Palexpo: The Palestine Exhibition in London

Last weekend, my sisters Everyphototunity, HappyMuslimMama, my niece and I went to the Palestine Expo 2017, a huge event organised by Friends of Al-Aqsa, in order to raise awareness about the issues which are happening in Palestine today.

The timing of the event was not coincidental. This year marks a series of devastating anniversaries for Palestinians: a hundred years since the Balfour Declaration, 50 years of Israeli occupation and 10 years of the Israeli government’s blockade on Gaza.

–  Mondoweiss

This is a topic we are all quite passionate about, as there is so much conflict, struggle and hardship for the citizens of this country, which is still prevalent today. As Muslims ourselves, it is hard to hear about the human rights which are being oppressed in this country, and the fact that this is continually being ignored – by the media, the Western governments and the rule-makers of their own country.

The Palestine Expo was a range of seminars and talks, exhibitions, film showings, workshops and interactive areas for people to walk around, to listen to speakers and get to know more about the country’s rich heritage and history.

Everywhere we went, there were strong messages about what is happening today in Palestine as well as Israel, and what we can also do to raise awareness, help the organisations who are friends of Palestine, and also support ethical companies.

We managed to sit and listen to a few lectures which were pretty emotional, informative, inspiring and moving. Firstly was Dr Inas Abbad, a Palestinian activist, teacher and researcher who spoke about her home, about how their identity was slowly being erased, with their roads, streets towns and even names being changed, and the continuous censoring, lack of education and danger that follows school children as they go to school every day. Secondly was Ronnie Barkan, an Israeli human rights activist and conscientious objector, who spoke about his support for the struggle. I found it really interesting that he pointed out the various things the Israeli government has done to hide their actions, such as mis-labelling passports in English and in Hebrew. Thirdly was Soheir Asad, a Palestinian activist and Human Rights lawyer who spoke about the legal routes that the Israeli government had taken, land laws which were used to take land from Palestinians and the way this was used against them in courts. Lastly was journalist Yvonne Ridley, who is also a political activist, who spoke about the injustices she had seen, about the images which have stayed with her since she was a child and the disillusionment she felt when she realised the lies and distortion of the media.

We also managed to catch an amazing talk by journalist John Pilger (which ended in a standing ovation), in which he talked about his experiences in Palestine, and the ways he had been blocked in reporting the truth – but also the ways people’s mentality was changing so that they were unwilling to stay silent in face of injustice.

There were several places for us to leave our messages of hope throughout the expo – a giant wall of messages, pinned postcards, and even a tree to hang our words. It was pretty inspiring to see such positive words, beautiful messages to support our fellow Muslims and humans from across the country.

We also managed to try some Palestinian cuisine during the lunch rush, and tried some seasoned chicken wraps from Tabun Kitchen, which was pretty tasty (although cold!)

There was plenty of opportunity to walk around and explore, and we saw lots of beautiful pieces of art, as well as some story-telling shows and some documentaries about Palestine which were on show. I love that there was so much to see and do, and that there are a lot of similarities to Pakistan and my family’s village, which has a focus on story-telling, culture and a peaceful Islamic way of life.

It was a pretty informative day for all of us, there were a lot of things which made a lot more sense to me by the end of the day, and it was amazing to see so much support from Muslims and non-Muslims at the show. There was a protest briefly outside the venue from anti-Palestine protesters, but this didn’t discourage anyone from attending the event, and I liked that there were no shows of arguments or clashes as a result – people just left the protesters to it, and they slowly dispersed.

I would highly recommend to everyone that they do their most to find about this issue – even though we don’t live in Palestine, it is an issue which affects all of us. It isn’t enough just to know that this is happening, but to understand why, what we can do to help, and how to  make sure it doesn’t happen again.

The Capitalisation of Modest Fashion

This is something which has been playing on my mind for a little while – as modest fashion gains more and more exposure, there has been a big impact on the industry. I love that there are more and more Muslimah fashionistas and designers being represented out there, that retailers and brands are starting to take notice of modest fashion and the hijab (whether it’s stocking the clothes or featuring hijab models). Just recently an Indonesian Muslim designer garnered applause for having an all-hijab collection on the runway, and catwalk model Halima Aden also recently made news for wearing her hijab. I recently attended London’s first London Modest Fashion week (with another one happening this Bank Holiday weekend) and I’m pretty sure this is just the start. Vogue Arabia featured Gigi Hadid in a head-scarf, Uniqlo has made news for collaborating with a British-Japanese Muslim designer, and several mainstream companies have began to stock hijab-friendly pieces. In the midst of negativity about hijab, the French niqab-ban, the recent legislation about employers being able to ask employers to remove religious symbols, these are much-needed positivities in the modesty movement.

Modest fashion has been making waves for a while now – from Nigella donning that burqini to bloggers such as Dina Tokio and Nabiilabee who have now grown into becoming pioneers for the fashion industry, influencing the market, including designing their own ranges and even having pieces in mainstream stores – over the last decade it has really exploded and changed from the way it used to be (and I remember when we all used to wear a stretchy hijab when going to Quran lessons as kids which we used to just pull over our heads like little frumps!)

It all sounds so amazing, right? I love that there’s been so much growth in this industry, I do. But there’s also a lot of things which make me concerned about the rise of this multi-billion-dollar market. As a fashion blogger, and a young Muslimah who loves her fashion, and even as just an ordinary consumer, regardless of whether I blog about modest fashion or not, I certainly understand the struggle or getting decent modest clothes. My sisters and I all have memories of looking for suitable clothes as teenagers (and even now, sometimes) – outfits which cover our arms and chest, and look flattering without being fitted, modest without being frumpy, and stylish as well. Sounds like a tall order, and in our earlier years, it felt like it was. So it’s amazing to see the strides that have been taken in the fashion industry, that it’s easier to find pretty, girly maxi dresses which aren’t backless, long tops in pretty colours, or even scarves that are made from a decent material. It certainly makes sense that the reason for this growth is that there are so many others out there who has also had this need, whether it’s Muslim consumers, modest fashion bloggers, or just anyone looking for something which covers up a little more, and that this gap in the market is being filled. It also makes sense that there is a rise of modest fashion designers, online outlets which sell couture designs, and hundreds upon hundreds of companies which sell hijabs, abayas, modest dresses and so on.

So what’s my gripe? My issue is that it feels like a lot of companies are starting to recognise the amount of money being made from modest fashion, and taking their chance to capitalise on it. Now I understand that a business is a business – it needs to make profits and these companies are well within their rights to do so. However I feel that the result of a lot of these companies pushing the prices up means that the market gets inflated – suddenly it feels like a lot of the things which we want and need are expensive – ironic right? The outfits we want are there, but we can’t always afford them.

I’ve noticed, over the years, that some of the bigger designer companies have started to jump on the bandwagon too – D&G released an abaya and hijab collection last summer, and Tommy Hilfiger, Mango and DKNY among a few brands have all released capsule wardrobes for Ramadan in the Middle East in the past. The question in these cases are not why modest fashion is reaching these brands – these changes definitely show that customers fashion choices are being reflected – but more why these are aimed at an Arabian market which already have access to similar things like this, and also the fact that the price tags are only aimed at the richer classes who can afford these. Doesn’t it negate the whole gesture, surely, if the ordinary girls who want to wear this stuff can’t afford it, and don’t have access to the ‘designer’ things?

I’ve seen lots of modest fashion bloggers who collaborate with and promote modest clothing companies to help them become more popular. I’m not in disagreement with this, particularly when it helps a smaller brand, or a business whose ethics I genuinely agree with. I recently met a retailer for a modest clothes company whose outfits were very reasonably priced – the owner and designer of the collection explained to me he knew he could charge more, and chose not to. He said he would rather help more women be modest, do his good work in the name of religion, and sleep well at night – his children were in good university, his wife and himself were well-educated and had enough money, and they were happy with what they have. I was really pleased to hear something like this – as someone who has struggled with money issues in the past (as has everyone), I know it’s easy to get greedy and chase after more money. I loved that this company recognised that it would rather promote modesty in a workable way and still operate a business.

However I have also come across a lot of modest clothing brand who don’t take this stance – whether they like to cultivate an ‘elitist’ stance so that only certain people can wear their brands, whether they charge more because of their unique, customised pieces or even whether they charge these prices because they are ‘normal’. It’s made me pretty upset in the past when brands have cherry-picked who they want to work with – understandably they will pick those who will promote their brand, but it also makes fashion bloggers compete with each other, and creates a circle with excludes a lot of customers who want access to these outfits, and have to pay out of the nose to get them. One of my biggest concerns when I attended the London Modest Fashion week event was that there were plenty of brands and exhibitions to shop from, but I thought some of the things available were too pricey – I had a discussion with a friend who also went to the event a day later who said she would prefer to buy things from a normal high street store because the value for money was better.

So how can we address this issue? Over the years, as fashion has evolved, my attitudes has too. In the past I use to splurge on makeup and clothes (and had the money too!) so could afford to spend more to get what I wanted. These days, it’s not so much the money but the principle of getting quality for my money which has made me more picky. Can’t find a reasonably priced maxi dress? Buy some loose fabric and get it tailored (although we all know the struggle of finding a decent tailor who won’t charge the earth and also gives us our outfits on time!). Support a smaller brand who will appreciate feedback and pay attention to the products. Look at fair-trade companies who work ethically – it’s one thing supporting a Muslim company, but what about one who works in a green, ethical way?

I’d love to know your thoughts on this – have you noticed the difference in the rise of modest fashion too? For those of you who wear modest clothes, what have you opted to do?

We Are London

I have written before on my thoughts on the senselessness of violence against innocent citizens, and it’s pretty upsetting that nothing seems to have changed since then – the horrible attacks on people in London has led to an emotional couple of days – anger, worry, heartbreak and fear. I really hate that as soon as something like this happens, so many of my friends, family and I all brace for the inevitable backlash against Muslims, the same fear that we will be grouped with this tragic violence and that we tarred with same the same brush that puts us with something that we don’t believe in.

So this is me, saying this is not my faith. We have said this before and we’ll say it again. Islam doesn’t work like this and we don’t believe or condone any form of terror attacks like this. We are with London, and will remain strong, united and unafraid. London is our home. This is the city where I have had the honour to meet the most diverse and vibrant people from all walks of life and communities, and have found that unity is always better despite coming from different backgrounds.

So I say it is  now, more than every that it’s the time to stand up and speak out against the hate, ignorance and violence perpetuated by some groups, and that to isolate ourselves is not the answer. It is only this which will get us through bad times and remain strong – standing together as friends, a people and as a beautiful nation.

My prayers are with all those who have lost their loved ones: may Allah (SWT) give them the strength to bear what he has tested them with, shower them with his mercy and let their hearts find peace. May Allah (SWT) bring peace and safety to us all.

“…if any one killed a soul, it would be as if he killed the whole of mankind; and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole of mankind…” – The Holy Quran (Chapter Five, Verse 32).

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.” – Martin Luther King

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World Hijab Day…2017

Happy World Hijab day everyone, whether you wear hijab or not, and whether you are Muslim or not.

I think it’s pretty apt that it’s World Hijab Day today after so many troubling recent events – whether it is events in America such as the new legislations being put in by Trump, the devastating shooting in Quebec at a mosque or whether it is the general spotlight on Muslims, the attitudes of people around us and even the growing Islamophobia a lot of us have begun to come across.

In the midst of all this, there are so many reports of solidarity, beautiful, moving protests, rallies and speeches which celebrate the beautiful in Islam and helps women be confident in their religion and hijab. I read yesterday a comment from someone on a social media forum who said he was glad Trump was elected, even if he did vote for him – his being elected led to the outpouring of support, the solidarity and the show of friendships being shown from across the world have served to unite us and give us hope that there are people out there who support other religions.

So in that way, at the risk of sounding like an epic fantasy movie, I will say this – in dark times, there is light. I have seen so many examples of the very best of humanity in their celebration of not just the right to wear hijab, but the right to practise our religion. These days, hijab is so much more than the right to cover and be modest – it is our way of life, our right to be Muslims and a representation of women who, amidst struggle and discrimination, show their very best in themselves.

There are some who have criticised World Hijab Day, saying it is too politicised and has been made into an agenda to make money, or even push a non-related feminist idea. I say this is silly, because for ordinary women this is a chance to express their love for hijab, set an example to their families and friends and also show non-Muslims the beauty of hijab. There is also the criticism that celebrating hijab inevitably suggests that non-hijabis or ‘exposed’ women have something to be ashamed of, or that they are doing something wrong. It is very difficult to wear a hijab and be confident with it – yet including myself, most women I know who wear hijab really aren’t trying to make a statement or make anyone feel inferior or less. It is never okay to harass a women just because she chooses not to cover, just as it is not okay to bully and harass a woman for wearing a hijab. It is also not okay to assume that wear a hijab automatically makes you better, more blessed or more privileged than anyone else, just as it is not okay to assume women are oppressed because they choose to wear hijab.

I have been very lucky to be surrounded by friends, work colleagues and family who are very supporting of my choice to wear hijab, and been sheltered from a lot of negativity and abuse from people who don’t understand Islam or our reasons for hijab. It has become so much more normal, acceptable and even fashionable to wear a hijab – just look at any London street and you’ll see plenty of us walking around and leading our lives.

World Hijab Day is not just about  the act of wearing hijab as a human right, but actually protecting the right of an individual to safely make that choice. With hijab comes a lot of responsibilities and rights, and it is great to have a day to celebrate wearing it openly, whether you choose to or not.

In that spirit, I’ll leave you with an image I saw yesterday which I loved – a Jewish father and son allying with a Muslim parent and his veiled daughter. It’s such a simple picture, but beautiful – this is how it should be, united. I have read a few complaints online and from Jewish friends about the concerns of anti-Semitism, particularly from Muslims. I would like to say that this is not all of us, our religion teaches us to respect others’ faith and unite over our similarities rather than fight over differences.

Assalaamu ‘Alaikum Wa Rahmatullah (May Peace and Mercy of Allah be upon You.)

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Happy New Year!…2017

Here’s wishing you all a year full of love, light and unicorn sparkles!

Is it me or did 2016 rush past too quickly? It was a year full of sad news and unsettling truths for all of us, but I like to think that there were also many triumphs, personal and otherwise for a lot of us (like this list of good things) – Leo finally won that much-awaited Oscar, wild pandas and tigers have had a good year, and of course health-wise, people are getting better news. Not to mention all those amazing movies, books and technology we have discovered this year (or are still on my to-read/to-watch waiting list!)

I think 2016 gave us all a lot of things to think about and reflect, and we all are looking forward to 2017 being a new year that we all want to make the most of as well as use to take the opportunity to make improvements and build better relationships. One of the things which really bugged  me personally about 2016 was not making the most of my time – it always felt like I was busy doing something boring like housework or grocery shopping. It’s not the fact that I had to do these thing which bothered me as much as the feeling that I wasn’t making more use of this time (although part of this comes from my self-pressure to always be doing something productive!)

So this year I’ll learn to take it easy and enjoy the moment, but also think more about what I am doing – putting my whole self into the things which need to be done without worrying about wanting to be elsewhere (or that FOMO feeling!)

So here’s something I put together this morning before I had my breakfast – a golden, glitter 2017 welcome to the new year – I had a lot of fun doing this, and loved the result. It’s also made me realise just how much stuff I have in my house, on my shelves and in my wardrobes, so I think there won’t be much sale shopping this year!

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Dazzle

Took me a while to get this shot, managed it in the end with a burst shot setting and changing to suit a low light setting.

I’ve always loved fireworks and sparklers, the way they transform the night and make it feel magical (and not just because I’ve read the stories of Gandalf’s fireworks and the sparkles at Hogwarts!).
So here’s a little something to dazzle and brighten the week, especially with Guy Fawkes night coming up next weekend : )

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Carnaby Street Eat

I was lucky enough to be around central London last weekend with a friend, so that we could make the most of the annual Carnaby Street Eat – a mini food festival perfect for foodies like us!

I love hearing about events like this around London, especially since it’s such a diverse, busy place with plenty happening (like my favourite event from this year, Lumiere London) – and the the best thing is that a lot of these are free (if you hear about them in time and know where to find them!) and usually involve wandering around discovering London!

My friend and I headed down to Carnaby Street and found plenty of food stalls, which was perfect with the summer weather and the beautiful surroundings. I didn’t take as many pictures as I wanted to, but here’s a few pictures from my Snapchat app!

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One of the things I love about Carnaby Street is the decor – there’s plenty of colour all year around and the shops regularly have funky decor to match. Carnaby Street had some added decor around the street, with plenty of food trucks, DJ decks for music and even a long strip of (false!) grass patch for people to sit and relax in.

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The food, of course looked amazing – most of them were from restaurants and bars nearby, so it was nice to see that you can sample food from new places. Unfortunately not a lot of these places had halal food, but there were a few vegetarian options, and we did manage to find an Indian restaurant selling burgers! As well as savoury food, there were plenty of desserts – rainbow meringues, cupcakes and biscuits, as well as free lemonade and ice-cream sandwiches being handed out.

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My friend and I managed to find a spot on the grass to sit and relax (and also manage to snag a huge floor cushion to sit and relax in!) and we enjoyed the beautiful sun and sights. We also stopped for desserts and plenty of drinks!

 

I like that there were things around all of Carnaby Street to catch your eye and add a little colour – from silly signboards and beautifully decorated walls to foosball table games and deckchairs – something for everyone. It’s not often an event like this comes to London, and it was great to see everyone come out to enjoy themselves.

We had a great time at Carnaby Street Eat, and manage to catch a little suntan as well – although I don’t think my tan lasted too long! I’ll be keeping an eye out for more events like this in London, especially as summer as finally arrived and there’s plenty of sun to enjoy!

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Eid-al-Fitr 2016/1437

We had a fab Eid this last few days, which was spent with the close family – great food and good company!

I didn’t get to take too many pictures of the day as I didn’t bring my camera, but I did take a few on my mobile (so apologies for grainy quality!) but thanks to my sister Everyphototunity for sending her shots of the day!

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Every year we always take Eid as a great opportunity to put on mehndi on our hands the night before Eid, which looked great on my sister and on the nieces. I wanted to put some on myself but was too tired to by the end of the night – but there’s always next Eid!

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A little snap of our outfits – Eid always gives us a chance to channel the fashion bugs in us, and we all looked pretty colourful together on the day; I loved that there were different styles and colours while looked fab together. I think the toddlers in the family probably out-dressed us all in mini outfits from Pakistan, I wish I had taken a picture of their dresses with matching embroidery!

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And of course Eid wouldn’t be Eid without the scrumptious food, which was cooked by my eldest sister, and later by my aunt. We were all pretty stuffed by the end of the day (which is why I don’t have a lot of food pictures – we were all busy stuffing our faces.) It was also really nice to spend lunch and dinner with all of the family, after a month of quiet iftars between myself and my husband!

And of course, after the main course, we finished off with amazing chocolate cupcakes from my talented baker sister, as well sweet-dishes like rice-pudding and mithai for everyone.

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My sister knows we all have a sweet-tooth, and gifted us all a sweet-tub (adults and children!) to enjoy, which were a mix of chocolate and halal sweets, prettily decorated.

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There were also plenty of presents and chocolate for everyone (including a 1kg slab of Dairy Milk given to my husband by my sister, which I am now ‘looking after’ for him!). I remember when we were kids, my parents used to make visits to several friends houses within the day, and still cook a 3 course meal and have every extended relative visit the house – it was hectic and manic but fun because of all the family friends and cousins we would see. These days as we get older, our Eids tend to be a little more chilled out, and we spend our Eids with close family and the kids (and see our friends later on in the week!), which makes Eid more intimate and easier for some of us. It’s also always a treat to see how much the little children enjoy Eid – it’s one of our few religious holidays which really mean something to us, and it’s great to see this celebrated across the world by all generations and in such beautiful ways.

We spent about 3 days celebrating Eid (before the inevitable return to work, although my work colleagues and I are still having Eid samosas on Monday!), and it was a really nice way to end a blessed Ramadan month.