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The call of the athan, plentiful halal foods, people who know about Allah (SWT) similar to how you do, easier access to Islamic or Arabic resources for the entire family, and of course sending your kids to schools with Muslim teachers and peers are all among the perks of repatriating or making hijrah to The Lands of The Muslims. Scratch out that last bit for me and the growing handful of families who choose to homeschool even over here.

For many Muslim families who homeschool in the West, they expect to discontinue doing so once they move abroad as if all the reasons they chose to homeschool in the first place will be left behind. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that all the reasons are present in the ‘East’ too, where the Western model of education is mostly replicated and this is exactly why so many expats and locals are continuing or starting to homeschool.

Growing Pains?
When freshly relocated expats complain about the conditions they find in the schools locally available to them, whether the curriculum, the general ethics or particulars of the staff, often more experienced expats will appease these complaints with something like, “You’ll find a fit. You just have to keep looking.” By ‘fit’ I think they may mean another sort of compromise, such as with more drive time or maybe that’s just code for ‘You’ll get used to it’ as so many seemed to do. For former homeschoolers like Charlene Gray, who homeschooled in Australia but initially enrolled her daughter in schools in Morocco, she knew that there was no reason to compromise her daughter’s education when she found the school environments to be lacking in demonstrating Islamic principles as well as below her own standards of academics. Now Charlene’s daughter is back to flourishing as we know homeschoolers usually do.

Corporal Punishment? No Thanks
Another common thread of discussion I see among expats is about their kids being abused or bullied in school. This is something nearly every expat family I know of in my region has experienced. They have absolutely experienced it as far as other children bullying, throwing rocks at and fighting with each other, which I agree is a part of childhood that is unavoidable. I regularly deal with these kinds of problems outside of school hours, so would hate to think that my children were experiencing more while in school, but they would, and worse is that it even happens at the hands of the adults.

Just as discrimination is illegal in the states but still regularly happens, corporal punishment within schools is illegal in the region I live in but happens very regularly. Many parents deal with this by confronting their children’s teachers, often more than once and sometimes resulting in physical altercations. One such fistfight with her child’s (male!) principal is what led an expat friend of mine to return to homeschooling even though she obviously had thought she could quit once she made hijrah. This may sound like a worst of scenario, but unfortunately it is frequent when the parents choose to confront their children’s educators. Even if you step in and your child is no longer being abused by the teacher, they are still sitting among other students who are being emotionally and/or physically abused. While I want for your child what I want for my own, currently the best I can do with these circumstances is to home-educate and encourage the same for you.

What About Socilaization? Blah, Blah, Blah…
Daily incidents of bullying was just one paradigm shift motivator for unschooler and prolific writer Sadaf Farooqi who admits on her blog that sometimes her child (when younger) was even on the offensive side of bullying. While many non-homeschoolers cite concerns about lack of socialization as a reason not to homeschool, Sadaf, saw that her schooled child’s socialization was being adversely affected as her pre-primary daughter “…had more problems than improvement in her social ‘interactions’ (fights and conflicts) with peers…” as socialization in institutionalized school settings has multiple problems. As Sadaf has explained in the comments of her blog, “I personally think it’s debatable whether school improves social interaction. I think at the pre-primary and primary level, school actually curbs confidence, because such small kids rarely get to ‘socialize’ with each other freely only before first class, during break and in the short time after school before they are picked up. The rest of the time, any endeavor to ‘socialize’ innocently is strictly curbed by supervising teachers, and if continued, even results in that child being labelled as ‘naughty’ and ‘disobedient’.”

Sadaf discovered the concept of homeschooling through several teachers who, like many pioneers of the homeschooling movement in the US, chose to homeschool their own children instead of forcing them to sit through years of substandard and even abusive ‘educational’ environments, or they became ardent advocates for others to homeschool. Sadaf has become a semi-reluctant key figure in the steadily growing homeschool community in her native Pakistan, be sure to check out her blog for lots of good insight both on general unschooling and specifically homeschooling in Pakistan.

It’s A Muslim Thing
Another homeschooling and writer friend, Maria Zain, began her homeschooling journey in Malaysia and now continues in the UK. Maria perfectly sums up many of my own reasons for home-educating, even in the Lands of the Muslims, “After 6 years of homeschooling, I’ve had time to put in much thought as to why I have chosen it, and I believe, first and foremost, it’s because I believe that it falls upon the responsibility of parents to be the primary educators of their children, not the state’s or the institution. I think parents have lost a lot of their parenting skills, due to pawning off their children to schools at too young an age, for too long a period of their waking time, that both parents and children have lost the true value of education, which encompasses so much more than textbook – classroom learning. Our religion puts so much honour in parents – children have to be THE BEST to their parents up until old age, but I would like to question many adults (including myself), have we done enough to deserve this type of honour and respect from our own offspring? A “parent” is not just a noun, it’s also a verb, and adults need to honour this by being cohesively involved and understanding of their children’s growth and development.

Secondly, another belief – Islam champions the great diversity of the ummah. In fact, the strength of the ummah lies in the diverse heritage of its people. While other religions struggle with supremacy of certain races and caste systems, Islam has zero tolerance for discrimination against race, nor against genders (men and women are spiritually equal), nor age, nor upbringing. The same should be taught for the diversity of talents, interests, specialisations (all within Shari’ah of course). Homeschooling provides the platform for children to develop at their own pace and pursue their interests without prejudice or judgement. When children are encouraged to do things that they love and are given the time and space to explore, they flourish a lot more as compared to learning under stress and timelines.”

Ultimately my Best Reason to Homeschool While Living in the Lands of the Muslims is this: I like homeschooling. I enjoy encouraging my children’s diverse interests and talents, I believe in my role to be their primary educator (along with my husband) and know that there is plenty of support available to us to do it, so I do.

Yes of course homeschooling is exhausting and I have plenty of days in which I fantasize about the relief I may feel if I just put my kids in school. Ultimately this is one area of my life where I can delay gratification, insha Allah my relief will come later, but there is already plenty joy and gratitude in the right now. Plus my kids say they “won’t get on the yellow bus” so I’m stuck with it.

BTW, I am adding lots of shimmery, sparkly, one-of-a-kind things to my Etsy shop this weekend, which starts today. Please ‘like’ my Brookolie Facebook page where you will find a not-so-secret 20% off coupon. Thanks for looking!

Biwa! Loads of pearls and silver in this triple strand with charm(s) bracelet.

Ready set layered. Sterling, pearl, jade, briolette almost triple-strand necklace.

Like I said, many pretty, pretty things…

Front page


I have been meaning to cut back on activities that folks can use to judge my mothering and make more time to write about all the bad mommy things I have done, but then some other bad mommies suggested that I open an Instagram account. So, let me quickly tell you about how during my six+ pregnancies I managed to unknowingly or unaware-ingly eat everything pregnant people are not supposed to eat, and then I can return to posting pictures of the outcomes.

During my first pregnancy, I worked in a fine arts and crafts gallery where all but one of my dozen co-workers were women and there were several varieties of diets constantly occurring simultaneously among them. I had never been a dedicated dieter, rather I just exercised daily via my bike/walk/rollerblade commute and ate what I mostly wanted, but in that first pregnancy I was enjoying my opportunity to eat for two. A few times a day I would walk into the break room, of course always offering to share, with my daily indulgence in hand and mouth, such as a wheel of brie and a loaf of brioche. My svelte co-workers would groan and hasten out of the room; though on one occasion an entire family-sized tiramisu did manage to get eaten by someone(s) after I abandoned it back there.

I suppose it was because I was only the third employee to ever be pregnant at the gallery that none of my co-workers also got the Xeroxed hand-out that informed pregnant people which cheeses were and weren’t a no-no. Unpasteurized brie and especially its chewing moldy outer shell, according to some, should be avoided while pregnant. Though I would learn this detail postnatal, in a later pregnancy I would sort of forget or maybe just not being a caseiculturer I did not understand that the same theory applies to some soft goat cheeses which I more reservedly ate packages of in two sittings.

I’m not really sure what I was informed about smoked meats and nitrogen during this first pregnancy, but I was a newly quit vegetarian living two blocks away from the Pork Store and More. I ate a smoky, nitrogen-filled sandwich just about every day. In my third pregnancy, after having horrible morning sickness and food aversion while living overseas, I returned to the States and attempted to have a turkey sandwich from every delicatessen counter within a 30 minute drive of my house. Sandwich meat is a major childhood comfort food for me. At 40 years old, I still wish someone would learn how to make a porkfree bologna that tastes just like Oscar’s.

In the first pregnancy I was aware that I should go lightly on the tuna, and no doubt this is why I never indulged my craving curiosity about if water chestnuts would add an excellent crunch to tuna salad. And I must have been told something about the implied dangers of sushi because I hastened to a local sushi spot with my three day old newborn for a taste of what I had several months long missed out on.

I missed the boat about other potential dangers lurking in the deep, like, at the bottom. During that summer of my first pregnancy, my husband and I had our belated honeymoon/or only vacationish without children in the 17 years we have been married. We drove up and back down the east coast of the US, indulging on Americana brunch delights and all available varieties of seafood, except sushi and tuna, of course. When we hit Maine my husband was in near tears at the discovery of all-you-can-eat seafood buffets. I was baffled by why violently tearing lobsters open with my bare hands caused them to itch, and happily stuffed my face while my husband took over that messy task. While he turned on his heel at the first clam shack we came to and went over to order a burger from the “safer” fast food chain one parking lot over, I ordered three servings of fried clam necks knowing he would “just want to try one”. We then ate fried clam necks every time we happened upon a shack, let’s assume that was daily. In a subsequent pregnancy I would learn about bottom feeders and how those deliciously nasty little beasts troll the ocean floors eating any and all kinds of filth they happened upon, best to be avoided I was told.

Raw eggs? Probably, most likely. That tiramisu noted above was pretty authentic, so maybe. And homemade mayonnaise was standard for a time in the home I lived in with extended family in Morocco. Yes, it does taste better, but personally I don’t have the time/desire to stand there slowly drizzling my oil into my egg, or maybe it’s the other way around, but it is delicious and I am happy to eat it when someone else makes it.

Unpasterized juice? Probably, most likely. Again a standard thing in Morocco, but I also spent plenty of time and $$$ at juice bars in NY and Oregon during a couple of my pregnancies, so yes, very likely.

In my second pregnancy herbal “pregnancy” or “uterus” tea became a major staple of my diet. I would make 32 ounces daily, tucking it into the fridge to “ice” and drinking up all of the bottle I had made the day before. I LOVED that stuff. Now, in researching for this article, I found a few suggestions that women should avoid all herbal tea while pregnant. Really? Certain herbs are standard in many mama well-being diets, but instead of addressing how some herbs can maybe be dangerous during pregnancy, just use scare tactics and tell women to avoid all… I imbibed a lot of one of these herbs-to-avoid while pregnant. At some point in my bulk herb buying I began buying horsetail. No idea how, why, or when that happened, but I brewed it with my raspberry leaf, oat straw and all the other yummy, herby goodness I threw in the bottle, and I drank it for sometime during the end of my pregnancy.

It seems a lot of these foods-to-avoid in pregnancy have to do with concerns around potentially poor food handling situations. Others, like the tea, are… weird. And a part of this firm foundation of relying heavily and even solely on medical-professionals who are not as objective and know-it-all in their handlings as many of us like to think. Of course I am not suggesting that we take on wanton abandon while pregnant (or any other time) and nor am I doing that thing where I say something like “It was good enough for our moms!” Remember, many of our moms suffered through the pregnancy related brutalities of their time. In my 6+ pregnancies spanning nearly two decades I have learned that a lot of medical advice is like most advice: personal, subjective, contemporary but not based on long term findings.

Some items from Muslimah Etsy sellers: journal, popsicle earrings,  hijab pin, 'IQRA' book ends.

Some items from Muslimah Etsy sellers: journal, popsicle earrings, hijab pin, ‘IQRA’ book ends.


From SISTERS magazine’s November 2014 issue, some of the best sister-owned shops on the Internet’s favourite place to buy handmade.

I know many folks think that shopping on Etsy can be a very dangerous thing. There are just far too many unique and wonderful things on that website! But it’s actually an excellent shopping practice to buy from independent sellers and small-business families, as the products are exceptionally made to last a long time, often made with eco-green considerations in mind and directly support individuals in a fair-trade manner. Best of all, there are now many Muslim sellers on Etsy and your purchases from them can go towards supporting families striving to have deen-based lifestyles. Here is a selection of some of the great Muslimah sellers working via the Etsy platform - go ahead and window shop!

Ink And Ocean owned by Fehmida Shah

BB: What do you sell?
FS: Mostly downloadable art and cards and some paper goods.

BB: What is special about your items?
FS: I hope that my products are unique to me, as I have designed and created all of them. My paper goods that are not downloadable are either fair-trade or made from 100% recyclable materials or both. All are printed using environmentally-friendly inks.

BB: Why do you do/make what you do?
FS: After a day’s work, it’s lovely to just escape and have a creative outlet. I love the creative process and the ability to share my passion with a worldwide audience. I can make something I enjoy doing and have the opportunity to share it with others instantly.

BB: Any advice to wannabe Etsyians or craft sellers?
FS: Whether you want to sell on Etsy as a business or a hobby, I would say get familiar with the whole Etsy shop process and ask for help – there is lots of it out there in the form of books, articles and forums. Choose your Etsy username wisely to reflect your business as this can never be changed. Put in the time to market your products on other social media networks and blogs. Be patient. Like any other business, you have to work at it and it takes time.

Winged Pony Kawaii Jewelry owned by Siegret Chappell

BB: What do you sell?
SC: I sell kawaii (cute in Japanese) jewellery and accessories.

BB: What is special about your items?
SC: They are for grown up women or little women who like cute, quirky or dainty things. I try to keep it simple so they can be worn with everyday clothes as a small statement of quirky cuteness.

BB: Why do you do/make what you do?
SC: I have had this urge to build and make from a young age and making jewellery has become a manageable outlet. I sell so that I can afford more supplies (aka supporting my other strong urge to shop)!

BB: Any advice to wannabe Etsyians or craft sellers?
SC: Following the Etsy seller handbook is really the easiest way to get close to success.

Etsy Sellers II

Yarncoture owned by Maryum Karim

BB: What do you sell?
MK: I sell hand-knit and crocheted accessories for men, women and children, as well as unique items for your home.

BB: What is special about your items?
MK: What makes my items special is that Allah has blessed me with this talent. Before I started doing this I couldn’t have dreamed that I could make the things that I am able to make now. The designs that I choose are classics – items that you will be reaching for again and again that never go out of style. I also like to choose designs with a lot of elegance and style, that goes for the items I make for both women and men. Everything that I make is done with lots of love, care and professionalism to the best of my ability.

BB: Why do you do/make what you do?
MK: It all started with an “attempt” to repair a very special blanket that my oldest son was given during his stay in the hospital. I remembered that I knew how to crochet from my childhood so I was able to repair it (terribly). My mother sent me some knitting needles and some yarn and an ancient “how-to” knitting book. After failing at understanding the basic instructions I was given, I went online to see if there was an easier way. Alhamdulillah I found a site that made things much easier and I began knitting! I began to make lots of blankets and my family told me “you should open your own store!” – so I did! My work gives me so much peace and it’s very rewarding to see someone absolutely love and appreciate something you made!

BB: Any advice to wannabe Etsyians or craft sellers?
MK: I would advise them to do their homework! Research the market you’d like to get into and see if it can be a lucrative business for you. Research packaging, your logo and most of all your pricing should reflect how much time you put into your work, as well as the cost of materials. Also, be original! The last thing Etsy needs is another shop that looks like another and another and so on. If it’s something that you truly love doing, it will show in your work!

The Olive Tree Soap Company owned by Sobia Hussain

BB: What do you sell?
SH: I sell luxury artisan bath and body products which are vegan and free from harsh chemicals. My products include artisan soaps, lip balms, natural deodorants, lotion sticks, argan oil, hajj/umrah unscented products, unique party favours and gift sets for all occasions.

BB: What is special about your items?
SH: My goal is to provide the community with carefully handcrafted skin care with your health and planet as priority, while offering a natural alternative to the conventionally mass-produced products on the market. All my products are vegan and halal, they are free from alcohol-sourced ingredients as well harsh chemicals such as SLS, phthalate and paraben. The Olive Tree Soap Company is proud to be animal-cruelty free.

BB: Why do you do/make what you do?
SH: Since I was young, I have been very passionate about science and art. The two interests never intersected until I discovered soapmaking in my adult years. Making artisanal skincare products and designing its packaging is a fine marriage of chemistry and my personal form of expression. It’s as though it was meant for me. I’m so grateful to be in this field, alhamdulillah.

BB: Any advice to wannabe Etsyians or craft sellers?
SH: Don’t be intimidated. If there is something you are passionate about and would love to share with others, do your research in your field and see how others are selling their products. Do not solely rely on Etsy to be discovered. There are over 1 million sellers on Etsy so it’s easy for your shop to get lost in the large crowd; you will need to work hard to get your name out in other venues such as large events, local fairs, blogs, features and product reviews. Be ready to leave your comfort zone to promote your business and what you have to offer. Do it with class and integrity. It’s really a fine balance. If you don’t start, you’ll never know.

Muslamb Stationers owned by Cjala Surratt

BB: What do you sell?
CS: Muslamb carries letterpress and offset greeting cards, fill-in invitations and desk decor essentials such as notepads, sticky notes, bookends, stamps and pencils, the most popular of which are the “Hijabi Hard at Work” and “Study Dua” pencils.

BB: Why do you do/make what you do?
CS: I started Muslamb Stationers because I often had to doctor ‘Seasons Greetings’ and ‘Happy Holidays’ cards for Eid, walimahs or aqiqahs (I sent out many a tacky card with ‘Happy Holidays’ crossed out and ‘Eid Mubarak’ put in!). I was also tired of giving my money to businesses that didn’t carry any goods that reflected those holidays and special events that are important to me as a Muslim. So, I decided to create stationery goods that reflected Islamic values and embraced a quirky, fresh, fun and contemporary sensibility.

BB: Any advice to wannabe Etsyians or craft sellers?
CS: Etsy is good platform to begin with; they have built in a lot of functionality for a seller to set up a shop easily. I found it beneficial for testing out my buyer demographic initially and a great means of garnering visibility as one gets the brand recognition and trust that comes with the Etsy brand.

Omee’s Boutique owned by Omee (Mona)

BB: What do you sell?
O: Reusable cloth menstrual pads, baby to toddler bibs and unpaper towels are my best sellers. I also sew and sell diaper bags, waterproof bags, pacifier clips, mitten clips, infant car seat canopies, nursing pads and a lot of other items. I take custom requests if readers have anything else in mind.

BB: What is special about your items?
O: Everything in my shop is handmade by me, with loving care and attention to detail. I sew everyday whenever possible. These days I am focusing more on eco-friendly products like reusable cloth menstrual pads, reusable snack/sandwich bags and unpaper towels.

BB: Why do you do/make what you do?
O: I can’t survive without something to keep my hands busy, so I sew when I can, when my toddler is napping and my husband is busy at work. I love beautiful fabrics and use what little free time I have to create items that can possibly become a loved and worn best friend.

BB: Any advices to wannabe Etsyians or craft sellers?
O: Etsy is an established marketplace that customers from around the world shop from. Having your own website in addition to a shop on Etsy will be great for you, but I would recommend starting out on Etsy. I currently only have an Etsy shop and hope to create a website of my own soon too insha Allah.

Research well and pick a nice name for your shop, price your handmade items well and once you are all set update your shop regularly and make a connection with your customers through either a Facebook page or an Instagram account. Make your customers happy, network with other sellers, promote your shop, keep improving and take your business seriously. It will be a slow climb but with time you will see good results and do great insha Allah.

SISTERS Etsyians!

Brooke Benoit www.etsy.com/shop/Brookolie
Ke’lona Hamilton www.etsy.com/shop/CreativeMotivations
Zainab Bint Younus www.etsy.com/shop/AbayatLeatherAndLace
Maria Zain www.etsy.com/shop/GardensofAdneen

Some of our favourite Muslim Etsy shops:

AlhambraAcrylics www.etsy.com/uk/shop/AlhambraAcrylics
ArchetypeZ www.etsy.com/shop/ArchetypeZ
AyshBoutique www.etsy.com/shop/AyshBoutique
HaniyyaJewelz www.etsy.com/shop/haniyyajewelz
INKhandcrafted www.etsy.com/shop/INKhandcrafted
Islamicable www.etsy.com/uk/shop/Islamicable
muslamb www.etsy.com/shop/ownsignature
PathOfLightDesigns www.etsy.com/shop/PathOfLightDesigns
SHOPNadiaJArt www.etsy.com/shop/shopnadiajart

In addition to writing and editing for SISTERS magazine, Brooke Benoit sometimes makes unique (and fairly spectacular) jewellery for her own Etsy shop, https://www.etsy.com/shop/Brookolie.

10 year old sitting on a ledge of rocks way, way far up a mountain with a village below and snow capped mountains behind him.

10 year old sitting on a ledge of rocks way, way far up a mountain with a village below and snow capped mountains behind him.


Welcome to homeschooling/unschooling where you have opened yet another window of opportunity for people to judge you and suck energy from your being by wasting your time drawing you into conversations which are mostly built around others’ guilt about what they fear they may be doing wrong with their own kids. Please avoid this all too common trapping. Do not engage. Just do not engage with anyone who is not at least 90% supportive of your decision to homeschool. Reserve that energy for your child(ren).

But obviously I think it’s worth it to homeschool, even with the copious amounts of stress it brings. Whenever I have considered (and threatened) to put my kids in school I am immediately faced with a multitude of ways that my children would suffer in a school environment (and no, I don’t buy into the “We All Made It Through OK” fallacy): bullying (emotional, physical and sexual), racism, Islamophobia, sexism, disrespect and abuse for their individuality, the increasing stress accompanying a testing-based education system and general boring-ass curriculum that would drive them to hate learning. Homeschooling is stressful and it has taken me many years to learn how to deal with that stress, but it’s a fair tradeoff for me. Here are some things that I wouldn’t have minded picking up on a lot faster:

Support: Find like-minded people and talk to them/listen to them, this will help to lessen the very natural self-doubts that will flourish in you fed by both internal and external voices. See above. Really there may be very little support available in your region or related to your particular circumstances (such as working while homeschooling, being a single-parent, having a child with a different point of view/way of being or maybe a disability, diagnosed or undiagnosed) so seek those folks out. Do google searches where you may find blogs of interest to your needs, join social media groups, be open to starting and participating in physical groups, but keep in mind that homeschooling mamas are ridiculously overly busy and can be hard to organize with. I hate to say it, but take what you can get when you can get it, unless of course this person/group is less than 90% supportive of your choices, then forget ‘em, bad homeschooling groups can be an energy suck.

Homeschooling Philosophies: Homeschooling parents can be really annoying too. We are all going about this with quite a bit of defensiveness and/or chips on our shoulders and we can be horrid about judging how other people are doing it. For instance, I am an unschooler (a radical one really) which means that my children are all self-directed learners. I basically facilitate and advise. My children express and demonstrate their interests and I find and suggest ways for them to further these interests. Now, when we lived in Alaska we were eligible for a yearly stipend that paid for supplies and classes. Many other unschoolers would click their tongues at me and insist that I wasn’t unschooling because we turned in work samples to the state, took yearly tests and accepted money in return for these efforts. I was very clear to my children that if they wanted to do X,Y,Z (go horseback riding, have an annual subscription to the children’s museum and tons of art supplies) then they needed to do the work required by the state- not at all a set curriculum – but still all based on their own interests and the samples being stuff like “Photo of Z reading a book” to fulfill reading credit, otherwise we could not afford these things. It was their CHOICE to do the work or not, and of course they chose to and we discussed different ways they could fulfill the requirements based on their own interests (Lego robots for science!) and that IS unschooling. The child makes their own choices.

Integrated Studies: As you wander down the road of this homeschooling journey you are going to come across loads of material demonstrating how institutionalized schools are doing it all wrong and how they KNOW this and are still doing nothing to change their ways. You are going to learn to follow your instincts, and then get some back up from you chosen support network and those homeschooling articles/books and sages when you need. One big thing for me is integrated studies. This is a bit of a buzzword in schools right now, because it is awesome and a very natural way to learn, but unfortunately it is really cumbersome to pull off in an institutionalized environment (Waldorf schools do it well, but they have been at it for decades) and it is not at all child-led as it is still a presented, packaged curriculum (fine if you are into that kind of thing). But you, dear homeschooling parents moms, have the perfect opportunity to embrace this phenomenon. The general idea for integrated studies is that you take a broad subject matter and spread it across the curriculum so that a child is exploring this topic in several subjects. For instance I have a child who is very into studying everything and anything about all wars. This was weird for me to embrace, but I did and he has learned a tremendous amount about history, cultures, religions, science and technology, art and even just reading so much material (not written for kids) has helped him to improve his own writing, of course. I think this is a great way to approach unschooling. Foster your child’s individual interests and they WILL flourish.

Schedule and Personal Accountability: When I very first began to homeschool, I mean my first few days with my first son over a decade ago, I was prepared to use a “traditional” homeschooling schedule, you know sit down at the kitchen table after the breakfast dishes were cleared and begin lessons. My son, thankfully, wasn’t buying into this charade. He just thought it was so weird and really balked at drawing the alphabet in crayons (he hated crayons!) when there were better, more pressing things to do like constructing something with the enormous cardboard boxes we had recently acquired. It felt fake to me too. So I went back to the books and started learning about other and many ways of homeschooling, eventually I found unschooing and it just made sense for us. My son was already brilliant, he WAS learning and seeking out knowledge all the time, so I decided to try out this method that others swore by. And it works.

One of the biggest challenges for me (and the husband) has been scheduling versus personal accountability. Radical unschoolers will tell you that they don’t put their kids on schedules (not for bed, not for work, not chores) and that their kids learn self-discipline. This is true for me, but it is not easy. At all. My younger kids go to bed when I do, my older ones stay up later though sometimes (like when they are going for new sleep deprivation world records) I firmly remind them that it’s not fair that they are living amongst us but so separately, sleeping all day, not being available to help with their siblings and the house, inconsiderately eating whatever they want and so on. They get that. They are self-centered kids, but they are also empathetic and smart, they get it that it’s just not fair and they come around. But you can imagine how frightening that sounds to authoritarian parents and people who are used to “controlling” children.

When we did turn in samples to the state (and actually I have one enrolled in the Clonlara program in Michigan right now) I had to do frequent countdown reminders regarding when the work was due and it was pretty hectic just before the due dates, but again if they wanted the activities badly enough… they got it done. And I have had to see my kids miss a few opportunities due to them not being able to pull it together in time, and that can be a real hard thing for a parent to let unfold – but the child LEARNS from it. There is plenty of stuff out there about letting kids learn from their own mistakes and how that builds personal accountability, and so far this seems true for us.

Currently I have five children who are not enrolled in any programs and interestingly to me, three of my kids have been curious about where they stand compared to their schooled peers and have sought out online assessment tests to see for themselves. What they didn’t know they looked up on Khan Academy or Wikipedia, and poof now they know.

I feel for anyone beginning homeschooling, whatever method that they use and for whatever reasons why they are doing it. You will face hurdle, after hurdle, after hurdle, but if you look to and communicate with your children you will know for sure if you are doing the best thing you can. As much as I am for child-led learning, I think we parents also need to reclaim our instincts and in many ways our power – we are very capable of doing greatness for our kids.

Next step? Deschooling if you can.


I really appreciated this article on motherhood last week from GrowMamaGrow in which Layali Eshqaidef challenges that Muslims are not living up to the standards that they claim Muslim mommies deserve. The overuse of “Paradise lies at the feet of your mother” while most mothers are being completely taken advantage of even to the point of abuse… this is nails on the chalkboard stuff for me. I need to hear/read Eshqaidef‘s included Muslim maxim below (as well as the best among you are those who are best to your families) a kazillion times over to wash away the residue of my annoyance at the other hollow sentiments. Eshqaidef touches on several points about Muslim parenting, which I would like to reiterate and add to here.

One point that I think many of us really need to cling to is: “One thing to do is revitalize fathers’ roles in parenting, childcare and household duties. The purpose of marriage in Islam is to form a partnership in pursuit of sakinah (tranquility) for both partners. It is best for Muslim men to follow in the footsteps of the best role model, Prophet Mohammad (S), who used to spend his time at home in the service of his family.” In my experience, I see far too many families abusing the role of the mother as the primary care-provider, whether she works for an income or not, leaving the father’s just-about-nearly-only role to be an income earner. The dads have a flimsy secondary role as an authoritarian parent and husband who has little substantive interaction with his family other than making demands and giving orders as to how he wants his duties outsourced.

Often an unrealistic burden has been placed on the mothers, seemingly forgetting that the fathers will be first in line to be questioned about their accountability in their family’s care and children’s rearing. When asked about their shortcomings in providing their children’s rights and being an honorable companion to them in their adolescence, will dads expect “Well I told my wife to take care of that” to be an acceptable excuse? But I know that, like Eshqaidef, I am preaching to the choir here as the majority of my readers are women, and the majority of people seeking out advice from Mama Google on parenting are also women.

So, I will jump to my second point which is how we, mothers included, completely undervalue the work of mothers. Especially among Muslims, the general attitude is that women are motherly by nature – it is our nature to have children and nurture them – therefore it is pretty much thoughtless work we do inherently. The chores associated with mothering are seen as mundane, yet exhausting labor that anyone can do, yet men certainly don’t want to. Not only have others devalued our work as mothers, but we devalue it as well. Likely we have all seen those cute little break downs of the financial value of our motherly work, but true appreciation of our work doesn’t seem to stick for many of us mothers. Many of us rush to get back to working for a paycheck after having children (when not absolutely necessary) because monetary value is the only tangible value we can place on ourselves. Other mothers may (wisely) avoid being a stay at home mom (even though they will still carry more than a fair share of the parenting duties) for other reasons, especially around emotional well-being.

As I move through international mothering communities, I have found some women, within some cultures who have much greater respect for their roles and work. They wouldn’t dream of going to work if they don’t have to, they are much more… prepared to accept the mahrs and gifts that come after having given birth, they fight for maintenance and that of their children in cases of divorce. Many men and even some women will see these moms as money-hungry, but I see them as having a better understanding of the value of their role.

I truly believe that one person cannot change another (such as forcing fathers to father), and that Allah only changes our condition when we change ourselves (such as STOP doing EVERYTHING). It has taken six children and my share of burn-out to better see the value of my mama role. I move forward today actively mothering, but not bogged down in unrealistic expectations and guilt – this requires shutting out many voices, and listening to the true sunnah and my instincts.

Please read the rest of Eshqaidef’s article here.

*This post is focused on the rhetoric of traditional Muslim marriages and parenting roles, but of course there is an enormous scope beyond this which also needs much addressing…

HD
It has been two years since my family of eight moved from cosmopolitan Casablanca, Morocco, to a ram-packed earth house in a rural village in the High Atlas Mountains. Insha Allah, by the time you read this we will have traversed the two hour windy road down the mountain and then driven several more hours to our new seaside home and I will have already installed our dishwasher, stocked the fridge with our much-missed favourite condiments and have taken over an entire room in the house to serve solely as my office-studio. But right this very moment I am in that unique waffling space between annoyance at everything in my current environment and being excited at the possibilities with the move. In this spirit I thought it best to reflect on the best and the worst of my experiences way up here.

Things I will miss about living in a rural farming community in the mountains:

* The immense beauty
It is incredible here. When I think about how much time I spend indoors here and wonder what difference would it make where I live, all I have to do is tilt my head and take a peek out the window. Subhan Allah.

* The wildlife
My kids have learned plenty about the food production cycle by watching and helping our neighbours raise their own animals, but they have also had several memorable interactions with wild animals. We have provided hospice care for a falcon and a woodpecker, both were injured and died in our care, but still a good experience for us to appreciate Allah’s (SWT) creations. Ever held a falcon or a woodpecker in your hands? Incredible creatures. We have also had a baby squirrel pass through our home and we regularly have a variety of frogs and toads (I think those are toads!) living in our shower. My girls make a very distinct, playful kind of scream specific to when an amphibian jumps into their bath. “Froth!” Asiya exclaims.

There was the morning we had a visit from a frightening, but magnificent, spider as big as my hand with my fingers outspread. We have also encountered innumerable insects outside our home, including humming beetles, glowing grubs, enormous caterpillars and a moth so big that we argued whether or not she was a bird! Oh and storks. Storks are beautiful, though also a bit intimidating as far as birds go. And once Amine (10) and I spent several minutes chasing after someone who we couldn’t agree on whether they were a hummingbird or enormous moth (it was a moth).

* Fresh milk
We buy organic, raw milk from our neighbours and it is incomparable to the bottled stuff. As a bonus we have kept about a kazillion milk cartons out of landfills since we reuse containers to collect it.

* Less waste
Overall, we have kept a whole lot of waste out of landfills the last couple of years. Most of our foods come to us without any packaging. We also don’t have many opportunities for impulse shopping or partaking of any consumerism in general.

* Rocks
No but seriously, I am a jewellery maker and I love rocks. Gemstones – thousands of years of dirt/minerals pressed together to eventually become a beautiful thing – are awesome and the mountainside is covered in a gorgeous and exciting variety of rocks.

* Free range children
Currently I can holler out the front window of my home and my kids can hear me calling them from just about any point in the village. My husband isn’t thrilled with this practice, but I am happy that my children get plenty of exercise and outdoor playtime but are still within my vocal reach. I am sure that my children will not have as much freedom back in a city, but we will live very near the beach! Which brings us to my looking-forward-to-leaving-behind things.

Things I will not miss about living in a rural farming community in the mountains:

* Mice
I hate mice. They are adorable yet nasty little creatures. They leave their waste everywhere and eat everything. We have had several articles of clothes, important papers and toys ruined by nesting mice, though my new habit of screaming continuously while I chase them down and kill them is a very special entertainment for my kids.

* Lack of variety
There is a very, very small selection of foods available locally and being creative with them got tiresome real fast. I suppose this why my neighbors cook a steady stream of only tagine and couscous. Also the processed and junk foods that are available out here are very poor quality. I mean, I grew up believing Kool Aid is better to dye your hair and clothes with than to put it in your body, but the instant drink that is available out here has a warning on it that it is dangerous to be consumed young children and pregnant women. Yikes.

* Gender disparity
There’s a lot of it and it’s just not Islamic and it’s just not right. I look forward to being able to do many things in the city which I just cannot do out here, such as going shopping if I need to. Women do not generally do any of the shopping out here and it has been really frustrating to have to rely on my children to shop for me. They often have to make extra trips to return items that are not what I wanted or are poor quality. Of course it has been a good experience for my kids to learn how to shop, but then again they often have to make extra trips. There are plenty of examples of the disparities, but finally I really understand why illiteracy is so dangerous to women, if they cannot read then they have to rely on someone else’s interpretation of Islam and from what I have experienced out here those interpretations often do not support women’s Allah-given rights.

* There is no place to go
Often outings go hand in hand with spending money, which I don’t have much of and can be wasteful anyway, but, there is no place to go out here! Even going for walks gets bor-ing in a one road village. I look forward to meandering, window shopping, visiting bookstores and libraries and of course shopping, even if just for groceries. Oh, the joys of picking out my favourite foods!

* The rugged environment
It’s beautiful, but man does this the terrain eat up shoes and anything pneumatic, such as bicycle tires and soccer balls. I had wanted to take the kids on a bicycle tour of the valley, but we can’t seem to keep all of our tires unpopped at the same time. It’s also pretty brutal on our skin.

* Needing seasonal clothes
I grew up in a Fall/Spring kind of climate with the rare ‘sweater weather’ in between. I bought clothes for style much more than for function. I hate having to manage so many different articles and kinds of clothes for seven people, especially when there isn’t a boot sale for half a day’s ride away. Somehow last winter my four year old only had one sweater and winter was nearly over by the time we managed to figure that out and get her some more. Give me a consistently mild climate any day, please and thank you.

Really, I’m not too sad about coming down the mountain. I had expected this to be a temporary situation and I am feeling glad that we were able to stick it out for two years, which is one year longer than I expected. It is slightly harsher living, the climate itself isn’t too harsh but things such as access to medical help and other things we needed and wanted, heartier chores, occasional power outages and water shortages made it a less easy lifestyle for my family. There isn’t much to romanticise about mountain living as is standardly lived, but I do hope that what sticks with us is a deeper appreciation for Allah’s (SWT) provisions. It takes a long time and a lot of resources to grow one chicken, which my family can devour in less than ten minutes! Similarly, I hope we have better attitudes towards our trash, our personal items and especially our time. I am thankful that I don’t have to spend the majority of my time raising and preparing my daily sustenance, so the question now is what will I do with my time?

Brooke Benoit is contentedly a stranger, a dreamer and a tumbleweed.

This article originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of SISTERS Magazine.

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