First Cousins-First Friends

First cousins are some of the first friends you have.  It can be a wonderful relationship that is made up of countless memories. Cousins are probably the only ones who know how crazy your family is, all the drama that takes place and the inside gossip.  You don’t have to be embarrassed in front of your cousins when your parents are yelling at you because chances are they are getting yelled at as well.

Both my parents are the eldest in their families, which means my sister and I are one of the oldest amongst the children on both sides.  I even have cousins who are younger than my  3 year old son.  They call me what the rest of my younger cousins call me, “bajo”.  I treat them just like I treat my son, like babies! I would consider them more of my son’s cousins than mine.

Then theres a group of cousins who fall into the ‘cool-young’ category, the group that you actually feel young and hip around (or at times the opposite).  It was even cool to see the younger ones transform from cute to annoying to super cool. (i.e becoming class president, having meetings with NYC mayor etc)

What  makes cousins even more special is if they are close in age.  I had a few cousins that were very close in age and with them we have had the best of times.  There was this one time where the five of us (4 girls and 1 boy) wanted to watch a movie, we all rented a movie of our own choice and had a grand movie marathon.  Turns out one of the movies was ‘adult-rated’, of course we immediately turned it off and ended up getting stomach pains from the non-stop laugher.

For me, my cousins were the only people who I had childhood slumber parties with.  Our slumber parties would consist of quietly listening to bollywood music, watching movies, Monopoly, Kings, Antakshari, Name-Place-Animal-Thing (such a long name for a game!), and of course card games such as spit, rummy and spoons.  We also recorded ourselves doing silly dances and singing songs.

Unfortunately one thing i’ve noticed is that these ties between cousins often get damaged because of family drama. Parents should not let their issues get in the way of their children and nieces/nephews.  Making cousins feel that they are competing against each other leaves children/adolescents feeling jealousy, bitterness and hostility towards each other.  Creating this distance means your children won’t get to experience some of the best times in their lives with some of the best friends they will ever have.

I feel it is more important for us to be closer to our cousins now a days since we have such small families. I know in our parents generation we had four aunts and three uncles which meant big family bashes.  But since people are having less kids, this means our family Eid get togethers would only consist of one other aunt or uncle.  This is why we need to maintain our ties of kinship, so our family get togethers consist of 1st 2nd and even 3rd cousins.

This past Eid was one of the first Eids after a very long time that all the cousins were there.  Due to marriages, colleges, work and conflicting schedules Eids aren’t always spent together.  This Eid there was a total of 19 cousins ranging from the ages of 10-31.

There is a special bond between cousins and I would hope that Eesa gets to enjoy with his cousins the same way I have. I can already foresee my son and his two cousins-Hasan and Ali having a blast together insha’Allah, I can also foresee a lot of trouble, ruckus and mischief.

May Allah SWT make our bonds of kinship strong and everlasting.  Ameen

For my Baby Sister


My baby sister is 18 today MashAllah. I’m so happy for her but at the same time I’m sad, here’s why, I got married and moved away from my sister when she was only 12. I have not been there for her when she went through many of her growing up experiences and as time wore on I grew busy in my life and never made a very conscious effort to keep in touch with her or be there for her when she may have needed me. Although  I love her I’m not sure she knows how much she means to me, So Shifa I dedicate this post to you.

Looking back I still remember the day Ami and Abu brought you home from the hospital. Before you arrived and mom was in labor and  Dadi Jaan (our grandmother) came to me and Saher (my middle sister) and  told us to make special dua for a brother. We didn’t want a pesky a little boy so we silently rebelled and instead prayed to Allah for a baby sister, Allah could not have given me a more beautiful sister. Shifa you arrived October 9th 1994 to a house with two adoring older sisters. We would linger around your crib and  keep checking on you to see if you were finally ready to play with us. The funny thing is that you kept us waiting a long time, it was 2 months before you decided to open your eyes , it was  love at  first  sight and we knew there were fun times ahead.

Shifa, you were a living doll to us. We would dress you up and create elaborate stories in which you were the bride and you would sit for hours in the position that we had placed you in. We would drape you in mom’s fancy dupatta’s and  layer necklaces and bangles and then put all our stuffed animals around you, trying to recreate a mehndi scene in which you were the bride and the stuffed animals were our guests. You are always such a sweet tempered child and I honestly can’t even remember you doing anything wrong! As you grew older you started different activities such as gymnastics and girl scouts, you easily made friends and were always going to different friends birthday parties and extracurricular activities. You were always a reader and were very imaginative, you would play with your toys and create songs about different things. In fact I remember that there was this art contest at Publix and you entered your drawing and you won first prize! you were always very creative and had a knack for art even at such a young age.

Do you remember the one birthday when we were a part of the National Conference for Community Justice walk and then we went ice skating. It was such a fun day and I think it may have been one of the last birthdays that we celebrated in America. We had then moved to Karachi, Pakistan and thus began a new chapter in your life. It was a difficult adjustment trying to fit into a new culture and a new way of life. You entered the Foundation School and began your journey in the Pakistani Education system. In the first few weeks I would pick you up from school and I remember trying to scan the crowd for you, everyone looked the same! It was so different from America, all these desi girls in identical uniforms. We shared stories on the way home and I listened with amusement as you related how the students would be jumping on desks and how the  teachers lacked control of their classrooms. I saw you struggle on an academic level, you were being exposed to subjects like Urdu and Islamic Studies that you had never taken before. The other more traditional subjects were also taught entirely differently than what you had been used to back home in the U.S. You started taking tutions and learned first hand what it meant to be a student in Pakistan. Socially you had a nice group of friends, many of whom you have still kept up with to this day.

One of my best memories is when you and Saher came to visit me a few months after my wedding. We really got to spend a lot of quality time and I was so thrilled to have you guys by my side as we went up and down the East Coast. Shifa there’s been so much that you have accomplished and its unbelievable the things that you have done and your wide range of interests from learning German and traveling to Germany, your volunteering with different social institutions, your essays being published nd your amazing artwork. Shifa you are an amazingly talented woman who excels at everything you have layed your hands on (okay maybe not the Urdu subject) You are an extremely hard worker but most of all you are one of the most caring and loving person I have ever met. If you don’t believe me ask Humza!

So Shifa please forgive me for not knowing the details of the last 6 years  of your life.  You are and always will be my baby sister so even if im not there with you or don’t express it openly you are one of the dearest people to me and I really miss not being there with you to celebrate the beautiful person you are. May Allah bless you, make you amongst the righteous and make you the leader of the pious people as well as the coolness for our parents eyes – Ameen

Reminiscing Ramadan

When I was younger and lived with my family Ramadan was so much fun, now that I have my own family I hope that I can also make Ramadan memories with my kids. My mom made Ramadan an incredibly happy month for us. She was the glue that held the family and our Ramadan traditions together, she would spare no detail when it came to both  the sehri and iftaar table spread and much to her dismay would even tolerate our cravings for  french fries, doughnuts, Mcflurries, and other things over her freshly cooked food.

The mornings were the hardest (still are) My sisters and I would wake up to find my mom fully awake and frying shami kababs and eggs. There were always fresh parathas but  we much preferred eating cereal or even a frozen waffle. Mom would be chirping along enjoying her breakfast while my sisters and our dad would be eating like zombies. Somehow no matter how early we would wake up we would always be running late on our sehri, Dad would be updating us on the time  and would give us a 5 minute and a 2 minute warning. The 5-minute warning went something like this:

The 5-minute warning:

Dad: 5 minutes left, where’s the water?

Mom: oh no I haven’t even finished my food.  Kids drink lots of water

Kids: ok mom

The 2-minute warning:

Dad: okay lets go, only 2 minutes left

Mom: okay let me drink my water

Dad: there’s very little time left

Mom: I have to drink my really large glass of water no matter what

Kids: Mom were going to brush our teeth

Mom: drink all of your water before you go!

Mom: OK stop drinking your water and go brush your teeth we have no time left!!

 After the 2-minute warning:

Mom: still finishing her water

Dad: thats it, your fast is not valid! its past time!

Mom: Nothings going to happen, im okay, just about done

There was a lot of water gulping and pushing as my sisters and I  made it to the bathroom to brush our teeth and make wudu. After Fajr we would be fully awake but would still attempt in vain to snuggle back in our beds to get a few minutes of sleep before waking up for school. The day would pass in school activites and when we would come back home, we would rest  for a  bit until iftaar time. Is it bad if food is the thing that keep coming to mind, when I think back on spending Ramadan with my family? The warm samosas, the tangy cholay (chickpeas), and the cold dahi baray (yogurt dumplings). What’s funny is that at that time none of those things were a big deal. Around iftaar time I would start hovering around the kitchen and would help prepare the Rooh Afzah while filling my mom in on what happened at school that day.

During Ramadan we would go to many iftaari’s and frequently visit  the Mosque, this was fun for me because I would get to catch up with all my friends. As the days of Ramadan progressed we would start thinking about Eid. Eid was HUGE, I mean there was nothing better than Eid, and its funny because on the actual Eid Day we didn’t do much but there was so much anticipation that half the fun was preparing for Eid. Eid preparations for us consisted of two things our annual Eid party and our eid outfits.

The Eid party was something we really enjoyed and it seemed like everyone in the community would be there! My mom would make a slew of different traditional Eid foods and then ask all three of her daughters to make either a dessert or an appetizer, I would be the slacker when it came to cooking and would rather clean than cook and I somehow got away with it. Our eid clothes were of the utmost importance to us. We would either save a shalwar kameez outfit from the ones our family in Karachi would send us, or we would make our own! Our mother would make it a project and take us to JoAnn’s to pick out the fabric we liked, then the buttons, etc. She would guide us and then eventually we would lose interest or would get bogged down with school work and she would finish them up for us. After the shalwar kameez was ready we would  pick out shoes and jewelry to complete our outfits.

One of my favorite memories is on eid morning  when our mom would wake us up and she would look at our mehndi and comment on how great the color came out, she would be wearing her Eid Shalwar, an oversized t-shirt and bangles. She would always change into her kurta at the very end so that the ironing doesn’t get ruined. Once we were all in the car we would all recite the Eid Tasbih which is one of my most favorite things to do. After Eid Prayers we would start hugging everyone around us with a 3 embrace rule – while saying  Eid Mubarak all three of those times!

We would seek out our mom and she would be so happy to see us in our full eid outfits. After that we would meet all of the aunties in our community, who would be genuinely pleased to see us looking our best. I would hang out with my friends and we would be inseparable, Aleya, Kiren, Tahirah these were a few of my friends that I grew up with and we would make our way around the Mosque meeting our families and other community members. Our family was among the last ones to leave the Mosque because my dad would always help to count the Fitra money that the Mosque had collected.

We would then go to my friend Kiren’s house for an Eid breakfast, from there on, we would hop from house to house and eat all kinds of food. My friends and I would always try to stay together or plan out the day to see whose house we would meet up at next. It wasn’t that we were ever doing something very special but I remember having a blast. One of the uncles that we knew would be standing at the door with a stack of bills.  As children entered in the house he would give them a dollar. At about 5:00 after a full day of party hopping, we would make the long trek from Jacksonville  back to Orange Park and would immediately start preparing for the big dinner at our place.

We would do a Bollywood style outfit change and get ready to start hugging and greeting our guests with the traditional three time Eid Mubarak! Over the years we’ve had many different versions of Eid, but with the same pattern I described above, as we got older and my friends started driving we began going out in the evenings and meeting up our friends to get ice cream or go to a movie. One year Eid coincided with the release of the animated movie” The Last Messenger”  and the entire community was found at the movies.

Ramadan and Eid have definitely changed maybe because I’m older and I have my own family now,  but one thing is for certain that at the start of every Ramadan I become nostalgic for the Ramadan I spent as a child. I reminice about the days when I would go to the  Islamic Center of Northeast Florida and recognize every single person at the Mosque, of the times when our Dad would lead us in prayers and when I would wake up to my Mom’s excited exclamation of, “Eid Mubarak, today is Eid!”