Professionalism in Islamic Businesses and Organizations

November 7, 2008 at 10:13 am (1) ()

This post at Muslim Matters really got me thinking, as the lack of professionalism in Islamic organizations and businesses is something I’ve repeatedly faced since my conversion. I have not tried to get involved with the masjid, but in my experience with the MSA and other Islamic groups I have been involved in, in just my short time as a Muslim, it worries me that we are so disorganized. We are missing out on so much.

I think the amount of vision in Muslim communities is astounding, but without the actions to confirm the motivation, things don’t happen. I know I am not the only one who’s been pushed aside or ignored when I’ve offered help in areas in which I have experience. Anyone, regardless of their level of experience, who has the drive to participate should, and subhan’Allah, this should be encouraged! But part of the role of managing any business or organization, particularly an Islamic one, is to treasure and make use of those members who have the experience as well as the desire to take part, and to encourage that. And outside of my limited experience in Islamic media (writing for newspapers and such), I don’t see that happening.

It worries me because I have been on the board and part of the organization of religious communites before I became Muslim, and similar issues are what caused fractures in these communities and impeded our ability to focus on what was really important. It’s all well and good to have goals and vision, but what are we doing in our communities to encourage these visions to be met? And are we truly appreciating and encouraging those who work to meet them? This is really important, because these people create the future of our ummah’s communities, and I know from personal experience that trying to cope with mismanagement leads to burnout and alienation. We cannot afford to alienate our experienced and willing members, and we should be maintaining proper professionalism as Muslims if we seek to start businesses or organizations.


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Chai and Hyderabadi Dum Murgh Biryani

October 10, 2008 at 6:56 am (Uncategorized) (, )

I promised Khadija that I would start posting here, as I’ve meant to do for quite some time now, and she suggested that I post food stuff here since it’s something that I’ve begun writing about in my individual blog more and more often. And of course I forgot last night when I made this massive post about biryani…so here it is, in all its glory.

I’m also reading Imam al-Ghazzali’s On the Manners Relating to Eating, which I find incredibly fascinating, so insha’Allah I will be making a post on that soon as well.

I’ve been really excited about cooking lately but I haven’t had a lot of time to do so. I took chicken out last night with the intention of making biryani, and I was sooo tired tonight that I almost didn’t do it! I’m really glad I did, though. I used the Hyderabadi Dum Murgh Biryani recipe from Zaiqa, but due to my own forgetfulness and/or tastes, there are some major changes, so I’ll post my actual ingredient list and process here.

This is my first time making “real” biryani; I made Zaiqa’s quick, light biryani recipe in April but I’ve always found the full process for making biryani daunting, so I put off trying it until now. It really wasn’t that bad – I did a lot of the prep while I was cooking at the same time so it only took about an hour and forty five minutes to two hours.

The major omissions and changes: instead of canola oil, I used sunflower oil, because my canola oil is apparently out of date (I never use it!). Instead of cumin seeds (zeera), I used cumin powder, as I bought too much caraway and forgot to buy cumin seeds because I am dumb. I also forgot to get cloves and fresh cilantro, so I omitted those, but I will definitely be adding them in next time. I omitted the green chillies because my roommates and I aren’t big fans of very spicy food. I also used regular mint flakes, not fresh mint. I changed the amounts quite a bit as I wanted to make a half batch (with about 1lb./450 grams of chicken), and I also tend to eyeball spices and oils rather than measuring them. I used Greek yogurt because I didn’t think I’d be able to get back to the Indian shop to buy the yogurt there; I’m not sure of the difference exactly, but the Greek yogurt seemed to have an especially strong savory/sour flavor, which everyone else liked but I wasn’t particularly fond of. I’m interested to try it with milder yogurts. So here’s an explanation of the way I made it…

Basmati rice – 2.5 cups
Water – 4 cups
Sunflower oil – ~8 tbsp.
Cinnamon sticks – 1
Caraway seeds – large pinch
Slivered almonds – small handful
Cashews – small handful
1 large yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast, chopped into large chunks
Cardamom – 3 pods
Cumin (zeera) powder – large pinch
Ginger-garlic paste – 1 tbsp.
Garam Masala – ~1 tsp.
Yogurt – 1 cup
Tomatoes – 2 small, coarsely chopped
Turmeric – large pinch
Red chili powder – ~1 tsp.
Lemon juice – ~3 tbsp.
Salt – ~1 tsp.
Saffron strands – large pinch
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup milk
1.5 tbsp Irish butter
Mint flakes – large pinch

I chopped the tomatoes, onion, and chicken separately first. I heated some organic milk in the microwave and mixed the saffron in to sit, and started the rice soaking.
I fried the almonds and cashews in sunflower oil until golden brown (or rather, I burnt them the first time around, then threw those out and started over and fried them until golden brown!). I removed them onto a plate, then poured in several tbsp. of sunflower oil and fried about 3/4 of the onion until dark brown, but not quite crispy. I reserved those on another plate.
Next I fried the chicken until golden brown and cooked through in sunflower oil, and put that on another plate. Then I put the cumin powder, cardamom pods, and ginger-garlic paste and cooked for a few moments until browned. I added the other 1/4 of onion and cooked it til light brown.
Next I added the yogurt, garam masala, tomatoes, chili powder, lemon juice, turmeric, salt, and cooked almonds and cashews, and cooked that on medium, stirring frequently, for about 10-12 minutes.
Then I added the chicken to that, and cooked for about 10 minutes. The original recipe calls for about 25-40 minutes total cooking time for the yogurt and after the chicken is added, but as I was making a half batch and the yogurt and oils seemed to thicken very quickly, I just guessed on the time.
After adding the chicken, I boiled 4 cups of water with the cinnamon, caraway, and bay leaf, then added the strained, soaked rice and covered to steam, leaving at a high temperature. Once it was about 3/4 the way done, I stopped and strained it again.
I layered half the rice, then all of the chicken mixture, then the rest of the rice on top and garnished with mint and the fried onions. I poured the milk mixture and the melted butter on top of that, then baked at 350F for about 10 minutes. I used a long rectangular pan with high sides, so I just covered it with foil as I don’t actually own a casserole dish or anything like that (yet!).

I’ve also been experimenting with making my own chai lately. While I was at the organic food store, which was an awesome experience, I bought some (extremely expensive! the stuff is like gold!) loose leaf Darjeeling tea, so tonight that was my chai innovation. I’ve been using Darjeeling bags, although I have some other black teas I might try as well.

A’ishah’s Chai Recipe
Per person: about 3/4 cup milk and 3/4 cup water, 1 cardamom pod, 1-2 allspice pods(? is that what they’re called?), 1/2 piece nutmeg, 1/4 in. piece of cinnamon, one teabag or looseleaf tea, and about 1/2 bay leaf. I also use either 1/4 in. piece of ginger and two black peppercorns per person, or just shake in some powdered ginger and ground black pepper and eyeball it. Because I have not yet mastered the skill of boiling water AND milk without curdling the milk, I put all the spices and tea in a closed strainer and boil it with the water, then pour it into cups and add the milk afterwards.

Before I always used sugar whenever I had chai, but my Sanskrit professor has turned me onto agave nectar, so I am going through my little bottle she gave me as a present like CRAZY. It’s so yummy. And I love visiting her because she makes the most amazing chai (as well as other South Asian yummies). I hope one day I will be that adept.

The organic food market was SO much fun because I found out that there you can buy as much or as little as you want of most things, instead of having to buy an entire package. They do sell a lot of packaged goods, but they have a large area where you can scoop your own spices, some loose teas, nuts, flour, oats, grain, dried fruit, seeds, and lots of other yummy stuff. I got some dried mango, cranberries, and cherries there, as well as some dates. I was so excited about this as one of my problems for the last few years has been, in mostly cooking for myself, wasting a lot of food because I just cannot finish an entire package of anything. It’s especially bad with fresh spices and vegetables, which is why I don’t normally buy things like fresh cilantro and mint. Now if only they come up with a way to buy lettuce by the leaf or to buy half a package of mushrooms…a girl can dream!

Of course the Indian food store is right down the walk from there so I dropped by to go dal and wheat shopping for my plot to make the haleem and dal recipes (also from Zaiqa, although I want to try some of the recipes from sites on her links list as well). So…I came home loaded down with bags of different kinds of dal, Bengal gram, and dalia, and have a stack of canisters of stuff that all looks the same to my uncultured, Southern-fried, soul food-eating self, but is carefully labeled. Also I found out they sell McVitie’s digestives there, which saves me an extra walk to World Market! I love the chocolate covered ones and the Hob Nobs – I had them when I visited England and the only place I’ve been able to find them here is World Market.

I did find an amazing naan recipe as well that I would have loved to make with the biryani, but honestly, it’s a miracle that I even managed to get through the biryani. My back hurts SO badly after wandering around all day then standing in front of the stove, and I am going to fall asleep on my keyboard, so I better go away now. Don’t forget about the Grateful to Allah blog carnival! (See my post below. Aaminah, I’ve not forgotten! I will try to write something tomorrow insha’Allah.)

Right now I’m incredibly grateful for the ability to cook, and for the fact that I live in a place where I have access to so many different things and can cook virtually anything I want if I am willing to find the ingredients and do the work. Subhan’Allah…I have always enjoyed cooking, and I’ve always considered myself a good cook, but I never realized how limited my tastes were until my spice rack began overflowing like it is now. I also never knew turmeric, garlic, ginger, onions, and garam masala could DO so much. Holy wow. Now all I have to do is get myself to like lamb so that I can try some of the lovely lamb recipes…I have a feeling that isn’t going to happen anytime soon. I’m also incredibly grateful to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala for blessing me with roommates this year who respond to my mothering. Before I’ve always had roommates who were like, “Oh cool, you’re cooking,” but would never eat anything I offered to them (and I’m not a bad cook! I promise!) because they were either not very adventurous or just didn’t like eating other people’s food. This year I have roommates who are actually interested in what I’m cooking and how it’s cooked and who don’t mind my obsessive need to feed people. Alhamdulillah. I love good food, but it’s not the same if you’re eating it by yourself.

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Schools and Prisons

October 2, 2008 at 2:32 pm (Uncategorized)

The corridors of Mulberry Girls

‘What is so astonishing about the fact that our prisons resemble our factories, schools, military bases, and hospitals – all of which in turn resemble prisons?’
– Michel Foucault

I just came across a picture of someone’s old school, and my immediate thought was how much it resembled a prison.

Ironically, prisons were designed to resemble schools, because it was believed to be the point of origin of the systemic failure to programme correct values, and that by returning the subject to the point of aberration, they could begin to reprogramme them into social acceptability.

My own schools, at both primary and secondary level, were very organic and open environments. The buildings themselves were a mix of old and new, with an element of ad-hoc to them: things had been added at different times, and it seemed more like they had just grown rather than been built. Where you might expect such juxtaposition to be incongruous, in fact there was a comfortable togetherness to it. The classrooms were open and airy, and the corridors wide and light, and the ceilings were high. In short, it was a nurturing environment, rather than disciplinarian.

I think that perhaps if all schools were more like this, rather than battery farms for children churning out little robotic people with certificates to say that they have been processed with specific treatments of science, maths and english, and a low dosage of human skills, the initial ‘programming’ is much more successful, and hopefully precludes a later need to ‘reprogramme’.

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September 19, 2008 at 10:58 pm (Uncategorized)

Watching taraweeh today, we ended up flipping channels between Makkah and Madinah. Our favourite part of the whole thing is the witr du’a at the end, so the channel we watch depends on the Sheikh doing the du’a, which today was Salah al-Budair in Madinah and Adel al-Kalbani in Makkah. My sister and I favour the reciters with the richer voices (I’m not sure what the correct term is for that kind of voice – but the likes of Shuraim, Abdullah al-Jehany and so on), so Salah al-Budair won. Today’s du’a was ground-shaking.

There is something about Madinah and the Masjid an-Nabawi, which cools the heart, in a way that Makkah and the Masjid al-Haram doesn’t. I’ve always felt like it was a bad thing to prefer Madinah to Makkah, and I still feel uncomfortable admitting it. I remember the awed feeling of being in the Haram – almost a sense of unreality – which wasn’t the same as the home-like feeling in Madinah.

But it strikes me that perhaps this isn’t a bad thing – after all, although Muhammad (saw) loved Makkah, Madinah loved him. And when Makkah expelled him, Madinah welcomed him, and when Makkah fought him, Madinah closed around him and defended him. The natural disposition of the people of Madinah was kinder (Madinah was an oasis-city), while the Makkan disposition was more severe (open desert, very harsh environment). Perhaps these characteristics aren’t separable from the cities and their masajid, even centuries later, as long as we remember him.

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Buddha and the Bible

September 10, 2008 at 12:32 pm (Uncategorized) ()

So yesterday, someone came in asking for an Arabic bible. We told him we don’t sell bibles, and he went off on one about how we ought to, since Muslims must read other books for the sake of information, and particularly the holy books of other religions, and in fact our stock ought to be much wider.

I really can’t see why we need to make an explanation for not selling them, to the point I can’t even formulate said explanation. A while ago, someone came in asking for a statue of Buddha – come on people, get a clue! This is an ISLAMIC shop! We don’t sell Buddhas or bibles!

As a possibly irrelevant point of curiosity – should the ‘b’ of ‘bible’ be capitalised?

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Campus Politics

September 7, 2008 at 6:46 pm (Uncategorized) (, )

Some things in the last day or two reminded me why I hated to get involved in campus ISoc (Islamic Society, equivalent to the MSA) politics while I was at university. It bothers me that different factions fight over meaningless things as if they were important, and are so busy going around labelling each other Sufi or Salafi or whatever that they never got anything done, and rejecting this Sheikh or that speaker on the basis of not finding their aqeedah sound, as if their own knowledge were sufficient to allow them to make those judgements. In fairness to those people, however, they are following the advice of their own adopted shuyukh, with which I don’t take fault – the thing I find blameworthy is the gratuitous abuse that happens, in the name of preserving the deen or something, that there is no excuse for in our adab.

I have often wondered if that was not a failure to understand the mind and ideas of those people in question. It makes me think of the way people reacted to the likes if Ibn Taymiyyah in his own time – they thought his ideas were dangerous, and it has taken us several hundred years to catch up to him in understanding – now, you wouldn’t find anyone questioning his theological soundness. So perhaps we should entertain the idea that we may not have reached a sufficient understanding that would allow us to correctly access their ideas, and the fault may lie equally in ourselves and our lack of knowledge.

People also forget that the differences between scholars are a source of mercy, not conflict: the universality of Islam necessitates a broad spectrum, in order that everyone might find their place on it. Everyone is at a different place in their personal development and closeness to Allah, so it has to be able to accommodate people of every kind and at every stage, from the ‘liberal’ muslim, to the ‘extreme’, and we calibrate to the happy medium via the Qur’an. What has to be understood is that these states are the result of the health of our relationship with Allah (where both extremes indicate low health).

When the hadith about the number of groups is cited by one group or another, they seem to think it refers specifically to them. I remember asking my dad about this hadith when I was younger (I was anxious I wouldn’t be in the right group), and his patient explanation that it didn’t refer specifically to one group, but that the group would consist of all of those people throughout the ummah who fit the criteria. There is also no indication of the size of the group, so to assume all but a very few special muslims are going to hell – well, that is SILLY. People should really not concern themselves about whether or not everyone else is going to hell until they’ve looked to themselves.

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September 6, 2008 at 12:37 am (Uncategorized) (, )

I was reading qur’an on the bus today, and a lady came to sit next to me. Usually, when I’m reading qur’an, I don’t really pay much attention to my surroundings (not actually a good idea)(and because I need to concentrate on keeping it together), so it was a moment or two before I noticed the lady leaning in my direction. She asked me if that was a qur’an I was reading, and then asked me to read it to her. Of course, I was delighted (and a little embarrassed at reading qur’an to someone, but da’wah > embarrassment), and she seemed genuinely to enjoy it.

We got talking, and she told me she was a Quaker, and in fact on her way to a meeting in Friends House, as the representative for Dorset/Devon/somewhere. She even took out her meeting notes to show me, and the first item on the agenda was the abolition of torture. I’m always a little wary of small or fringe groups with apparently over-ambitious aims, so it was with a large dose of doubt that I asked how they planned to achieve that, and whether Amnesty International were involved. It turns out Amnesty International was founded by a Quaker. At this point, I suddenly realised she was doing all of the da’wah, and I wasn’t doing any! All of those stories of people enlightened on trains by anonymous Malaysians went through my mind, and of course, I had to honour the tradition, even though it is not my general method of working. The fact that she was genuinely interested helped, and by the time we had disembarked at Russell Square, we had exchanged phone numbers and addresses, with promises of Quaker Club coffee-meetings (that weren’t during Ramadan), and were firm friends. Yay to making friends on the bus! I think I shall send her an Eid card. If I haven’t already lost her address.

Also this afternoon, I went to farewell a former colleague who is retiring. While there, I mentioned my bus-encounter to my former boss, who does a lot of interfaith work. His church interfaith group would like a muslim to come and join their meetings, to talk to them about Islamic things, particularly current issues (although he said they would like someone sane? Mean old man). I feel hesitant to offer to do it myself, since I am not really informed on those subjects, and also, I usually let people do their talking while reserving my own thoughts, and nod and smile a lot. So I am probably not a good person to do it.

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Ramadan Mubarak! Ramadan Kareem!

September 5, 2008 at 10:33 am (Uncategorized)

This blog has been a long time starting – but bismillah!

Now I have to go.

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