Saturday, March 29, 2008


بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

Bougainvillea can be seen flourishing all over the Mediterranean and Middle East and with good reason too! This thorny bush with woody, twisted trunks can survive very harsh conditions and times of drought. I have 3 Bougainvillea bushes in back yard which rarely feel the raindrops on their leaves and papery blooms yet they are still going amazingly strong! We have barely had any rain in Riyadh this year and I have a terrible tendency to forget to water plants... the Bougainvilleas were already in flower but not looking particularly spectactular. Hubby did his manly weekend thing of cleaning off the BBQ and outside table and chairs and gave the bushes a good watering too... the results were breathtaking. By the next day the Bougainvilleas were in the fullest of bloom. It's now a joy to stand at the kitchen sink and wash the dishes whilst looking out at this carnival of colour!

They really are wonderful plants; an absolute burst of bright pink which attracts the butterflies, the leaves are a welcome hiding spot for the lizards and the cats gratefully accept the opportunity to sleep in the shade at the foot of the bush.

Picnic time in Riyadh

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
Picnic in the UK and picnic in Riyadh seem to mean something completely different!

Since being in Riyadh we have taken the kids out for a picnic to a few different spots that we thought the kids would appreciate... Dir'iyyah which is very close to us and has nice grassy areas; Salam Park towards the south of the city which also has grassy areas, a boating lake and some play equipment.

Salam Park Lake

We've even been out to the desert a few times although admittedly the addition of sand to the sandwiches can be a bit irritating on the teeth! Once we were forced to stop by the road en route to Makkah as it was Ramadan, we were fasting and maghrib had arrived. It wasn't too comfortable sitting on the rocky roadside even on our rug but it was a welcome relief to eat our iftar and then sip on the hot tea we had prepared before leaving.

In the UK we like to go to nice beauty spots for summer picnics too.

Wales... beautiful!

Here in Riyadh though I have noticed that the locals will stop anywhere for a picnic. And I mean ANYWHERE! On a Wednesday evening which is the beginning of the weekend here you will see people stopped at the side of the road with the rug spread out on the dust and a family sitting enjoying a flask of Arabic coffee. Open areas near to us that have been smoothed out ready for building will often have families picnicking, enjoying the slightly more temperate conditions at this time of year and there will be boys partaking in a game of footy. The desert is very popular at this time of year too.

Who'd've thought that the Ikea car park would become the local picnicking spot for people that side of Riyadh though?! We exited the mall next door to Ikea on Thursday evening and there was a very distinct odour of barbecue in the air. I joked that it seemed that someone was having a barbecue in the car park... dh and I then racked our brains trying to think what grill restaurant there could be in the mall. Suddenly we noticed smoke gently billowing in the air just behind a parked car... there was indeed a family in the car park who'd brought all their BBQ equipment not to mention meat with them! How strange I thought that someone would want to have a BBQ in the car park! As we exited the car park though we noticed that there were many families either sitting with flasks of coffee or even with the BBQ and it was not something strange at all!

Ikea, Riyadh

Monday, March 24, 2008

Trying to get mummsie

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

I haven't been on the internet so much lately, partly because I have been finding it so slow and frustrating and partly because I have been enjoying getting more mummsie around the house and with my kids! OK, so even after 15 years of marriage and 5 kids this doesn't always come naturally so I am happy with progress!

Have turned into a baking queen what with cakes and bread and trying to make healthy snacks. These Focaccia plaits filled with tinned tuna, hard boiled eggs and cheese were among yesterday's offerings:

Today I thought the kids would enjoy trying to make microwave meringues; something I remember doing when I was kid (yuh... many years ago! ha ha!). They didn't turn out quite as superb as I hoped, however there really was instant gratification for the kids. They crowded around the microwave, excitedly watching the tiny balls of mixture puff and rise into comparatively huge meringues! The next fun part was melting chocolate, chopping strawberries and whisking cream with which to decorate the pink, sugary mounds we had created. We served the meringues with a healthy strawberry and banana smoothie. Yummm!

Now with all this mummsie-ness going on, it can be a bit difficult having a 4 year old and 1 year around my feet wanting to 'help'. A few days ago, I got creative once again and made playdough -whoo hoo! Simple recipe, wonderful results.

All you need is:
1 cup plain flour
1 cup water
1/2 cup salt
2 tablespoons cream of tartar
1 tablespoon oil
few drops of food colouring of your choice
*Even add glitter to make some really fun playdough

Throw all ingredients into a pan and heat gently and stir until you have a dough starting to come together. When you can stir no more, turn out onto a floured board and tentatively (so as not to burn your hands) begin to kneed into a soft malleable dough. When it has sufficiently cooled, hand over to the kids!

They start off rolling...

Cutting out shapes and making cute patterns... (This is 7 year old daughter's effort)

After a while 4 year old son started investigating the drawers for more 'tools' and discovered the garlic press.... yum, worms! (Or was is spaghetti?!)

Monday, March 10, 2008

Blogger problems

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

Aaaargh! Is it my slow internet connection or is it Blogger that is the problem??! When I try to make a new post there are no text editing options available which mean no aligning, coloured fonts, hyperlinks etcetera. Even the 'save now' button is not working so I can't come back to a post later and edit! My ISP drives me crazy at the best of times but today it seems to have become really bad.

Aaaargh again!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008


بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

According to the website, it's that time of year once again... the yearly cultural festival at Janadriyah will be starting this weekend. The event will boast such spectacles as camel racing, traditional dancing and special features this year which will highlight Turkish culture.

The festival is scheduled to run for two weeks from 5th March and March 17th, 18th and 19th have been earmarked as family days.

The last time I was able to attend the cultural festival was 2 years ago. It takes place at an ideal time of year when the weather is not too hot and one can enjoy strolling around the traditional style souqs watching artisans at work, exploring the displays of traditional costumes, jewellry and such-like as well as watching the traditional method of drawing water from a well: with a camel pulling the ropes attached the buckets.

There are many vendors there selling an enormous array of spices, ouds and bukhours, metal-, wood- and potteryware as well as Arabic snacks.

I bought this little terracotta vase for only 10 Riyals on my last visit there.

For more photos (not my own), click here.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Ĥisba and the Mutawwa - Ethical Institutions in Islam

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

Lately the religious police or ‘Mutawween’ have received significant press coverage. Not only are they are highly controversial figures, there is a certain amount of disdain felt for them. It is not my aim to discuss whether the role they perform in Saudi society is a good one or a bad one but would like to bring to the forefront the historical position of this ethical institution in Islam.

The most important of the ethical institutions in Islam is Ĥisba, from which todays Mutawwa is derived. Their intended role is to perform advisory services in modern society from an Islamic perspective.

Lexical root: حسب ĥasaba to calculate
Definition: Ĥisba حسبة is a meritorious action and is defined as endeavouring to acquire reward from Allah by the application of various forms of good in the right way, that is to say, the insistence of good and affirmation of what is right; the enjoining on others not to do a bad deed or neglect a good deed – fi sabilillah, for the sake of Allah, عز و جل.

Enjoining good and forbidding evil (or haram) is prescribed in the Holy Qur'an and is further advocated in the sayings of the Prophet, upon him be peace and from Umar, the second rightly guided caliph or successor to the leadership of the Islamic Ummah. From the following verse from the Qur’an and hadith which follows it can be deduced that ĥisba is incumbent upon Muslims whether that is physical or verbal ĥisba and where these cannot be achieved, the ĥisba of the heart.

Let there arise from you a group calling to all that is good, enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong. It is these who are successful."(Qur'an 3:104)

On the authority of Abu Sa’id al-Khudri, may Allah be please with him, the Prophet, peace be upon him said, “Whosoever of you sees an evil action let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so then with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so then with his heart and that is the weakest of faith.” (Muslim)

‘Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, said, “Oh people, practise ĥisba in all your deeds, since any one of you who intended his actions to be ĥisba will have double reward.”

‘Umar, as well as enjoining ĥisba on others, practised ĥisba on himself and remonstrated on his own soul. He sought to humiliate himself when he was preaching and his soul felt above everyone else’s. It is said that his ring was inscribed with the words, “Death suffices as an admonition oh ‘Umar.”

According to 6th Century Hegira writer Al-Farrā’ there are different divisions of ĥisba:

1. Ĥisba or remonstration on the soul
2. Ĥisba of others categorised as follows: i) elders or superiors ii) equals iii) younger or inferior

It is generally accepted that we exercise number 1 and also number 2 in categories ii) and iii) provided that it does not lead the person to do greater evil. If we provoke someone or are rude the person may do something even worse or rebel. However, remonstration is obligatory on the person who has authority.

As for number 2, category i) (remonstrating on superiors or elders) – this is far more difficult...

How does one practise ĥisba on superiors without offending? Tact is obviously of key importance. Let us take as an example the two grandsons of the Prophet, peace be upon him, Hassan and Hussein. They once saw an old man performing wudu’ incorrectly. They knew that if they were not tactful he could either ignore them or thrash them. After much deliberation they devised a plan and went to the old man and said, “Oh uncle, tell us which one of us performs wudu’ the best.” They both stood before and carefully performed wudu’ whereupon he said, “Both of you do wudu’ better than me and I have learned a lot from you.”

Ĥisba as an institution

The muĥtasib is the person who applies ĥisba. This became an administrative post as well as being highly meritorious after approximately 200 years of Islamic state. The institution of Ĥisba was headed by the muĥtasib and controlled morals and ethics within society, such as the market place. Weights and measures would have been regularly checked to prevent fraudulent practices. The public highway was also checked as were health and hygiene. The responsibilities of the muĥtasib covered every aspect of day-to-day life; strictures/remonstrations were required to be made upon:

  1. The effeminate
  2. Teachers
  3. Those pretending to be poor
  4. Women and children
  5. Those selling food, drink and medicine
  6. Those who play
  7. Judges and their assistants
  8. Those who manage the graveyards
  9. Preachers in the mosques
  10. The person who makes an oath to anyone other than Allah
  11. Those who swear
  12. On relations between parents and children
  13. Relations between neighbours
  14. Those who expose themselves
  15. Travellers
  16. Ahl al-kitab (people of the book)
  17. Doctors (the Hippocratic oath was enforced)
  18. Chefs
  19. Marriage partners

It must be borne in mind however that for the muĥtasib certain ethical conditions must be fulfilled:

  1. That he does as he prescribes (i.e. ‘practise what you preach’)
  2. When he practises ĥisba, it should be intended to be a meritorious action, fi sabilillah
  3. He should enjoin out of knowledge and understanding of the laws of Islam.The Muĥtasib can remonstrate on others but he cannot jail him or flog him – these actions are for the courts. The muĥtasib must be kind, tender and patient.

Furthermore sincerity is vital:

When correcting the mistakes of others, it is essential that one’s intention be to earn the pleasure of Allaah, not to demonstrate one's superiority or to vent one’s anger or to impress others. 1

Al-Imam Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali had outlined TEN degrees of al-muhtasib's
actions. These should be applied gradually with great care and consideration.

  1. Seeking knowledge of the forbidden (Al-Monkar) without spying nor
    forcingothers to solicit secret information. Here al-Muhtasib is not a
  2. To inform the violator of the forbidden lest he/she is then ignorant about
    the wrongdoing. The right to know is imperative before applying any punishment.
  3. To forbid verbally, say, advising not to do.
  4. To obstruct the forbidden through preaching, advice and fearing
    thepunishment of Allah (God).
  5. To chide or to scold with strong wording, not vulgar, this may bepracticed
    after Al-Muhtasib being a kind and discreet reminder.
  6. To affect change manually, like forcing a man not to wear silly clothing,
    orbreaking a jar of wine, or pulling the aggressor out of a house which is not
    his... etc. The purpose here is to get rid of the forbidden physically.
  7. Threatening with things may become worse in the near future, if the
    aggressor is not reprimanded.
  8. Applying physical punishment without using any weapon so as to avoid
    anydamage or any bleeding.
  9. To use suitable weapons indicating that serious actions that might
  10. To enforce regulations by resorting to a cadre of police.

Although the above measures are carried out by Al-Muhtasib, he is required not to choose a stronger punishment unless a milder one is either ineffective or seems to carry no weight to the person already admonished. This is because al-Muhtasib operates in a system of checks and balances. His actions should not involve a greater mischief than the one he wants to forestall. 2

Let us end with a final anecdote. Nuri was a mystic in Islam (fl. 6th Century Hegira). He discovered that someone was shipping bottles of something suspicious, upon smashing one of the bottles he discovered that it was wine. He was then told that the wine belonged to the caliph. The muĥtasib proceeded to smash all but one of the bottles. When asked why he didn’t smash the last bottle he said because that would have been out of anger and vengeance for the caliph rather than for the sake of Allah.

For further reading on Islamic etiquette when correcting others please refer to the following online book: The Prophet’s Methods for correcting people’s mistakes