To Re-Tweet Or Not To Re-Tweet

How long has it been since the Israeli bombardement of Gaza began? Honestly I can’t remember exactly. All I do know is that every night I sit in my house with family around me and I eat my iftari, pray and then wander along to watch the news. The news recently has not ceased to surprise and shock me. My blood runs cold when I watch how families are sat in their houses and are bombed, when children playing on the beach are killed, when a nurse operating in surgery has her arm amputated by shrapnel. All the while the world turns the other way.

In recent days there has been a lot of discussion on social media as well as in the main stream press about individuals who choose to retweet images of the dead/wounded. Many bloggers and members of the press have come out in force to say this is macabre, indeed it is, furthermore they have gone on to say that nothing is to be achieved by doing this. This is where I firmly disagree. Before turning away please let me explain.

In the age before social media, news about what happened in Palestine or indeed anywhere was limited to the main stream media. If a story was not in the public interest, or was not ‘interesting’ enough to make the news it simply did not make the news. Lots of stories don’t make the news, we just don’t know about them. If it weren’t for social media I, for one, would not know that there have been demonstrations in nearly every European capital against the bombardment of Gaza and yet in the UK we can see Gaza sliding down the news agenda. Public noise via demonstrations have been downplayed. The fact is we, muslims, are over 1.6 billion in the world and yet the world cannot hear us.

War is horrible. It is dispicable. No one should have to witness war. Our lives would be so much easier if we did not know about what goes on in war zones. Or without seeing those four little boys playing on the beach, seeing them so full of life and then them being gone the next? Would you feel more comfortable not seeing a tiny bundle not wrapped in a white blanket but in the white funeral cloth? It is not easy to see. It is not easy to retweet but the world needs to know what is happening in Palestine and in other forgotten non high profile war zones. Retweeting creates a hashtag, a noise that becomes hard for main stream media to ignore. Retweeting enables people who are surrounded by destruction and death to do something. They are telling the world their story. Unedited.

900 children (according to UNICEF 22/07/2014) have been injured in Gaza since the latest Israeli operation began. How many of those injuries will be life changing? How many of those children know where they will sleep tonight? How many will have their parents to snuggle into? How many of those children get to choose what they have for dinner? A handful, if they are lucky. We may not be their parents, we may have our own babies sleeping in our beds or children snuggling into us but we all owe it to the Palestinian parents who are no longer here to share their story, to show the world what attrocities are being carried out in the name of legitimate defence. We must not allow the world to ignore the forgotten.

I pray with all my heart and soul that this is the last time the Palestinians have to endure such pain and suffering; that they will be free; that they cease to be opressed; that the world wakes up and stops their suffering Ameen.

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The Simple Things

What are the simple things in life? Surely it is to have the certainty that if you are a small child you can play outside in safety, if you are a pregnant woman you will have access to medical treatment should you give birth unexpectedly, that if you are pregnant stray bullets won’t harm your unborn baby, that if you are a child your parents will be alive to look after you, that if you are engaged that both you and your finance(e) will make it to the wedding, that if you are a parent you will get to look after you children, that children will outlive their parents, that parents won’t have to bury tiny bundles. Without an iota of a doubt all these things depend on the mercy of Allah(swt). It is He, who has decided the length of our lives as well as the pre-appointed time at which we will depart.

The situation in Gaza as is, is dire. I’ve felt sick just watching the news. I’ve felt even more ill reading uncensored social media. It is horrible. Far worse is understanding that the people in Gaza are just people. They too should have the right to the simple things in life. Some media sources have been quick to point out that the Israeli population suffers, but they still enjoy the simple things in life. Weddings go ahead, births take place, religious holidays and events are observed without any disruption and certainly not on the same scale as for the Palestinians. Surely the Palestinians should be able to celebrate Ramadan without having the force of a whole army on their heads? Surely a mother who has prepared Iftar/i for her family should be able to sit and eat safe in the knowledge that everyone is accounted for, surely 10 minutes is not long enough to gather up your children and grab what you can before your home is blown up, surely safety and security is a simple thing in life?

I make dua with all my heart that Allah(swt) will rain his mercy down on the Palestinians, that He will keep them safe, that He will protect them, that He will free them, that He will give them the safety and security that we enjoy and that most of all He will bring them peace and that they, too, will enjoy the simple things. Ameen.

With the simple things in mind I have been thinking about some of the simple meals we have had this Ramadan. We have had quite a few. None of them rocket science in terms of creativity but sometimes it does you good to go back to appreciating the simple things and saying Alhamdulilah.

1. Pizza delivered (20 minutes before hand)
2. Easy Laksa (paste + coconut milk + veg, rice noodles)
3. Sandwiches
4. Shop bought Mezze items
5. Grilled haloumi, rice and salad

Iftari: Mexican

Alhamdulilah we have reached the half-way point of Ramadan. On one hand I feel pleased with the achievements I have made and pray inshallah that I am able to continue with them. On the other hand a sense of sadness that this beautiful month’s blessings are set to end. I pray inshallah that our fasts are accepted, that he helps those muslims stuck in refugee camps or are displaced, those that do not have enough food or water, those whose families have been torn from them, that those who are in the process of leaving this world are able to do so easily, that most of all Allah(swt) rains his mercy on us and finally that he guides our non-muslim families to the right path. Ameen.

The funny thing about this iftari was that I really was unable to think that day. I couldn’t decide what to make for dinner. My husband’s contribution was South America which was great but I really didn’t want to go to the shops and yet this meal came together really well.

For our Mexican Ifari this was our menu plan:
Stuffed red chillies
Brazil nut and cheese balls
Empanadas
Guacamole
Meat balls with vegetables
Re-fried dhal

Arroz Rojo
Normally arroz rojo is spicy. I decided not to make mine spicy as everything else was spicy and we also have a spicy v non spicy conflict in our house. So it is always nice to make something which works for both sets of people.

1 tablespoon rapeseed oil
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 large beef tomato
1 onion
1 cup of basmati rice

Wash and leave the rice to soak for at least 20 minutes.
Use a pan large enough to hold the cooked rice. Slice the onion and allow to brown in the oil, then add the clove of garlic, then add the cumin seeds. Chop the tomato quite finely, add the tomato, it’s juice and seeds in to the pan and allow to cook slightly with the onions.

25 minutes before iftari, drain off the rice and place into the pan with the tomatoes, heat up on a moderate heat to allow the rice to be mixed in with the tomatoes. Then add enough water to cover the rice so that when your finger is on top of the rice the water should reach the first line on your index finger. Bring to boil, then turn down to a low heat and put a lid on the pan. Allow to cook gently. Check the rice at 20 minutes it should be soft and fluffy.

Stuffed Red Chillies
I used long red chillies for this, but any that are large enough to handle would work well. Just try and beware of the heat of the chillies so that you don’t make the stuffing too hot.
Wash and deseed the chillies, cut a slit along the side and take out the white bits and the seeds. You can keep some seeds aside and put them in to the stuffing.

I used the percentage of 50:50 brazil nuts to mature cheddar cheese, I put these in a food processor and then blitzed till they were fine. Finally add in some of the chilli seeds. There is no need to add salt as the cheese is quite salty.
Put the cheese mix into the chillies. Put into a 250 degree oven for 10 – 15 minutes or until the chilies are cooked and the cheese is melting.

Brazil nut and cheese balls
These were literally thrown together as an after-thought and everyone loved them.
I made these using the left over stuffing mix from above, simply by adding freshly chopped coriander, egg and some gluten free flour to the mix until it formed a wet dough. I shaped into balls (making sure to wet my hands so that the dough did not stick to it) and then cooked into the oven for about 15 minutes at 250 degrees.

Meatballs with vegetables
One of the things that I do every year before Ramadan is to make up huge batches of spiced meatballs, cook them and then place then (in a box) in the freezer. I find they are very easy to use in different recipes and are excellent as a fall back for when you have unexpected guests.

If you don’t have spiced meat balls already in your freezer you could make some up fresh simply by mixing minced beef or lamb with onions, garlic, ginger, green chilli, egg and dry spices to taste. Alternatively use less spices and make them milder. Form golf ball sized balls then shallow fry on all sides, then allow to cool before freezing or going on to use them in this recipe.

Ingredients
1 onion finely sliced
1 aubergine finely cubed
1 courgette finely cubed
10 beef meatballs – cooked
2 cloves garlic minced
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon chipotle powder
1/2 tablespoon coriander seeds
2 tablespoon rapeseed oil

Heat the oil in a pan and add the onion and cook gently until browned, raise the heat and then add the cumin and coriander seeds, aubergine and courgette and garlic. Turn the vegetables in the onions until they are heated then add the chipotle powder and stir through again. Then add enough water to cover the vegetables and then simmer for about 15 minutes or until the vegetables are cooked through and are soft. Add in the meatballs and add in enough water to cover the vegetables and meatballs and allow to simmer gently for about 20 minutes.

Re-fried dhal
Instead of having re-fried beans I opted for making re-fried dhal. I had ready cooked dhal in the freezer which I just defrosted and just fried off in cumin seeds and sliced green chilli. You could literally do this with any cooked lentil or pulse.

Alhamdulilah

Alhamdulilah ( All praise is due Allah (swt)) another fast has been completed. I always find day 3 the hardest. A challenge and I’m not really sure why. I think my body tries to resist and the lack of sleep and change of routine starts to get to me, Alhamdulilah by day 4 I think my body accepts that this is just the way things are. Inshallah your bodies are coming to accept the changes that this month is bringing about. I pray inshallah that while Ramadan is supposed to be hard, that the month gets easier as we go progress.

I’ve come to realise that I am thankful to Allah (swt) but perhaps I just don’t say Alhamdulilah enough. After all it is very easy to be living in the moment, enjoying the moment and just smiling at what you have. Often when you look around at what you have it is quite nice to smile and say “yes, I worked hard”, or “yes, I have it all”, or “yes, I am so lucky” but really we “need” to be saying “Alhamdulilah”. I for one realise I just don’t say it enough…

On day three I was feeling not myself at all. I wanted to eat something comforting. We had already chosen to eat Pakistani food so it was fairly easy. I made a very lightly spiced dhal which would be gentle on the stomach. Unfortunately my husband does not eat dhal so I had to make something else as well. I decided to opt for a spiced lamb heavy on onion and black spices, omitting tomatoes, and topping off with creamy Greek yoghurt and finished off with finely chopped coriander. I really loved this meal as the slow cooked lamb with a creamy tang and the dhal were just what I needed to perk me up a bit. Alhamdulilah!

Iftari: Go Greek!

Ifari: Go Greek

When it comes to it we are a household of international tastes and different backgrounds. What started one year as doing something different has kind of stuck. We like eating world food and we like trying new things. The more we do ‘this’ -> eat food from a different country through Ramadan, the more it reminds me that muslims come from everywhere. No nation ‘owns’ Islam. There is no right way to eat and no wrong way to eat. Yes there are traditional foods to eat during Ramadan but when it comes to it no tradition beats the Prophet’s (PBUH) tradition of opening his fast with dates and water:

Anas Bin Malik narrates:
“The Prophet (PBUH) performed iftar with fresh dates, if there weren’t any dried dates and if there weren’t any water”

To an extent we all follow in his footsteps. To say, however, that my culture’s food is better than your culture’s food when it comes to Ramadan is just silly. There is no nation in Islam. We are just muslims.

For last night’s iftari, we went with a Greek inspired menu – note, not authentically Greek but inspired – our menu went like this:

Azan: Dates, water, gazpacho (I know it is not Greek at all)

Post Magrib: spinach and feta mini gluten free pies, spinach, tomato and cheddar pastry wedges, home made beef sausages/ovals, gluten free flat breads, Greek salad, tzatziki, aubergine dip, washed down with the Lemon Mint Cooler I made a few days ago.

Beef sausages – makes approximately 7 sausages

Ingredients
1/3 kilo of beef mince
1 teaspoon cinnamon powder
The zest of ½ a lemon
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
2 handfuls of finely chopped mint
5 cloves of garlic
1 egg white
½ an onion chopped very finely
Mix everything together in bowl. Then make the sausages out of the mince. They should be about 2 -3 inches in length and about an inch in thickness. Shallow fry the meat gently until cooked. Serve.
Alternatively if you want to cook these in advance, do as above and leave to cool and store in a sealed container in the fridge. About 20 minutes before iftari place an inch of water in a saucepan and then place the sausages into the pan. Cover with a lid and put on a low heat checking from time to ensure they do not burn. From time to time baste the meat with the meat/ water juices.
You could heat them up in a microwave if you are space short. I find the meat goes stiff and loses some of its moisture.

Aubergine Dip

Ingredients
Aubergine
1 clove garlic
Olive oil
Salt to taste
Prick an aubergine with a fork.
Put it in the oven and allow to cook for about 15 – 20 minutes until it starts to look collapsed. Scoop the flesh out. Put the flesh into a food processor and add a clove of garlic, olive oil and salt. Whizz up until smooth.

Spinach and Feta Mini Pies

Ingredients
Frozen cooked spinach
Feta cheese
Mint leaves
1 egg/ milk for brushing on top of the pastry
Coarse sea salt for decoration
Pastry – I used gluten free pastry but any would do

For this I used this ratio: 4 parts cooked frozen spinach to 2 parts feta cheese and 0.5 parts mint leaves.

Defrost the spinach
Squeeze all the water the defrosted spinach. Chop the mint leaves and mix into the spinach. Cream the feta into the spinach.
Use a pastry cutter to cut the pastry, then layer a flat on to the pastry leaving room by the edges, get another cut piece of pastry and brush with water on one side and place on top of the filling and press down gently along the edges. Brush with milk/egg wash. Top each pie with a little coarse sea salt. Cook in a 250 degree oven for 20 mins or until puffed and lightly golden on top.

I hope that your first fast went well. Please remember to make dua for those who are less fortunate than ourselves, who are plagued by war, who are abandoned, who are sick and those without families. Ameen.

Ramadan is Around the Corner

With Ramadan just around the corner, one can’t help but feel excited, and if I’m honest a little nervous. For medical reasons I was unable to fast last year during Ramadan so I missed out on fasting in summer. This year in effect is my first season of summer fasting for quite some time. With temperatures in the UK set to rise to 30 degrees (normal in hot countries) it is going to be hard.

Most of us are very aware that during the month of Ramadan it is our golden opportunity to assess our actions of the year before and make the most of the blessed month that is to come. Every moment during Ramadan enables us to get closer to Allah(swt) and stay away from the Shaitan and his agents:

Sahih Bukhari :: Book# 31 :: Hadith# 123
Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah’s Apostle said, “When the month of Ramadan starts, the gates of the heaven are opened and the gates of Hell are closed and the devils are chained.

How many of us though are guilty of other wrong doings while fasting? I, myself, at times in my life have had to question my actions while fasting. In the ‘speed’ of my life I was happy that I was fasting and keeping up with Ramadan, it wasn’t until a particular occasion that I suddenly had one of those “Aha” moments where I had to question what I was doing and ask myself was it totally in opposition of the whole ethos of Ramadan. What I was doing is irrelevant, but what is relevant is that I realised and that I was able to assess my actions and make a positive change. Inshallah keep in your mind while going about your ‘normal’ day to day actions that sadly if we are still doing wrong things while fasting, it is as we are not fasting. I don’t intend to sit on a pedestal say I am in a state of perfection more that I am reminding you while I am re-reminding myself to watch what I say, do, think etc.

Sahih Bukhari :: Book# 31 :: Hadith# 127
Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet said, “Whoever does not give up forged speech and evil actions, Allah is not in need of his leaving his food and drink (i.e. Allah will not accept his fasting.)”

Watermelon, strawberry, mint and ginger cooler

I made this drink on a hot day and have got to say this is lovely. I think during hot weather Ramadan it is very easy to reach for juice or fizzy drinks immediately at iftari when really we need to replace the lost water and salts needed by our bodies. This drink is quite cooling and at the same time has a bit of a kick from the ginger. If you have never had raw ginger juice before, start by adding half a tablespoon at a time until you find what suits you. This drink contains the roughage of the fruit of both the watermelon and the strawberries while this will result in the drink being thick this is excellent when exiting the fast. It is important to consume natural foods and their pulp, this will help rehydrate as efficiently as possible.
Keep this in the fridge during the day and maybe take out a bit before iftari so that it is not too cold when drunk.

2 tablespoons of ginger juice (ideally done in a juice extractor)
½ a watermelon – skin removed and cubed
250g of hulled strawberries
5 mint leaves – sliced in to thin strips
1 bottle of sparkling spring water

In a food processor place the watermelon, strawberries, mint leaves and blitz until smooth and liquid. Place in to large jug and add the ginger juice. Place in the fridge. When ready to serve fill glasses a third of the way and then top with chilled sparkling water.

Just in case you have not got a Ramadan Timetable here is a link to a London one:
http://www.iccuk.org/images/RamadanTimetable2013.pdf

Inshallah our duas will be answered this Ramadan – amen.

Back to Basics

I’ve been a little slow of late and have not managed to post at all this Ramadan, so insh’Allah you will forgive me. It has been a very hard 5 days.

Many things have happened in the past year, however the strangest has been the discovery that a couple of people I know have moved away from Islam. No one has come out and said “this isn’t the path for me”, or perhaps they have but I haven’t digested the information correctly. Either way the only thing that I know is the way that way they spent Ramadan last year is very different to the way that they are spending Ramadan this year. I’m not judging them, if anything I don’t know what to do. There have been points in my life where, on reflection, I have done the wrong thing. It was the friends who didn’t lecture me who helped me come back to the right path. They were the ones who showed me the way, but did not force me to change my direction which helped enormously. They showed me love and included me in things. I guess I would like to emulate those people but in truth I don’t know how. I don’t know for certain that what helped me would help someone else. I don’t know what to say when someone says that Ramadan means nothing to them. I just know that I feel desperately sad for them, want to help them but simply don’t know how.

For many people Ramadan is about going above and beyond, they will pray long taraweehs, they’ll decide that they no longer want to watch television or listen to music, maybe they’ll spend the whole night praying…I don’t know but for someone who may have lost their way this might seem like too much. So what could one possibly say to the person is lost? To the person who is no longer sure of their Eman? I think I would suggest that my friends start by the little things in their life. If prayers no longer play a role in the persons life they could start with those, if they are drinking or taking drugs maybe abstain for the month, if they are partying maybe come home a little earlier. Step by step. Insh’Allah that will help bring them closer to Allah(swt) and be close enough to feel the benefit of Ramadan and fasting.

I’ll leave you with a pearl of wisdom from a friend of a friend “those that enter the the deen fast, leave the deen fast”, insh’Allah take things slowly. Step by step. Insh’Allah try, you are in our duas.

“o you who believe, enter Islam completely, and do not follow the footsteps of Satan. Surely, he is an open enemy for you;” Surah Al Baqara 208

Gluten Free Roti

This is one of those things that took me ages to perfect. This recipe is very simple and quite an accomplishment because not only does it taste good, but it puffs up in places. In addition you can adapt this to make parathas, because there is always someone in Ramadan who wants one!

You need:
1 part isapghal with the husk removed (this can be purchased with the husk removed from Asian shops)
5 parts doves farm gf flour
salt to taste
water

Mix the flour together with the isapghal and add a little water and leave it for about a minute (this helps the isapghal gel up) then add a bit more water until the flour comes together to form a ball. Don’t knead it. Just let the dough come together to form a ball.
Shape the dough into slightly larger than golf ball sized balls. Then in a gf floured plate flatten slightly and then using a rolling pin, roll out into circles. Heat up a cast iron flat pan (tavva) or frying pan until it is very hot. Then put the roti on to the pan and allow to cook for 1-2 mins on each side before holding it with tongs on a gas flame on each side allowing it to puff up.

Serve with butter or as a side to a main meal.