Meet Gulnaz! Gulnaz is the founder and director of HalalParenting magazine, an amazing magazine which provides a delicate balance of fresh, modern parenting content. She includes Qur’anic and Prophetic wisdom in her articles to help provide a framework for you to make the best decisions for you and your family.
1.Could you tell me about your background and where you grew up?
I was born and raised in England in Newcastle on Tyne, and I went to university in Leeds, and then when I was in my last year of uni my parents decided to move to the States. My parents and siblings are up in northern California where we originally settled, and then I got married and moved away so I'm now in Southern California.
2. How long does it take to drive home? Is it a long drive to northern California?
Yes, it's a 10-hour drive. That's with no traffic. It's easy for people to say you're in the same country, but literally you could be at the other end of Europe.
3. I sometimes forget how enormous America actually is.
It's just huge here and if you don't have a car you can't survive. You need a car and that's why everyone you know - literally everyone - has two or three cars at least in their homes because everyone's going in totally different directions and the public transport here where we live is just nonexistent. We have four kids so it doesn't make sense for us to fly to see family, so we just we just drive.
4. What did you study in university?
I did Business Finance - that's my undergrad, and then when I came to the States I did a computer associates degree. Then I started working for an investment advisory firm. I became a registered investment advisor. I was doing that and then I met my husband. He was in Milwaukee Wisconsin, which is, I don’t know If you're familiar with the geography of the United States, but if you know where Chicago is…
5. Yeah a little bit
Right, a little bit north of Chicago. So, a huge difference for me, but we lived there for a while.
6. There’s quite bad winters there?
Yes - I think I got pneumonia the first winter I was there, and even right now it's below zero.
7. You probably know about British culture where it's two degrees, and everyone just loses their mind, but compared to America it's nothing really.
Well it depends on where you are. I think I've been spoilt living in Southern California, like yesterday it was ninety-four degrees.
8. Yeah. Constant sunshine in California isn't it?
Yeah. I mean you kind of miss the seasons to be honest. You miss the spring; you miss the autumn and we definitely don't get winter - we get rain in the winter months. It doesn't rain all year but we just get it once a year.
9. Ok. So, what are your favourite hobbies?
I don't have much time for hobbies. You know when I do get time to myself it's reading. I've always been an avid reader and I read everything and anything. I have quite a collection of books and I just love getting lost in them and my kids are the same way. So I really like to do that, but then when we do have time off together we like to have family time.
Where we live there is just so much to do and so much to see for free. I feel like we're paying a premium to live in San Diego as it's so expensive to live here, but we have gorgeous beaches and there's just so much to do here like nature and hiking trails and mountains, and there's just so much to see and do. So we try to go out together a lot, and then when it's cold and dark like it is now, we do family game nights, or we do movies, stuff like that.
10. So trying to get the kids to experience as much as possible?
Yes, that's it. I feel it now my eldest is 14. And he only home for another four years and then he's off to university, but there's no guarantee he's going to stay here. I mean he could end up somewhere in the United States. I just don't know where it's going to be, so we don't really have that much time left together. It just flies. We just try and make the most of whatever time that we have because these are the memories they're going to have, these are the memories we're going to cherish. So just try to do what you can, whether you can afford it or not. Whether you think it's a priority or not - you have to make time for these kinds of things.
11. I completely agree. How long have you been married?
We've been married for almost 17 years.
12. And I could see you've got two boys and two girls?
I do, Alhamdulillah.
13. What was your experience of having your first child?
My husband and I we were living in Milwaukee. He was doing his PhD and he wasn't really home much. I was working up until the end of my pregnancy and we didn’t have any family around us. We had gone through parenting classes at the local hospital so that we could kind of know how to take care of a newborn and what to expect, but it doesn't really help because when you first have that baby and they send you home from the hospital the very next day, you're like: Are you sure? Really? I mean it's just overwhelming and just to do simple things like changing nappies and having all the stuff there and being prepared, it took a while for me to get used to it. I mean, I bought all the things, but I remember I just was not organised enough to have everything in one place where I needed it, or I was just fumbling. It took a while for me to kind of get that. My mother did visit for a few days when I brought my son home from the hospital, but after that we were on our own and it's like you're just in a daze.
You're not sleeping and I don't know how women have the strength to do this, but you're literally not sleeping around the clock, yet you're still able to function and you're still able to nurture this child and put this baby before your own needs, and you just kind of get on with it. I think you don't stop to think - if you did stop to think you would freeze! And then as the baby starts to learn to sleep through the night and you get a little bit more rest, then you're able to get a bit more clarity and you're able to be a little bit more prepared and proactive and start to develop a routine, and you know, you kind of get into a groove.
14. Did it take a few weeks for him to start to sleep through the night?
I think it took between two and four weeks. It takes babies a while to get their days and their nights in the right order, and so at that age you're up every two hours - you're nursing them every two hours and then rocking them, and then they're sleeping for an hour and a half or whatever it is, and so it's around the clock. I think that I was very blessed, Alhamdulillah, as none of my kids had colic or anything serious. I know of people who've gone through that but Alhamdulillah we didn't have that. I think it was just the usual cycling issue and just waiting for them to get their days and nights in order and then once that happened then it was easier to develop a bedtime routine.
15. So when a couple has a baby, they become parents and are kind of becoming something else really?
Yes, and I think that a lot of people think it's all about the baby, but you don't realise that you undergo a transformation as well, and life is never going to be the same. I wish that there was more preparing for parents before a baby is born in terms of what to do, and not just the basic physical needs, as it's not just the physical needs but the emotional needs, and I think there's just not enough education on that.
16. Did it give you some inspiration for your magazine as well?
Absolutely. That's really what drove me to do it because I just thought there has to be a better way to disseminate that information to people. Going to the wrong places to get information is frustrating, and when I was looking for information, and even up till today when I when I have a question, I turn to the Internet. And I get referred to these sites, and I don't know what it's like there in England, but there's a very heavy culture for mothers in the States who stay at home to drink. You know “moms who wine”. There's a big drinking culture and I've noticed it specifically with mothers that in order to dull the sensation or dull the stresses of having kids and the anxiety that comes with it. There's a view that moms who like wine get together and they drink, and they want to put their kids to bed early so they can drink. And I just don't like to read information or get advice from places that promote that.
17. It is quite an unhealthy support system.
In Islam, Paradise is described as being at the feet of the mother, partly because we go through all of these experiences and so many struggles with our kids, and we're the ones that are up all night with them; I think that that's the reason why we're rewarded so much for it. It's not something that we should just numb or try and ignore - it's just giving the wrong message. I don't like to get my information from there and I don't want other people to get their information from there. So I thought let's see if we can just create a safe place for Muslims to go and anyone else who wants to go and get information.
18. Other moms will be able to relate to this because you said you lived in a place where you were isolated and you were looking for information. Did you find any kind of social meetings in your area?
Where I lived was just past Milwaukee, but when my husband finished his PhD, he got a job and we moved to rural Missouri. There was a small population of 50,000 people, but there was a masjid there. There was a community of Muslims there, but from my experience I relied a lot on my husband. His work schedule is flexible in the sense that he can work from home a few days a week, and I know not everybody has that luxury. That made a huge difference for me because I'm like “Can you hold this one while I do this one,” you know what I mean. If I had to take so-and-so to the doctor or run errands, that was just a huge help for me and that support from him was invaluable.
19. Was he new to the area as well?
Yes, we both moved together. The Masjid that was there with the community was interesting because we did start to make more of an effort to go as a family, and at that point I had two more children when we lived in that city, but everybody was in the same situation there. Everybody was young couples and they had young children, and they had nobody around them, or their families were back home wherever back home was. So we were all kind of in the same situation together. It's funny to say that even though we were in the boonies (rural area), there was a real sense of community between the Muslim families there because we were all going through the same things at the same time.
20. That's nice.
Yes, that was a really nice thing and I think once we left and we moved to a bigger city you don't have that connection, because when we go to a place where there are more Muslims there are more benefits - more programs and facilities and whatever’s available - but it's very hard then to break into groups and break into the community and develop that close network of friends because those are already formed. So when you're in a small community you're very welcoming of anybody who comes in because they are a brand new face among only like 10 families. But when there's like hundreds of families and they all have their own extended family and their own established group of friends, it is much harder to infiltrate and to feel a part of the community. So, living in the boonies helped me develop my Islam a little bit more.
21. That kind of isolation must have made you think about how much Islam means to you?
Yes absolutely, and having kids does that too. You know I think for me I started to wear hijab when my son was nine months old because it was something that I had been thinking about for a long time. I think what inspired me to do it was me teaching him Islamic concepts from a very young age and I didn't want to be hypocritical in telling him this is what Muslims do when I wasn't doing that myself. That was that was a big motivating factor for me, and I think for my husband too - it just improves you as a parent. You can't tell your children they should pray five times a day if you're not doing it yourself. So, I think that the first step in having a healthy family is making sure that you're doing the right things first before you start talking to your kids about what it is they should or shouldn't be doing.
22. So you teach yourself before you teach them?
23. So what are your most helpful tips or inspirational moments?
I think what I have written is don't compare yourself, which I think was easier for me to do back in the day before Instagram was there, before there was all of this imagery, I guess. Now you see a lot of people on Instagram posting pictures of their kids. I made a policy not to post pictures of my kids if I can help it as much as possible. I think that they have a right to privacy and it invites problems if you do it too much, and I don't want to portray myself as somebody who has a perfect life because you know everybody goes through struggles. But it’s difficult to maintain that objectivity when you're constantly bombarded. I know there are a lot of young mothers who are comparing themselves and their lives with other people's feeds, and then internalize those comparisons. Yet just because you see a picture of somebody who seems to be in a loving and happy and healthy relationship, you don't know what's happening behind the scenes, you just don't know and it can be super unhealthy. Alhamdullilah, I’m really glad that I didn't grow up with that and that it wasn't really mainstream when my kids were small. Being older has that advantage because you have that perspective.
24. Yeah. I mean there's some bloggers out there that do portray being a mom and the ups and downs, but there are also a lot of bloggers out there who kind of just upload the ideal moments.
Yes, and it’s for the photo, and it's not necessarily a real moment either. You know they just come and get a camera ready for those moments. It's often completely staged. So, my advice is don't try to compare yourself, you husband or kids. You have to focus on your blessings; that should be your perspective and whatever it is say Alhamdulillah.
25. So what about when you became a mum? Was there any social media around?
It was 2005 so there was Facebook and Google, but the rest of it wasn't there, so for preparation we took parenting classes. That was helpful, but looking back, talking to other mothers who have kids, who have a bit of experience, I think that always helps. Also, it's just not just talking to them but finding out what it is that they wish they'd done differently, because I think hindsight really gives you a lot of clarity and you can you can learn a lot from people's regrets and saying ‘you know I really wish I'd done this because … I really wish I'd nursed my child a bit longer because…,’ or whatever it is. I think if you compile that list, you're able to give yourself some perspective, because I know people now when they prepare to become mothers for the first time, they think preparing to be a mother means having all of the material things. They rush out and buy the latest ‘stuff’ that they think that they need, and you don't need like 80 percent of it. You really don't - it's just a waste. You don't know that until you've gone through it or you've seen somebody go through it or somebody told you that it's just a waste of money. Save it - put it towards your child's college education.
26. So older friend’s wisdom is really important.
Yes, I think so.
27. Do you have a daily routine, and do you think it's important?
I do when my kids are in school. When they're not in school it’s a little bit harder for me, but when they are in school, they get out the door and then I have my mornings to myself and I can do my prayers, and have lunch and prepare food for them ,and pick them up, and then the afternoons are devoted to them and their homework. The Quran classes and feeding them.
I like to be home and keep on top of what it is that they're all doing. I think it’s so important even if it's 20 minutes finding out about their day, and what their worries or their concerns are. It makes a huge difference to their outlook and their behaviour. I think if they have that connection, even if they're struggling with something, just talking it out and knowing that your mother understands what it is that you're trying to tell them, and she can offer a few words of advice or even just listen. Sometimes it makes a huge difference to them, especially as my kids are getting older - it's harder to extract information from them sometimes. But they know that I'm here and they know that this is the time that I have for them, and I think that makes a big difference. But yeah when they're in school it's awesome because I get to do my thing in the morning and then take care of them later in the day.
During the holidays, in terms of getting work done, it's kind of difficult and there's not really much routine when they're home
28. How important is it to trust your instincts with things? Is there an example that you can think of when that happened?
My older son has a chronic illness, and Alhamdulillah he’s in remission now and doing well, but when he was going through his symptoms and he was sick a lot, the doctors were dismissing his symptoms and it was going on for the course of a year. I didn't believe what the doctors were saying, and I researched and tried to figure out what it was based on his symptoms. I told the doctor this is what I think it is and I need you to rule it out. It’s not my personality to be forceful. I really don't like conflict, but you get to that point where you're fighting for your child - you're an advocate for your kids and you know in your gut and your intuition is telling you something is wrong. Yet nobody's listening to you and you have to stamp your feet and shout in order to get people to listen. It turns out I was right. Afterwards the doctor said ‘yes, I'm really glad that you did this because if you hadn't pushed then they wouldn't have tested for this.’ I think you know your kid better than anybody in the world, right? You know when there's something wrong and I think it was in my gut. Because it was my child that needed help, that protective instinct kicks in. Your kid can't advocate for themselves - you have to do it for them.
29. It’s difficult. I’d just like to ask another question: what is it like to pray when you have children and what are the difficulties?
It’s much easier now, but it still can be a challenge. When they're young, when they're babies, it's difficult because something will always happen at prayer time - something will come up like somebody needs a feed or change or whatever it is, or they're cranky, so it's just difficult when they're small. Sometimes I would hold them during prayer time and then put them down and just kind of make Dua’ do my best. I'm trying and I think you just have to take comfort from the fact that Allah swt is watching and He knows that you're trying and not making excuses, then you just have to make peace with that. As they grow older and they start climbing all over you that gets really challenging because you're really distracted and it's really hard to keep your focus on just the mechanics of the prayer. You’re busy thinking about what they're doing rather than focusing on your prayers and that is tough, but I think the main thing is just not to stop. You can't stop and you have to understand that they are watching and they're absorbing, and they do get to the point where they emulate what you do and they copy. At Isha time I used to love it when my youngest son was young when I would go to pray Isha, he would sit with me on the prayer mat and fall asleep. I just loved it. Those are the memories that I have and I tell him, but now that they're older they know how to perform the prayer and we try as a family to pray Maghrib Salah every day together. My husband leads the prayer and we pray together as a family, and I like that that's the consistency that we have at home. That's familiarity. Whatever they're doing they stop for the prayer time and we all get together and we do that, and then everyone kind of gets back to what they were doing. I think that's really important. You just have to do your best and make lots and lots of Dua’s that they become people of the prayer, that they make that a routine and a priority in their life. I know one of my kids said to me ‘how do you make time for it and what if you're really busy? And I said you know it depends on how you look at it. If you want to think about it like I don't have time to squeeze in a prayer because I have this this and this. You know if you change your perspective to I have the prayer at this time so let me do this thing before and let me do these things afterwards. It's what you pencil down first in your calendar if you're going to do that write down the prayer times first and then you blocking everything else around it then how can you miss it?
30. How do you connect Islam to everyday life?
When I make Dua when my kids are bothering and they're not listening, I make Dua for them out loud: ‘may Allah give you sense. May Allah make you realise… May Allah do that …”, so they see that I'm making that connection to Allah swt for everyday things that benefit them. I always tell my kids the angels are with you and they're saying ameen and the same for you. So whatever you wish on somebody else it comes back to you. So always wish good for other people even if they're annoying you: May Allah make you knowledgeable; May Allah do this, May Allah do that. I try to do that a lot so they hear that and they internalise it insh’Allah.
My kids are currently learning to read Quran and part of those classes are memorization. They are learning new Surah’s and I spend time with them revising and then I try to learn myself because I think it's important for my own personal growth also to show them that learning is lifelong. It's not just limited to when you're young. Wherever you are in life, you shouldn’t stop learning. When I'm learning I have them test me and correct me, which they love to do, as it makes them feel important. I also try to include the Sunnahs of the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W), the small things that he did such as smiling with people, always being the first to greet people if you can, standing when you meet people, things like that. Trying to incorporate those small things is Islam. All of it is a way of life. It's not just the daily prayer and fasting in Ramadan, it’s in everything that you do.
31. My last question is: How did you set up your magazine Halal Parenting whilst with kids?
When my youngest started Kindergarten, I had a few hours during the week to work on mapping out a plan and starting to design and build the website and get the magazine going. Alhamdulillah the response on social media was very good and the Muslim entrepreneurial community is very helpful and supportive, so very quickly I was able to secure guest authors for articles and they helped me to spread the word about Halal Parenting. My intention and dua’ for this venture is to put out something good for others to benefit insh’Allah, and if Allah swt wills, it will be be successful.
- I want to thank you for your answers.
Sure. Thank you
It was very inspiring to hear Gulnaz talk about her past and how it influenced her to create HalalParenting.
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