My Horriblest Ramadan Ever

A few months before Ramadan this year, a couple of good friends confided in me that their Ramadans are always horrible. Always. One friend’s husband is a smoker and every Ramadan she has to deal with his nicotine withdrawal, which includes irrational-like grumpiness and downright cruelness with both his words and actions. She’s spends her Ramadans waiting for the moment when he inhales so she can exhale. The other friend spends the entire month attempting to please the high needs and demands of her in-laws and husband. She cooks, cleans and serves at a break-neck constant pace throughout the month, while receiving a constant stream of nit-picking and frequent reminders that her lack of a cheerful demeanor indicates that she is not happily providing servitude to her family for the sake of Allah. Of course friend #2 isn’t able to perform any of the special Ramadan acts of ibadah which most of us look forward to and she is belittled for her failings there as well.

Wow, I was truly shocked as I had never had a bad Ramadan. Sure, sure I get a little pre-Ramadan anxious about the food and not having access to the food at regular intervals, but while I still have those feelings every year, after my first few fasts I knew that the hunger and thirst were truly not that bad. It’s mostly the unusual scheduling that Ramadan brings that I have found most difficult and more difficult each year as I have more children, now in all stages. This past Ramadan I had six kids ranging from a (greedy) breastfeeding baby of 14 months to a 14.5 year old teen who has fasted full Ramadans for a few years. As our family grows and our home environments change, the last few years I have found it helpful to have family meetings about what we all anticipate to happen and want to be doing during Ramadan. In Ramadans past this has helped me to recognize the needs of and prepare for our different styles of Ramadan, such as the years my husband took the boys to community iftars every night (heavenly years where I opted out of the stuffy, windowless sisters’ room and stayed home enjoying the quiet!) and the years we lived with my sister-in-law who has a very rigid Ramadan schedule which she stuck to even with seven people added into her household.

This year I was to be alone with the kids for the first couple of weeks of Ramadan as my husband had planned to be gone, so I sat down with the kids to discuss their expectations. I had hoped to help the three fasting older boys to understand that the iftar spread does not magically appear on the table and to accept that if that’s what they wanted (who doesn’t want a little feast at mahgrib?), then they would have to help to get it together. I had also hoped to illicit some empathy out of them, to get them to understand that in addition to fasting along with them and doing the managerial work of the suhoors and iftars, I also have younger children who would be keeping more regular schedules and would need supervision throughout the days as well as to be fed. Their response: nada. One son offered that he wanted “cake every day” and being the sincere (and previously a retail baker) kind of mom I am, I jumped at that suggestion and did bake cakes very regularly during the month. But when it came to addressing schedules- who would do what and when- forget about. They gave me groans and want-you-dead stares.

Some people might chalk this mis/lack of communication to typical mannish ways, but in hindsight- after an unusually horrid month with them, I think there was something else at play there. I think that they were having their own Ramadan anxieties and rather than work with me, they opted to just opt out. They closed down. I did try a second and third time to get them to “visualize our Ramadan together”, but again I got nothing.

Mistake #1

Ever heard the saying that “Expectations are unrealized resentments”? I expected my sons to empathise with me about the increased workload that Ramadan brings, and I expected them to help. Ha! Now, maybe some of you have perfectly perky children who upon waking every morning, happily refer to their to-do list and then systematically work through it, checking off their tasks as they accomplish them before rewarding themselves with a gold star or a game of Angry Birds. For the rest of us, I’ll randomly estimate, billions of parents the world over and throughout the ages- we suffer what is known as The Chore Wars. Beating, bribing, begging- to each their own how they deal with it, but a week or so into Ramadan I sought support and commiseration from some of my sister-girlfriends and lo and behold our kids were worse during Ramadan! Many people’s otherwise delightful children metamorphosed into bitter, resentful, heel and palm dragging, tantrum throwing beasts. And of course we all noted with horror that if Shaytan is locked up during Ramadan, then our children…

Mistake #2

This Ramadan the typical adolescent cry of “You’re trying to control me!” finally made its way to our home. Well, no duh. But herein I feel that I really failed: we (as in the husband) chose to restrict electronics during Ramadan. This makes perfect sense to a logical adult who understands that they are fasting not only with their stomach, but also with their other senses. Why would you expose yourself to ibadah-time wasting and potentially even haram content-filled entertainment during Ramadan?! We went cold turkey off the electronics while fasting, and now in the well-fed light of day I see that there could have been a better way. A couple of my (very smart) friends actually invested in handheld devices specifically for Ramadan. They chose all the content – new and exciting!- and were able to use the devices to both control (bribing!) and further control (keep ‘em occupied!) the kids without the kids even minding too much. I have already started stockpiling new-to-them “quality entertainment” for next Ramadan. As we get closer to next Ramadan, insha Allah, I will let them pick out some edutainmenty things so as to attempt to reduce the complaints about us, the adults, controlling everything.

More Solutions

As a home-educating mother I have long @@ at mothers who “just do all the chores, because it’s easier.” Maybe in the short term it’s easier than these daily battles I dredge through, but it’s a great disservice to our kids and would likely literally kill me if I tried.  Deconstructing the worst (not all, just the worst) scrimmages of our just passed Ramadan, three particulars really stand out for me as needing resolutions for next year: The Dishes, The Milk Run and Iftar Help.

I let most of the chores slide (even for myself) during Ramadan as we all have less energy; less energy to do and less energy to nag, but those three chores had to be done daily and were battles every time. Well actually, the first day of Ramadan one of my sons cooked iftar before I even woke up! He cooked in a filthy kitchen that he was supposed to have cleaned the night before (the cooking was meant as a “surprise”), so when I got mad about the mess he further shut communications down, feeling that his actions weren’t appreciated and the only other few times he cooked during the month were done so after immense nagging on mine and his father’s part.

To me, another full grown adult with a lot to learn, this kitchen work stuffs seems logical; I like to cook in a clean kitchen, cleaning as I go along, serving the meal on plates that are clean and waiting, and then clean it all up again sometime after we eat, and then repeat the whole thing forever. OK, maybe I should omit “like” in there because a lot of times I loathe the entire process. And obviously that is just my preference because The Kid managed to cook a scrumptious meal with only four clean items: cutting board, knife, pot and spoon. Still, he does not see passed that cooking moment (let’s not even get into the mess he creates while cooking) to needing those dishes to serve on, as well the cooking and serving that needs to be done in between suhoor and iftar for the younger kids. Tons of work, right? And while I sympathetically added myself to the dish washing roster just for the blessed month (the three eldest rotate dish duty), I refuse to do all of the washing and cooking. I expected (there’s that word again!) the kids to help with our iftars, especially when I was doing some of their work.

And they did help and even fully prepared a few iftars, but with no rhyme or reason- reluctance being the only constant. Maybe without the burden of cleaning the kitchen (we do nearly all of our cooking from scratch, so there can be a lot of dishes involved) maybe the cooking would be easier to approach for all of us. I know some families turn to paper plates during Ramadan and though I am absolutely loathsome of this option (how we gonna skip a whole meal every day, but waste other resources!?) if we are not able to fulfil our mutually agreed upon dream of getting a dishwasher next year, I might seriously buy a stack or several of disposable plates. At least I won’t be using plastic utensils and Styrofoam cups, right?

The last thing that gave me a lot of problems this past Ramadan was The Milk Run. When we lived in urban Morocco this problem was The Bread Run: sending a child to pick up daily fresh bread for iftar. Here we buy fresh daily milk and the kids use a rotating schedule of whose-turn-is-it? throughout the year just like we do with the dishes. It’s about a ten minute walk to go get the milk- right before breaking the fast at mahgrib- a task that apparently few children cheerfully fulfil day after day. This year my non-fasting (and too young to normally go) daughter truly happily went to get the milk everyday with her friends who went that way to get fresh drinking water, but on the days she didn’t go- uff with the begging and bribing again! I really don’t know how we are going to get over this one next year if we are still in this same location, but it would certainly be nice to relieve this other headache.

Moving forward

With all the moaning and groaning (it was actually much louder than that) that went on around here during Ramadan, you can imagine how our acts of ibadah faired. The Boys finally got into the habit of going to tarawee for the final ten days, but on eid I gave the two worst offenders cards which basically said:

“I’m so sorry that we all had such difficult Ramadans and I hope that we can work out some of our problems before next year. I have put aside some money for you for eid, but since I noticed that you didn’t get to read much Quran this Ramadan I have decided that when you demonstrate that you have revised (insert name of long surah child has mostly memorized) then I ‘ll give it to you. I’ll even spend an equal amount towards an electronic device of your choice! I love you, Mama”

And you know what? They weren’t even mad! They knew they were horrible. And maybe I was too. Insha Allah we can begin now to be sure that this past Ramadan remains our most horriblest Ramadan ever.

~~~

If you have had some horrible Ramadans and have found solutions to make them the blessing-filled month we all aspire for, please leave me a comment here to contact you for an interview and I promise not to publish your comment.

*My family home-educates and although I look one, I am not a fulltime housewife.

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If Your Husband Ain’t a Sheikh… A SISTERS Soap Box RANT

Husband Aint

“Well my husband told me that it’s haram to…” she starts in, causing a self-preserving mist to cover my ears as soon as she emitted “my husband.” It would sound like a hyperbole if I tried to estimate how many times I have heard sisters refer to their husbands as religious authorities. I mean their non-sheikh, Average Jamal husbands. Worse is how many times they were simply, flat out wrong. Her husband heard something from a brother who knew a guy who read a blog post about a video… and their telephone game ended with the opposite meaning of the ruling I had just recently read in supposedly the same fatwa. Yes, the same issue, the same sheikh – totally different interpretation of what he said! So what happened? Unlike the meticulous rulings and writings we have access to, when this information is casually handed about something vital is often lost. ‘Lost in Interpretation’ we can call it, but unfortunately we – my friend, her husband, the friend and the fatwa – were all speaking the same language.

A husband’s obligation to foster his wife’s religious education is one of the many things I liked about Islam before I converted. A husband’s holistic support – I wanted in on that! Across cultures and religions there are maxims such as “To educate a man is to educate an individual. To educate a woman is to educate a nation” and of course Islam confirms this with the recognition of the mother as primary and pivotal teachers for their children. But why then, with so much careful attention given to chains of narrations and our appreciation of the purity of the Qur’an, do we toss all that fiqh out the window when it comes to learning from the ones closest to us? “Well I trust my husband!” the sister snips at me when I ask if her husband provided her with some daleel (proof ).

The Prophet r said: “All of you are shepherds and all of you will be asked about your wards. The ruler is a shepherd and shall be asked about his wards. The man is a shepherd of his family and will be asked about his ward.” Bukhari
This casualness that can exist between spouses is, well, no casual matter! It reminds me of the statistic that the majority of automobile accidents happen near your home, where you are most familiar with the surroundings and likely to let your guard down. Maybe, sis, you aren’t being slack about how you accept crucial knowledge from your “habibi” (baby). I’ll provide another excuse. And maybe this doesn’t even apply to you or your husband, but it may be useful to know one of the many ways that the good knowledge-sharing link can be broken. Studies have indicated that in the US 14% of all adults are functionally illiterate, meaning they can phonetically read, but do not critically understand what they are reading. The 2009 Human Development Report estimated that 20% of the US population lacked functional literacy, they estimated 21.8% of the population for the UK. Wherever you live and read, I caution you to watch your back, sisters – that brother or sister who always seems to have a book tucked under their arm could be that one out of five, if you or your husband aren’t…

Next time your hubby tells you that something is haram, or just orally relates anything new to you in our glorious religion try this: bat your eyes at him lovingly and breathlessly exclaim, “Oh my dear. That is so interesting. You must show me your sources, honey!” Then cuddle up with your husband over a book (or app), expand your knowledge and get your worship on!

~~~

Brooke Benoit is a wanna-be polymath who home-educates her six kids and enjoys regular mental sparrings with her husband and good friends. This article originally appeared in the August 2013 issue of SISTERS Magazine.

**Soap Box is the place for sisters to speak out on issues they feel strongly about. Do you agree? Disagree? Please send your responses to our Soap Box articles or your own original rant to write@sisters-magazine.com

The Style Files Plus Sized Edition

When Brooke Benoit began shopping to wear hijab appropriate clothes, she found Muslim retailers weren’t helpful on her quest to find a style of her own.

My inspiration to begin wearing hijab came at a fiscally difficult time. My husband and I had poured all of our money into a small business and there was absolutely no room in the budget for expenditures such as a new wardrobe. The need to cover felt pressing; I was obsessed with figuring out how I could quickly acquire some hijabs and an over-garment. Inspiration struck again! I collected my thigh length leather jacket, favourite designer bracelet, and a few other higher end whatnots and had my first (and very successful) experience selling on eBay.

With my Paypal account plumped, I turned to online Muslim clothing providers, only to find that they obviously did not want my money. Site after site, I would scroll through pages of lovely abayas and jilbabs, click their “plus-sized” options and find a miniscule selection (if anything) to choose from. I was in the market for 3X sized clothes but that was a blown pipe dream, as it seemed that 2X was the largest any of these houses were willing to sell.

I returned to eBay, spending many days wading through the plus-sized specialty shops and pages, despairing at scrolling down to promising items’ descriptions and finding that the sleeves or hem were ¾ length, or there was a slit so high that it would render me unable to walk if sewn closed, or the material was not opaque or breathable. I had the added challenge of needing clothes that I could breastfeed easily in. It was depressing, but the aspiration to cover urged me on.

I spent a miserable afternoon in a local coat outlet searching the racks (which had all sizes mixed together) for something that I felt would work as an overgarment and finally settled on a light-weight, knee-length waterproof coat. It got me through fall to spring as my only overgarment and I still wear it occasionally. Then I returned to my e-searching.

Measure twice, buy once
While trying to find hijab styles I liked, I purchased several styles of scarves online and amazingly bought some that were too small! In addition to a handmade shayla that only covered from my hairline to my nape, I also bought a ‘crinkle’ style scarf that wouldn’t uncrinkle enough to cover my head. Long before the days of YouTube tutorials, a beautifully patterned Oman-style scarf proved far too big for my novice self to figure out how to wrap it. Quickly, I learned that a measuring tape was my best defence against wasting money while trying to build-up my new wardrobe.

Hems
Full-length skirts are the foundation of my wardrobe, and a denim skirt (to replace my beloved jeans) was one of my first purchases and a ‘must have.’ As a breastfeeding mum (clocking my 11th year of breastfeeding six babies, alhamdulillah), I find skirts and long tops with a light coat or overgarment to be the most efficient ensemble for me. At 5’4”, I am at the top end of the petite scale and can occasionally buy sleeves and hems meant to be ¾ length, but that fit me at the wrist or ankle – whether buying online or in person, I use a measuring tape to be sure. Now I regularly scoop up full-length and opaque skirts whenever I find them, but at the beginning I couldn’t scoop them up fast enough! Once, while bemoaning to a friend the plight of my formerly beloved plunder of calf-length and slightly slit skirts now being useless, she suggested that I try the ‘petticoat’ cotton slips worn under sarees. This was an awesome suggestion! The petticoats come in an amazing range of colours and, as they are made with drawstring waists, some do fit plus-sizes or alternatively are affordable enough to have custom made. I now have more than half a dozen which can be worn as slips under sheer or slit material, or can be “layered” under not quite long enough hems.

Many full-length plus-sized skirts and dresses are made much too long for me and as much as I loathe it – having already paid “extra for the extra material” – I do appreciate the way a professionally hemmed item makes me look and feel. Similarly, I have had several cute dresses nipped into thigh-length tops.

Tops
I prefer the clean lines of tunics over button-down shirts, but I find the latter to be easier to source from mainstream retailers. Tunics are also frequently made with scoop or v-necks. One unconventional trick I have learned is that since I nearly always wear a light coat or over-garment, I can wear scoop or v-neck tops backwards rather than wearing an extra layer under them or having to worry if my hijab will stay just so. I also regularly wear sleeveless tops, preferring the “layered look” but with less bulk.

Invest in yourself
Plus-sized clothes cost more. Sure, there’s the extra cost of a little added fabric, but sometimes it feels like there is even more added to the price tag. Although I find it frustrating that not only are good, modest, plus-size clothes hard to find, they can be unreasonably expensive to boot. I hate to feel frumpy and think of my clothes as an investment in me; I feel good when I look good. I would rather buy one really useful and attractive quality garment than two or three cheaper quality items that often don’t “make the cut” in one way or another. My absolutely favourite plus-sized clothes are made by Flax Design and, though they are costlier than some retailers, I have found many of my favourite pieces at lower than retail prices by regularly checking eBay and shops that carry Flax seconds and off-season items. Flax is not a plus-sized retailer, but their largest size fits about a 4X.

Muslim retailers
Several years into shopping as a plus-sized hijabi, I still dread shopping at most Muslim clothing retailers, whose tempting homepage offerings don’t extend into their plus-sized selections. I have acquired a good selection of classic and staple skirts from Shukr after regularly prowling their latest releases. Unfortunately, the plus-sized selections have usually dwindled by the time items make it to sale prices, so I only turn to Shukr when I am ready to make a full-priced and needed investment.
An excellent and thorough list of Muslim and mainstream retailers with good plus-sized selections has been curated by Sakeena Rashid for her fun new ebook, ‘The Ultimate Guide to Hijab Fashion and Style’, which along with many hijab-related tips is available via her website: http://hijabstyleandfashion.com/.

Plus-sized Pro Tips:

  • If you love it – buy two! Don’t risk never finding a great piece again or wearing one out too soon.
  • Keep a measuring tape next to your computer (for online shopping) and in your bag to avoid “hopeful” purchases. Variations in plus-sized label sizes can be too great, so don’t trust the sizes – you must measure every garment to be sure it fits. Measure twice and buy once!
  • Reduce bulk: remove collars to create Mandarin collars, remove sleeves and icky poly linings if the item will be worn under an over-garment anyway.
  • Keeping it covered can take diligent work. You have enough digging to do, so let the most probable sellers come to you by registering with favourite shops to get updates on new arrivals and special deals.
  • If you don’t sew, find a good and affordable tailor who can make minor alterations (such as hemming skirts or shortening dresses into tops) that will make you look and feel well-dressed.

Looking back, my journey to my own style was difficult and compromised by a limited selection for plus-sized hijabis, but today I love my style, which I would call “Prim Bohemian.” My closet is full of natural fibre and quality clothes in dark and muted tones with plenty of stripes, paisleys, henna patterns and a few floral prints. For accessories, I have worn clunky-funky shoes for decades, and make my own semi-precious and precious gemstone jewelry, which you can only catch a peek of when I’m at home, often wearing harem pants and sleeveless traditional embroidered Moroccan dresses, cropped exactly to my liking.

This article originally appeared in the August 2013 issue of SISTERS (the magazine for fabulous Muslim women).

The 5 Worst Things My Kids Have Done in the Masjid

To the horror of a few dozen boys and young men, before Taraweeh last night my seven year old daughter prayed Isha on the men’s side of the masjid. Having three older brothers and no one to go over to the women’s side with, of course this seemed perfectly natural to Z, who in her tiny rhinestone dotted abaya and jersey knit tie back khimar (my sport khimar she has somehow usurped) she lined her little foot up to the gunboat of her fourteen year old brother and salaamed in. The next man to join the line gave a noticeable double take at the mini-hijabi, then lined up next to her and also salaamed in. Though none of the men of the men’s side said anything to her or my son, several young males were impelled to break their own prayers to inform my son (who enjoys a little rabble rousing as much as his Mama) that his sister had to leave. “Did you tell them she won’t bleed on the carpets?” I asked. He snorted in response and then me and The Boys took a rofling journey down memory lane recounting all of the horrible stuff they have done in the masjid. In no particular order:

5. The Not Salutations

One of my kids climbed to the roof of a masjid under construction and threw rocks (pebblish sized) and flipped the bird at his passing by friends and acquaintances. We can blame this on hormone shifts causing lack of impulse control. It was kind of an elder brother to overlook my son’s horrid adab and simply suggest that the kid come down for safety reasons.

4. Bad Dawah

My kids don’t play ball much. Their parents aren’t ballers and apparently there isn’t a recessive gene for that. So allowing one of my kids to kick a ball at the amir’s door just across from the masjid was an especially bad idea. A few kicks in and SMASH went the ball into the window of an apartment building next-door. Possibly worse was that the parent who was (supposed to be) supervising this kicker thought that they could fix the window without the tenants ever having to know about it. Parent parked a delivery van in front of the window and began scraping the rubber sealing off, without heeding the fact that the police station is two blocks away and fairly attentive to the masjid’s comings and goings. Alhumdulillah, lacking proper tools led Parent to give up his DIY project. Son paid for the window and still doesn’t play ball of any sort.

3. Najas Nightmares

My kid says that he “really had to go. Like really bad” but who wants to break their taraweeh prayer and then do that all over again? So yep, he tried to hold it but finally released a torrent all over himself and the masjid prayer rugs right there in the front row of taraweeh prayers. That’s one of your worst fears about kids in the masjid right?

2. Najas Nightmares II

During itikaf one year my boys rotated staying overnight in the mosque with their dad. Of course one semi-uncharacteristically peed in his sleep. All over the rugs, again. Not the same kid though.

1. Biology Experiments

After a hearty community iftar yet another one of those well-meaning brothers warned my son not to run around the masjid as it could make him puke (vomit for those of you joining us outside of the US) if he exercised on a full stomach. This is the son that doesn’t run much, but is especially inquisitive, so of course he did. And he did. Fortunately he kept running through his nausea, saving the rugs this time by puking off a masjid balcony into the parking lot below. No he didn’t hit anyone or anything other than the pavement.

Forgot one!

0. More Not Too Superficial Damage

There was also the time one son threw another son’s Arabic studies book down the masjid stairs. When the book owner went chasing after it he stumbled, rolling down the stairs to the bottom where he crashed into and broke the glass door. I would think those things would be strong enough to take the impact of a smallish child, but no.

*Let it be noted that I was never once in attendance with my children during any of these episodes, though I did receive phone calls about them. May Allah preserve the parents who make the effort to take their children to the masjid and raise their children high in the deen. And for all you afflicted bystanders, I still got no empathy.