On the first days of Dhul Hijjah, my true love gave to me…

Okay, I know, I know. I’m totally (mis?)appropriating a Christmas song. Well, I have a past and some cultural baggage in the form of a love of all things Christmas-y that came with it. I was a Christmas-celebrationist for 16 years you know. But enough of the made up words. This year, I reappropriated some ideas to get Noora and myself in the mood for Dhul Hijjah. Because Noora heard that Eid was coming and automatically thought it was Ramadan. And when she found out that it wasn’t Ramadan or Eid yet, let’s just say that she wasn’t too happy. Thus, the need to teach her that there are two Eids and that they are different and come in different months. So the way I decided to excite her about Eid-ul-Kabir, which, unfortunately, I think is treated as the lesser Eid since it comes and goes so fast…is by borrowing an idea from my dear Sr. Amnah of Little Life of Mine…the traditional Christmas stocking stuffer idea, which I actually never participated in as a Christmas-celebrationist for all those years.

So for the past ten days of Dhul Hijjah, Noora woke up to one very bright yellow bag that I’d place in front of our fireplace and Eid lights (SIDENOTE–>The bag is bright with pictures of (Muslim) people and Arabic letters all over it…yeah, it’s such a cool bag that I kept it as souvenir from our trip to Palestine). Each day, I placed a number for the corresponding hijri date…and put one gift inside. One for each day…to remind her that these are the best ten days of the year, and that we’re giving up TV and other trivial things we do for much more important things. It worked like a charm. Not only did it help her countdown the days to Eid inshAllah…(she quickly learned that 10 signified Eid early on!), but it also helped her to not get overwhelmed by too many gifts at once. She was actually able to enjoy one gift fully each day, enjoying the specialness of that gift and that day. A lot of the gifts were items that she needed–tights, knee-highs, shoes, but there were also some fun inexpensive items in there too like glow sticks and stick-on earrings. But on the first day of Dhul Hijjah, she woke to…

The second book of the Noor Kids series

And I am absolutely smitten with this book. And so is Noora. I was actually asked to review the Noor Kids series a couple of months ago, but never quite got around to it. I was actually sent two other samples of this series, but today, I am reviewing the book that I personally purchased at ISNA. You didn’t think that Noora wouldn’t have a book on hajj with all this celebrate-holy-days-cheerleading I’ve been doing, did you?! Well, here it is! And let me tell you, if you have more than one child, you should have one for each of them because there are activities inside! .Noor Kids Go to Hajj! and the Noor Kids series in general, are a very inviting and interactive way to talk and teach about Islamic concepts and morals with children. When I first read that the books were for the ages 3 to 8, I wondered how could that be?! That’s such a big gap! But this series is actually everything you could want in a book really. Written in a comic-strip-style format, Noor Kids books are interactive, discussion-generating, and also great for independent play with the coloring, word and image search, unscrambling, etc. activities. Of course a lot of the activities are geared towards older children, but Noora was able to color, answer some questions and do a seek-and-find with images, and she’s a pretty new three-year-old. And who in that 3-8 age group doesn’t love listening to stories? One main concept is featured per book through two stories and a lot of activities. I especially loved the first story presented in this issue, “In Allah’s Orbit”. The authors had a unique way of talking about tawaf through the attraction of the planets to the sun. MashAllah, it was a unique way to introduce the solar system and the idea of centering and focusing ourselves and our attention on Allah–two things that I’ve been wanting to teach Noora–all the while presenting the concepts of hajj through tawaaf and sa’iee.

This series would be a great companion to academic study. Children learn about science, inventions, and history all the while connecting to their faith. There’s also a parent guide on the very first page that clues you into the issue’s theme and lists other resources for development of the concepts. If I were to sum up this series in one word, it would be resourceFULL. I love the illustrations and creativity–they are colorful and the renditions of actual places like the Mecca are true to life and inviting. The covers feature traditional Islamic art with mihrabs, and the characters are animals, but still look Muslim, and cute while at it! It’s soft acculturation in a very cutesy kid-friendly format, I mean what child doesn’t like animals?! Soft cuddly bears, rabbits, and lions? (Good thing they aren’t lions and tigers and bears–oh my! ;)). Moreover, having different kinds of animals as the characters solves the dilemma of being multicultural, which is always a must in my book!

Noora asked to read this book every day during the first ten days of Dhul Hijjah. She liked it so much that I had to give her one of the review copies as another gift during these first ten days (Noor Kids Discover Their Blessings). When she opened it and saw what it was, she said, “look, another book of Noor!”  Oh, and I forgot to tell you that when she saw the first book on hajj, she noticed her name on the cover and asked if it spelled her name. MashAllah. All in all, I think I will have to subscribe to this series and it’ll serve as her Muslim Highlights for Kids right now. Speaking of which, there is a Muslim Highlights of sorts that came out in the UK recently. It’s called Discover…and I’ll be published in the second issue inshAllah, so stay tuned! Meanwhile, you can get yourself a free sample of the Noor Kids series from their website.

As for other cheerleading feats, I thought I’d try to be a Cake Boss this Eid. I had the wonderful? idea of decorating cookies and brownies to make them look like Ka’abas this Eid. Yeah, I was on my feet for four hours and I’m not quite sure that they ever evolved into the wonderful pictures that I had in my head…they tasted good though! Hey, I never said I had mastered any cake decorating skills. I’ll leave my art to pencil, paper, and fibers for now! Mastering the art of cake decorating and cooking is not a part of my agenda on this blog…so I’ll focus my intentions of more-likely-to-be-achieved tasks like getting ready to make twenty gifts for the next year’s first ten days of Dhul Hijjah, since Safiyya will be old enough to kind of understand the gifting process. In the future, I’d like to put out ten bags all at once, incorporating math skills, so that Noora can tell me how many days we have left til Eid and how many Dhul Hijjah days have passed (though that may be biting off more than I can chew–can you imagine the control it would take to not try to open all those gifts at once when they are right there?!).

Whichever way, I think I’m starting a tradition that will need advance preparation in order for continuation. And maybe by then I can finish those old ka’abas that I made from paper last year and never finished. When I actually do get them hanging from the ceiling (inshAllah!), there will be a tutorial here for you. Meanwhile, I better finish this arts and crafts idea from Little Life of Mine that we started during these first ten days of Dhul Hijjah…and think of what cheerleading feat I’ll have to pull for next month–Muharram, the beginning of the Islamic calendar (<–I so need to get this girl a calendar)! Until then, Eid Mubarak!

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Book Review: Under the Ramadan Moon

It took a while to find this book.

Last year, I checked out every children’s Ramadan book that my local library system had to offer to find *the* early childhood Ramadan book for Noora’s home library. There were more Ramadan books in the secular public library system than I thought! And they covered Ramadan traditions in different places, including Kuwait, Egypt, and America! I think I ended up with a stack of twenty books…I even checked out those non-fiction titles that would be perfect for a child’s research paper on Ramadan, but all I found were runner ups to *the* early childhood Ramadan book for us.

I found Hena Khan’s Night of the Moon: A Muslim Holiday Story (2008), but I found the words to be too much for an early childhood audience…and the illustrations of the mother outside of the house didn’t reflect my views on hijab. I found Na’ima B. Robert’s Ramadan Moon (2009), and while I loved the words…I wasn’t that big a fan of those illustrations either, though I loved seeing how the moon changed from page to page as Ramadan progressed :S.

I wanted something simple, something memorable, and something that rhymed, and while the meter is off to me in certain places…

This is *the* Ramadan book for my girls in their early childhood.

I don’t know how I found it. I guess you could say I was led to it…by the grace of Allah and the process of elimination. I mean, I wasn’t finding anything I was completely enamored with at the library. I think it was actually an Amazon search that brought up this title, and I must’ve liked what I saw because I added it to my wishlist as soon as I saw a few sample pages. I didn’t buy it then though. A couple of months ago, I added it to our baby registry for Safiyya’s aqiqa, and a sweet family member (who isn’t even Muslim!) gifted it to us. Right on time for Ramadan. And ever since the very first night of Ramadan this year, Noora and I read this book before bedtime. Even Safiyya pays attention. I started reading it for the first few nights, and it’s just now the middle of Ramadan and Noora has the words mostly memorized. She is “reading” it to me. This is important–Noora, who just turned 3, had been waiting for Ramadan and knew it was coming as soon as I started to decorate the house. But she didn’t really understand what it meant and why the whole flow of the house changed during this time. Why wasn’t daddy eating with her in the day? Why were so many guests coming at night? Why was mommy cooking as if her life depended on it ;)? Why were both mommy and daddy exhausted? Why weren’t we watching TV? Why did Qur’an and incense fill the house instead? Why weren’t we eating at restaurants (as we often treat Noora to)? Why weren’t we going on as many outdoor excursions (field trips) in the hot summer heat?

I think it’s hard for young children to grasp all that Ramadan means when they can’t fully participate in its activities such as fasting all day, but they can learn from our examples and by discussing simple stories such as Sylvia Whitman’s Under the Ramadan Moon (2011). In this beautiful story, Whitman outlines the basic practices of Ramadan with the repeating refrain “under the moon, under the moon, under the Ramadan moon.” It’s not a story about someone else’s Ramadan, nor is it about the why’s and how’s of Ramadan. It’s about what we do during Ramadan–and I believe that this word choice makes all the difference. By saying what we do during Ramadan, the young reader is instantly included into the narrative of the book and able to recognize the visible actions of Ramadan–most of which he/she has already participated in! <;–Our only exception in this book is that “We [do not] crack nuts and drink hot tea under the moon.” (I’m just not much of a nut-eater, though my DH and DD are 🙂 ).20120802-163838.jpg

So this is our new tradition besides the lights, dates, and decorations. A way to visualize and conceptualize Ramadan through a special Ramadan story. And it is now the 15th day of Ramadan–the very middle–a white day when the moon is full, shining in all her glory. A perfect time to show Noora how different the moon looks from the beginning and end of the month when it is crescent-shaped. (By the way, the moon changes with time throughout this book, too! Yippee!) Cuz lately, I’ve been trying to gently expand Noora’s sense of time…minutes, days, and now months, and while she doesn’t quite know what 15 minutes is and exactly what day it is everyday, she does know that it’s Ramadan and it entails certain actions. And though all of Noora’s questions of “why” aren’t specifically answered in this book, she recognizes that Ramadan is a special time of devotion and it is the main reason and answer to her questions. Ramadan is what we do as Muslims. “We wait for the moon./We watch for the moon./We watch for the Ramadan moon.” And when it’s gone, “We live our faith until next year/under the moon,/under the moon,/under the Ramadan moon.”

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P.S. In my search, I did find *the* Ramadan books for Noora and Safiyya when they’re upper elementary school age inshAllah–Mary Matthews’ Magid Fasts for Ramadan (1996), Asma Mobin-Uddin’s A Party in Ramadan (2009) and The Best Eid Ever (2007), and Ann P. El Moslimany’s Zaki’s Ramadhan Fast (1994). Great books, get them for your library too! More on them later as the girls grow up, inshAllah…under the moon, under the moon, under the Ramadan moon.

 

Welcome to the World, Baby!

This past Saturday was one of the best days that I’ve had in a long time. It was the aqiqa feast for baby #2. That’s right! She’s out(–she actually came out two days after the previous post!)…and it was pouring cats, dogs, elephants, coyotes, and every other animal at the zoo during her feast. This matters because…the aqiqa was outdoors at a state park! But she still had a beautiful reception. And we learned who really loved us–the people who came and stayed through the thunderstorm, getting soaking wet to their underwear (multiple times as it poured off and on!) just to welcome our baby to the world.

Subhanallah! In adversity, true colors come forth, just like the sun that greeted us after the rainstorm, making a rainbow. We had friends as far as Richmond come up as well as friends from around the Beltway. The rain reminded me of the movie, Monsoon Wedding and it was the first real soaking rain of this summer…a blessing as we’ve been experiencing a bit of a heat wave in these parts, heat advisories and all! And as couple of our family and friends remarked, it was Allah’s rahma (mercy) descending during the aqiqa because as the hadiths go, “Rain is a mercy” and “There are two which will not be rejected: du’a at the time of the call (to prayer) and when it is raining” (Abu Dawud).

This beautiful welcoming party by family, friends, and the elements alike reminded me of one of the first books that I purchased for Noora while I was still expecting, if not the first. It’s by one of my favorite children’s and young adult book authors, Na’ima bint Robert, and is entitled Welcome to the World, Baby! In it, we meet an elementary-age class who discover the different ways that families welcome babies into the world through their senses. It’s a multicultural dream come true, and stars a lot of Muslim children. On one of my favorite pages, a child takes out an envelope with a lock of her brother’s hair in order to show and tell about the Muslim tradition of shaving a child’s head and donating the hair’s weight to charity. Two children later, I can now smile at this page.

But I remember when I first learned about the Prophetic tradition of shaving a newborn’s hair on the seventh day after birth. I was a bit horrified for my little girl (it wouldn’t have been a problem for a little boy to me), but it was sunnah so I pressed on. Honestly, I tried to get out of it. I researched every hadith I could find and called all of my more knowledgeable friends and some of my already-mommy friends. But it all came down to the same thing. Shave your child’s head on the seventh day or on a multiple of the seventh day. That’s the sunnah, and while it’s not required, if you do otherwise, you’re missing out on the light of the prophetic sunnah.

It’s funny, because this time around, I had the same anxiety. Oh those newborn curls! Couldn’t I just keep them on her head forever? Well, I could, but it was all in the name of vanity and prissyness. So I write this post dedicated to all other women out there, who, like me, may have some anxiety over their little girls going bald. There is nothing to fear. The hair grows back…even, full, and quickly too! And the most beautiful thing about the child is that they are not vain–they are content as long as you show them love. They couldn’t care less if you shaved their head or not. I was blessed to know a brother who had shaved 100+ children’s heads. But you may not be so lucky. He shaved Noora’s head. This time around, we did it ourselves. Between the two, here’s what I witnessed in the hopes that you, new mommies out there, will keep the Prophetic tradition alive!

  • Breastfeed baby before the shaving–it calms them down and gets them to sleep. Let him/her sleep in your arms (that way you can move his/her head around as needed for the shaving–and make sure you’re in clothes that you don’t mind getting messy! Check out your floor too–it’s much easier to mop up a mess than vacuum up one!)
  • Have a bucket of warm water ready, some Aveeno or sensitive shaving cream, and a new good razor (we used a Mach 3 and didn’t get any cuts!)
  • Cut the baby’s hair with scissors first if its long (this is the hair that you’ll want to save and put in that nice white envelope as in the book, or in our case, a ziplock bag–it’s nice and dry). Then proceed to shave it, right side to left. Take your time; it’s gonna take a while (it took us about an hour). Use the bucket between shavings to rinse the razor and replace the water when it gets too mucky to use.
  • Give baby (and yourself) a bath and cuddle. Take a before and after pic if you take pictures. Baby wears bald very well!

So this is how we welcomed our second daughter to the world. She had her aqiqa, albeit divvied up on different days (she got her name on her first day, her hair shaved another, this feast on yet another), and likewise, we pray that that prophetic light surrounds her each and every day for all of her days. She’s another shining light from the Creator that we hope to nurture and guide to the good. Please welcome Miss Safiyya Yusaira to the world with us with your goodly thoughts and prayers!

The rainbow after the storm…

P.S. We realize that not all who love us could physically be there for the feast, but we were genuinely surprised by the amount of people who came through–rain and all! We know that some friends could only be there in spirit :).

Book Review: At the Masjid Learning Series

A couple of months ago, I was asked to review a new children’s book series that took place at the masjid. So I checked out their website to make sure that I could review the books with justice. You see, a good number of books I’ve encountered at Muslim bookstores have issues to say the least. From typos to questionable interpretations to being limited to one cultural representation per book, a book review could turn out to be ranting and raving of my pet peeves, and I so do not want to do that. So my policy is if I think a book just isn’t any good, I just refuse to review it.

So when I first stumbled upon the Compass Books page, I was delighted to see a multicultural and colorful representation of folks at the masjid. My eye was caught by a beautiful brown-skinned woman in hijab wearing a baby in a sling with a little boy right next to her. She was to represent the color yellow. I seldom saw anyone who looked more or less like me–baby sling and all–in a Muslim children’s book. So I agreed to write this review.

At the Masjid Learning Series, photo courtesy of Compass Books

When I first received the package from Canada, I was a bit surprised. The books were smaller than I thought…tiny, very much pocket books. And as I flipped through, I wondered to myself, “Where is the narrative?” For the most part, the series has one word/idea/concept per page. I was preconditioned to think that I was going to be reading a story that merely featured numbers, colors, opposites, and shapes at the masjid. I wasn’t ready for this–I’m used to reviewing books that have at least 500 words per page, academic that I am. So I put the books down and let my two-year-old daughter, Noora, decide.

I couldn’t believe it. She wouldn’t put the books down. Everywhere I looked, the books followed me to be read aloud. She kept having me read the one word-idea-concept pages over and over. I’d yawn, but I’d comply. It was a little scary…and a little boring at first. But hey, the books weren’t to teach me concepts–they were to teach Noora concepts. So I got the idea to test out if these books were truly educational. Noora knew some of the words already, but not all. I got my answer when I questioned Noora about concepts on various pages…”what shape is this?”…”where is this person?” The AHA! moment clicked for me when Noora described the old/young page in the Opposites at the Masjid book. She said the old man was Papa. She knew the difference between old and young and applied the illustrations to her real-life great-grandpa. Wow, mashAllah.

On a more practical note, complete with a board book case, the At the Masjid Learning Series books are great for traveling and putting in the diaper bag. Pocket-sized, they are great for small hands. Authored by Katherine Bullock and illustrated by Heather Greenwood, the series includes Numbers at the Masjid, Colours at the Masjid, Opposites at the Masjid, and Shapes at the Masjid and I highly recommend them for preschool age children. I don’t think any child is too young to discover the concepts presented in these books. Everyday, general concepts have been given a creative Islamic setting–the series is a winner by all accounts. And I must say I especially love the slogan/motto of Compass Books: “Guiding Readers Through the World of Books.”

I’m not sure if Noora has a favorite of the whole series, but I know that the series has definitely grown on me. I look forward to being hunted down, and for Noora to “read” the “stories” aloud to me. I never was a fan of minimalism, but I now understand the concept of “keep it simple sweet” that my mother always chimes. And with only one word-idea-concept per page, the At the Masjid Learning Series gives Noora and other imaginative children like her the chance to invent their own stories per page. And what’s more, there are also free coloring pages from the books available now for your little one to color any way he/she sees fit! 😀 And I must say that truly, I don’t feel that it’s me who is the reviewer of these books–it is only through Noora’s eyes that I was able to see the treasure this series offers us beyond the multicultural and colorful illustrations that first caught my eye.

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