The Musaafir Diaries: Plazas and Palaces and Churros…oh my!

[This post was written by our newest team member Mariam Alavi. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and is a Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist. She was  raised in Connecticut and has traveled around the world (12 countries and 20 U.S. states.) Mariam loves trying new recipes,  traveling and crafting.]

“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another.” (The Holy Quran, 49:13)

One of the many things The Mister and I love to do together is traveling. There isnothing like diving into a culture and exploring it as the locals do. Our travels this past November brought us to Spain as we celebrated our first wedding anniversary alhumdolillah! We began our travels in Madrid, the largest city in Spain. The Mister and I had an amazing time exploring the city on foot and by Metro . We saw beautifully built government buildings, cultural centers, and century old plazas, along with stories from the past, at every corner. We also enjoyed shopping, strolling the large boulevards, and stopping to eat a snack or two at the many quintessential European sidewalk cafes that I love so much.

The Prado (Museo del Prado), Madrid’s famous art museum, is one of the highlights of the city. Although the Mister and I are not big fans of art museums, we figured we’d make an exception given the status of the place (plus we went 2 hours before closing time so the entrance  was free :)). From an art perspective, we appreciated the realistic depictions of fabric, fruit, and people, as well as the historical value of some works that outlined the horrors of life such as the Spanish Civil War. But I certainly wouldn’t go again. “Art” in the Western world consists of inappropriately (un-)dressed bodies and vulgarity which is just unacceptable. Anywho, it was an experience 🙂

If art is not your thing, there is plenty more to be enjoyed in Madrid. Walking through the city’s flourishing downtown and towards Puerta del Sol, the center of Madrid, savor the liveliness of Spanish life. Streetside vendors and performers, roadside cafes and international shopping all await in this area of the city. Just minutes away, you’ll find yourself in Plaza Mayor, a square built in the 1600s that was the site of many social and historical events, such as markets, bullfights, and even the persecution of Muslims and Jews during the Spanish Inquisition.

Today it is home to many cafes and restaurants,  along with a market on weekends. After dinner at a halal restaurant, the Mister and I returned to a café near Plaza Mayor to have our first authentic Spanish churros. We opted to sit outdoors on iron chairs/tables, complete with outdoor heating lamps above each table! Here, we indulged in the “deep-fried goodness” of Spanish churros dipped in chocolate (that’s what the Mister called them), enjoying the conversations in Spanish around us

.

The “deep-fried goodness” of churros dipped in chocolate at an outdoor café near Plaza Mayor. Photo Credit: Shahzeb Jabbar

Make time to visit the Royal Palace (Palacio Real), which is still the official residence of the royal family of Spain (although they don’t actually live there anymore). It is one of the three most famous palaces in Europe, and is built on land that was once occupied by a Muslim fortress. Across from it is the Almudena Cathedral. Although we didn’t go inside the cathedral, we could still see (and hear) the remnants of the San Isidro Festival, which celebrates the Catholic Saint Isidro, the farmer, who is considered the Patron Saint of Spain. It was really interesting to see the fervent Catholicism in this country, especially in comparison to some other European countries. And as we know, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella took their beliefs to an extreme level by enforcing the Spanish Inquisition, which forced Muslims and Jews in Spain to convert to Catholicism, burned books of knowledge that had been translated by Muslims, and of course tortured and killed those whose conversion they did not accept.

The exterior view of Palacio Real, Madrid. Photo Credit: Shahzeb Jabbar

FOOD

Muslim tourists will be pleased to hear about the many halal options in Madrid. In each city, we simply did a Zabihah.com search and found quite a few options. We then used Google Map to figure out how far the restaurants were from our hotel (don’t you love technology?). In Madrid, there is a halal fast food chain called Doner Kebap, which sells Turkish style pita wraps and other yummy items, and can be found in many easy to reach areas of the city. Of course, if you’re like me and Mister you will want to have an authentic Spanish experience and try tapas. The Spanish tend to eat a light breakfast and a heavier lunch in the late afternoon. Dinner usually starts around 9 or 10pm, so a typical Spanish dinner consists of a variety of appetizers called tapas. But beware folks! The Spaniards love hamon (ham) as well as alcohol…so you will need to be careful about what you’re eating, especially if the menus are only in Spanish (as was often the case in the places where the Mister and I ventured).  Honestly, we found it easier to opt for the halal options throughout our trip, even if we ended up consuming non-traditional foods. But don’t worry—there are still plenty of authentic traditional foods you can still enjoy…including seafood paella, tortilla patate, and of course, the deep-fried goodness of churros.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Visit the local masajid even if it’s just to pray 2 raqah sunnah prayer! We were lucky enough to be in Madrid for Jumuah, and joined the jama’a at The Islamic Cultural Center (Centro Culturo Islamico). It is a truly Iman-lifting experience to witness the Muslim communities all over the globe! Every society, culture, and language has something to offer that we can learn from in order to improve ourselves. Traveling reminds me that Allah (swt) made us into different ethnicities and cultures, and created different languages, not as a way to divide us, but as a way for us to learn from each other. I don’t know where my travels will take me next, but I do know that no matter where it is, I’ll come back home knowing much more about the world than when I left.

 

Centro Cultural Islamic, (Madrid,) the masjid where Mister and I prayed Jumuah. Photo Credit: Shahzeb Jabbar

 

 

 

 

Fighting Hunger one Sandwich at a Time with pbj revolution

pjb

 

pbj revolution is a movement to feed as many people in need as possible with simple, delicious pbj sandwiches. I was excited to hear about such a great cause which was easy to do.

So I got in touch with the organizers to learn a little more about this great cause.  It started of with three friends who were talking and thought it would be nice to hand out pb&j sandwiches as they were out and about  in their communities.

“Talking amongst ourselves we thought it would be cool if others started joining in to fight hunger… like a revolution, hence the name,” said one of the organizers of the group.

The organizers and other individuals who passed out the sandwiches had a great experience and said that people receiving the sandwiches were very appreciative. The goal of this revolution is not to start a trend or get recognition but we want to get the message out, said one of the organizers.  The pbj revolution has a Facebook page in which the organizers tell participants to make pbj sandwiches pair them with a water bottle and a napkin and find people who need them.

pbj kids “We figured we could reach a lot of people in a lot of cities by starting a FB page, rather than just focusing on our own cities. Passing out sandwiches is something you can do alone or with others, so no one city needs a large number of people to get started,” said one of the organizers.

She added that there are no requirements. “We are trying to trigger some action, not dictate it. Loading pictures and posting to the page, though, will hopefully generate excitement and encourage action so we do encourage people to do so. Our goal is to feed as many people as we can, with something simple, affordable and quick.”

I couldn’t agree more and I look forward to having my kids help me in making and passing out these sandwiches. Join the pbj revolution here

 

 

 

Burka Avenger: An American Pakistani Mom’s Dream Come True

 

My 2 year old and 4 year old are in their superhero stage.

This means that their  constantly  shooting webs at me with their tiny fingers,  flying around the kitchen island with their palms turned out (Iron Man) and randomly yelling out “Super Heroes save the day” when I’m on the phone trying to make a good impression with a potential employer.

So when my newsfeed started buzzing about this new Pakistani kids show called “Burka Avengers” I was interested. My first thoughts were:

1. Wow!  a female superhero that wears a Burqa

2. Positive coverage of Pakistan in the news

3. Where do I watch this show?

This Pakistani animated kids show had gotten some great media coverage, I had read the Huffington post article, seen a piece on BBC and heard an interview with the creator of Burka Avenger on NPR. That same night I watched the first episode.

 I was impressed. It was smart, tongue in cheek, entertaining and it has a super catchy title song.

The main story of Burka Avenger is that of an orphan girl, Jiya, who was raised by a kind man (Kabbadi Jaan) who has taught her a fusion karate form called Takht Kabbadi. This martial art style is based  on education and karate moves. Jiya is a teacher at a school but she is most fearful of the mayor and villain Vadero Pajero ( oh yes the stereotypical corrupt Pakistani politician) who is constantly trying to disrupt the education of women in his city.

As a first generation American Pakistani mother I want to raise my boys as proud Americans but I also want them to have a understanding of their Pakistani heritage as well as their Muslim identity.

Burka Avengers may just be what Parents like me need to help us accomplish these monumental goals

The show manages to teach our kids Urdu, take away the stigma and negative sterotypes of the Burqa, expose our  kids to Pakistani culture and raises important issues about gender equality.

So while my boys will still continue to transform into Octomus Prime and have superpowers like  Captain America its refreshing to know that they will grow up with a female superhero who wears a burka and battles bad guys with her Takht Kabbadi.

Kuddos to the Burka Avenger team we look forward to more episodes!

Easy Ramadan Prep for Busy Moms – Biscuits & Banarsi Style

Ramadan is only a week away!

I haven’t been able to get into the Ramadan Spirit so I thought i’d make a guide for myself and other Moms who want to be hyped for Ramadan!One of the reasons that I’ve been dragging my feet is because there is so much to do that it seems over whelming! so if making the 20,000 Samosas, decorating the house, while catching up on spiritual goals feels daunting…your not the only one!

Follow these easy  instructions to get you caught up in the Ramadan Spirit in no time  Inshallah!

1. Jam those Ramadan Nasheeds – (Click here for our favorites)

Current-Music

2.Organize a Samosa Fest – Call your family and friends and arrange a samosa making party (click here to see how one family makes it their annual tradition)

samosa featured image

3. Decorate your house for Ramadan (click here for our guide)

www.ranoon.com

www.ranoon.com

4. Make Ramadan baskets for your neighbors! (Our guide to making Ramadan Baskets)

fruit

 

5. Start your Ramadan Journal – a Journal in which you write the duas that you want to make during the blessed month

ramadan journal

 

 

 

Staying Strong after Boston Bombings

As we find out more about the Islamic connection that the suspects in the Boston Marathon Bombing had, Muslims across the nation are going through an array of emotions.

The news pundits keep bringing up Islam and how that might have been the motivating factor for the two brothers actions. The American Muslim community is beginning to brace for the backlash. Already we’re hearing stories of kids in schools being taunted, mosques with armed guards and harassment of women wearing the hijab.

Muslims are feeling vulnerable, tired and frustrated. We are asking “Why do we have to constantly explain our religion, be unfairly targeted and treated in a way that that other Americans are not?”

But we often forget that we are not the first generation of Muslims to feel this way. Neither is it a new phenomenon that Islam or Muslims have been attacked. From the first time the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) preached till present day and till Allah wills, there will continue to be challenges for the Muslim Ummah. However what has changed is the way Muslims respond to these challenges.

The Prophet (SAW) and the Sahaba’s were physically, emotionally and financially tortured and yet were patient. They were so steadfast in their beliefs and trusted that Allah (SWT) would guide them through their hardship. One example is of Sommaya RA who was tortured to death (the first female martyr of Islam) for simply believing in Allah SWT. The Prophet(SAW) was powerless and the only thing he could say to her was to be patient and that her reward was waiting for her in Jannah.

Our tests are like cake compared to theirs. We’re bugging out because some dude is staring at us in a grocery store or the media is bashing Islam. Muslims living in America find it difficult to deal with issues such as profiling, defending our beliefs and dealing with the ludicrous comments thrown by the media.

When we feel angry about the way the media is portraying Muslims we should read about the challenges that the Prophet (SAW) and his companions went through. The Prophet’s (SAW) own family threw sticks and stones on him till he would bleed. His own neighbors and friends drove him and his followers out of the city of Mecca.They were physically attacked, their properties were seized and they were economically marginalized. But these hardships did not wear them down, their faith in Allah was only strengthened by the challenges. Their faith also helped them in remaining optimistic about their future.

We must remember we are all ambassadors to our deen, the only way to change anyone’s perception of Islam is through our own actions. So lets practice the patience and optimism that the Prophet (SAW) and the sahabas practiced. Put on that smile and lend a helping hand to your neighbor, be the first in community service, give a compliment to the cashier and don’t forget that extra cheerful thank you to the waiter, sales clerk or whoever. Our best akhlaq (virtues) and adab (manners) is most needed right now.

Changing one person’s outlook may lead to changing an entire household. In addition to educate the masses, exemplify what you speak. Justifying the violence or comparing other countries does nothing but harm. Lives are lost and our empathy and mercy should be in the forefront.

These are days of trials and tribulations. We must hold on to our ideals and principles. May Allah (SWT) preserve our community and bless our Nation.

-The Biscuits and Banarsi Staff-

Three Wives and the Diamond Set

More than a half-century ago when there was no border between Pakistan and India, My great grandfather, a charismatic man had three wives. He presented his first wife with a beautiful diamond necklace and bracelet set.

When my great grandmother first saw the grand set she was delighted and marveled at the size of the diamonds in the necklace. However she said to my great grandfather that although she loved the necklace she thought the diamonds in the bracelet were small in comparison. She suggested to her husband that she should keep the necklace and that he could give the bracelet to his other wife.

My great grandfather, a connoisseur of fine jewelry and real estate, did not want to break up the set. He told my great grandmother that he would order her a new set with the bigger diamonds. He then went to his second wife and offered her the diamond set, she loved the set and put on the necklace and the bracelet but her wrist was a little large and the bracelet didn’t fit.

Again, my great grandfather was insistent that he didn’t want to break up the set. He then went to his third wife and showed her the exquisite set. She loved it and everything fit her perfectly.

As promised he went again to the same jeweler who had made the original set to pick up the bigger set for my great grandmother. While the jeweler displayed the necklace and bracelet set to him a merchant who was also at the store caught a glimpse of the pieces being displayed and insisted that he wanted that set for his daughter.

The jeweler explained to the merchant that he could not sell it to him because it was a custom order made for Mr. Quraeshi. The merchant then turned to my great grandfather and pleaded with him to let him buy the set. He explained that it was for his daughters wedding and he would be proud adorning his daughter with such an dazzling set on her wedding day.

My great grandfather agreed and for the third time placed an order for the brilliant diamond set. Sadly, my great grandmother never did get her diamond set. My great grandfather was never able to return to the jeweler because of the historic Partition between India and Pakistan.

My great grandmother had expressed her disappointment in not receiving the diamond set that she had been waiting for. She regretted not keeping the first set that her husband had first brought to her. This has always been an important lesson and it is a reminder to always accept gifts graciously and don’t be too picky about your lot in life, because you never know what the future holds.

I am thankful to my family for these stories. Although I have never met my great grandparents these stories allow me to catch a glimpse of what their lives were like. To this day I feel the disappointment that my great grandmother must have felt.

May Alllah (SWT) grant my great grandmother a beautiful diamond set in Jannah  and reunite her and her children in Jannat-ul-Firdaus – Ameen

 

 

Armed Guards Don’t Belong in School

After the senseless tragedy that occurred in Newton, Connecticut at Sandy Hook Elementary the entire nation has been engulfed in a conversation about gun control, school safety and mental illness. In my own Islamic school community, parents have  debated and had heated conversations about our kids safety. The school our kids attend is in the basement of a Mosque. It was decided that an armed guard would be the best short term solution in beefing up our schools security.

But that very notion of having an armed guard at school makes me extremely anxious and I don’t think he will keep our kids any safer. To invite a stranger with a gun into such close proximity of our children seems counterintuitive on every level.

My feeling on having an armed guard align closely with Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy who said:

“Let me say this: more guns are not the answer. Freedom is not a handgun on the hip of every teacher, and security should not mean a guard posted outside every classroom…”

In my head the math just doesn’t add up: Gun+Gun= safer school!

Having an armed guard at school introduces a whole new dimension of problems that we must be aware of. First  and foremost, the armed guard can be a potential threat to our kids and the staff. I understand that the guard would be trained and there would be a background check, but what guarantee do we have that he would not in fact use the weapon against us? We do not know what his intentions are and neither can we judge how he may feel on a given day. Why are we willing to take such a big risk?

The second problem that can potentially arise is the higher risk of accidents. If the armed guard  had a judgement lapse and mistakenly identifies someone as a threat he could potentially injure or kill an innocent person. That is also something that we can’t control and we are putting a lot of faith in a person who our community knows virtually nothing about.

The third problem is that we may become satisfied with the armed guard and not feel the need to consider other security options. The security issue is an ongoing dilemma that needs to be consistently improved by long term solutions such as adding video surveillance and bulletproof windows.

The hiring of an armed guard may make us feel more secure, but we are working under a lot of assumptions.The first assumption being that the armed guard is in fact a good and sane person who will not ever misuse his power. The second assumption is that he will never have an accident in regards to his weapon. The third assumption is that in the event of an emergency he will in fact put himself in harm’s way.

Our childrens security is paramount and an armed guard is great in theory “if” he performs as we would like to imagine him to be. But lets be honest he is a guy working a 9-5 job like the rest of us and we cannot put our childrens lives at risk because we are under the false pretense that the guard will put our kids first and will become a hero if an emergency type situation occurs.

The truth of the matter is that the Newton was an isolated event. Yes we should be proactive about our students safety, but we shouldn’t do that by bringing a gun into a gun free place. We should as a community seriously think about the potential problems and consequences that can occur by  bringing an armed guard to our schools.

Easy Herb Butter Turkey Recipie

 For all of you last minute people, this is an easy recipie that I followed for my “Friends Thanksgiving” last weekend. It’s easy and it turned out great!

 

Just click on link to watch:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-2wKZdBpVlw

The hardest part was washing the turkey but I youtubed that as well. Thankful for helpful videos!

Here is what the end result looked like… HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

We want to see your table spreads! Any interesting Desi cultural influences on your Turkey? Please share.

Cooking with a Slow Cooker

 

 

Dear friends,

The weather is beautiful, the kind of weather where you want to take advantage of the beautiful afternoons and then eat a hearty homecooked meal in the evenings to warm up your family as the temperature drops…

This is when you should take out the crock pot/slow cooker and let it do all the hard work for you. This way  you can come home to a wonderfully smelling kitchen with a warm dinner ready to be served.

Here are a few desi-ish  recipies that I found online. Take a look, try them and tell us what you think!

 

Chicken Tikka Masala

http://cookingclassy.blogspot.com/2012/02/slow-cooker-chicken-tikka-masala.html

 

  Hyderabadi Curry:

 http://www.indianfoodrocks.com/2006/08/hyderabadi-marag-in-slow-cooker.html

Mint and Garlic Leg of Lamb :

 http://dinnerwithjulie.com/2012/10/19/leg-of-lamb-slow-cooker/

10 Best Days

Growing up I didn’t know much about the first 10 days of Dhul Hijjah.  I knew about Hajj and that was about it.  Later on in my life I found out about the importance of fasting on the 9th day of Dhul Hijjah. Recently I found out the importance of the 10 days.  I have included some notes taken from ‘I got it covered’ and IslamQA (link provided) and have also included a 10 minute lecture on the virtues of the 10 days.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) also said: “There is no deed that is better before Allah or more greatly rewarded than a good deed done in the (first) ten days of al-Adha.” He was asked: “Not even jihad for the sake of Allah?” He said: “Not even jihad for the sake of Allah, unless a man goes out himself for jihad taking his wealth with him and does not come back with anything.” [Al-Daarimi, 1/357]

Thus, the ten days are better than all other days of the year, therefore, whoever is not able to go to Hajj should use this blessed time to complete even more righteous deeds than usual. These can include anything such as giving charity, honouring one’s parents, upholding the ties of kinship, and enjoining what is good and forbidding what is evil. Fasting and remembrance are particularly recommended:
1. Fasting Nine days, especially on the Day of ‘Arafah
It is Sunnah for the Muslim to fast on the first nine days of Dhul-Hijjah, because fasting is one of the best of deeds. In a hadith qudsi, Allah says: “All the deeds of the son of Adam are for him, except fasting, which is for Me and I shall reward for it.” [Bukhari, 1805] The Prophet (peace be upon him) used to fast on the first nine days of Dhul-Hijjah. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “The Prophet used to fast on the first nine days of Dhul-Hijjah and the day of Ashura, and three days each month, the first Monday of the month and two Thursdays.” [Abu Dawood, 2/462] The ten days of Dhul-Hijjah include Yawm al-`Arafah (the Day of `Arafah), on which Allah perfected His Religion. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Fasting the day of `Arafah expiates the sins of two years: the past one and the coming one.  Fasting on the day of Ashura expiates the sins of the past year.” [Muslim]
2. Remembrance
It is Sunnah to recite remembrances known as the takbeer, tahmeed, tahleel, and tasbeeh during the first ten days of Dhul-Hijjah, saying these words out loud in the mosques, homes, streets and every place in which it is permissible to remember Allah.
Takbeer: Allahu akbar (God is most great)
Tahmeed: Al-hamdu Lillah (All praises be to God)
Tahleel: Laa ilaha ill-Allah (There is no god but Allah)
Tasbeeh: Subhaan-Allah (Glory be to God),
The Prophet (peace be upon him) explained how, “There are no days that are greater before Allah or in which good deeds are more beloved to Him, than these ten days, so recite a great deal of tahleel, takbeer and tahmeed during them.” [Ahmad, 7/224]
Here is a detailed explanation on the virtues of the 10 days
http://islamqa.info/en/ref/1699/dhul%20hijjah

 

Please watch this short video by Sheikh Yasir Qadhi