I’d dreamt of visiting Iran for years. Seeing images of its magnificent mosques, beautiful parks and narrow bazaar alleyways lined with carpet weavers and rug shops always made me yearn to visit, so when I heard the UN sanctions were lifted earlier this year and that travel as an independent couple (and not part of a tour group) might be slightly more easier, I was in that Iranian embassy quicker than you can say CHELLO KEBAB.
We landed in Tehran in the early hours, just as Fajr began, and on the ride to the hotel we saw the city waking up. Getting closer to our hotel in midtown Tehran, shutters were opening, the streets became busier (Tehran traffic is a thing people – it’s worse than Mumbai), and sunlight began to illuminate the grand mountains surrounding the metropolis that were previously only a daunting shadow.
There is so much to see and experience in Tehran; from the magnificent royal palaces, to holy shrines adorned with marble and mosaic and the huge parks blooming with flowers and citrus trees, to the dusty streets filled with rich aromas of lamb kebabs and naan, and the artsy and hipster pockets of the city sprinkled with museums and exhibitions. Come Maghrib (sunset prayer) and the city begins to light up, with families, couples and groups heading north towards Tajrish and the Darband mountains for a long night of food, music and nargile in restaurants carved high up into the rocks.
There’s an underlying atmosphere of wonder and curiosity now that the political climate is changing. You can feel it in the markets, from the falooda stands to the rug bazaars, in the glazed shopping malls and the conversations in restaurants and cafes. Will business boom? Will the economy improve? What changes will Iran see? What lies ahead?
Light a lamp of hope and positivity within yourself and for others!
Aaminah is in India going a bit crazy with the fireworks and celebrations :) you can catch her on Instagram @aaminahleg and on our Snapchat (username: two-browngirls) and Seetal is celebrating with her family in the vibrant city of Leicester, known of having some of the biggest Diwali celebrations outside of India!
We hope you have a wonderful day, however you’re celebrating, big or small! Sending love always <3
After a 14 hour journey from Tehran, we arrive in Shiraz shattered, but curious. As the home of Persian poets Hafiz and Saa'di, we notice that the city is beautifully adorned with their couplets on walls, buildings and shutters.
At first glance, Shiraz’s streets are dusty, and in comparison to the bright & bustly vibe of Tehran, Shiraz seems tired. We visit the tombs of Hafez and Saa'di during the day and head to the mountains in the evening, like the majority of Shiraz’s residents, for an evening of good food and beautiful views. Once isha comes in (the night prayer) we decide to check out Shah -e-Cheragh (Farsi for King of Lights) - the masjid and tomb of the 7th Shia Imam’s sons.
The beautiful masjid grounds are lit up in bright colours, with crowds of people sitting, relaxing and praying - the vibe is akin to the lively atmosphere of Medina and Makkah in the late hours. Inside the mosque, the walls glitter with mosaics. The mosques in Shiraz are equally as magnificent. From the Masjid - e - Vakil which is grand in it’s minarets and prayer hall to the famous Nasr - e - Molk where light and glass dance together to create a serene & surreal experience for the worshipper.
We arrive at the 300 year old Abbasi hotel bright and early after our journey from Shiraz. The hotel is stunning and steeped in history, adorned with stooping chandeliers, elaborate ceilings and traditional art work on display. These persians sure weren’t minimalists!
After a quick pick-me-up cup of chai, we head straight to Naqsh-e-Jahan square passing by several art shops that double up as the artists’ studios. From miniature paintings, to rug weavers to toureutics workshops, they all corner the magnificent courtyard which looks out onto some of Esfahan’s most beautiful mosques.
We visit the ancient Ali Qasr palace and walking through the archways of Sheikh Lotfullah mosque, we make a friend, Ali, who shows us around Jolfa, the armenian quarter. Along our stroll we see a beautiful church lit up by the setting sun, dainty bazaar squares with fountains and loads of local hipster smoothie and coffee bars before we head to an artisan restaurant nearby (cleverly named Hermes) for dinner. Ali tells us some incredible stories about his travels, and also gives us an insight into Iranian culture and politics.
The evening isn’t over yet, as we move on for sherbet and dessert up in the mountains of Esfahan. As we witnessed in Shiraz and Tehran, Iran comes to life at night, and families, couples and young people all head high up after sunset for an evening of good food, strong tea and good company until the early hours of the morning.
It’s our last night in Iran and we reminisce over the rich, unexpected and beautiful memories this country has given us. The generous hospitality, mouth-watering food and magnificent architecture has us yearning to come back for more.
We’ve received so many questions the past week about Islamic book recommendations so I figured it’d be easier to do a post for all of you who are interested! Below is a short breakdown of some good reads that would be good to get in your library this Ramadan! They’re all pretty much ‘entry level’ books; none of them deal with complex Islamic topics, and most of them are very easy to read! Here we go:
The Qur’an by M.A.S Abdel Haleem: Not only was he fantastic as my MA tutor (biased, much?), but Abdel Haleem’s translation is modern and contextualised and stays true to the arabic of the original Qur’an. One of the best translations out there. The introduction is really good, too.
Understanding the Qur’an: Themes and Style by M.A.S Abdel Haleem: Okay, if you’re looking for a book that’ll help you grasp Qur’anic style, or you’ve never read the Qur’an before, read this! This book is an excellent introduction into the style and themes of the Qur’an. If i’m honest, I wouldn’t recommend someone from another faith (or no faith - gotta be all PC here don’t we!), to just pick up an english translation of the Qur’an and begin their search into Islam that way. I would most definitely recommend they read this book first to understand the way the Qur’an is written, some of the prominent topics that occur throughout, and how it tackles these themes.
General Islamic Books:
Muhammad by Martin Lings: Ranked as one of the best biographies written on the prophet, this book is a comprehensive yet easy to read start into learning about the Prophet Muhammad’s life and journey. I’m going to re-read it this Ramadan. It’s one of my favourites. Martin Lings is pretty epic too.
The Vision of Islam by William Chittick & Sachiko Murata: A perfect introduction to Islam written by husband-wife power duo. It’s a little long (make it your target to finish it this Ramadan, maybe?) but includes all the core teachings of Islam and their purposes in the faith. Structured around the three levels of faith, Islam, Iman & Ihsan, it starts by discussing the outer level of faith, namely the rituals and practices, and then gradually delves into the inner dimensions of Islam, worship and gnosis.
Islam and the Destiny of Man by Gai Eaton: Another fantastic introductory book, leaning more towards an intellectual approach to Islam. Whilst it’s focused on giving people who are not Muslim an understanding of the faith, it’s still a very valued source for us Muslims too. If you think it’s too long, check out Reflections by Gai Eaton instead.
The Tao of Islam by Sachiko Murata: I was a bit hesitant to put this in here, as a) I haven’t finished it and b) it’s a little ‘deep’ for some readers. Nevertheless, it’s a good book to have in your library to dip in and out of. Murata has some very unique, thought-provoking and interesting discussions in here ranging from the creation of man, nature of Satan, basis of marriage etc. The chapter on The Womb is really insightful.
One night, desperate Majnun prayed tearfully, ‘O Lord of mine who has abandoned me, Why have you “Majnun” called me? Why have you made a lover of Leila out of me? You have made me a pillow of wild thorns, Made me roam day and night without a home. What do you want from my imprisonment? O Lord of mine, listen to my plea!’
The Lord replied, 'O lost man, With Leila’s love I have your heart filled; Your love of Leila is my will. The beauty of Leila that you see Is just another reflection of me.'
Image 1: Layla Standing in the Palm Grove, page from a Manuscript of the Khamsa of Nizami
O moon-faced Beloved, the month of Ramadan has arrived Cover the table and open the path of praise. …. Let nothing be inside of you. Be empty: give your lips to the lips of the reed. When like a reed you fill with His breath, then you’ll taste sweetness. – Rumi
It’s here, people! The holy month of Ramadan - and trust me to put this post up one day before the first fast. Aren’t I super organised :) For those of you who don’t know what/who/where Ramadan is, click here for the lowdown.
I just wanna keep it real with you guys and basically say that, I’m always the late one when it comes to preparing for this month. I don’t get excited, I don’t eagerly post Ramadhan countdowns weeks in advance - I just wait for my dad’s text saying ‘IT’S TOMORROW!’ and then I run around in a frantic circle internalising that IT’S TOMORROW and I haven’t even stocked up on samosas. And I know I’m not alone! If you’re not one of those ‘ive-prepared-2-months-in-advance’ type of Muslims (props to you if you are though!), don’t fear! It’s never too late to start setting yourself some Ramadan goals.
Now I’m a simple gal (even though Seet will tell you otherwise -_-). I have always believed in pretty much anything and everything that I do, that quality is better than quantity. There are some people who are fortunate enough to have planned and set themselves some incredible goals…I’m not one of them, but here are are my three simple goals this Ramadan that are always effective:
Almost everyone around me aims to finish the Qur’an at light speed this month. But like I mentioned before guys, quality over quantity. What’s the point finishing the Qur’an if you’re not going to understand what you’re reading, or reflect on the teachings you’re skimming past? I’m going to focus on reading some Qur’an everyday. Whether it’s a page, a juz or a surah, this month should be about connecting with the Qur’an (after all, it’s during this month that the Qur’an was first revealed). If you can’t understand the Qur’an in the Arabic, then sit with an translation and for every section you read, look over the English. It’s better for you to read 10 lines of the Qur’an and understand them, than it is to read 50 pages and not understand what’s going on. For those of you looking for a little extra reading on the Qur’an and it’s style, check out this book. It’s fantastic!
Ramadhan is also a month about repenting (coz we all human ya’ll) and making duaa (supplicating/asking God/calling out to God). As ‘technical’ as this sounds, make a duaa list for all the things you want to pray about/people you want to pray for so you don’t miss anything. I have my list in my notes on my iPhone. Read from it every night, or whenever you remember.
I reckon because we’re so used to hearing ‘OH MY GOD IT’S A 19 HOUR FAST!’ the majority of us are going to spend most of our day complaining about how hungry we are, and how long the fast is. Suck it up! Striving for your faith isn’t supposed to be easy! It’s totally doable, and thats coming from someone who needs a snack every 10-15 minutes. Make this your core goal: don’t complain at all during this month. And if you do end up having a groan, vow to give a fiver to a charity for each time you catch yourself. Trust me - it works.
There you have it. 3 short tips for us last minute Muslims! Make sure you remember both Seet and I and our families in your prayers. Wishing you all a month filled with love, blessings & light. <3
- A x
p.s Holla at me if you guys want recommendations for some interesting Islamic books to read!
What THE! Why did I just see this maaaadd amazing collection by Sonam and Paras Modi now?! I’m absolutely obsessed with the focus on geometry, and the pairing of neutrals with royal colours like dark green and purple.
Initially I thought hang on..too much of the geometric designs are over kill, but daym - i’m feeling them big time! Even though there are bold clashing patterns in some of the designs, they all seem to work beautifully together. Now, how to get my hands on one…
This time last year I was gearing up to check out Istanbul! One of my closest friends is currently out there documenting her travels on snapchat which made me realise how much I miss this beautiful city! Above are some of my favourite snaps from the Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palaceand Taksim Square.