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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.

Metsy Monday: A Hajj Memoir

This guest Metsy Monday collection is a lovely Hajj-themed treasury made by the uber, way talented (masha Allah) Hafsa of HafsaCreates. As in keeping with Etsy etiquette Hafsa didn’t include any of her own awesome Hajj-themed items, so please check her shop out too.

*Click the pick below to go straight to the treasury.

MM Hajj

Br00ke:

I’m mostly off the fence today, but would love to hear others’ thoughts- can literature be Islamic and erotic?

Originally posted on Between Sisters, SVP!:

Guest post by Br00ke Benoit who is an artist, mama to six, writer, editor, Islamic fiction champion and frequent baker living a greenish life in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco

question

(CC photo credit: Eleaf)

~Could It Be Islamic And Erotic? Muslims are advised to “not be shy” about delicate particulars, so why can’t we, in moderation of course, read some halal erotica, like Papatia Feauxzar’s novel Between Sisters, SVP!? While working with a group of Muslim writers to flesh out a thorough definition of what Islamic fiction is, we had plenty of disagreements about what could be included and what was beyond the fold of the literary category, except for one detail: Islamic fiction does not include depictions of sex acts. In hindsight, maybe we didn’t all agree about that one, but at that time I sat quietly on the fence pondering the possibility of Islamic erotica. Why would it be…

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The Artful Judger

Photo of a gavel, 'justice' scales and books.

Photo of a gavel, ‘justice’ scales and books.

Brooke Benoit takes a moment to ponder why people concern themselves with others’ choices.

“He converted for you?” they ask ‘Aishah. With their eyebrows raised and heads tilted it’s hard for ‘Aishah to believe that her sisters are just being naturally curious about this unique phenomenon. Her sisters think that they know many women convert for men, but it’s rare for a man to convert for a woman. ‘Aishah has heard the whispers: these kinds of conversions are insincere, the converts aren’t really Muslim, their marriage is haram, he/she will soon enough leave their spouse and Islam all together.

I see how hurt ‘Aishah is by these assumptions and judgements and I try to dismiss them with a Muslim maxim, “only Allah can judge you”. My words ring hollow, but I remain steadfast in my insistence that people’s judgements don’t bother me. “Sticks and Stones” sounds off quietly in my head. A few days later when someone angrily accused me of judging them I was flummoxed, but this time I saw that I am in need of a better understanding of why some of my sisters are so upset by perceiving that they have been judged or worse misjudged. I wondered, what’s the big deal about what someone thinks about me? We can’t control each other’s thoughts… We can’t control each other’s actions either, but that’s one of the many problems with erroneously judging others; judgements then become actions.

…misjudging people leads to serious social ills, such as rejecting suitable people for jobs, marriage, positions in decision making processes and so on.

For ‘Aishah and her husband there are innumerous examples of how being misjudged affects their lives. Minimally, they are both seen as “lesser” Muslims, though some may go as far as to see them as deviants or even non-Muslims since they believe ‘Aishah’s husband converted only to marry her. Therefore, they believe that he is not a true Muslim and neither is she because she is married to a non-Muslim. ‘Aishah and her husband are often left out of mosque functions, including decision-making processes and educational resources, thereby effectively blocking their local access to the deen. They are largely left feeling alienated from their community and frequently hurt by other Muslims’ harshness, assumptions and ignorance about their personal lives.

 

Misjudgements in general can have lasting impacts on people’s lives. I now recognise that it was from a position of great privilege that I was able to so easily disregard how people may judge me. As a white female I am often misjudged or judged to my benefit. I am sometimes judged for various lifestyle choices I make (home-birthing, home-educating, converting, etc.) But these are usually superficial interactions that don’t have a lasting impact on my life aside from occasionally feeding my insecurities or fueling my determinacy. Misjudgements are often steeped in stereotyping and can lead to various forms of exclusion and ultimately forms of oppression. Aside from how ‘Aishah’s family is excluded from her community, misjudging people leads to serious social ills, such as rejecting suitable people for jobs, marriage, positions in decision making processes and so on.

 

The harm to the judges

Judging others is also harmful to the one doing the judging; it prevents personal growth and can be or lead to sinning.

 

  • Judging others is a distraction technique. We busy ourselves with casting judgement on others rather than to look at our own problems. Or as author Jarl Forsman explains, “most judgements of others are ego strategies to avoid uncomfortable feelings. However, if you lack the awareness of where they come from, they can lead to even more discomfort down the line.” Next time you judge someone, think of the judgement as a mirror and ponder what is going on in that area in your own life. Perhaps some of these people who judge ‘Aishah and her husband have insecurities about their own sincerity in their faith.

 

  • Judging other’s actions can stem from envy. There may be some aspect of the other person’s choices that the judge is jealous of and feels that they are not able to act on it themselves. Are ‘Aishah’s judges jealous that she was able to marry a man they never would have been able to consider based on personal, familial or cultural taboos?

 

  • Similarly, we may judge others from a position of intolerance, which is when we only accept our own personal values and are not accepting and respectful of other values. We can be bothered by other people’s lifestyle choices because again a mirror has been placed in front of us providing an opportunity to reconsider our own ideals, but often we would rather do the easier work of condemning than contemplating.

 

  • Misjudging others is essentially making an assumption about them based on an interpretation of superficial information. This practice is so dangerous that Allah (SWT) warns us not to heedlessly judge each other:

“O you who have believed, avoid much [negative] assumption. Indeed, some assumption is sin. And do not spy or backbite each other. Would one of you like to eat the flesh of his brother when dead? You would detest it. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is Accepting of repentance and Merciful.” (Al-Hujurat:12)

Abu Huraira reported Allah’s Messenger (SAW) as saying: “Avoid suspicion, for suspicion is the gravest lie in talk and do not be inquisitive about one another and do not spy upon one another and do not feel envy with the other and nurse no malice and nurse no aversion and hostility against one another. And be fellow brothers and servants of Allah.” [Muslim Hadith 6214]
  • Breeding negativity: notice in the above hadith we are not only warned about suspicion, but also not to harbour negative feelings for each other, such as malice, aversion and hostility. SISTERS’ own Positive Psychologist Saiyyidah Zaidi-Stone explains that “negative thinking drains your energy for positivity. Being negative becomes a habit. This rut results in individuals being unable to grow and develop themselves as positive individuals. If you consciously decide to have a positive mindset it does wonders for your psychological and emotional development, the same is true of negative mindset so be aware which one you focus your energy and attention on.” Ultimately, negative thinking is a projection of our own discontent.

Of course, there is always the possibility that these sorts of questions are being asked earnestly to make small talk, which can be a good and necessary tool to help establish commonality. The trick to help you distinguish what your intention is to listen to your own inner voice’s responses to your queries; if your responses are couched in negativity, then perhaps it is better to follow the sunnah of remaining silent until you get that under control.

 

I now have great empathy for ‘Aishah’s family and the adversity they face due to people’s false judgements of them. While there isn’t much I can do for ‘Aishah, other than reminding her that people are just projecting their own problems onto her, I am now more conscious when I hear my own inner critique lashing out at people. I can now stop and ponder, what am I actually saying about myself?

 

Brooke Benoit is an artist, mama to six, writer, editor, Islamic fiction champion and frequent baker living a greenish life in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco.

This article appears in the September 2014 issue of SISTERS magazine.

Metsy Monday: Fiber Arts

Here we have some of my very favorite things – wearable art, plush toys, fabric and fiber jewelry – it’s all fiber arts in this Metsy Monday treasury!

 

*click the pic below to go straight to Etsy and enjoy.

 

Metsy Mondays Fiber Arts

* “Metsy” is a portmanteau of the words Muslim and Etsy – you know, like Mipster

This Metsy Monday post is a waaaaay overdue post! Maybe I forgot to say “bismillah.”

*click on the image below to view an eclectic and lovely collection of Muslimmade items on Etsy.

MM Bismillah

 

Art For Syria Auction

Br00ke:

I will not confess to how many paintings I have bought/bid on, but it is all beautiful art and for a really good cause. Please take a look.

Originally posted on Yezarck:

Salam, peace!

On the 19th July 2014 I started an event on Facebook called Art for Syria Auction . For some time now I have been trying to do a fundraiser with Human Appeal and crawling slowly along alhamdolillah. I came up with the idea for an auction because my house is so full of art I’m running out of space! (Well I was before doing the auction)

So far I have sold 17 artworks with 100% donation going to my fundraiser. Each auction runs for 7 days and then the winner is announced on the event page. Payments are made directly to my Just Giving Page and buyers pay postage.

So far I have raised £261, that’s about £15.35 for each artwork sold so there are real bargains to be had. Here are some of the artworks sold and selling  so far:

If you’re not interested in buying any…

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