I’ve been on keto for over three years now. I stumbled upon it quite by accident, as I had just recovered from a fracture, and was finally ready to get back into exercising regularly. By the time I got to it, my coach was moving onto bigger and better things. Having read her blog, her e-books, and all of her online information, I knew I was in good hands, and whatever she was proposing next would be worth my time and effort. So when she sent out requests to be a part of her beta testers for a new program (mR40) she was working on, which would result in a book , I jumped at the chance.
I had never heard of keto before, and I’m not one to follow trends, so I had no idea what she was talking about, but I trusted her, and I knew that if she was endorsing it, it had to be good. I was now at the heaviest I had ever been, years of stress, a broken toe, and little time to take a good hard look at my eating and exercise habits had put me here, and I was eager to get back on track. All my life I had been fairly fit, playing outdoors, volleyball, swimming, walking, jogging, cycling, hiking. After becoming Muslim I continued to stay active, I just did it more from home, using home equipment, and attending the pool during women’s only hours. I sometimes got side-tracked and didn’t get as much done as I normally would, but overall I watched my food, and I kept active. Not being able to exercise regularly always went hand in hand with a feeling of dissatisfaction and stifling, which caused me to make food choices that I knew I’d regret, but made anyways, just because I could. As you can imagine, this isn’t a recipe for good health, and I soon fell into a series of issues that directly correlate to this unhealthy lifestyle and outlook on life. But by now I was ready to get back on the saddle and work my way into my old healthy self.
What my fitness coach was suggesting was quite radical, from my perspective, but I was game, I wasn’t about to keep getting worse, so the only way for me was up, and she was giving me a hand to stand on my own two feet, so I took it. It was a couple of weeks before Ramadan, and she was talking about intermittent fasting, about detoxing from sugar and carbs, and about ketosis. This was all very fascinating, and I was soaking it all in, and then I watched The Magic Pill (available on Netflix), and that was it. As a First Nations person, a Muslim, and a generally nature and health inclined person, I decided that I would give it my all, and that it simply had to work for me. And work it did. I’ve had two full exams since starting and I’ve gotten a clean bill of health, I’ve lost a whole 23 Kg (about 50 lbs), and I’m feeling healthier and more energetic than I have since my twenties! Some of my friends are now either in peri-menopause or in full-blown menopause, and I suspect I might be somewhere around there myself, but I feel so much better than I did only two years ago! I no longer have spikes of energy and deep crashes; my energy levels are constant. I no longer get extreme fatigue, and all the side effects of having lost the extra weight are evident: my back doesn’t ache, my arthritis seems under check, and I just feel much more nimble and comfortable in my own skin.
I’ve come across a few people who have attempted keto on their own, just by watching a few videos and reading a few articles, and they’ve gotten into a heap of trouble. They’ve had to quit, and in some cases even go on medication. They were obviously not doing what they thought they were doing, and as I asked for more details about what they were eating, it became immediately apparent that they didn’t really understand how ketosis works. So I sincerely advise you, unless you’re going to do thorough research and read reputable papers on the subject yourself, you should get some help to navigate through the incredible amounts of misleading information that is online, and go with a professional coach, like Mubaraka Ibrahim. She not only studied the matter, tested it on hundreds of clients, and written about it, but she’s living what she preaches. She has intimate knowledge of what you might be experiencing, and has done the research to investigate and resolve any issues. She has sifted through the information, and has the background and understanding needed to break it all down for you, saving you time, grief, and giving you peace of mind. You can get a feel for what she teaches, by joining her FB groups, follow her on IG, or watch some of her Youtube videos.
Mubaraka Ibrahim has over 20 years of experience, over 13 certifications in fitness, wellness, and nutrition, as well as a multidisciplinary Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science, Public Health and Psychology from Southern Connecticut State University. She is also an OASIS In The Overwhelm Master Trainer (a professionally recognized stress management coach certification and training program). In the fitness and nutrition world, there are a lot of fads and hacks, and a whole lot of people who look good on social media, but have insufficient knowledge of what they teach, causing all sorts of health problems and injury. With Mubaraka Ibrahim, you can rest assured, that she KNOWS what she’s talking about, and as a practicing Muslim, she not only does the research in the scientific aspects of her profession, but ensures that they align with her Islamic faith as well. In fact, she recently started her own nutritional supplement line to be able to provide important dietary ingredients to lead a healthy life without running into haram ingredients.
I kept onto her program for a few months, to make sure I had it right, because it can take that long to get used to it. The Keto lifestyle is completely different from any standard diet, and it requires a good understanding of the foods, of your metabolism, and the mechanism by which ketosis is obtained, in order to be effective in the long run. Having a coach like Mubaraka guide you step by step is a must, unless you’re a science buff and enjoy reading all about nutrition and biology (I’m not, and I don’t). After the first few months, you still have access to your dashboard and the FB support group, but you won’t get the updates or the constant feedback, but hopefully by then you’ll be confident and knowledgeable enough to stand on your own two feet.
So if you’re suffering from ups and downs in your energy levels, are struggling to loose a few stubborn extra kilos, or simply want to quit sugar (just because), give keto a chance, and get Mubaraka Ibrahim to help you navigate the waters until you feel up to going it solo. I hope you’ll consider this, not only for your health, but for everything it comes along with (environmental costs, political implications, and all the rest of the stuff we’re all coming to grips with nowadays, I’m sure you have your list, like I have mine).
This article contains affiliate links. If you click on them you’ll be taken to a site, where, should you decide to purchase the product offered, I’ll get a percentage of the earnings for directing you to their business. This comes at no extra cost to you, but it’s a way for me to earn something for suggesting a product or service that I believe in for you to use or purchase.
Pre- and Post-natal Fitness
This article has been on hold for a few years now. Although there was much winking about “lockdown babies,” neither I, nor anyone I was associating with, was in the mood to talk about that. It looks like we are slowly crawling our way out of pandemic mode, and switching to endemic coexistence with this ugly virus, and so I thought it might be time to get back to “normal” concerns that deal with life procreation and health maintenance of a less urgent kind.
Enter Carin, a lovely Fitness Coach based in Tangier, Morocco. She is originally from Sweden, and became Muslim while working in Qatar, a little over a decade ago. She is a Certified Pre- and Postnatal Coach, Certified Online Trainer, Stott Pilates Instructor with Prenatal Pilates training and Ashtanga Yoga teacher with prenatal yoga education. As we began working on this article she was pregnant with her second daughter, who is now a healthy and active toddler, mashallah. Despite giving birth and having another young daughter to care for, on top of her online fitness coaching business and website (with all the social media involvement that requires), she continued to work with me on the article wholeheartedly and with impressive enthusiasm. All the advice given here is not only based on her training, scientific research, or her experience with her clients, but she has lived it herself, and was in the thick of applying it as we wrote this article, which in my mind gives the empathy and graciousness that other articles might sometimes lack.
If you’re pregnant or thinking of starting a family, you may have given some thought to health issues, such as nutrition and exercise. The benefits of proper nutrition are very widely discussed, and pre-natal vitamins are routinely prescribed around the globe. However, there still exists a lot of misinformation surrounding exercising during pregnancy. Let us clarify a few points on this matter, before we begin.
Although there is no argument surrounding maintaining an overall active and healthy lifestyle, there are still many concerns surrounding continuing to do so while pregnant. Each individual case is different, and we should always consult our physician to make sure we don’t fall within a risk category. However, there is increasing scientific evidence that moderate regular physical exercise prior to, during, and post- pregnancy is conducive to better outcomes not only for the mother, but also for the child.
Benefits of exercising during pregnancy
Prenatal physical training is a great yard stick to predict the risk of complications and to enhance physical and mental health. An increasing body of research points at significant improvements in the health of the mother and decreased complications during pregnancy. Such advantages include the reduction in incidence of gestational diabetes mellitus, pre-eclampsia, gestational hypertension, excessive gestational weight gain, and for the baby there are fewer newborn complications. Post-partum depression also seems to be less severe among exercising women. Many of these pregnancy- related health complications have been on the rapid increase over the last three decades, possibly due to rising rates of maternal obesity, which would obviously be mitigated by exercising.
A long list of medical professionals have reached a consensus on guidelines for fitness during pregnancy, which was printed in 2019 and is available for free online.
In it you’ll find a series of recommendations to all women of child-bearing age, on how to initiate physical exercise before pregnancy to prepare the body for the physical demands of this period. However, the article emphasizes on the importance of exercise during pregnancy as well. It states that even pregnant women who were not previously active are strongly encouraged to begin some form of physical activity, as doing so has been shown to lead to less complications during pregnancy and at delivery. The sooner you are able to begin getting physically active, the better. Despite all this encouraging news, many women are still very reluctant to start exercising when faced with a pregnancy, due to long-standing fears surrounding the safety of the exercises. So let’s go over some of the exercises that are generally advisable during pregnancy.
You may have heard of Kegel exercises, or pelvic floor muscle training. This is a simple, non-strenuous exercise that most women never hear of until they get pregnant, precisely because its benefits are directly related to pelvic health during and after pregnancy. These are basic and gentle pelvic rises that strengthen your pelvic muscles and which, if done daily, help prevent urinary incontinence during pregnancy. There are many videos online that show you how to perform them properly. The previous video by Michigan Medicine is more informational and theoretical, as it explains the benefits and mechanics of Kegels and other pelvic floor training. However, this video is more practical. Both come to about 10 minutes altogether. This notwithstanding, pregnancy health isn’t limited to Kegels.
Physical training should aim to maintain your muscle mass, and if possible, strengthen your weaker areas, including those that will be put to more strenuous tests during pregnancy, at delivery, and post-partum. Furthermore, exercise doesn’t just prepare your body, it also alleviates the mental stress, boosts your energy, and aids relaxation.
A combination of strength-training concentrating on thighs and glutes, in conjunction with pelvic floor stabilization (with some emphasis on back and shoulder muscles), as well as core stability (which you’ll need a lot of immediately post- delivery), should form the bulk of your training. Your center of gravity shifts constantly during pregnancy, so having strong core muscles (back, obliques, abdominals, glutes, and thighs) can be extremely beneficial to maintain balance and continue exercising and going about your daily activities comfortably and safely.
Maintaining muscle strength, or even increasing it, and keeping your heart strong through cardio exercise are two ways to ensure you get the most benefits for yourself and your baby. One of the problems many women face when pregnant (partly due to the fear surrounding movement, the instability felt as a result of weaker core muscles under the strain of a shifting center of gravity), is unwanted weight gain in excess of what would be expected for a healthy pregnancy. Exercising, along with a healthy diet would mitigate such a side-effect, and ease your return to your pre-pregnancy weight once the baby is born. You should not be in a rush, or feel despair, gaining weight during pregnancy is natural and healthy, as long as it doesn’t get out of hand. Losing the weight after the birth depends on your health, the baby’s health, and many other factors, including whether or not you were exercising before and/or during pregnancy.
Strength training combined with a well-balanced diet are key to weight management. Muscles burn more energy than fat, so strengthening your muscles speeds up your metabolism, and allows you a bit more flexibility and ease when faced with weight gain.
To improve your breathing and relaxation, and prevent muscle soreness, you might want to look towards relaxing stretches, but be cautious of overstretching, as your body releases a hormone called relaxine during pregnancy that makes your body more flexible (in preparation for your expanding abdomen), so don’t go all out with your stretches.
Where are you?
Amina Khan has a few videos specifically designed for Ramadan, each between 5 and 12 minutes long, in which different muscles are worked in sequence, using a variety of methods and modifications for every fitness level. She also releases webinars on the health benefits of exercising during Ramadan, though they are not specific to pregnant women, but of a more general sort. She has also published a book, only available in PDF for now, with exercise schedules, recommendations, recipes, and tons of Ramadan related information. This book is available on her site (check her videos for links), and all proceeds go to feed the needy in various parts of the world.
Carin also has a Ramadan-specific e-guide, downloadable for free on her site, where you can find tips on how to prepare for Ramadan, how to make time for everything (including an hour by hour schedule to jot in your daily program), grocery lists, dua’s, all kinds of helpful tips on everything from how to fit in all your water to how to read Qur’an, and it even has a “Ramadan habit tracker,” to help you stay on track. Having a plan makes your success much more likely, so take advantage of these free resources, and make this your best Ramadan yet!
If you are not pregnant yet but are hoping to start a family, and would like to keep strong throughout the year regardless, there are countless programs online that you could join, based on your likes and dislikes, your needs, and limitations. If these needs and limitations are very specific to you, Carin can design a program that is tailor made for you, and coach you not only through a thorough exercise program, but a nutritional guide as well.
If you were active before pregnancy, continue doing what you were doing before, with only slight modifications, such as opting for lower impact cardio (avoid impact sports, and bouncing as well), and avoiding front-loading exercises (where your abdomen is facing the floor) from about week 21. You may continue to do stability and light core exercises throughout your pregnancy, but you should avoid crunches and sit-ups. Also to be avoided, are pivots and rotations, as they may cause harm to your placenta.
During pregnancy, relaxine (a hormone that relaxes ligaments) makes you extra flexible, so you need to be extra self-aware and don’t go all out. Stretch gently, without over-stretching. If you are already fit, but want more guidance as to modifications specific to pregnancy, I can recommend Sydney Cummings, who is a fitness instructor currently 28 weeks pregnant. She goes through the whole gamut of exercises (cardio, strength and resistance training for all parts of the body) with or without equipment, ranging from 20 to 40 minutes long. She does have background music and talks throughout her workout, and wears short shorts and sports bras for her videos, so be forewarned if these are aspects that would bother you. Alternatively, Carin does offer online coaching to all her clients, and offers inspirational support on a regular basis on her IG and Facebook page .
Trimester by Trimester Break-down
Let’s get into a bit more specifics on what to expect and how to prepare, trimester by trimester.
During the first trimester you may feel really fatigued–, that’s normal. Don’t push yourself too hard. Take breaks when you need them. Your body needs to rest in order to do its job. If you’re light-headed, or can’t keep your balance, hold on to something for stability and safety, or sit down.
Starting from the second trimester your center of gravity starts to shift, having a strong core before you get to this stage would significantly help, however your body is constantly changing, so it will nevertheless require that you pay special attention and care when it comes to balancing. You should be extra careful, whether you are used to doing balancing poses or not: hold on to something steady for stability if needed. If you feel pressure in your lower abdomen, stop what you’re doing, and relax.
By the third trimester, you will notice that you have less room to breathe, and you’ll find your mobility hampered by the size and weight of the baby. This doesn’t mean you should stop what you’ve been doing. You may continue to do light cardio, strength training, and appropriate stretches, provided that there are no contraindications from your physician. Continue to listen to your body, and take it easy. The idea is to help your body carry a healthy pregnancy, not prepare for a triathlon. You are aiming at maintaining and slightly strengthening your muscles, not breaking records.
When to stop
Being a bit tired, sweaty, or out of breath is normal after or during physical activity. But when you’re pregnant you tend to breathe more heavily and sweat more profusely, so do keep this in mind. Your body might not require as much effort on your part to break a sweat, but you should not over-exert yourself to the point of exhaustion. Be kind to yourself.
You should not feel any pain anywhere, bleeding, contractions, dizziness, shortness of breath, or leaking. If you do, stop what you’re doing and contact your OBGYN immediately.
Wear loose, flexible, breathable, and comfortable clothing while exercising. Don’t overlook warm-ups and cool-downs, and keep your routine manageable. Avoid exercising in extremely hot or extremely humid weather.
It’s always a good idea to stretch your muscles after physical activity, to ease or prevent muscular stiffness and soreness later on. But stretching is a beneficial activity in and of itself. There are many stretches in the practice of Yoga, which include several tried and tested pregnancy-friendly poses. Avoid exposing your abdomen to the risk of impact, and, as mentioned previously: don’t overstretch. Remember to skip pivots and rotations.
If you follow these guidelines, you should be able, with your doctor’s permission, to maintain or even improve your health, your pregnancy outcome, and your child’s health. We hope that we were able to show you the benefits of beginning an exercise routine as soon as possible, and that you’ll soon be on your way to a healthy and happy pregnancy, inshallah.
At the very least, you should try to walk every day, and do a bit of stretching if you are unable to strength train or dedicate half an hour a day to resistance training. Walking is a whole body exercise, it’s good for your mental health, and your heart. Pregnant or not, walking and doing so outdoors (preferably in nature) does wonders for your spirit, and will get in the very minimum requirements for a healthy pregnancy, a happy Ramadan, and a stronger you!
Whatever you do, please don’t take any of this advice as replacement for your Doctor’s opinion. Consult with your doctor before starting, listen to your body, don’t over-do it, be mindful of technique, and remember to breathe (don’t hold your breath). All this is time-honored advice in any circumstance, but during pregnancy it’s all the more important to abide by it. Try to maintain a slow and steady rhythm, develop a schedule that is feasible, not demanding, and therefore manageable. Consistency is the key, and the more doable your exercise plan is, the more likely you are to follow through with it. Happy and healthy Ramadan to you all!
I once boldly stated that I am everything. Despite the apparent arrogance inherent in this statement I’m not claiming grandiosity! What I mean is that when I am with my family and friends I feel complete. I can speak any language and someone is bound to understand me. I can open any subject and someone […]
Tania me l’aveva detto, con tutta l’aria di saggia che aveva sempre avuto. Aveva solo un anno in piu di me, ma era cosi sveglia, cosi piu matura di me. “Ma guarda che anche se scappi in Canada, ti porti dietro te stessa! Da te non puoi scappare mai!” Ma chi le faceva pensare che stessi scappando da me stessa? E per che motivo avrei persino avuto la voglia di lasciarmi indietro?
L’articolo che ho scritto quasi tre anni fa e stato pubblicato in un’antologia appena un mese fa. Descrivo come casa/Heim/home per me non e un posto, ma un momento, un sentimento di essere compresa, di essere accettata, di sentirmi bene nella mia pelle. Questo puo capitare dovunque. Nonostante essere un sentimento personale, deriva, in buona parte, dall’esterno. Come la gente reagisce a te e come ti puoi muovere in giro nello spazio a tua disposizione determina, in gran parte, se ti senti a tuo agio o no. In certi rispetti, dunque, si tratta di una reazione a forze esterne, ma attraverso l’esperienza ci si puo piu facilmente adattare e si possono trovare modi di sentirsi a proprio agio nonostante le reazioni negative nei nostri confronti. E senza dubbio un esercizio in valutazione di priorita personali, ma e comunque un esercizio necessario e costante, perche senza questi momenti di riposo e tranquillita, la nostra realta puo crollare, semplicemente perche non ci puo sostenere.
Oggi sto ascoltando all’Alchemista di Paulo Coelho. Dice altrettanto. Interessante.
Here’s the link to the anthology that just came out this March, my essay is on page 62.
There are so many blogs and vlogs about finding your own personal style, which is the stepping stone to building a manageable, personalized, authentic, and well thought out capsule wardrobe. All aspects of wardrobe selection factor into these tips: from trends to shopping vintage, from establishing your staple uniform to accessorizing meaningfully. All these are important steps, but I might have a thing or two to add to the conversation. I have moved intercontinentally several times, so capsule wardrobe (literally what I can fit in one suitcase) are second nature to me, and… let’s face it, although I LOVE clothes and want to look fabulous like the next gal, I also have enough perspective to realize that trends and tastes change over time and space, and must, therefore, fluctuate over a lifetime. Taking age and hijab considerations into account, is something that I have not seen addressed, and could be. So here’s my two cents.
There are much more important things to think about than fashion, 100%. That being said, let’s also agree that fashion does add color and spunk to our daily lives, no matter how we live them. Looking your best helps you set the tone for your day, not only in the way you feel and therefore project yourself, but the way you are received and therefore treated by others. A lot can be said about this, and much research has gone into it. But just sticking to the anecdotal and personal, I have no doubt about this point. There are many other factors, such as demeanor, language, and body language, for sure, but the simplest, and most easily changeable is, of course, your wardrobe. So having set this issue straight, let’s get into a little more of what needs to happen for you to feel satisfied with your wardrobe.
Get a notebook for this job, and something to write with, keep them handy throughout this process.
Know what you own: You need to look at your clothes, all of them (the ones in your closet(s), drawers, suitcases, storage bins, and laundry. If you have time (and it is highly recommended by many seasoned professional stylists that you do not skip this), take stock… literally. Itemize. If you’re drowning in clothes, then perhaps start by sorting: start with this season’s clothes first, and move on. If you have items you wear year-round, and you actually do wear year-round, then put them back in your closet, these are keepers for sure! List these keepers in your notebook.
Sort: make 3 piles: a) Love it; b) Hate it; c) Not sure.
Deal with the Hate it pile first (it’s the easiest). Ask yourself 3 questions:
a) Why do I hate it?;
b) Do I know someone who would love it?;
c) Is it worth listing/selling? The answer to the first question is the first step in determining what your personal style is. Write your answers down. If you know someone who would love and fit this, give it to them, if not, consider either selling (if in good shape or new with tags, or a rare find), or donating (if you don’t have the time or patience to go through the reselling process).
Deal with the Love it pile next:
a) Loooooove this, fit it, doesn’t need fixing or cleaning, and I wear it often, this pile should go back into your closet with the year-round clothes and list it in your notebook;
b) Looooove this, don’t fit it/needs fixing/cleaning, would wear it once it has been dealt with. Set this pile aside for now, and tackle it little by little, but constantly, until it’s done. Once it’s done, add it to your notebook inventory.
c) Looooove this, but for some reason I never wear it (ask yourself why you don’t wear it: is it because you never have the occasion to wear it? Is it because it doesn’t fit just right? Is it because it makes you uncomfortable? Is it because it doesn’t match with anything in your wardrobe?). The answers to these questions are crucial, because they’ll determine another step in both your personal style, AND your capsule wardrobe. If they just need a tweak, then put them in the pile with the fix-ums to deal with, so you can actually start wearing them. If they clash with your personality, ask yourself why. Is it because they’re “too old” “too young” “too loud” or what? Determine if your love for them might be suggesting that you’ve gotten stuck in a rut, just falling back to the trusty old just ‘cuz you know them, and DARE to give these items a fighting chance. Try them on with your staple wardrobe, determine if they say more about who you want to be than you think. Sometimes we buy things for who we wish we were, but never dare to step into that role, give it a shot! Maybe it’s your first step to your fullest you! Or maybe it really isn’t you and they don’t reflect any real aspirations or goals of yours, and therefore can be released and either sold or donated, and you can release that dream into the ethers with the item, and start dreaming a different dream!
Now to the Not sure pile: take note of why you’re not sure. Is it because it doesn’t fit, needs cleaning or fixing? Then put it with the pile to deal with, and take care of it as soon as you get the chance. Is it because you don’t know if it clashes with the rest of your wardrobe, you have nothing to match it with, or you think it’s too far a deviation from what you’re used to? Ask yourself the same questions you asked yourself about the Love pile (section c). Jot down your answers, and follow the same steps.
Once you’ve sorted the keeps from the discards, and fixed the maybes, you are left with a wardrobe. Now it’s time to analyze:
a) color palette. Check my blog about Undertones, to get an idea of what suits you, and how to determine that once and for all (your color palette never changes, even if you dye your hair).
b) body shape and proportions. Read my blog on Kibbe Style, and work out which one you are. I wrote a blog for each one of them. If you still need help, just drop me a comment below.
c) lifestyle. For your color palette, check out my general post on style and undertones to determine what suits you and what doesn’t. For your body shape and proportions, go over my Kibbe Style blogs to determine what type you are. This is probably the most important element. Sometimes we’re drawn to things that we saw other people wear and who looked awesome in them, but they have the opposite effect on us. It doesn’t mean you can’t wear them! I’m not the fashion police! You can certainly wear something that doesn’t suit you. What these guidelines provide is an awareness of how you may be perceived from an aesthetic viewpoint. With such knowledge you can make an informed decision about what message you want to give through your wardrobe choices. As for your lifestyle, we all need to be realistic and practical. You might very well LOOOOVE your collection of silk decollete brightly colored gowns with sequins and embroidered pearls, but how many do you ACTUALLY need? Maybe your answer is six, maybe just one, or maybe none. Consider the number of times you have reached for these items, their emotional value, and their real value to someone who might actually be searching for something like it? Some people go to formal parties often, and cannot be seen wearing the same outfit twice, if you are one of these people, you might want to consider renting your next gown, and selling the ones you have. Some people have emotional attachments to clothes, if this is you, decide why you’re attached, and if saving this garment (even if you don’t wear it) has positive effects on your psyche and emotional well being, keep it safe and hand it down to future generations. If not, get rid of it! The sooner, the better. Some of us (hijabis in particular) have several different uniforms we wear depending on where we are and with whom (inside, outside, with family, with women, or not). Consider each of these as you build your wardrobe. In these cases, you might find that many of your items can serve double duty as at home/family/women and outdoor/work/leisure, with some simple additions. For example, a midi dress can turn into a tunic, a sleeveless top can be covered up with a cardigan or blazer, etc.. Layering makes styling easier. Knowing what you have, establishing your color palette, and your lifestyle are very important elements in determining the interchangeability, or versatility of your garments. The color palette in particular, will help you avoid purchasing items you won’t wear, and will help you develop your creativity while arranging your existing items in numerous ways (what vloggers call “shopping your closet”).
Let go of what’s not reflective of you. Once you’ve dealt with all your fix ‘ums, donated or posted your unwanteds for sale, and gone through your questions and answers, you are now in a position to determine your personal style. It’ll be based on items you love, wear, and believe in. They fit, they’re clean and they look great on you. You FEEL great in them. Take a close look at your wardrobe: what’s in it? By now, it should only be clothes you love, wear, fit and look great in. They should all conform to your color palette, and you should have a staple uniform (the clothes you reach for in a pinch for any occasion, except maybe formal). What do they have in common: Are they tailored? Are they soft and cozy? Are they full of patterns? What colors do you predilect? You probably have your staple basics in neutral colors, and a few accent pieces in colors that both suit you, your lifestyle, and coordinate well with your basics. With these tools in hand, you are in the privileged position to form a great number of possible combinations. Think of what you might be missing, did you get rid of anything that you loved but couldn’t fix, and now you miss it? Replace it (preferably ethical or second hand and in natural and sustainable fibers). Are you missing something? What is it? Why do you think you need it? Would it add exactly what you want to your wardrobe? Then put it on a wish list, and start searching for it. Don’t be in a rush to purchase new things though, you might find that you don’t actually need it or even want it after all, and taking a little bit of time searching might make this clear to you. You’ve just gone through a very cathartic, and purging process, if you want to maintain it and not loose your progress, keep your journal handy, and revisit it often, adding and commenting as you discover new things about your style. Fashion trends come and go, if you want to look on trend, you don’t have to overhaul your entire wardrobe. Instead, consider the major trends: which ones would suit you and your style? Pick one or two items that you think will stand the test of time and you’ll be able to proudly wear with your existing wardrobe, and voila! Your wardrobe has been brought up to date with a single accent piece. Many vloggers detail their journeys online, you can draw much inspiration from them.
Your style will change, don’t think this is a one shot deal. Your body will change, your circumstances will change, and your outlook on life will change. We ideally want our wardrobe (our outer selves) to reflect these changes. If you’re mindful of what you have, what you buy, and why, this will happen automatically, and you’ll save yourself a lot of time, money, and grief by avoiding impulse buys, needless clutter, and embarrassing outfit mishaps. Most of all, you can concentrate on being your best you, as your wardrobe has put your best foot forward.
Now you’re ready toseize the day, knowing you have conquered the jungle that was your closet and can take this new knowledge and these newly acquired tools to face the world!
There’s no feeling like the one you get when you’re near water, and you hear its movement: the rushing of a river, the moving waves of an ocean, or the gentle trickling of a small stream. This, combined with feeling the fresh breeze on your face, from the open air, or from gusts of wind weaving through trees. In these moments the birds seem to turn onto your frequency, and suddenly you can hear them sing, and all you want to do is listen.
The air feels lighter: it’s no longer just the inevitable stuff you put in your lungs to survive, but the stuff dreams are made of! The weight-lifting from your shoulders kind of stuff, that makes you think you’re levitating, in suspended animation. Time stands still. and you’re there: one with nature. Centered within yourself, and in the middle of the cosmos. For a moment everything makes sense and you let yourself be carried away by the illusion that everything really is fine, there are no problems… The problems, if they still exist, are outside this oasis, they’re not yours. This moment is yours. This spot. This peace, is yours.
Like Narnia’s closet, time in this alternate reality passes differently, but at some point, you remember you’re passing through here. This isn’t your life. This is but a brief sojourn, and your life awaits you beyond this spot. So you slowly make your way back to life, back to a reality that now miraculously feels so much less important, so much more manageable, so insignificant compared to the perfection you just witnessed. And you feel richer, wiser, calmer, more content than when you got there.
I want to laugh out loud, so just pretend I did. Now I’ll tell you why.
A few days ago I wrote a piece about how racism and discrimination can make one want to do horrible things (like bake a disgusting cake to serve your nemesis) and watch them have at it, gleeful in the knowledge that you underhandedly got the upper hand by introducing something they would never touch otherwise. I guess you’d call this the cherry on your passive aggressive cake.
This was a piece of fiction. I never baked such a cake, nor did I ever think of doing so (the mere thought of it churns my stomach). I merely combined some of what I read in Esperanza Rising with some of what I read in The Help, and mixed it up with some fragments of real experiences.
My neighbors weren’t monsters. They really are nice, kind, generous people, who on a couple of occasions did sh**ty things. Who doesn’t? They have insecurities and acted out on some of them on unsuspecting people and got away with it. That’s not nice, but it’s human.
Were the feelings I had real? Yes. But unlike the reaction I expressed in the piece, I rather felt heroic by realizing that whatever they did was a reflection of their own insecurities, and not of my worth. How I chose to react to such ignominies is, likewise, a reflection of what I think I deserve, not of what they think. Like Jesus (PBUH) said: “Treat others the way you want to be treated” (Mohammed (PBUH) also said this btw). I am quite sure they didn’t mean that we should return in kind, although we might have the right to do so, but rather, that we answer to a greater Power, and leading by example never goes to waste.
After publishing that piece, I got messages of concern from some dear friends, who asked if I was ok, if there was anything they could do to help, if these people were real! While I truly appreciate the friendship of these readers, who immediately felt the urge to rescue me from an abyss of negative thoughts and feelings, I am a little surprised that they would take it all at face value. I guess in some sense it’s to be expected, since I don’t often write fiction, but mere thoughts, essays, and other reality-based articles. Also, writing about such vile reactions and experiences might have the unintended side effect of “giving people ideas.” In a way, I guess I should feel elated that I wrote in such a compelling way that people actually thought it was real! But in the end, although fictitious in my case, they are real emotions, and the obnoxious ending might be a real possibility for some. Sometimes, giving to such “unthinkable” possibilities allows them to be exposed for their ridiculousness and futility, and in this sense, it’s a positive exercise. “A Modest Proposal” comes to mind.
But all jokes aside, I am now reading The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k , which, once you get over all the swearing, is actually quite an insightful book. The author is basically saying, in non-spiritual terms, what religious leaders tell us to do all the time! Part of it, which is what got me to my laptop at this very moment, is that how we choose to react to things happening around us can have a tremendous effect on how we live our lives and how satisfied we feel. Each one of us has a different set of “metrics” by which we measure our successes and failures, and this perspective can make our lives feel great, or awful, depending on how we judge them. This isn’t the same as saying that everything is up to interpretation, or that you need to find the silver lining in everything, but rather that we need to pick our fights, choose what we value, and be true to it, realistically. It’s hard to explain in one or two sentences; you should read the book!
The main point I want to make is that we are not the product of what happens to us, or what we talk (or write) about, or even of what we do. Rather, how we choose to use life’s experiences to make our lives meaningful largely determines how we ultimately feel we have succeeded or failed in life. In other words, taking responsibility for how we choose to react to whatever life throws at us gives us more control over how we feel about it.
I rather enjoyed writing that piece, despite the fact that I used language I disapprove of on a regular basis, not because I stuck it to them, in fact quite the opposite. It was a way of writing out a version of reality the way it might have happened, if I had chosen to take that route. That’s the beauty of fiction: you can write things that you’d never do, not because you want to secretly do them, but because you want to explore the potential effects without suffering the consequences. This in turn exposes the ridiculousness of it all, and brings you back onto your real focus: that kindness is its own reward, and malice its own downfall.
I hope this “disclaimer” doesn’t dampen your like or dislike of my previous piece, and hopefully you’ll feel emboldened to write about something you’ve experienced, and fictionalize it with an unexpected twist, just to see what surfaces! I do think it’s cathartic to write about things, positive and negative, because we often relive our experiences in our heads, but we can never take them back. Actually writing gives you the power to change things, and perhaps accept that, in the end, you’re quite happy with the way things turned out after all! This exercise allows you to check your “metrics” and be a bit more realistic about your expectations. Which, LOL, is sometimes what satire and comedy do most effectively! Enjoy the process!
“Mexicans are only allowed to swim in the pool on Friday afternoons, just before they clean the pool on Saturday mornings.” (Esperanza Rising)
It hit me like a tonne of bricks. The things we suppress in our minds in order to be able to function.
I knew that feeling. I had wondered why she would watch her youngling splash about in her pool for days, inviting one or two of the neighboring kids to join in, but never us. She could see us from her balcony, the five of us in our smoldering studio apartment. She’s nice, I’d think. Always smiling, always offering to help any way she could. Always available to give unsolicited advice. Maybe she thought my kids couldn’t swim. Maybe she was indulging her child’s wish to be left alone.
But one day she called us over. The pool looked ready to be cleaned, but it was hot, and the kids had wanted to go in it for ages. The next day they emptied the pool and started over again.
Another neighbor let her dogs take dumps all around the laundry hanging area. She’s old, I thought. She has a hard time going out for walks on a regular basis with her dogs. Instead of picking up after them, she’d spray the feces out of place with a hose. She’s overweight, I’d rationalize, she has a hard time bending over to pick up what her dogs leave behind. Fertilizer, I’d say, if not for the fact that it was a cement floor.
The hose would happily splatter ripe bits of the gunk all over my freshly washed laundry, which I would then have to rewash all over again. Why can’t she wait until my laundry is dry and I collect it? It’s just coincidence I’d lie. She can’t control when her dogs need to go.
We lie to ourselves. Because the truth just hurts too much. Because if we were truly honest with ourselves, we might just bake sh**cake and serve it to them on a silver platter, with a bright smile and a kind word to thank them for their generosity, and watch them eat it in delight.
Things are good. Be thankful for what you’ve got. But the the humiliations we have to endure, quietly, smiling, always appearing to be content, while burning with anger and disgust on the inside are at times a bit much to swallow.
As stated above, this is a blog post I wrote almost 5 years ago on a parallel blog. If you follow caterpillar.blog, you’ll have noticed I’ve been very quiet the last few months. Other than a quick article I wrote about homeschooling during the lockdown, I haven’t added much to any conversation happening. This is for many reasons, partly because I have been busy with my family, partly because I started purging my closet (again) by selling on Poshmark (use code HANAWAL for 15$ off your first purchase), but mostly because I have been very perplexed about the world lately. With the Black Lives Matter movement, it’s been dawning on me how slow change happens. How righteous ideas take so incredibly long to be even considered as a possibility. As a caterpillar/Dear Sister reader, you already know that I completed my PhD in literature, studying the construction of a maligned minority at the height of the most prolific literary period in one of Europe’s nations. That was almost 20 years ago. Post-colonial analysis was just starting to come around. I’ve written on here about some of the discussions I had with fellow graduate students on the inherent injustice contained in the “generosity” that white Christian, upper class majorities display towards what they considered to be inferior groups (be it by race, creed, or social status). It was astounding to me that such intelligent, sophisticated, educated brains could fail to grasp the idea that they were being discriminatory. Now, after Ibram X. Kendi, after “White Fragility,” after “Black Panther,” after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada and its 94 recommendations, and TODAY on “Orange Shirt Day.” I remain bewildered at the astounding lack of awareness in the wider population. Add to that the recent killing of 4 Muslims going about a leisurely walk and the discovery of the bones of 215 children outside a Residential School, and this post becomes even more relevant (June, 2021).
People of color, religious minorities, marginalized and Indigenous groups all over the world, still are at the fringes of society. They have to scream to get any attention, and they have to die in unconscionable numbers to get a blip on the news. Still, after all that noise, and that senseless suffering and death, they are considered a nuisance. And only recently, perhaps, a nuisance to be contended with. But not equally. Not because it’s right. But because the buzzing of their voices, and the frequency of the blips are wearing us down. Still, people feel they’ve done their job by wearing orange on Residential School Day, but still feel completely OK about not remembering that TOMORROW is Treaty Day, a day that should remind us all of the broken promises, the ignored pacts, the betrayal over centuries of a friendship that made it possible for white people to exist on this continent. Tomorrow should be a day to recollect, to renew our intention to respect the treaty that the founder of our country thought apt to rip to shreds.
I am too sad for words. I am not sure my words are heeded. I don’t want to just add to the noise, although all the little additions seem to be having some effect. Too little too late? Definitely not. It’s never too late to get better. But it’s tiring to come to the realization, every year, of just how insignificant our discontent, our oppression, our suffering is.
On this note, I thought I’d share these older thoughts I shared with my readers half a decade ago. Just to consider, how not so far we have come, but to continue renewing the glimmer of hope I have that at some point all the noise will compound enough to actually make a lasting difference. Salam/Peace to you, those you love, and those you may not love as much.
A few days ago I read an article by a Muslim American Doctor who was trying to prove to her readers that she is doing a great service to her adoptive country and should not be discriminated against because of her faith. It left me perplexed and saddened, that such an accomplished person would have to put in print every good deed she did in the recent past to convince people of her rightful place in the society in which she lives.
Today I read a blog post, by a fellow mom, who posted a picture of herself and a Muslim lady she met in a grocery store, with whom she started a conversation that she felt was worthwhile sharing with the world. This is great, for a non Muslim American who has quite a following on social media to come out and share this special moment at a time when Muslims are being attacked and threatened with nothing short of expulsion and exile, it does need to be commended. However, and I don’t know if this is because she is being affected by all the hatred around her, or if she is genuinely afraid that she will suffer negative consequences for being completely un-partisan, but I read the article from beginning to end, and I kept hoping that she would say something uplifting, but the more I read, the more I felt bogged down by the heaviness of the rhetoric that was chiming behind every sentence. It was depressing.
I am no stranger to racism and discrimination, I have seen and heard fellow citizens discriminate and say the unthinkable when they thought they were “among themselves” and I have seen a very clear difference in the way people talk, look and deal with me ever since I started wearing the headscarf, but beyond that, I have lived the residue of discrimination and its fear because I am Native American. I wasn’t taught the language, but I was taught the traditional stories, I didn’t live the traditional life but I was always fiercely proud of being Native. Despite having gotten into fights at school over my heritage, or race, I never once thought it was something I should hide or be ashamed of, until I moved to North America. I would get questions like: “Do you feel safe? Are you comfortable with them? Do you identify with their way of life?” As though I was being disassociated from the stereotype everyone else supposedly belonged to. I was constantly being slipped out of the lump, just so they could justify staying friends with me and simultaneously maintain their stereotypical views. It was an acrobatic feat to watch and quite awkward at that.
It gets silly after a while, why do they insist in this exercise? Shouldn’t there be a certain boundary for silliness beyond which you stop and reconsider your notions? Shouldn’t the racists be willing to prove their arguments? Shouldn’t we all be held up to a higher standard of scrutiny, rather than be satisfied to name such people ignorant? Simply allowing anyone to blurt out whatever association their minds can concoct is probably something we all put up with, but sometimes it goes too far, sometimes there are just too many people saying too many things that are just too nonsensical to ignore. Maybe this is why the Muslim Doctor felt compelled to write her article, maybe this is why the mom blogger felt she needed to post her encounter, all the while fiercely maintaining her love of country. Then, maybe, it is no longer enough to just label racist comments as being mouthed by ignorant people too lazy to do any actual research. When has it become acceptable to want to strip one’s affiliation to any particular group just because one doesn’t fit within the standard stereotype? Who decides if I am who I say I am and not who you think I am? Why is the onus on the accused to prove they aren’t guilty by association? Why is it even relevant to any conversation? Why do people feel the need to blob together perceived difference from the self? And why should we “others” try to find ways in which we are not that different?
This woman, writing the blog in defense of the Muslim woman at the grocery store, states that she tries to teach her children not to discriminate. But how does she do it? How do we do it? Do we ask people’s religion (like she did) and then decide to be nice to them even though people around us say they’re not good? Or do we treat everyone with dignity and respect, assuming the best from the get-go, not knowing and then continue to treat them with the same respect and dignity when or if they reveal their “identity” to us? Or do we try to figure out “where they fit” and treat them accordingly, until we ascertain our “suspicions” and then try to give ourselves the credit for having been nice, despite this “difference?” Should we pat ourselves on the back for “being nice?” Or should we question why we think we are “being nice?” Is this not distinguishing on a superficial basis? Is this behavior really worthy of praise?
On social media it happens too frequently to ignore: some people will say “I have a Native friend,” “my sister is married to a black person,” “my best friend is gay,” “my neighbor is Sikh,” to somehow absolve what they inevitably say right after, which is usually prefaced by a “but” or “however.” This is really an attempt to justify some generalization they are about to make, which they know is wrong and thus warrants a formal explanation that will supposedly exclude them from the group of people who would normally state such sweeping generalizations: bigots. People preface such bigoted comments with “exculpatory notes” in order to gain credence for the statement they are about to make. Now, isn’t this actually worse than coming out and saying something stupid?
I always maintained that “tolerance” is no good, I don’t want to be “tolerated” for being Native, or Muslim because people around me feel “charitable” towards me. I never asked for this charity, I don’t want it. But I’m not desperate, perhaps, if I were, I would feel differently. Like someone recently pointed out, if you are in a dark hole and sinking deeper and everyone tries to keep you there or push you further down, if someone hands you a stick, or gives you a hand, you take it, you don’t ask what they want in return, you don’t check who is giving it to you, you just take it. And often, unfortunately, it turns out that it wasn’t a help you would have taken if you had known the purpose behind it. Unfortunately, sometimes, some people will seek out opportunities in which to take advantage of desperation, for their own gain.When people throw coins at beggars for entertainment, does that count as charity? Do the beggars participate in the charade by running after the coins out of sheer desperation, or are they admitting that this is a fun game they want to partake in? The exchange has occurred, the players plaid, but what is the net result? Is one diminished and the other exalted?
I may be an idealist, though I doubt it, I just kinda have read, heard and seen it often enough to want to believe in it. I believe that help, charity, smiles, compliments and all good acts should be given freely, without any expectations. These ought to be given not just because one wants to contribute to the betterment of society, but because one believes that sometimes people are in circumstances beyond their control and just need a little something to get back on track, for their own sake. I don’t want to change them, I don’t want them to pay me back, I don’t expect anything in return, and I don’t think I am better than them for being on the giving side rather than the receiving end. The roles could very well be reversed and there is very little worse than being reminded of favors one has accepted in times of hardship. I believe I have a right to exist and prosper, like anyone else, it’s not a privilege that I can be given by “nice” people around me who think I might be worth the risk. I don’t think I’m being charitable when I refuse to use race, ethnic, religious or class definitions when describing people, I simply happen to believe that there are better ways to describe people that don’t cluster them and confine them into artificial categorizations.
I don’t like to be smiled at by people because they fear me and want to “keep me on their good side,” or, perhaps worse, because they pity my circumstance and hope that I will “overcome.” I don’t mind people smiling at me, much better than a frown, sure, not that I pay much attention to how people look at me… but a fake smile? What am I supposed to do with that? Sneer? Give a fake smile back? Wonder why they feel obligated to smile at me even though they don’t want to? Wonder why they don’t smile sincerely? Feel happy that they are smiling and not frowning, even if it is forced? This is how I felt after reading the mom blogger’s article, I really don’t know if it was intentional, but I kept wondering about their conversation, was she being asked about other Muslims (all 1.6 billion of us) and trying to seamlessly slip her away from everyone else? Maybe not, but she didn’t share the details of the conversation in the blog. I still haven’t figured out what the most self respecting, decent, unequivocal, uncompromising, non-confrontational yet honest way to deal with unwanted charitable smiles is, so I just avoid looking at the people that I know have done that before, and avoid those who do it, the next time around. I have decided that I will smile if I am in a good mood and feel like I want to smile, regardless of who the person in front of me is, and not smile and simply look at the environment around me rather than the people around me when I am just not up for anyone’s “charitable smiles.” There are, of course, genuine smiles, and I am sorry that I miss some of those some times, but I do try to maintain good relations with those around me who have responded well to my approaches or who have shown a genuine interest in trying to get to know me.
I sometimes can’t help wonder, though, if I am not giving more credit to the few bigots than the neutral, and even worse, the ones who actually give a hoot? That’s not fair, is it? These fake smiles should not change me, they are false, just like the premise behind them is, and if I am going to be honest with myself and the world, I should continue to be who I am, regardless of what’s around me. And I know many people in Libya can relate to this sentiment. Even, and perhaps especially when there is a lot of that falsehood going around, I… WE must continue to be true to ourselves and see ourselves in the eyes of those who really see the individual and believe them when they stand by us, not because their voice counts more than ours, but because when falsehood and egocentricity abound, efforts based on sincerity, honesty and humility mean so much more. Maybe this is the motive behind the many patient testimonials in the Doctor’s piece. Desperate times can make people do extraordinary things, and I will not judge them, but I do wonder about those who exacerbate the pain of the downtrodden, under the guise of a charitable act. I wonder about those who believe they are above the desperate, simply for being in better circumstances. I wonder about those who take advantage of an unfortunate situation to boost their own ego. That I do wonder about.
Philosophers have talked a lot about the silent majority, about how ignoring injustice is tantamount to oppression. I guess we should be somewhat grateful for the small gestures, for the appearance of solidarity, for not being in the worst shape possible. Sure. That’s better for our own mental health than focusing on the inherent injustice. But we should not be satisfied that this is as good as it should be. Because it isn’t. We need to expect more from people. It’s never been enough for people not to actively harm, and it’s not enough for them to hand out charity with one hand while they hurt you with the other (as Anand Giridharadas so skillfully pointed out in “Winners Take All”). We should be able to expect more. The charade benefits nobody but a few, and if we don’t all get it, we’ll all pay, at some point.
This experience with Covid19, the lock-down, increased hygiene practices, and the global implications have awakened us to how interconnected everyone and everything is. Not just people in the same community, but all over the world, not just our backyards, but animals that are now coming to visit us, because we’ve invaded their ecosystems and they have nowhere else to go. Simple things like going grocery shopping, shaking hands, going to school, have all been disrupted because of this lack of awareness of how truly interconnected our actions anywhere in the world can impact us. One of the simple things that we’ve overlooked for long, is soap. Soap, incredibly, when used appropriately, can stave off the deadly virus. This is a great advantage! Imagine if we had to boil or use harsh disinfectants only to clean surfaces, and our hands! That would definitely a whole other level of nightmare!
Sawsen Abdellawi has had some experience in this field, having had a child with severe eczema, she was prescribed cortisol. Having a background in biology, and knowing the possible side-effects of cortisol, she refused to use it on her baby’s skin. So she searched on the market for natural remedies that could take care of her infant’s eczema, after discussing options with her pediatric dermatologist. She was unable to find anything, so she decided to take the matter into her own hands, and started experimenting with soap-making. Her formulas were the only ones that were gentle enough to cleanse her child’s skin without irritating it. She discovered she wasn’t the only one going through such trials, and began making her soaps for other moms in similar situations. This then grew into a small business in 2016, and she is now selling her home-made gentle soaps and other biodegradable, natural, non-toxic skin and home products all over the world.
Because she is Muslim, and thus understands our God-given amana to take care of ourselves, our families, our neighbors, and the environment, she felt the most apt name for her business was ABD Naturals. ABD means servant, as she feels she is doing a service by providing gentle products that not only help people take care of their bodies and homes, but they don’t do any collateral harm in the process. I don’t remember how I came across her line, but the name immediately grabbed my attention, and I thought I’d give her products a try. I ordered her mini soaps, as she has a very wide selection to choose from and I wasn’t sure what I’d like. Not only did I love all of her soaps, I ended up buying more in order to gift them to teachers, colleagues, friends, and neighbors in order to spread the love. Because it’s a small business, and I’m a return customer, Sawsen remembered me, and was always able to custom cater to my requests, adding little thank you gifts here and there. We began chatting, and I thought this might be the perfect time to talk about the importance of the products we use, how we treat our bodies (infant skins in particular), our lungs (as in the use of scented perfumes, incense sticks, and aromatherapy), and our environment through the making and using of cleaning and scented products. Sawsen graciously agreed to answer a few pressing questions I had, and you can read the article we co-wrote for American Muslim Women’s Magazine, coming up in late May or early June, insha Allah. But for now, here’s my interview with Sawsen, owner and maker of ABD Naturals, based in Edmonton, Alberta (Canada).
Our motto is ‘Caring hands’. It reflects that all our products are handmade, with lots of care and love and they help customers find healthy alternatives for their skin and home at lowest possible cost. ABD (abed) in Arabic is a servant and ABD Naturals stands for using Nature as a servant, and we reciprocate by protecting it. It stands for a relationship between humans and natural resources, which needs to be mutually beneficial in order to last.
We try to raise awareness of the side effects of chemicals and toxins that we use in our daily life. These hidden ingredients increase risks of leading an unhealthy life, as we can clearly see these days.
I refer to the business as ABD Naturals, but in reality I am behind it all; making the products, labeling them, packaging, and everything that goes on all the way to the final product is done by me in order to reduce the cost and keep my products affordable.
Since I was a child I was fascinated by our traditional home remedy recipes and the creations made by my grandmothers and the older ladies of my town. When I grew up I studied Biology and tried to respect and study nature in all aspects of my life. I believe that a natural lifestyle is key for healthy living. For example, I make my food from scratch and I pay a lot of attention to labels when it comes to choosing my cosmetics. When I had my son in 2016, he had bad eczema and his pediatric dermatologist prescribed cortisone cream to be used twice a day at the age of 6 months. This made me extremely uncomfortable, as I know baby skins are like literal sponges. There was no way that I could use the ointment on my baby. I tried to find a safer alternative on the market, but had no luck.
I spoke with his pediatric dermatologist again and explained that I refuse to use the medication and that I need his help to find a safe alternative, so he suggested that I look for natural cosmetics at my local farmers’ market. That was the beginning of a new journey in our lives! I went home determined that I would be the one to make his cream and everything that would go on his skin. I was successful pretty soon, thanks to my biological and home-remedy background, and the products I was making were having an immediate and clear effect on my son’s skin. After seeing the big change on my own baby, I decided to start providing my products to help other parents who have the same situation.
I believe most people have a desire to use natural alternatives, but they still can’t find them easily, and if they do, they are often not affordable. The struggle and the disappointments that I had when I was looking for 100% natural products for my baby and seeing other parents facing the same challenges encouraged me to start my business online to reach a larger network of people in need.
Why is making your own soap, oils, and candles important to you?
Before I started making my own cosmetics and home products I struggled finding products that I could trust. I always look for products made with the necessary ingredients only, as natural as possible, safe to use, and eco-friendly. Making my own products gives me control over what ingredients I use. I personally choose what goes into my products and what I avoid.
90-99% of our products are 100% natural as they’re oil based. Oil based means I can skip the use of preservatives. The rest of our products (1-10%) contain water, which means if I don’t add some form of preservative they’ll have a shelf life of a few days to a week, and then will start growing mold and become unusable. There is a very wide range of preservatives out there, but I only use those approved by ECOCERT, which can be used for organic skincare.
What issues have you encountered in your years of soap-making experience?
The issues I have encountered and still struggle with are how to reduce the cost of products while using high grade ingredients. Keeping costs steady despite constant increases in prices of raw materials is an ongoing challenge. It’s also sometimes difficult to prove to new customers that affordable products doesn’t mean they’re cheaply made, it just means I have a smaller profit margin. People who don’t know me and haven’t tried my products have a hard time believing that I would pay myself so little for products I truly believe in. It’s a bit tricky to explain without seeming odd.
You warn against bkhoor (traditional Arabic incense) and commerical incense use, why is this? What alternative do you offer?
Commercial bokhoor and incense usually have high levels of toxins and contaminants such as Sulfur Oxides (SOx) which make them burn faster, carbon monoxide(CO), Nitrogen oxides (NOx), and of course the fragrance that itself is a big story. Fragrance oils do not have full ingredient disclosure because they fall under “Trade Secret” status with the FDA and there are over 3’500 materials that are approved to be used in them! One single scent can contain over 300 aroma chemicals. If you choose to burn this kind of incense or bokhoor, or even scented candles for that matter, you risk to pollute and suffocate your indoor space with toxins and chemicals which you and your loved ones inhale.
My advice is to check carefully the list of ingredients before buying any incense or bokhoor or any other product, really, but particularly those you’re going to burn in your home. If you don’t see the full list, then don’t buy it and don’t use it. I always air on the side of caution on this one, for sure.
What do you think are the greatest incentives for Muslim women to seek out natural products?
As Muslim women we believe our bodies are an amana (responsibility) and we have to take good care of them. We also shouldn’t waste our natural resources. We need to aim to use natural and eco-friendly products to keep our bodies and our environment safe. We can’t have one without the other, that’s just the way it is. And I think it’s becoming increasingly obvious to everyone nowadays.
What products do youprovide to your clientele?
ABD Naturals offers natural cosmetics, bath and home products, such as soaps, oils, candles, air-fresheners, deodorants, bath salts, lip-balms, etc..
You also do party favors, is this a growing side of your business?
Party favors is something I’ve been asked to do. I take custom orders, not just for my soaps, but with many other items. I like meeting my customers’ needs and wants, as long as they align with my products and services.
There are many growing sides of the business like the home section. People appreciate aromatherapy and are coming to understand the nefarious implications of burning unhealthy fumes in the home. I am also working on a line of natural perfumes that will be an extension of the body section. I’m hoping to get into natural makeup in the future as well.
Oh! That’s amazing! I can’t wait for that to roll out! But this body and home product business seems extremely competitive. How do you stay in the game?
ABD Naturals‘ soaps stands by using natural oils, natural scents, and natural colorants. I also try to come up with artistic designs to appeal to the visual sense on top of the olfactory sense. These characteristics are hard to find in one product.
Being an artisan soap maker, I make unique pieces that attract customers the same way an art piece would. Customers who look for natural handmade soaps and beauty products are very discerning, and I try to give them everything they’re looking for, at affordable prices. Every bar of soap is unique; it differs from the others in some way, simply by virtue of having been made in single batches by hand. When you get close to these bars it feels like an adventure, you would want to smell them all and you would feel the love they’re made with. I do believe that objects, especially things made with love and care emit energy, and it can be felt by anyone holding it and paying attention. In this manner every customer gets attracted to the piece that suits her/him the most. But while soap-making is a widely growing industry, the awareness and the need of natural products is growing as well, so I focus on the quality of my creations and on my customers’ requests. I believe that establishing a strong and healthy relationship with my customers is more important than the market competition. I’m more interested in quality than quantity.
Where do you see your business in 5 years?
In 5 years, I see ABD Naturals not only as an online business but also a store front with bigger selections of natural handmade products and an educational section that teaches women to start their own business from home, in order to be able to support their families.
What’s the best advice you’d give our readers to encourage them to take charge of their part in the environment and our own skin health?
My advice is to think of your body and the environment as a responsibility, take care of them, so they can take care of you in return. It’s a symbiotic relationship.
What you put into or onto your body largely determines where you’ll be in years to come, health-wise. So it’s up to you to choose wisely. Also, what we set up today, will affect future generations, so we need to think of the legacy we want to leave for our children, grandchildren, and beyond. Whatever you do to the environment today will impact your children tomorrow, so act wisely.
Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions for Dear Sister!
Thank you so much.
If you’d like to check out Sawsen’s products, you can find them on Instagram, where all her new creations pop up first; on Facebook, where she explains a bit more of what goes into her products; you may purchase her entire line on her website; and you can even see her in action on her YouTube channel! I’m sure you’ll find something you’ll love, just like I did, over and over!
With Covid19 restrictions slowly easing off, hopefully we’ll be able to enjoy the occasional gathering, and the wedding season will pick up again. In the meantime, Eid is at our doorstep… If you haven’t shopped for your outfit yet, or aren’t thinking of going all out with an entire outfit, then Yassmine’s line of colorful accent pieces might be just right for you. Let me introduce you a NSCAD graduate in fashion design, who has a knack for making beautiful semi-formal luxurious pieces that can bring back to life what you may already own. A beautiful luxurious hand-painted silk top, skirt, vest, or scarf might just be the item to tip your outfit off the scale, without breaking the bank. This is the kind of shopping I can comfortably stand behind: small scale, handcrafted, locally made, sustainable, focussed, and timeless.
It’s perfect for the minimalist, a capsule wardrobe, and for those who have grown to appreciate the beauty of simplicity the last few weeks. This being said, if you just love color, and are on the lookout for a hijab or a custom piece that will elevate your style to the next level, then YHWasfy has you covered too! Let’s meet the lady behind the brand, and if you like what you see, go ahead and contact her on Instagram or Facebook to get your hands on your own unique piece of textile art!
Y.H.Wasfy stands for Yassmine Hossam Wasfy, the person behind the design and production of a luxury fashion brand that’s all about prints and hand-painted luxury fabrics like habotai silk. She believes in the energy of color and wants to reflect women’s femininity and strong spirit through unique colour combinations. Her aim is to offer affordable semi-formal luxury fabrics that modern women would love to wear. She strives for a style that shies away from complexity, dull colours and discomfort, and veers closer to the fun free spirit of the modern woman.
I have been interested in fashion since childhood. I started drawing fashion garments and playing with watercolour combinations at the age of 7. I studied textiles and fashion at the Nova Scotia College of Arts and Design University (NSCADU), in Atlantic Canada. I fell in love with the heat-set technique of hand-painting and decided to create my graduation project based on it. I love the technique because it provides good printing quality, which is as precise as digital printing, but looks free hand. I believe that this effect gives the garment more energy and character. I based my brand on my graduation project collection, which was very well received by the audience at the NSCAD fashion gala runway.
You primarily work with silk, and you paint it by hand. Why? Do you use other fibres?
I love natural habotai silk and the way it drapes and shines, I paint it with dyes by hand because I believe in the uniqueness of handmade crafts. I also print, dye and paint other fabrics like organza, linen and chiffon, with different techniques depending on the material.
What is habotai silk? Why do you predilect it, and how do you choose which fabrics to use?
Habotai silk is a very beautiful lightweight silk that is relatively affordable compared to other forms of silk. It’s also the fabric of choice for handpainters, because it takes the paint really well, and allows for the vibrancy of the colors to show. It’s also ideal for summer and formal wear.
Fashion has been my passion ever since childhood. I think the market in North America, Canada in particular, where I’m based, is open for new ideas and concepts. There’s no limit to what you can do and create as long as you have studied the market and know your audience.
So who is your customer?
My niche customer is someone who is looking for unique pieces, definitely a woman who is confident and loves colorful fashion and also believes in the energy of color.
You make party dresses and custom silk pieces. What attracts you to these types of designs?
My brand is mainly offering women semi-formal and cocktail dresses. What attracts me to this type of design is that it still has a lot if room for innovation. I’ve found many girls and women asking for brighter colours, more fun and less complicated party dresses. What my brand is providing is a very chic formal and party line with a unique and whimsical touch.
What do you mean by formal but whimsical? Could you elaborate?
I make garments that are formal in terms of where my customer can wear them. For example at a wedding, a party, a launching event… At the same time it’s not the strict haute couture formal, nor the Swarovski satin dress. It’s still simple, trendy, and fun, partly because it’s comfortable to wear, unlike most formal wear.
You seem to predilect quality over quantity, by making each piece by hand with high quality natural materials. This must be a very slow process, and possibly not as lucrative as faster approaches. What is your thought process behind this?
Yes, it’s definitely a slower process, but it’s focussed on the uniqueness of quality handmade items. I predominantly use non-toxic dyes, and sometimes natural dyes, which add to the beauty of designs and steer clear of the fast and commercial fashion concept.
Do you make all your own dresses and scarves, or do you hire people to do some of the work?
I’m still a start-up. I established a small studio in my house where I design and make the garments myself. I might consider getting a bigger studio with helpers, to make a relatively bigger production line.
There seems to be a boom in modest fashion, but instead of joining one of the many companies that cater to the Muslimah consumer, you have started your own line, why?
Yes, it’s true, there’s definitely more room now in the fashion industry trends for modest fashion. As a Muslim modest fashion is one of my considerations when I design my collections, in addition to maintaining a continuous scarf line that is popular among hijabi women. I consider modesty in my designs partly because I personally believe it adds to the elegance of semi-formal wear, and partly because I see a growing demand for a bit more modest semi-formal wear generally. I decided to start my own line because I believe I have something unique to offer, so I didn’t want to delay my concepts by designing for other companies. Nevertheless, I do also offer freelance fashion design services.
Talking about your own unique concepts, I noticed you are looking at pastels, large flower patterns, and even feather and bird inspirations. Although this does have some echo from the wider fashion trends happening now, it does slightly diverge from them. Where do you get your inspiration?
I initially got my inspiration from the folk arts. My first collection was inspired by the fact that I noticed the recurrence of birds in folk art from around the world. The pictures here make up my first collection, for my graduation runway project, and they form the basis of my brand.
What does your business have to offer that others don’t?
I think YHWasfy offers affordable semi-formal wear that is not only meticulously handcrafted, but is also colorful, fun, creative, and offers a uniqueness that many women appreciate and wish to celebrate when choosing to express themselves through fashion.
Are you specifically talking about accent pieces? Like a colorful blouse, a vest, a scarf? Is this why you concentrate on smaller unique pieces, rather than complete ensembles?
I think accent pieces are great because they allow women to style and wear the pieces any way they like. This helps them add their personality to their outfit, so they can look unique, in a more cost-effective way. For example, if I want to make a skirt that I had years ago pop, and become modern again, I can update it by combining it with a trendy blouse. It’s less costly than buying an entirely new ensemble, and carries all sorts of other benefits.
Your scarves are colorful and almost dream-like. What artistic concepts do you adhere to?
I base all my scarf collections on different concepts. It may be a rare type of flower, sea corals, a cultural artifact, or anything that interests and inspires me! I am also particularly interested in a variety of cultures and folkloric arts.
I’ve noticed that! Your work seems to stem from a deep love and appreciation for colorful nature, from the sea to the sky. Can we expect more muted, archetypal, uniform pieces in the future, or are you most comfortable exploring the colorful side of fashion?
Yes, my brand is based on the energy of colorful pieces and unique color combinations that I mostly dye myself. However, I would love to explore the muted color palette, but combine them with other more energetic colors. I love colors! I think that a woman who isn’t afraid to wear color is a more confident woman, and confidence looks beautiful!
Are you looking at dressing celebrities for special occasions, or are you more interested in the wearability and versatility of your pieces?
I’m dreaming of dressing celebrities of course, and I think it would be a big step for me. However, I believe that all women, with all their differences, are A list starts! My brand celebrates women and their happiness.
Do you do custom requests as well?
Yes, I do! We can customize anything as long as it fits within our brand’s concept.
What is your brand’s concept?
I can’t design something that is very far from what I make. For example, someone contacted me asking me to make a replica of a style she saw in a magazine. The dress was all made of beads and strass and had nothing to do with the idea of painted or printed fabrics. It wasn’t what I design by a long shot. There was no intersection whatsoever. What I always try to do is to meet the customer’s wants with my vision and style as a designer. There must be overlap.
Where do you see your business in 5 years?
I am very excited about my debut and people’s reviews and feedback on my line! In five years I see my garments on more runways internationally.
Thank you for you time, and I wish you all the best!
To contact Yassmine for a custom order, or to look at her pieces, check out her Instagram and Facebook pages, where you may message her and set up an appointment.