Eid Mubarak my lovelies! I hope the last month of Ramadan has been a blessed and fulfilling one.
Many of you know that I only started fasting a few years ago, so I’ve always struggled with the long hours as Ramadan has fallen within the summer months.
I’ve had a few days to let the tragic events in Paris settle and permeate in my mind. Who would have thought that such horrors could unfold so close to home. And for what? Revenge? Scaremongering?
The Charlie Hebdo shooting has been dominating Twitter and the news for the last few days with people declaring their solidarity, defiant in their support. However these events have sparked much wider debates on a number of subjects, revealing both good and bad aspects of our society.
The way in which everyone rallied together is something that I love about humanity. Even in the face of such brutal violence, we all manage to come together as one enormous unit and show solidarity against hatred and violence. But there are always opportunists who opt to take the more negative path and aim to incite hatred within a society that is still in shock and emotionally fragile after these attacks.
Rupert Murdoch for example believes that all Muslims should be responsible for the attacks in Paris as the terrorists were acting in the name of our faith. So let me get this straight. Approximately 1.6 billion people on this earth are responsible for the actions of three violent men. Ahmed Merabat, the police officer who was gunned down should be held responsible as well as Lassana Bathily, the employee in the kosher supermarket who hid customers in a large freezer to avoid being killed. Religious profiling much Rupert?
I’ve seen countless Muslims condemning the attack and I’ve done so too. But what I don’t like is this expectation some people have for us to be apologetic for the attacks. There’s no need for us to apologise for these attacks happening because these men do not reflect the faith we practice and try to live by daily. We would never expect Christians to apologise for Hitler’s actions because we all know the vast majority are the polar opposite to the dictator. Are we shocked and upset at the shooting and murders? Of course we are. We’re humans too. We can only imagine what the families of those victims must be going through. This idea that we need to validate ourselves to show that we stand with the majority is ridiculous. Being Muslim doesn’t mean we have an irrational train of thought. I think the fact that two Muslims were killed, (one police officer and a copy-editor) should be enough for people to know that the men responsible do not care about their religion or anyone other than themselves and their selfish, warped reasoning for unleashing this kind of violence.
These men have done much more damage to Islam and to the Prophet they were avenging in comparison to the cartoons published. I have to say, I’m pretty secure in my religion and wouldn’t let a couple of cartoons anger me to the point of murder.
Now, I support free speech and expression – how can I not? I’m a journalism graduate who enjoys nosing around for different perspectives and opinions on loads of topics. However what people may not understand is that free speech is exactly that. Free. That means going against the tide now and again. If we really are all about freedom of speech then I have the right to express that “I don’t like those illustrations Charlie Hebdo published.” I have the right to explain that I found them quite distasteful – and not just the Islamic ones. I also have the right to say that I do feel that Charlie Hebdo often crossed a line where their content stopped being satirical and became somewhat offensive. These are my thoughts and I too am entitled to them, even if they may not be echoed by the mass media. Does that I mean I don’t stand in solidarity? Nope. Does that mean these journalists and cartoonists deserve to die? Of course not. Their material, like most media we consume, is a matter of preference.
Do I think they had an agenda? Of course. All publications do. This was made even more clear after learning that the magazine once fired Maurice Sinet for depicting Nicholas Sarkozy’s son as a Jewish convert. He was accused of anti-semitism and was told to apologise, which he refused to. In the end he was dismissed from the magazine. I do find it astonishing that such heavy punishment was taken for this circumstance, however mocking portrayals of both Islam and Christianity are seen as expressing “freedom of speech.” Surely freedom of speech should extend to everything and everyone, right? Plus, it’s not like our media is completely free and unbiased.
Yasmin Brown for the Independent pointed out other notable cases to do with freedom of speech: “Not good is the way the powerful control our right to know or speak. People are prosecuted for thought crimes; the BBC films on the monarchy have allegedly been blocked by the royal family; the Chilcot report on the Iraq war is still withheld.”
If we are going to stand for free speech and expression we should remember to stand for it everywhere. Not just in our hometown or city. We should support it in areas of the world where leaders silence civilians and where the media purposely ignores. Hashtags are another growing trend and whilst I haven’t used the #JeSuisCharlieHebdo, that doesn’t mean I don’t stand in solidarity against violence and hatred. For me, #JeSuisCharlieHebdo is reflective of the magazine itself and for me, I don’t feel it’s a representation of who I am. I will stand by #JeSuisAhmed, for the police officer who died trying to tackle these violent monsters and better yet, #JeSuisLiberté in support of free speech and peace. In this way, it is a hashtag that reflects a cause that everybody should feel inclined to stand by.
If there’s anything to take away from this unfortunate attack, is that it’s never been more important to stick together. This is the message we should all be spreading. As far as I’m concerned, as long as there’s a pen in our hands and people are sitting up and taking notice of what needs to be done, there’s nothing any terrorist, racist or bigot can do.
Saverah’s Urban Muslim Woman Show has been brightly circled on my calendar for months. Finally, on Saturday 14th June, hundreds of elegantly and colorfully dressed ladies descended upon the Novotel Hotel in Hammersmith for an evening of fashion shows, inspirational talks and our collective weakness – shopping!
Accompanying the various clothing and abaya stalls, visitors had the chance to purchase skincare products, handmade crafts, tasty bakes and some gorgeously designed jewellery.
Bringing consumers and businesses together as well as excellent networking opportunities, The Saverah UMW Show had something for everyone. Fashion shows with the latest in modest fashion and thought provoking speeches from inspirational women carried visitors into the evening.
Providing a solid platform to mingle with entrepreneurs, artists and of course official partners and bloggers, the ease of networking made this event one filled with opportunities and potential to establish excellent and unique collaborations.
Designers exhibiting and featuring their collections included Nahara, Asian Designers and Sri Munawwarah. The spectacular shows had visitors snapping away, all keen to leave with their very own nugget of runway glamour.
Nahara’s approach to their collections definitely makes their scarves all the more unique and bespoke. Working with a London-based calligraphy artist, Samir Malik, the end result of this seasons collection consisted of his work actually printed on the soft to the touch silk scarves.
To accompany the several glitzy fashion shows, Saverah also lined up a host of inspirational women who gave thought provoking speeches throughout the night as well as fund raising with Human Appeal who raised an astonishing £44,000.
HRH Princess Basmah, who supports reform in Saudi Arabia, explained the importance of attitudes changing towards women and towards men and boys at home. Having written extensively about political instability and social changes, the Princess, who resides in London, was well placed to talk about the work that still needs to be done to ensure that both men and women are not deprived of four birth given rights; Security, education, freedom and equality.
Her talk rang true to what many people essentially think and believe, but whilst talking with her, it was apparent to us both that not enough is being done to actually implement these changes.
The evening was definitely one that drew together various aspects that make up today’s modern Muslim woman. With an abundance of fashion designers, Saverah made sure to include other refreshing individuals showcasing their talents and passions. Not forgetting the spectacular amount of money raised for Human Appeal, the evening was a massive success and has undoubtedly shown there is much more depth to the modern Muslim woman than we think.
Setting up a blog is one achievement in itself, but when you perfect it, that feeling comes full circle. Wanting to add a little va va voom to Habibi Lifestlye, I came across Farrah Azam, an artist who injects life into everyday objects and a variety of surfaces with gorgeously decadent henna designs. The result of working with her is the banner you see at the top of this website. Stylish, timeless and relevant – much like all of her other work. I nabbed the busy working Mum of one for a quick one to one.
1. There are no shortage of henna artists, but what made you think outside the box and apply this seemingly traditional practice to everyday items?
A lot of my inspiration comes from henna and I use actual henna in most of my work, which is why I decided to name my business ‘Bespoke Henna’. I work on a variety of surfaces from canvases to clothing and I use a variety of mediums to apply my designs so it goes far beyond the concept of a henna artist in my humble opinion.
Given the full scope of what I do, I don’t think the notion of a ‘henna’ artist fully covers that. I think a henna artist is somebody who is typically a body artist and I don’t actually paint on the body. I feel as though people would possibly put me in a ‘box’ and label me as a henna artist because henna on other surfaces other than the body seems to be an uncommon phenomenon up until recently.
For some odd reason, I have never enjoyed painting henna on the body. I don’t have a passion for it and I think it makes me feel slightly uncomfortable working on people which is the complete opposite feeling I get when painting on products. I actually find painting on products tremendously therapeutic. I’ve never liked it applied to my skin and I remember reluctantly having it applied on my wedding day.
I took the elements I liked about henna such as the actual substance and the patterns, and went off and applied it in such a way that it can be appreciated for years to come. I was actually practicing a design on a piece of paper and once it had dried, I realised how stunning it would look if I framed it. That’s what gave me the idea to paint on canvases and other products.
2. Your designs are inspired by a variety of cultures and eras such as Persian, Arabian and Mughal Indian. What is it about these particular backgrounds that you find so interesting?
Yes indeed. I find these backgrounds interesting because I have grown up being exposed to a lot of these cultures. Islamic art inspired me a great deal and coming from an Islamic background, I have grown up visiting beautiful mosques, visiting countries rich in culture and seeing all the stunning outfits and jewellery my Pakistani relatives wear. I have always been attracted to art which originates in these countries, and I love the traditional patterns which are used in henna such as the paisley and floral motifs and the way it all connects so elegantly.
3. What has been your most challenging commission and why?
That’s actually a really difficult question! I had to create about 13 canvases for a restaurant once in a fairly short space of time – I think that was a challenge! I also recently hand-painted some biscuits for a charity event too and I found that extremely challenging. I wasted quite a few biscuits and countless tubes of icing! It was very different working with icing because the consistency was completely different to henna and paint. I kept making it too thick or too watery and it was a very frustrating experience but it made me more determined to get it right. In the end I did and I was super proud.
4. What would you say has been your biggest achievement to date and why?
I have had a few big achievements this year. In January I was invited as a guest on a popular lifestyle show on the Islam Channel, which is the most watched ethnic channel in the U.K. I had various magazine features, one of which was in the leading Asian magazine in the U.K (Asiana magazine) and I was called on to the Islam Channel again around Eid time as a special guest to talk about my work on a women’s talk show. I was also contacted by CNN news this year to feature in their Eid gallery which turned out to be one of their most popular galleries so far. I also managed to set up a training academy in October, which was a big achievement for me. Teaching is something which was completely new to me and although I found it very challenging, it’s so rewarding and I have had the loveliest students. I have even had a student fly out from Denmark for my course and recently a student came from Scotland. In addition to this, I have also held international Skype lessons.
5. This year has been a truly successful one for you. What do you hope to achieve in 2014?
Good question. I have so much planned. I am starting an Islamic art course in January where I will be learning geometric art and Arabesque patterns. I’m really excited to apply these new skills that I hope to learn in to my current work. Once my course is complete, I am off to Marrakech to get lots of inspiration! I also plan to do an Islamic calligraphy course sometime next year if I can fit it in. I want to work more on my training academy as I haven’t so far advertised it much or even put a section up about it on my website. I have just been super busy. But with my son starting reception, I’m hoping I’ll have some more free time to build on what I’ve started.
Find more of Farrah’s work on www.bespokehenna.com.
For the longest time I’ve been a fan of chic lit fiction that transported me to destinations I could only dream of. The glitz, the glamour and the constant adrenaline would always have me on tenterhooks. This time, I wanted to steer my literary interests in a different direction. I wanted a book that would hold a lot of sentiment with me beyond the last page.
In the Land of Invisible Women by Qanta Ahmed was a spur of the moment purchase that frankly exceeded all of my expectations.
Ahmed, a British born Muslim, who studied in both the UK and America and works as a doctor in four disciplines, recounts her experience working in Saudi Arabia and sheds light on a country that holds a lot of mystery and intrigue.
In the Land of Invisible Women also explores various aspects of life within Saudi Arabia such as love, loss, cultural identity and the role faith plays in day to day life. From shopping for abbayahs, to the torment of the Mutawaeen, Ahmed’s experience allows us a unique insight into a land where change is apparent. You quickly realise that the rigid gender roles that have been established for years are starting to shift. Whilst the dominant nature of the Saudi man is called into question, women are becoming far more ambitious, pushing forward in their quest to make a better life for themselves and their country.
Ahmed’s time at the King Fahad National Guard Hospital undoubtedly reveals both the good and dark side of Saudi Arabia, but it’s her visit to Mecca to perform Hajj that is by far and large the most poignant part of the entire book. A combination of her raw emotion, her stunning recollection and the overall purpose and meaning of Hajj was all it took for me to reach for my tissues.
It’s not very often you get a book that really immerses you into a world far removed from your own, however Ahmed’s detailed descriptions perfectly places you within the heart of Saudi and amongst its people.
A beautifully written account of her time in the Kingdom, In the Land of Invisible Women is on the contrary, full of colourful and unforgettable individuals who not only reflect the traditional essence of Saudi Arabia, but also the desire to drive change and progress.
The situation in Syria has been slowly deteriorating over the last couple of weeks. As news sifts through concerning the ongoing fight, everyday brings another bleak and dark tale. Civil war. Refugees. Gunfire on women and children. And now chemical weapons.
What started off as peaceful demonstrations in Syria has now resulted in thousands of people dying. Only now is the world starting to sit up and take notice after poisonous attacks silently killed men, women and children as they slept peacefully in their beds.
Only now are people realising what life has descended into over there.