Having A Large Family

Muslim Mummy

While Muslim Mummy is away, I wrote a not-so-little guest blog post musing on having a whole bunch of kids:

It surprises me how many Muslims respond negatively at my having a large family. Worse is when they nearly reprimand me, demanding to know if I am “done” at six kids. I thought we all knew this one:

Wealth and children are an adornment of the worldly life. But the enduring good deeds are better to your Lord for reward and better for [one’s] hope. (Surah Al Kahf: 46)

I’m not into name brands. Having kids is mything. Well, I have a few dunya-ey things that I really like to do, but raising my pack of kids is my main thing and not only do I give it a lot of my time and consideration, I do it pretty well and get a fair amount of satisfaction from it. Alhumdulillah. Over the years I have found that there are a lot of benefits (not just for me) to having a big family. Here are just a few:

  • Learning to labor

Parenting begins with birth, and if you are birthing your own kids you may not realize what a crisis modern birthing practices are going through in the US (and just about everywhere) until you are actually in labor…

Please shoot over to Muslim Mummies to read the rest. And then get all wrapped up and inspired in her Project 365 posts.

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Link Love: Breastfeeding 101 for Sexual Assault Survivors


I’m really glad to have been a part of this conversation with Aaminah Shakur and company for the The Toast and also just for all the support and healing I have had through such convos. Check it out:

“…It took years for me to figure out that a lot of my struggles as a new mother were directly related to my history as a sexual assault survivor.

One of the unanticipated difficulties was breastfeeding. Eighteen years ago, when my son was born, breastfeeding was not quite as supported in my city as it is now. Just this year an ordinance was passed in support of public breastfeeding, so you can imagine the atmosphere nearly two decades ago!

…How sexual trauma can come back to us during pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum varies. Our reactions are not uniform, and there are many possible reactions a survivor might have that are not readily seen as related to a history of trauma. We often live with shame, guilt, and isolation because we do not realize trauma is the root of our issues. When we struggle to breastfeed but cannot articulate why, it is also difficult to get the appropriate support. Lactation consultants, postpartum doulas, and other support providers should be better educated in sexual trauma and prepared to help parents with such history recognize if that may be what is causing difficulties.”

Thanks Aaminah and all, read the rest here.

Thank You Maria Zain

 

As I have been putting together an archive of Maria Zain’s articles for SISTERS magazine, many of them are pieces I am already very familiar with. Maria and I shared several similar passions – homebirthing, homeschooling, deen-centered parenting, balancing family/extended family with personal and spiritual obligations, sex and sexuality with an Islamic point of view, and even a fashion frustration with Islamic clothing designers’ negligence to cover pregnant and breastfeeding moms.

When I started as an editor at SISTERS in 2011, Maria was one of the professional, highly skilled and conscientious writers already on board who made my job a cakewalk. Her articles nearly always came in well polished and needing little editing, masha Allah. Over time we developed an easy working relationship, in which she could pop off a quick one liner idea to me about potential articles and I would often respond with an enthusiastic “Yes!” and brief suggestions to avoid this and that as we likely covered them, while maybe considering addressing this or that. The final piece would then be submitted covering a good scope of ideas, introducing me (the first reader) to new ways of seeing and often giving me a few (always needed!) giggles.

Several months back, SISTERS reintroduced their ‘Soap Box’ feature: Soap Box is the place for sisters to speak out on issues they feel strongly about.” This feature, though a popular one to read, is a hard one for writers to approach, as it is a fine balance between critiquing and demonstrating real social problems within the ummah versus whining about some lesser important pet peeve. Maria recently really took to the feature, addressing several issues she (and I!) would like to see taken more seriously by Muslims, and she also pitched me a few of those emotion-filled one liners for a potential Soap Box rant, which she would later tone down and round out into more… palatable articles for elsewhere in the magazine or even other publications.

As a writer myself, Maria and I had a great deal of crossover in the subject matters we both write about which easily could have made us competitive in such a small field for Muslim writers, yet it only furthered our sharing of knowledge and resources. Maria introduced me to her fabulous editor at an online publication we both enjoyed writing for, and when I discussed the pending possibility of having an unassisted birth with my sixth child, Maria brought me into a tight circle of hundreds of women choosing to homebirth without assistance due to legal restrictions on using midwives. This circle was phenomenal and supported me through my sixth and most relaxed and stress-free birth.

I often see myself as a reluctant advocate across several fronts, where I have chosen to take less popular and even (unwittingly to me) controversial paths. Maria walked many of these paths with me, though I never once saw her reluctance. When I did see her attacked, either via online comments, Facebook discussions or in private exchanges, she always maintained a calm composure and an ability to remain politely but firmly steadfast, with a grace I still hope to someday achieve.

Reading through the memorials posted online for Maria, I am well aware of the legacy she has left behind in her writing having already read so many of her writings as an editor, a peer, a person of shared interests and a friend, but seeing them anew – knowing that there will be no more follow ups, no more branching into new subjects, no more behind the scenes chats – I now know what a privilege and blessing it was to have known Maria Zain, to have had my hand held, to have been given both echoed reassurances of my own feelings and even new insights into many issues from a truly special sister. I regret that I do not recall ever once thanking Maria for all she did for me and my family.

I pray that Maria’s husband is given support and strength to carry on raising his family with a deen-centered focus and that their children know even a glimpse of the sacrifices both their parents made to protect and nurture them as Allah (SWT) guided them to do so, ameen.

Editor in Chief of SISTERS Magazine, Na’ima B. Robert, has set up a fundraiser to help Maria’s husband and family through this upheaval. Please consider sending them some support: http://www.gofundme.com/mariazain

 

Meet the Muslimah Sellers of Etsy

Some items from Muslimah Etsy sellers: journal, popsicle earrings,  hijab pin, 'IQRA' book ends.
Some items from Muslimah Etsy sellers: journal, popsicle earrings, hijab pin, ‘IQRA’ book ends.

From SISTERS magazine’s November 2014 issue, some of the best sister-owned shops on the Internet’s favourite place to buy handmade.

I know many folks think that shopping on Etsy can be a very dangerous thing. There are just far too many unique and wonderful things on that website! But it’s actually an excellent shopping practice to buy from independent sellers and small-business families, as the products are exceptionally made to last a long time, often made with eco-green considerations in mind and directly support individuals in a fair-trade manner. Best of all, there are now many Muslim sellers on Etsy and your purchases from them can go towards supporting families striving to have deen-based lifestyles. Here is a selection of some of the great Muslimah sellers working via the Etsy platform – go ahead and window shop!

Ink And Ocean owned by Fehmida Shah

BB: What do you sell?
FS: Mostly downloadable art and cards and some paper goods.

BB: What is special about your items?
FS: I hope that my products are unique to me, as I have designed and created all of them. My paper goods that are not downloadable are either fair-trade or made from 100% recyclable materials or both. All are printed using environmentally-friendly inks.

BB: Why do you do/make what you do?
FS: After a day’s work, it’s lovely to just escape and have a creative outlet. I love the creative process and the ability to share my passion with a worldwide audience. I can make something I enjoy doing and have the opportunity to share it with others instantly.

BB: Any advice to wannabe Etsyians or craft sellers?
FS: Whether you want to sell on Etsy as a business or a hobby, I would say get familiar with the whole Etsy shop process and ask for help – there is lots of it out there in the form of books, articles and forums. Choose your Etsy username wisely to reflect your business as this can never be changed. Put in the time to market your products on other social media networks and blogs. Be patient. Like any other business, you have to work at it and it takes time.

Winged Pony Kawaii Jewelry owned by Siegret Chappell

BB: What do you sell?
SC: I sell kawaii (cute in Japanese) jewellery and accessories.

BB: What is special about your items?
SC: They are for grown up women or little women who like cute, quirky or dainty things. I try to keep it simple so they can be worn with everyday clothes as a small statement of quirky cuteness.

BB: Why do you do/make what you do?
SC: I have had this urge to build and make from a young age and making jewellery has become a manageable outlet. I sell so that I can afford more supplies (aka supporting my other strong urge to shop)!

BB: Any advice to wannabe Etsyians or craft sellers?
SC: Following the Etsy seller handbook is really the easiest way to get close to success.

Etsy Sellers II

Yarncoture owned by Maryum Karim

BB: What do you sell?
MK: I sell hand-knit and crocheted accessories for men, women and children, as well as unique items for your home.

BB: What is special about your items?
MK: What makes my items special is that Allah has blessed me with this talent. Before I started doing this I couldn’t have dreamed that I could make the things that I am able to make now. The designs that I choose are classics – items that you will be reaching for again and again that never go out of style. I also like to choose designs with a lot of elegance and style, that goes for the items I make for both women and men. Everything that I make is done with lots of love, care and professionalism to the best of my ability.

BB: Why do you do/make what you do?
MK: It all started with an “attempt” to repair a very special blanket that my oldest son was given during his stay in the hospital. I remembered that I knew how to crochet from my childhood so I was able to repair it (terribly). My mother sent me some knitting needles and some yarn and an ancient “how-to” knitting book. After failing at understanding the basic instructions I was given, I went online to see if there was an easier way. Alhamdulillah I found a site that made things much easier and I began knitting! I began to make lots of blankets and my family told me “you should open your own store!” – so I did! My work gives me so much peace and it’s very rewarding to see someone absolutely love and appreciate something you made!

BB: Any advice to wannabe Etsyians or craft sellers?
MK: I would advise them to do their homework! Research the market you’d like to get into and see if it can be a lucrative business for you. Research packaging, your logo and most of all your pricing should reflect how much time you put into your work, as well as the cost of materials. Also, be original! The last thing Etsy needs is another shop that looks like another and another and so on. If it’s something that you truly love doing, it will show in your work!

The Olive Tree Soap Company owned by Sobia Hussain

BB: What do you sell?
SH: I sell luxury artisan bath and body products which are vegan and free from harsh chemicals. My products include artisan soaps, lip balms, natural deodorants, lotion sticks, argan oil, hajj/umrah unscented products, unique party favours and gift sets for all occasions.

BB: What is special about your items?
SH: My goal is to provide the community with carefully handcrafted skin care with your health and planet as priority, while offering a natural alternative to the conventionally mass-produced products on the market. All my products are vegan and halal, they are free from alcohol-sourced ingredients as well harsh chemicals such as SLS, phthalate and paraben. The Olive Tree Soap Company is proud to be animal-cruelty free.

BB: Why do you do/make what you do?
SH: Since I was young, I have been very passionate about science and art. The two interests never intersected until I discovered soapmaking in my adult years. Making artisanal skincare products and designing its packaging is a fine marriage of chemistry and my personal form of expression. It’s as though it was meant for me. I’m so grateful to be in this field, alhamdulillah.

BB: Any advice to wannabe Etsyians or craft sellers?
SH: Don’t be intimidated. If there is something you are passionate about and would love to share with others, do your research in your field and see how others are selling their products. Do not solely rely on Etsy to be discovered. There are over 1 million sellers on Etsy so it’s easy for your shop to get lost in the large crowd; you will need to work hard to get your name out in other venues such as large events, local fairs, blogs, features and product reviews. Be ready to leave your comfort zone to promote your business and what you have to offer. Do it with class and integrity. It’s really a fine balance. If you don’t start, you’ll never know.

Muslamb Stationers owned by Cjala Surratt

BB: What do you sell?
CS: Muslamb carries letterpress and offset greeting cards, fill-in invitations and desk decor essentials such as notepads, sticky notes, bookends, stamps and pencils, the most popular of which are the “Hijabi Hard at Work” and “Study Dua” pencils.

BB: Why do you do/make what you do?
CS: I started Muslamb Stationers because I often had to doctor ‘Seasons Greetings’ and ‘Happy Holidays’ cards for Eid, walimahs or aqiqahs (I sent out many a tacky card with ‘Happy Holidays’ crossed out and ‘Eid Mubarak’ put in!). I was also tired of giving my money to businesses that didn’t carry any goods that reflected those holidays and special events that are important to me as a Muslim. So, I decided to create stationery goods that reflected Islamic values and embraced a quirky, fresh, fun and contemporary sensibility.

BB: Any advice to wannabe Etsyians or craft sellers?
CS: Etsy is good platform to begin with; they have built in a lot of functionality for a seller to set up a shop easily. I found it beneficial for testing out my buyer demographic initially and a great means of garnering visibility as one gets the brand recognition and trust that comes with the Etsy brand.

Omee’s Boutique owned by Omee (Mona)

BB: What do you sell?
O: Reusable cloth menstrual pads, baby to toddler bibs and unpaper towels are my best sellers. I also sew and sell diaper bags, waterproof bags, pacifier clips, mitten clips, infant car seat canopies, nursing pads and a lot of other items. I take custom requests if readers have anything else in mind.

BB: What is special about your items?
O: Everything in my shop is handmade by me, with loving care and attention to detail. I sew everyday whenever possible. These days I am focusing more on eco-friendly products like reusable cloth menstrual pads, reusable snack/sandwich bags and unpaper towels.

BB: Why do you do/make what you do?
O: I can’t survive without something to keep my hands busy, so I sew when I can, when my toddler is napping and my husband is busy at work. I love beautiful fabrics and use what little free time I have to create items that can possibly become a loved and worn best friend.

BB: Any advices to wannabe Etsyians or craft sellers?
O: Etsy is an established marketplace that customers from around the world shop from. Having your own website in addition to a shop on Etsy will be great for you, but I would recommend starting out on Etsy. I currently only have an Etsy shop and hope to create a website of my own soon too insha Allah.

Research well and pick a nice name for your shop, price your handmade items well and once you are all set update your shop regularly and make a connection with your customers through either a Facebook page or an Instagram account. Make your customers happy, network with other sellers, promote your shop, keep improving and take your business seriously. It will be a slow climb but with time you will see good results and do great insha Allah.

SISTERS Etsyians!

Brooke Benoit www.etsy.com/shop/Brookolie
Ke’lona Hamilton www.etsy.com/shop/CreativeMotivations
Zainab Bint Younus www.etsy.com/shop/AbayatLeatherAndLace
Maria Zain www.etsy.com/shop/GardensofAdneen

Some of our favourite Muslim Etsy shops:

AlhambraAcrylics www.etsy.com/uk/shop/AlhambraAcrylics
ArchetypeZ www.etsy.com/shop/ArchetypeZ
AyshBoutique www.etsy.com/shop/AyshBoutique
HaniyyaJewelz www.etsy.com/shop/haniyyajewelz
INKhandcrafted www.etsy.com/shop/INKhandcrafted
Islamicable www.etsy.com/uk/shop/Islamicable
muslamb www.etsy.com/shop/ownsignature
PathOfLightDesigns www.etsy.com/shop/PathOfLightDesigns
SHOPNadiaJArt www.etsy.com/shop/shopnadiajart

In addition to writing and editing for SISTERS magazine, Brooke Benoit sometimes makes unique (and fairly spectacular) jewellery for her own Etsy shop, https://www.etsy.com/shop/Brookolie.

Women on Their Favorite Tools

 

Zahrah torching.

Here’s a lil something I did for The Toast and am pretty, totally proud of:

Last week a friend of mine bragged on her social media about acquiring a shiny new mint-green scroll saw. Before I could derail her moment and bemoan my failure to replace my long lost cordless Dremel, a slew of comments popped up voicing safety concerns and personal testimonies of complete inadequacy with tools. My covetousness was quickly replaced by another lost thing, my annoyance with women who claim to not be tool inclined.
 
One winter I worked in a bead shop in Alaska, wherein every day I heard women bemoan their tool-using deficiency. Yes, just women, as only about five men came into the shop during my employment and not a one whined that, “Oh I just couldn’t use a wire snipper!”, though one guy did mock our adorable mini anvil designed for detailed hammering work. Women, on the other hand—you know the ones who can use their bare hands to install contact lenses and feminine hygiene products into the most sensitive regions of the body—who can use forks, various brushes, and often even drive cars and run complicated machines such as clothes and dish washers, many of them claim they could never use a drill, which is basically a hair dryer with a thing on the end that you point away from you…

 

Eid Gifting? Decorating? Give Muslim Artists on Etsy Some of That Love

Etsy Muslims

We are at the midpoint of Ramadan and that means that Eid is just two weeks away – insha Allah and squee! Likely you are thinking about picking up some decorations, maybe getting some gifts for your loved ones and besties, and/or getting some things for all those great kids in your life, who were so well-behaved this Ramadan. Here is a roundup of some of the many unique, cute, cool and Islam-themed items available from dozens of Muslim sellers on Etsy.

Worried about shipping in time? Some items, like this DIY Eid party pack and this Moroccan inspired Eid gift card are available to download and printout at home, and of course Eid al-Adha is just a few months away too, so go ahead, window shop now.

Click on the photos below to see the listings.

Decorate and celebrate

For Muslim KidsSay Masha Allah

The variety of specialty items for Muslim kids is always expanding on Etsy, as well as Muslim-appealing clothes, and selections from Muslim artists, jewelry makers, designers and so on. Using Etsy keyword searches such as ‘Islam’ ‘Muslim’ ‘Eid’ and ‘Ramadan’ will net you thousands of great finds of your own. Muslim sellers’ makings and doings can also be followed on these Etsy ‘seller teams’ Facebook pages: Creative Creations on Etsy and Muslim Team on Etsy

Happy shopping!

2 Horrid Ramadans & Moving Along w/ the Ramadan Battle Plan, Insha Allah

LBL_SISTERS_illus_long

I have been meaning to write a sort of sketch for my family of all the different ways we have done Ramadan: from just me and the new hubby sharing cream puffs out of a paper bag in front of an Italian bakery in Brooklyn to enjoying a break of a solitary iftar while the husband took our bunch of kids to the masijd, and then onto Ramadans with extended family in Morocco. I should still do that, but today I am going to write about my worst two Ramadans ever and more importantly how I hope, insha Allah, to bury that habit quick this year.

The last two Ramadans I have spent half the month alone with my six kids. I mean really alone. I have neighbors, but no friends or family within several hours of driving/flying to my home. My lifestyle is… maybe unusual. We unschool, I work from home, and our home is located in a rural village in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco, where life is very in touch with the land, clean-living and fairly hard work. Alhumdulillah, I am not out digging in the earth and tediously caring for farm animals, but I still do work (which can be long hours if I don’t watch myself), plus the homeschooling and lack of any help for half the month… you get the idea? Also, that forced ‘clean-living’ thing means no availability of processed foods, which I know you all are trying to avoid, but you do know how time consuming it can be to prepare suhoor and iftar with ZERO processed foods, except for roasted coffee beans and granulated sugar- thank God!

Anyway, where my last two Ramadans really fell apart was that I spent way too much of my already compromised time worry about and trying to get some cooperation from two of my six children. We’ve all missed a suhoor and know from experience how horrid that can be, right? Who would want that for their kids? Their hormone messed-up kids who sleep at odd intervals for unpredictable lengths? So with these two basically trying to sleep through Ramadan (and when they were awake bemoaning not having a dishwasher! Oh noes, they have to do dishes, but actually exert more energy fighting their mother about it than doing them!) that left me to deal with my other small children during the day, feeding them throughout and then maybe towards the end of the day I got some help with preparing iftar (fairly simple, but remember ALL from scratch except for our bread that I buy from my neighbor) or maybe not- it was just a mess, with my ibadah being heavily affected by my exhaustion and … anger. *Here is where you don’t bother to advise me about discipline measures and whatnot, because I have had enough of a headache with all of this and really thank you anyway, but I won’t bother with how you think I should maybe handle it, because I already tried many things and here is the conclusion I have come to:

This year I am bringing the focus back to ME (modeling behavior, they call this). Firstly, I am not going to bother myself with these manchildren who should know well enough how this Ramadan thing works. They are welcome to participate or not at their own paces. Don’t worry for them, they haven’t missed any fasts in years (or tarawih prayers) and I doubt they would start cheating now, but really let’s not bother directly with them. Secondly, I did FINALLY get some hired help, which I should have done long ago as I know logically I cannot do it all, but I guess I have some kind of glitch. So, alhumdulillah someone will be coming in for up to two hours a day to tidy the kitchen and help prep the food for me/us to cook later. I enjoy when hubby and kids come into the kitchen with me in that final hour of fasting to whip up a spontaneous iftar and again, all are welcome to join me, but no pressure, no extra exertion. RBP II

The most important thing I am doing is returning to making my ibadah come first, foremost and be nearly the only thing I see during Ramadan. I want to read the whole Quran and pray my tarawees everyday! Something I don’t remember doing at all the last two years. The main way I am doing this refocusing is that I got myself a copy of the Ramadan Battle Plan and am using it! Insha Allah.

Among some of the great getting-started things in the RBP is this goal setting and visualizing. Though I felt a bit cynical writing about my “Ideal Ramadan” after the last two, like the plan reminds: “And your Rabb says, “Call upon me; I will respond to you.” (Surah Al-Ghafir verse 60). And that’s it right there, that is my plan for Ramadan to call upon my Lord! Insha Allah.

I am doing The Plan along with a bunch of my cohorts from SISTERS Magazine, (the magazine for fabulous Muslim women) and you can read more about our experiences on the SISTER Family Blog or by following our SISTERS Team Does the Ramadan Battle Plan Facebook page.

Get your blessings! And me He accept our fasts, yours and mine, amen.

 

 

Babbling Brookolie in Young Muslimah Magazine

Talking art and stuff over at the new Young Muslimah Magazine:

How would you describe yourself as an artist?

Uh, well, I fit some of the artist-type of person stereotypes, such as being a little eccentric and messy 😉 I am also a little sensitive and empathetic, which are both good and challenging traits to have. As far as what kind of artist I am, presently I mostly make jewellery, but overall I think of myself as a conceptual artist, meaning that I like to explore and push ideas into imagery or events and then see how people relate (or not) to my ideas. I also have a degree in rhetoric, so effective communication is fairly important to me.

Can you give us a peek into your passions that describe your personality?

Recently I have come to recognise that I have a really strong appreciation/ passion for the natural world – Allah’s creations – and also I love the infinite ways that people positively recognize and use His creations. I am dazzled by how people cut gemstones and craft metal beads and other jewellery findings. Adornment can seem like such a trivial or superficial thing, but in good measure it can be a way to ponder, appreciate and even demonstrate Allah’s magnificence….

The rest of the interview and bunches of other great articles can be read here. Thanks YMM! Pretty Brookolie things can be seen here.

How would you describe yourself as an artist?

Uh, well, I fit some of the artist-type of person stereotypes, such as being a little eccentric and messy 😉 I am also a little sensitive and empathetic, which are both good and challenging traits to have. As far as what kind of artist I am, presently I mostly make jewellery, but overall I think of myself as a conceptual artist, meaning that I like to explore and push ideas into imagery or events and then see how people relate (or not) to my ideas. I also have a degree in rhetoric, so effective communication is fairly important to me.

Can you give us a peek into your passions that describe your personality?

Recently I have come to recognise that I have a really strong appreciation/ passion for the natural world – Allah’s creations – and also I love the infinite ways that people positively recognize and use His creations. I am dazzled by how people cut gemstones and craft metal beads and other jewellery findings. Adornment can seem like such a trivial or superficial thing, but in good measure it can be a way to ponder, appreciate and even demonstrate Allah’s magnificence.

– See more at: http://www.youngmuslimahmagazine.com/interview-with-brooke-benoit/#sthash.YXHs1tWp.dpuf

How would you describe yourself as an artist?

Uh, well, I fit some of the artist-type of person stereotypes, such as being a little eccentric and messy 😉 I am also a little sensitive and empathetic, which are both good and challenging traits to have. As far as what kind of artist I am, presently I mostly make jewellery, but overall I think of myself as a conceptual artist, meaning that I like to explore and push ideas into imagery or events and then see how people relate (or not) to my ideas. I also have a degree in rhetoric, so effective communication is fairly important to me.

Can you give us a peek into your passions that describe your personality?

Recently I have come to recognise that I have a really strong appreciation/ passion for the natural world – Allah’s creations – and also I love the infinite ways that people positively recognize and use His creations. I am dazzled by how people cut gemstones and craft metal beads and other jewellery findings. Adornment can seem like such a trivial or superficial thing, but in good measure it can be a way to ponder, appreciate and even demonstrate Allah’s magnificence.

– See more at: http://www.youngmuslimahmagazine.com/interview-with-brooke-benoit/#sthash.YXHs1tWp.dpuf

How would you describe yourself as an artist?

Uh, well, I fit some of the artist-type of person stereotypes, such as being a little eccentric and messy 😉 I am also a little sensitive and empathetic, which are both good and challenging traits to have. As far as what kind of artist I am, presently I mostly make jewellery, but overall I think of myself as a conceptual artist, meaning that I like to explore and push ideas into imagery or events and then see how people relate (or not) to my ideas. I also have a degree in rhetoric, so effective communication is fairly important to me.

Can you give us a peek into your passions that describe your personality?

Recently I have come to recognise that I have a really strong appreciation/ passion for the natural world – Allah’s creations – and also I love the infinite ways that people positively recognize and use His creations. I am dazzled by how people cut gemstones and craft metal beads and other jewellery findings. Adornment can seem like such a trivial or superficial thing, but in good measure it can be a way to ponder, appreciate and even demonstrate Allah’s magnificence.

– See more at: http://www.youngmuslimahmagazine.com/interview-with-brooke-benoit/#sthash.YXHs1tWp.dpuf

Tagine From The Heart In Marrakech: A Truly Great Place To Eat

Tagine from the heartMarrakech, Morocco, is one of the top vacation destinations in the world, hosting millions of visitors every year who, in turn, leave thousands of various online travel recommendations. With an economy built on tourism, restaurants, tour guides, shops, taxis, and beggars all vie for tourist dollars. It’s a bustling city with numerous gardens, museums, and souks to visit as well as being a center point for shooting of to innumerous excursions all over the beautiful country such as the sea, the desert, and the mountains. So if you are heading to Marrakech, please let me make one choice easy for you – you must enjoy at least one traditional Moroccan meal at Amal Restaurant and Training Center. Here’s why.

Unlike the commonly held beliefs about women who beg, these women did not have family to support them. On the contrary, it was their families who were often abusing them.

In my several years of living in Morocco I have learned that just as in my own hometown of San Francisco (another foodie paradise), many people here are skeptical of panhandlers (beggars). Whereas in Western countries most people assume panhandlers have social services to utilise and are therefore just trying to make ‘extra’ cash, here in Morocco many people believe beggars have their families to support them and must in some way be ‘bad’ people to have to resort to begging or else they are also just making ‘extra’ cash. Nora Fitzgerald, who was born and raised in Morocco, faced such beggars daily and one day decided to ignore the stereotypes, believing that there was no way a mother sitting on the concrete or dirt with small children in her lap would prefer to spend her days in such a way, completely lacking in dignity, just to make a little extra change. Nora decided to sponsor a woman so that her child could attend preschool and the woman could perhaps get a job.

I witnessed Nora and Amina’s* experiences some years ago via Nora’s blog. Soon other people were becoming involved, providing money, clothing, and other items to Amina and a few other women in need that Nora had also begun to work with. Unlike the commonly held beliefs about women who beg, these women did not have family to support them. On the contrary, it was their families who were often abusing them. For single mothers, the desire to protect their families from the shame of a child born out of wedlock or a woman abandoned drives them far from their hometowns and support systems. With no childcare and no employable skill set, begging is often their last and only recourse.

Nora began to better understand this dire dilemma and slowly her sponsorship evolved, trying to it the women’s needs. She opened a small bakery within her own family’s language center, training the women to make Western-style baked goods such as banana bread, chocolate chip cookies, brownies, and lemon bars for the Moroccan students attending the centre. There were successes, but also a few failures with the program, as extracting oneself from toxic families and overcoming ingrained patterns of dysfunction is complicated. Nora’s commitment to be of service to some of Morocco’s most marginalised women and children was firm enough that she continually sought out realistic solutions to the complex problems they faced.

While visiting Casablanca one spring, Nora had a chance to eat at one of the locations of Restaurant Solidarité Féminine, a hugely successful 30-year-old not-for-profit organisation that provides single mothers with the knowledge and skills to ensure their own livelihoods. It was impossible for Nora not to see the possibilities for the little cottage not-for-profit venture she was building back home. She also realised she didn’t have to reinvent the wheel as there are similar models she could follow and that would even help the organisation to skip some of the growing pains that comes with being a revolutionary start-up. Nora found others with similarly interested hearts and hands willing to help, and soon the Amal Center was born, a space was rented and renovated, and the concept was taken to the next level.  The Amal Center now functions as a training center and also a restaurant that serves lunch daily to an average of 60 people.

In 2013 Amal received a grant to expand the business and training facility, and the centre now provides literacy and language classes, life coaching, and many other lectures and trainings by local professionals eager to volunteer some of their time. The Amal centre accepted 15 women into its internship program this year. The permanent staff has grown to 12, many of whom were among the first trainees and whose stories inspired the centre’s creation.  At the end of its training, Amal helps the interns find jobs in local hotels, restaurants, riads, and private homes. Professional job placement, economic stability, and personal transformation are the primary goals at Amal, which employs a social worker trained in psychology to accompany the women in their journey.

The women come from disadvantaged backgrounds, some are illiterate or have very little education, others were sent to work as child maids when they were as young as 12 years old, while a number of the trainees are recommended by a local association, Jamiat Kafalat Al-Yateem, which helps support widows and their children. Fitzgerald, who serves as Amal’s president, said, “It’s been amazing to watch these women’s transformations. When they first entered the program they were shy, insecure, were afraid to trust us and each other. They are now glowing with confidence and have acquired many skills. They are proud of their new profession.”

Naima, one of the trainees turned full-time staff, agrees. “The colour has come back to my cheeks. Before, wherever I worked I was taken advantage of. I am now supporting my three children on my own, and every day I am happy to come to work, I learn something new, I feel like I am given value.”

 Si Mohamed has trained with French masters, and thanks to him the trainees have learned signature French dishes such as salade nicoise, caesar salade, gratin dauphinois (a most satisfying potato and cream gratin), glazed chicken with sage, filet mignon, etc.

Last winter, when I finally had a chance to visit Marrakech, of course I had to eat at Amal, a truly lovely restaurant. Set in the busy Gueliz shopping district, Amal is down a quiet side street and the ample garden seating is secluded by lush, bougainvillea-covered walls and accented by fragrant citrus trees. Inside the restaurant is a comfortable and airy contrast to the sometimes overbearing Marrakech heat. On the day I visited the staff had made lemonade with crushed fresh mint, and it was so deliciously refreshing that I asked to take some home. I also took away a delicious assortment of briwats (savory fried pastry) and an impressive bastilla (savoury and slightly sweet chicken and almond pie with philo topping) which I had smartly ordered in advance to put off the moans of those left behind while I dined out. I have never had a bastilla I didn’t like, but my husband, who is slightly harder to please, was so impressed with the deftly seasoned dish that he ate the remainders cold – straight out of the fridge – a completely out-of-character action for him. And of course our children loved the briwats.

Back at Amal I enjoyed their tagine of the day – meatballs in a richly flavoured fresh tomato sauce cooked in a traditional clay cone-shaped pot. They were also test running a more Western-style chicken stir fry dish that day, and, admittedly, I ate more than my share. Amal’s dishes are lovingly made as if served out of a home kitchen. Because I have worked in many eateries and even owned a few myself (and I am nosey, but prefer to say ‘inquisitive’), I asked to see Amal’s kitchen. It is beautiful too, masha Allah! Nora completely gutted the kitchen of the riad Amal is located in and filled two-thirds of the walls with windows, making it a truly noor-filled place to work, a feature which is reflected in their dishes and ambience.

Throughout the week, Amal features a dish-of the-day, normally a tagine, with several side dishes. On Fridays, like most Moroccan kitchens, Amal serves heaping platters of couscous with lamb and seven vegetables. In January Amal hired a new chef, Si Mohamed, to expand the menu and bring in more of a “restaurant culture” for the trainees. They now learn basic sauces, vegetable chopping techniques, and foundational culinary know-how beyond simply reproducing a recipe. Si Mohamed has trained with French masters, and thanks to him the trainees have learned signature French dishes such as salade nicoise, caesar salade, gratin dauphinois (a most satisfying potato and cream gratin), glazed chicken with sage, filet mignon, etc. The moelleux au chocolat, a fallen chocolate cake with a liquid gooey center is the perfectly satisfying ending to all of Amal’s well balanced meals.

Amal is available to cater and for take-out orders, and I encourage using them for such when you are in Marrakech. If you happen to be in Marrakech during Ramadhan, Amal is the perfect place to break your fast with a traditional Moroccan iftar of harira soup, savory philo dough briwates, fresh smoothies and more. Amal Restaurant and Women’s Training Center is an exceptionally versatile organisation which, with advanced notice, can prepare specialty dishes such as vegan couscous and even offers private cooking classes. For families travelling with children, the specially designed play and craft space is a welcome break for both the kids and their parents.

If you don’t get the chance to dine at Amal, you may still consider donating to this exceptional organisation. It is a Moroccan registered non-profit, and donations are accepted through the website http://www.hope-amal.org And volunteer efforts from various fields are always welcome.

In Marrakech, please dine out or order from Amal located in Quartier Gueliz at the intersection of rues Allal ben Ahmad and Ibn Sina, between l’Hopital Ibn Tofail and the popular Patisserie Paul.  06 04 23 88 60 or 05 24 44 68 96 More information about how to donate or volunteer with Amal can be found on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/AmalNonProit

In Casablanca, please dine out or order from one of Restaurant Solidarité Féminine’s locations: Site Palmier: 10, rue Mignard 05 22 98 66 15/05 22 25 46 46 or Site Aïn Sebâa: 21, rue Tizli Ousli. 05 22 34 30 90 More information about their Opus award-winning organisation can be found on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/solfempalmier

*Name changed.

Brooke Benoit aspires to being a lapsed foodie, but living in the culinary paradise of the North African Mediterranean and being married to a chef makes this pipe dream very unlikely. This article originally appeared in the June 2014 issue of SISTERS Magazine, the magazine for fabulous Muslim women.

Business Owner’s Badge ~ We Earn Em

Surely it must be another sign that I am near-grown that I can put aside my Campfire Girls vs Girl Scouts ism and submit to an interview to help a girl get a couple of badges, specifically Business Owners and Customer Insight. Herein is Saffeyya, 10 years old, grilling me and below is me grilling her.

Were you a GirlScout when you were younger, and if so, did any of the skills you learned help you to this day?

I was a Camp Fire Girl for several years, which I imagine is a lot like Girl Scouts- we sold candy and went to camp, earned badges and beads, had weekly meetings and were involved in various community services. I think the candy sales were really beneficial in several ways. Firstly it was rewarding to help earn my spot at camp by selling candy- it made the camp experience truly mine. It was also fun to sell a product that people really liked- Camp Fire Girl candy may not be as famous as Girl Scout cookies, but it’s delicious and I had many happy returning customers. I’m sure that I learned how to throw a pretty good sales pitch, how to gauge customers interest and not to waste any time or frustrate people who weren’t interested. I also learned how to ‘canvas’ or choose good market spots and I am pretty sure at least some of my tenacity may have come from the experience of working hard to rake in those sales.

How do you find out what your customers want?

Mostly I ask. I run two businesses, I am a freelance wordsmith (writer and editor), and also make jewelry. For the first business I ask what kind of articles the readers of the magazine I edit need or how people want me to edit their projects- do they want my opinion about the stories or just to fix their typos? For writing I usually have an idea in mind that I want to pour out into an article, so then I look around at different sites or publications for one that may be interested in my idea and I propose it to them. Or sometimes I hear about a publication that wants specific submissions and I will write something based on their guidelines.

For my jewelry business I mostly just make things that I think are really pretty and interesting/unique, but sometimes people request custom orders. For customs I ask a lot of questions and as for examples of what they are looking for, then I send samples of photos that I think may be similar until I understand what the customer wants and they understand what I can make for them.

How do you figure out what to charge for your products?

This is such a difficult and complicated thing- I am still figuring it out! I, like many people, used to undercharge for my work because I wanted to build a clientele. Now I have a clientele with both businesses and charge rates closer to market price, meaning what other people are charging.

How did you start your business?

For both businesses I studied the market, meaning I spent a lot of time reading the kind of things I wanted to write and studying websites of people selling jewelry. I went back to school to get a degree related to writing, and I tried to focus as much as my school work as I could on the field I wanted to work in- Islamic or Muslim media. I also talked to my wanna-be peers a lot, such as on eBay there are many community forums where sellers discuss how they run their shops. Similarly I joined a few Muslim-based writing organizations where I learned all about how and where to get writing jobs, and then I was ‘head hunted’ meaning an editor or publisher found me through these writing affiliations (also known as networking) and offered me jobs.

What advice would you give me if I wanted to start a business like yours someday?

Do lots and lots of research before you get started. Being self-employed means that you will have to learn about and do many different jobs instead of just doing one job for someone else, such as in addition to making jewelry I have to do marketing, customer service, packaging, some html, photography, product research and development, and so on.

Some people like to ‘jump into the fire’ and ‘just do it’- but that could be why the majority of small businesses fail before their first year is even up. Allah does not like us to waste the bounty of resources He has provided for us and being hasty (not doing research) almost always results in waste and failure. There is a lot to be learned by not succeeding the first time around, but it’s still best to respect yourself, your time and recourses – all are on loan to you from Allah – and do as much research as possible before you jump in.

Of course also learn all the Islamic rulings on business transactions- that is the ultimate guidance we should be taking and helps to insure that our earnings are halal. Lastly (this happens a lot so don’t be tempted!) do not take advice from people who don’t know what they are talking about. Plenty of people will tell you “This is a good idea” or “You should do this” but unless they are doing something very similar they really don’t know what they are talking about and just think it is a good thing. Talk to or read about people who are doing something similar to what you want to do.

What do you like most about your job?

In the writing and editing job, which is what I help feed my family with- I like that I get to work with a lot of really interesting, active and inspiring people. I also get to do lots of research and learn new things, which is great. In my jewelry job, which is a side job, of course I love to make really pretty things and I get to contemplate Allah’s amazing creations- gemstones and metals are incredible- but I have found out that it is also really rewarding to see how happy customers are with my little works of art.

What is the hard part about running your business?

Organization is not my strong point, so I struggle with various aspects of that- from managing my time to controlling my stock. There aren’t any bead stores anywhere near where I live now (the High Atlas mountains of Morocco) so I really need to plan ahead for what supplies I may need to make jewelry. And when I do have all my supplies, I need to stop myself from spending 12 hours a day making pretty things – I do have plenty of other things to do!

Last question: what surprises you the most about running your own business?

That I can do it! 16 years ago, when I was pregnant with my first child, my husband suggested that I find a business to do from home since I wanted to continue to work but also wanted to stay home with my baby. I didn’t think that would be possible, I had no idea what to do. I began telling people that I wanted to stay home and work (networking again!) and I did find something to do through a friend. It took me a few years to start to do my own thing and then a few more years to realize that I really was doing my own thing!

And me asking of Saffeyya:

What do you like most about being a GirlScout?

My favorite thing about Girl Scouts is all the new stuff I’m learning through the different activities we do as a troop.

Which badge are you earning and do you get to choose the order or which badges you earn?

I am currently working on the Business Owner badge, and the Customer Insight badge. We get to choose the order and pace, which I really like

What are some of the things you think you might want to do for a business or work?

EnshAllah, someday I would really like to work maybe as an illustrator, or perhaps my own gallery selling different kinds of art. I love to draw, paint, color, and find new uses for everyday objects.

Do you have a favourite piece of jewelry and if so what is it?

My favorite piece of jewelry is a very fine white gold bracelet. It has tiny heart beads on it, and my dad gave it to me when I was 4.

Ahhhhhhhhhh, Thank you so much Saffeyya for helping me peg some thoughts! ❤