within it.  I dont know my way around, I dont know how to buy things, what they’re called, how to describe them, or if they infact exist here.  I wouldn’t even think about attempting to go out on my own with the kids, even though in Australia this is not normally an issue.  My relatives have been great, always ringing up and checking up on us, constantly asking me if I want anything.  The problem is that I’m used to doing everything by myself, I’m used to going out, looking around, deciding what I want, and doing it MYSELF.  Its not easy asking for help when you are accustomed to doing everything yourself.  I never really thought of myself as somebody who was overly independent, but I guess sometimes when you are in a different environment you reliase things about yourself that you never knew.  I am happy to hang in there until we are due to leave, after all I still have a lot of work to do, and its not that much longer.  However it certainly has been a learning experience for me, its made me realise how much people sacrifice who make hijrah, and its made me realise that its not as easy as I may have initially thought.  Alhumdulilah I am so glad we chose to do it though.  My Arabic has improved immensely (not to mention that of my husband), my kids have experienced a different culture, got to meet their extended family, strengthened their arabic, and I have had the opportunity to spend time with my family who mean so much to me.

The place we are staying at is my parents flat.  Its not a horrible place or anything, but its certainly not what I’m accustomed to.  The beds are terribly hard and uncomfortable.  The water pressure is quite appalling, showers seem to involve drops of water falling upon you.  Ok…so there are lots of drops, but its a world away from the showers we have back in Australia.  Then there was the running out of gas while in the shower, the timing was of course perfect, I was sick, frozen, and had shampoo in my hair.  Alhumdulilah we had an spare gas cylinder.

Gas is quite the drama here.  Something that I don’t think twice about in Australia, and here its such an issue, or at least it was yesterday.  Its not like Egypt is in the dark ages, half of Alexandria do have gas coming into through houses through pipes.  But being in Egypt, things dont really run as smoothly as they should.  I dont know if its politics or lack of organisation, probably a bit of both, but for some reason the other half of Alexandria are still to get their gas.  Its been years, not sure how long…five, maybe ten years.

Yesterday we completely ran out of gas.  It was quite scarey….no hot water, no cooking, but then again that part wasnt that bad.  It made me reflect on what our brothers and sisters go through in Gaza.  Not just now but permanently.  Even when they’re not being slaughtered by the hundreds, they often suffer from a shortage of vital resources.  They live lives of constant fear, frustration and uncertainty.  And here I am, some spoilt girl from the west, panicking because I had to put up with no gas for a few hours.  I realised two things from this, firstly, that I’m not as grateful to Allah as I should be about the blessings He has given us, and secondly, that I’m not doing enough to help our brothers and sisters who are not as fortunately as us, both in Gaza and in other parts of the world.

It wasn’t easy for us to get more gas.  We’d been keeping an ear out for the gas men for a good couple of weeks but had gotten nowhere.  Yesterday, due to my panicked state, I decided I would be in and out of the balcony all day till the gas guys came.  Alhumdulilah the first time I went out there, their ute pulled up within about 30 seconds.  Not wanting to scream out from the balcony I ran in to get my husband do the job.  My husband immediately leaves whatever it was that he was doing and runs out to the balcony with me where he yells out “ANBUBA” (I know I should, but I can’t remember the exact translation for this, but its the word for the gas cylinder, or the cylinder itself).  Based on the looks we got from everybody clearly he didn’t say what he was meant to say.  To get their attention he was meant to say “ya bata3 al anabeeb” roughly translated as “gas cylinder man!!”.  So the gas guy looks at us with this perplexed look on his face when my husband clarifies his order.  My cousin who lives in the flat below us, realising our lack of abilities with these things offers to do it for us, but it was ok, we’d already ordered, it was all happening.  I was so excited, we were getting gas!!

Now I don’t know if people realise how heavy these things are, but they weigh a tonne!  Well maybe not literally a tonne, but they’re very heavy.  But these gas guys fling them around like they’re toothpicks.  The man coming up with our order put one on his back, grabbed another one with his free hand, swung it around to gain some momentum before flinging it ontop of the original cylinder on his back, balancing them both there while walking up the three flights of stairs.

Due to an apparent shortage of gas cylinders the poor guys at the ute were now being harassed.  There were about 5 people around them asking for gas, followed by another 5-10 people calling out from various directions from their balconies, some were getting quite frustrated, after all, if you’re out of gas like we were things get quite desperate!  Local men who were hanging out in the street were helping others out by relaying their orders onto the gas men and pointing them out.  It was quite the spectacle.  I’m sure it was just annoying and mundane to the locals, but to us foreigners it was quite entertaining.  One thing for sure is that I’ll never look at gas in the same way again.

Thats one of the important things I really hope to gain from my time here.  How often do you hurt something you normally think of as so insignificant – a pinky finger perhaps – only to help put things into perspective and to help you realise the countless blessings that Allah has bestowed upon you?  I think my time here will help me acheive that.  Last time I was here after hajj, I went back to Australia and felt like I was going back to a five star luxury home.  Now my home is nothing special, alhumdulilah I am happy with it, but its not luxurious by Australian standards.  However, after growing accustomed to ‘harsher’ conditions you learn to really appreciate what you have.  What scares me is that we tend to only really appreciate our blessings once we have them removed.  Then when things are back to normal we take things for granted again.  Insha’allah my experience will insite a life long change in me, a greater appreciation for everything that Allah has blessed me with, and a greater determination to try to make a difference to those who are less fortunate.

Staying focused

Well I’m back, not that I really went anywhere, but I had a bit of a break.  It wasn’t planned or anything, it wasn’t one of those things where people say “i have to stay away to take care of other things”, it was just that I got so caught up with other things that I either forgot, didn’t have time, and yes even couldn’t be bothered.

Its not that I don’t enjoy blogging, I do, thats what has kept me going this long.  Not that I’m a veteran blogger or anything, but I wouldnt have lasted as long as I have had I not gotten anything out of it.  Theres something about it that makes me reflect on my life in ways that I normally wouldn’t, and through doing so I learn things about myself that I wouldn’t normally, or at become more aware of them.

Over the past few days, prompted by a lovely sister who made me realise that somebody out there actually noticed my silence, I have been thinking about coming back.  I have to admit that part of me thought it might be best to stay away for good, it does take a fair bit of my time, time that could be spent better.  But in all honesty, if I ask myself what have I be doing with that time saved, late at night, when the kids are in bed ….Have I been organising things?  Have I been engaging in worship?  Have I been sleeping earlier to ensure my body is well rested?  Unfortunately it is none of the above, at least not on a regular basis.  I have been doing stuff. A little bit here, a little bit there, nothing to show for it.  At least with my blog I have something, a record of my thoughts and views, insight to how I will grow and change.  And insha’allah an avenue through which people can come to understand more about the life of an everyday muslimah.

The past few days have reminded me of something that I am reminded of time and again, my inability to stay focused on things.  When I was young I’d often hear about these teens who’s interests changed like the wind.  They were never focused, kept changing their minds, and wasted a whole heap of time and money through their ever changing pursuits.  Strangely enough I was not one of these teens.  I was quite well grounded as a teen.  I knew what I wanted, and I worked hard to achieve it.  Not that everything went according to plan, it never does, but I was very determined and very focused.

As far as I understand for most people this is a phase that ends around early adulthood.  However, for me, it seems quite the opposite.  I was fine as an adolescent, but over the past few years I have noticed that I lack focus.  Ok maybe I’m a little bit past the category of early adulthood, but you get the idea. My interest drifts from one thing to the other, every time I insist that this will be different and I’ll see it through…but everytime without fail I let myself down.  I’m not entirely sure why.  Have I changed?  Or is it circumstances that make it so difficult for me to see things through?  When I was younger it was easy.  My job was to wake up, eat, drink, and do whatever I wanted to do.  So it was easy to achiive what I wanted to, I mean what else was there for me to do?

But now its different.  I wake up…actually no I don’t even have that luxury anymore.  I am woken up by a baby who is either jumping on me or pulling my hair for about 15 minutes before I finally resign myself to the fact that I am not likely to get anymore sleep.  I then proceed to make the kids breakfast, get us all dressed and ready for wherever we have to go, usually school.  I come home and clean the kitchen, fold the washing, do more washing, clean and tidy, hang the washing out, prepare lunch, get my son from school, do homework, prepare dinner, showers, read to the kids, get them all off to bed.  It is seldom that I have some time to do something for myself.  Even picking up a book to read is a rare luxury when the kids are awake.  And by the time they head off to bed I am so exhausted that I just want to relax and do nothing.

So part of me can understand how I got here, but it doesn’t make it less frustrating.  There is so much I want to do, so much I am interested in, but so little time. But I often wonder, am I the only mother like this.  Often other mothers seem so together and so organised, but I have learnt that looks can be deceiving.  I know I should just cherish this time, my children will only be young once, and they grow up so fast, I should just saviour their childhoods.  And don’t get me wrong, I love it.  Seeing them grow and develop, I can’t begin to explain how beautiful this is, how it fills my heart with more love and joy than I thought possible.  But at the same time I wonder if I was just a little more organised, a little more focused, would I be able to see things through?

I think there are some small steps that I can easily take that I will look to do.  Firstly, I will note a couple of things I will like to acheive before the end of the year.  I will also look into GTD again, I have everything I need now so no excuses, I just have to find the book lol  And last but of course not least I will make dua for allah to bless my time and to help me with my organisation.

Hopefully this blog entry is not a one off, and I’ll be posting regularly again.