Books on Slavery

I didn’t really know much about the slave trade until my mid twenties. All I vaguely remember being taught at school was the basic concept, with the emphasis being on its abolition.
I had an idea, as I imagine anyone does, that it was cruel, unjust and racist. But that was about it.

It was not until I met my husband that I had a desire to learn more.
He had mentioned the tv series “Roots” to me, as most Gambians tend to see it as a kind of worldwide recognition of their homeland – Kunta Kinte being from the tiny west African country where the story began. It’s kind of a regrettable “claim to fame” for want of a better phrase.

Still not being all that aware of the slave trade, I did however have an imagination, which to this day is what keeps me from watching the DVD box set I later purchased for my husband.
I have a very strong and almost physically sickening reaction to any depiction of sexual violence on tv (I don’t know if it’s normal, but I’m guessing it’s an extreme reaction due to my bewilderment at it being included in films at all.)
Anyway, I digress.

I bought Roots (the book) and read it with a mixture of curiosity, disbelief and horror. Learning the details of the ordeals of slaves in such a vivid and descriptive narrative both scarred and intrigued me.
At the time, I think it scarred me more, as although I wanted to keep learning, it was only recently – years later, that I’ve started to read on the subject again.

The first book I read since Roots is the autobiography “Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass”.
Unlike Alex Haley’s acclaimed work, this was actually written by a former slave himself. It refers to his life from being born into slavery to his eventual escape to become a free man.
Not surprisingly, I was in tears before finishing the first chapter.
The book detailed the author’s view of slavery through the eyes of a child. I think it was these descriptions of the lives of the children and the policy of separating them from their mothers which moved me most about this story.

Although the subject matter is heavy, I enjoyed how well written it was. Being more or less self taught to read and write in secret as a young boy, he writes with such emotion and eloquent description.
Also, considering it was written in the early 1840’s I was expecting it to be in a style more difficult to read (I’m not sure what lead to this assumption exactly). However I found the flow of his writing so accessible that it could have been written yesterday.
It’s not surprising to learn that he later went on to be a well known speaker and abolition activist.

I’m currently reading another of his books “My bondage and my freedom”.
As well as covering the period written about in the last biography, it will also go further into his life after slavery.
His renowned activism which will apparently lead to him being the first black man to be invited to the white house.
(I’ll maybe update this blog, or write a part two once I’ve finished reading it inshallah.)

While I’m on the topic of slavery, my next reads will be the autobiographies of Booker T Washington and Harriet Ann Jacobs. I doubt there are many better ways to learn about a subject than by first hand narratives.

Thanks to a recent discovery (or rather the end of a resistance towards) e-books, I have a growing library at my fingertips!
As I doubt my skills in the book review field, I have included some links at the end of this post.
Most reviews I read are almost identical to how I feel about the books so far – so I thought them worth sharing for emphasis sake.

I hope this blog will encourage people to check out these amazing books inshallah!

Links:

Alex Haley “Roots”

Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass “My bondage and my freedom”

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“Economic” migrant

Imagine that the only way to support your family is to leave them behind.

Imagine living in poverty such that even affording food is a challenge. Where there are few jobs, no unemployment benefits and you see no other hope of providing for your family’s basic needs than to live without them.

In the past few weeks I have seen 4 of my husband’s friends leave their wives and children behind in search of paid employment in another country.

I have been aware of the realities of being an immigrant through those who came to the UK for the very same reasons. Now however, I am witnessing the other side of the situation; from the families left behind.
Alhamdulillah this experience is not 1st hand. The wives are my friends, the children are some of my sons playmates.

I can’t even imagine how difficult it must be to have your husband leave.
Being aware that not only are they undertaking a risky journey (since leaving they have already been kidnapped and robbed at gunpoint in Libya) but if they reach their destination safely there is still no set timescale for their return.
Yet still, the need for an income is apparently greater than the emotional strain.
I obviously have the luxury to only wonder about how it must feel.

Even before I came to Gambia, hearing the negative way people would often refer to “immigrants” would enrage me.
I would see an African man at the bus stop in the early hours, or the lady cleaning the offices where I worked, and I would wonder about their story. The loved ones they had left behind, how long they had been away and how they must feel.
I would wonder at their courage and strength.
Now I wonder the same for the families left behind. But at least they are at home, surrounded by family and friends.
Not so for their loved ones in foreign lands.

How strong must you be to sacrifice your own happiness and future memories because it is the only way you can afford to feed your children. Often, to risk your very life in order to do so (simply because you don’t have the luxury of a European passport).
To miss the birth of your first child or the funeral of a parent.

Many “westerners” tend to reserve their sympathy (if any) for those who are seeking asylum from war torn regions. “Economic migrants” aren’t afforded any such appreciation it seems.
I can’t understand how people can be so uncaring and selfish that all they see is an “outsider”. “Coming to the UK (for example) to take advantage of govt benefits courtesy of hard working British tax payers”.
Please.
More likely to do poorly paid and/or dirty jobs that British “job seekers” turn up their noses at.

Some people really don’t know how good they have it.

(For some 1st hand insights on this subject, I recommend the “Surprising Europe” documentary series on Al Jazeera English) Surprising Europe

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This House

I live in a developing country in a large house. Sometimes it’s hard. Emotionally that is.

I understand this may seem extremely ungrateful of me.
We have a relatively well off lifestyle by Gambian standards.
Thanks to God, we live comfortably, with a large premises that brings rental income, another small business and a few taxis.

To an outsider I understand how we look “rich”.
But we don’t have an abundance of spare cash, which is what many assume. Any money is quickly re-absorbed by the business and maintenance of the house.

We often get people who come asking for charity. For hospital bills, travel fares & even food (luxuries for some sadly).
Thanks to God I usually have enough in my purse to be able to give something. It never feels enough but at least it’s not nothing.

Today a particularly downtrodden & disheartened looking man came to the door.
He looked “typically” homeless – torn clothes, dirty appearance etc. But worse than that was the expression in his bloodshot, watery eyes.
Complete desperation and deep sadness.
I pulled a note from my purse, more than usual, and gave it to him.
My friend was here and translated for him when he started to speak.

He said he was homeless and wanted me to pay rent for somewhere for him.

In most circumstances, to most people, that last sentence would warrant an exclamation mark.
It’s a big ask, even of someone who you perceive as “rich”.
But how desperate must you be, how much hope must you have lost to be able to come straight out and ask a complete stranger to pay your rent?

But I couldn’t commit to that, I’m fairly sure we couldn’t afford it.
I explained (via my friend) that my husband controls the finances. I stressed that I couldn’t promise anything but if he wanted to speak to him he should come in the evening time.

I almost cried.
I feel so much sympathy for this man and I feel lucky to be in the position that I’m in alhamdulillah.
I have so many blessings, I’m aware of that, but sometimes it takes days like this to completely appreciate them.

I’ll speak to my husband when he gets home.
There must be some way we can help him, God willing.

I hope we can. I hope he comes back.

Finding Islam

I first started to believe in God when, at a rather low point in my life, I started to read some spiritually inspired books (Paulo Coelho) and some books about angels.

Previously agnostic, I became open to the possibility of a “divine being”.
I was asking for signs and apparently getting them (the white feathers etc) so I began to believe that for there to be angels there must be a God right?
I honestly think Allah used the angels thing as a tool to guide me – he knew I was more likely to believe in them first.

Then I had a strange dream containing a lamb, a kitten and a silver snake in a tree. I’m still not entirely sure why, but at the time I interpreted it to have some kind of religious meaning – biblical I assumed.
(I had forgotten about this dream until a new friend recently described an amazing dream she’d had, alhamdulillah)

Anyway, then I met the man who would later become my husband.
He was from a country I’d never heard of and a religion I knew little about.
He would often explain life and the simple solutions to problems from an islamic perspective.
He would say he was far from the perfect example of a muslim, but that he loved Islam as it was so simple and common sense.

Now that I had accepted the existence of God, I needed to know what to do with my new found belief.
I went to a few churches to see how that felt.
In the traditional church with hymns and prayers (and a cute little production by the Sunday school kids) I sat at the back feeling very emotional – I even cried a bit, but I felt out of place.
I felt even more alien at my friend’s mum’s born again Christian church, with lots of friendly people clapping and singing praises to rock music!

I figured a mosque couldn’t be any stranger, and started going to a weekly study circle at an Islamic centre in Manchester.
I met lots of amazing sisters, many were reverts.
I researched Islam myself and attended the group for about 2 years.
I was impressed by the common sense and simplicity I had previously been advised of. I was even more impressed when I read about the life of the prophet (pbuh).

I believed Islam was the truth long before converting, but something held me back.
I prayed to God for guidance and signs, and again I got them!
I eventually took my shahaddah in August 2008, alhamdulillah.

My non muslim family and friends, although concerned (understandably in this day and age) accepted my decision and supported me throughout, mashallah.
I am now completely happy and blessed with my religion, a wonderful husband and a beautiful son alhamdulillah!

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Concentration in Salat (prayer)

After getting a tad frustrated at not being able to concentrate during my dhuhr prayer, I began to ponder…

I had sent my toddler to play with his friends and made my ablutions in my own time, looking forward to doing salat in the tranquility of an empty room.
No cheeky 2 year old, who on the occasions he decides not to join me in prayer will either demand my attention (by repeating “mamma mamma” over & over after each takbir) or climbs on my back as I prostrate.

I’m in the zone, on my prayer mat and fully aware that I am now standing before my creator about to carry out my most important obligation. But by the time I’m in the first sudjood (prostration) my mind is already wandering.
I try to focus.
Now it wanders into wondering why it wanders in the first place!
“Shut up mind, we can have this discussion later!”
“Maybe you should try some sort of pre-prayer meditation to get focussed?”
“Shush!!”

I recalled my enthusiasm & excitement when I first learnt how to pray.
One day at a sisters tea party, a fellow revert had told me how she longed for those “new Muslim” days – when praying was a special privilege she looked forward to five times a day.
At my obvious confusion, she explained that after a while, your body can so easily switch into autopilot that focussing can be difficult at times.
Once you have learnt the physical movements and the basic surahs, shaytan seems to take this opportunity to distract you quite easily. “New Muslim” me could never imagine this.

Whether shaytan or simply an over active mind – it’s so frustrating!
You pull yourself back, but it feels as if part of your prayer has been stolen, it’s left incomplete even when it’s finished.
Should I ask forgiveness? Start again? Questions that only seem to increase the frustration.

My mind draws comparisons with car drivers who say that on a familiar route you often reach your destination without really concentrating or even recalling the trip.
It’s a scary thought, but to be describing this phenomenon they have obviously survived their journey unharmed – if not a little disturbed by what could have happened.
I imagine they resolve to pay more attention next time and forget about it.

But, as Muslims, our destination needs more attention and dedication.
We can’t afford to neglect our most basic obligation and should be all too aware of the consequences.

I am going to look into ways to improve my concentration, but ultimately this very awareness is what i will attempt to enhance pre-prayer.

It’s important to realise that our next salat may well be our last road trip to, insha’Allah, Jannah!

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Hello Bloggersphere!

After months of pondering, I finally entered the Bloggersphere! (is that right? )
I don’t really have a theme as such, so it’s probably gonna be a mixed bag.
I’m a mum, a wife, a Muslim & a Manchester girl living in West Africa.
I’m interested in Religion, politics, psychology & the world in general! ☺

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