Asha Adnan
Founder of Asha & Co.

Assalamualaikum! Tell me more about yourself.

Waalaikumussalaam Alia! Firstly, thank you for this opportunity to share my story. I am most passionate about learning and making growth as part of my everyday life. I love starting my day early and will usually plan ahead on the things that I want to achieve for the day. I value balance in everything that I do, so I have a monthly balance chart that I created for myself to keep me in check of the things that matter to me most. Some of the things that are important to me are spiritual wellness, marriage, family, passion and me. Therefore every month, I make small intentions and measurable goals to ensure that I make time for what is valuable to me. For example, for spiritual wellness, I make it a point to read and understand one new surah in the Quran every month. For passion, I strive to learn a new skill every month or every few months. It can be simple like doing origami or trying to cook a new cuisine or reading more about gardening! I also value time for myself and I make little goals to care for my physical and mental health. It could be getting a haircut, going swimming or spending a day at the beach. I can get very forgetful at times and I can be quite a workaholic. My balance chart serves as a visual reminder of my purpose of living a meaningful and productive life, InshaaAllah!

You love cooking. What interested you in it? How old were you when you started?

I started cooking since I was in my early teens. Both my siblings and I were raised single-handedly by my mother. Growing up, it wasn’t easy. My mother had to juggle a few jobs and I was responsible to care for my younger siblings. It started with cooking simple meals like rice, eggs and anchovies. As I learned more about nutrition and healthy eating in school, I started cooking vegetables, tofu and other dishes for my family. Back then, I would cut out recipes that I could find in newspapers and magazines. I used to have a scrapbook of recipes that I compiled and enjoyed decorating and writing notes in it. As I grew older, it somehow became natural for me to cook whenever I can. Seeing people enjoying the food I cook makes me really contented and happy. It became a motivation for me to learn and explore different cuisines. I was curious about my Thai roots from my dad’s side so, in 2014, I decided to go on a culinary adventure in Thailand. There, I learned traditional Thai cooking with a renowned chef who had her own cooking school. It was definitely a memorable experience to be cooking outdoors and using a mortar and pestle instead of a blender!

Over the years, cooking has evolved beyond just preparing dishes for me and my loved ones. Cooking has become a source of therapy for me. My mother would always say to me that one must be sincere in whatever they do, and if we practice ikhlas when we cook, the mouths we feed will be able to feel it too. I feel that Allah has blessed us with opportunities to make the best of our everyday routines. One can wake up in the morning and dread going to work but Allah gives us a choice to be grateful for a chance to live and be of service to Him for another day. Similar to cooking, one may view it as a chore and tiresome, but I choose to view it as an amanah, a responsibility to prepare food that is halal and toyyib for the people around me. Making good intentions is very important to me. Therefore, starting with Bismillah and doing quiet dzikirs while cooking has made cooking a more special experience for me. Cooking also has made me discover and learn more about myself. I’ve learned that I dislike following rules and prefer to experiment different ways to create something. I’ve also learned that I am a detailed person because of the time I spent on arranging and presenting my dishes in the most appealing way possible. I’m also a visual learner, therefore following step by step instructions can be quite frustrating. All my recipes are illustrated and colorful; it sure is a more fun way to cook.

You recently started Asha & Co. Tell us more about Asha & Co. and your journey.

Asha & Co. was a vision I had for more than a year back in late 2014. It’s a concept leaned on the idea of growth and embracing progress over perfection. I’ve always had an idea of gathering people in a positive environment and doing purposeful activities together. In fact, I had many ideas and was constantly talking about it to my closest friends and families. Everybody was supportive and encouraged me to pursue whatever that I had in mind. Of course, there were always a few skeptics, but they were not the barriers to me. My biggest barrier was myself. I was the only thing that was preventing me from going out to do whatever I wanted. My parents were divorced since I was really young, so growing up I did felt a sense of loss and often struggled with my self-esteem. I was always clouded by doubt. Every time I made a decision to take a step forward with my ideas, I see myself quickly retreating back into my comfort zone. I feared that things would not work out. Failure was something I was not ready to accept. Retreating back to my comfort zone also meant that I would continue drawing out my ideas and thoughts in my diary but never take action. One day, my husband and I were having a conversation on things we’ve always wanted to do in our lives. I shared my drawings and ideas excitedly until he asked, “So when are you going to start?” in which my reply was, “No, I don’t think I can do it”. His next question was, “Why do you think so? I think you should give yourself a chance”. I remembered not being able to sleep that night, thinking about the conversation I had with him. The next thing I knew, he took my list of things I would have needed to start a cooking class and we bought all the things we needed. We signed up for a food handling and hygiene course and I gained more knowledge and confidence along the way. You can say that it was the push that I desperately needed. An affirmation and reassurance that I could really go do it. He would always say, “I don’t care if you fail. I’ll be proud that you tried”. I guess that gave me the extra courage I needed to take the leap of faith.

Asha & Co. hopes to be that place of affirmations. We want our sessions to be a safe place for adults to rediscover themselves and learn new skills. Embracing growth and valuing progress over perfection is something truly personal for me. I know many brave adults want to go out and do everything they’ve ever dreamed of, but like me, they too need an extra gentle push. I want to let them know that they’re not alone. The journey has been such a meaningful experience thus far. While I encourage other people to choose growth and not be focused on perfection, I see myself growing and learning from other people as well. It is truly a rewarding experience.

Did you face difficulties? How did you overcome them?

To say there were no difficulties would be impossible! It is part and parcel of starting something new. It is impossible to get everything right the first time. I’ve had to improve my ideas on the ground, manage my expectations, learn to be more flexible and embrace diversity. In my sessions, I meet different personalities and people from all walks of life. Being professional yet personable can be challenging on days when you are sick or in a bad mood. When this happens, I remind myself of my intentions and the beauty of ikhlas. At the end of the day, people will remember you for the things you said or do for them, so how would we want to be remembered then? I’ve also learned that there is no obstacle or difficulty too big that has no solution. With time, experience and thirst for knowledge, one can only get better. My biggest obstacle, however, was to battle my inner demons. It’s the voice that tells you that you can’t do it, or tells you to procrastinate and to give up when it gets challenging. I’ve got to admit there were plenty occasions when I felt doubtful of myself. When that happens, I pause and allow myself to take a step back and evaluate the situation. Why do I feel this way? Is it just one factor or are there many factors contributing to me feeling this way? I go back to my monthly balance chart to see if there is something I could do to take my mind off the negative feelings. I make a conscious effort to have more conversations with Allah. I am quite a big crybaby so I would always end up bawling and telling Him about my day, my fears and things I’m upset about. Talking it out makes me feel much better, and who better to talk all your woes than to The Greatest Listener? When I’ve had my space and am more in tune with myself, I am able to approach whatever struggles I face with a more positive and healthy mindset, therefore make better decisions.

What’s the most beautiful moment you’ve experienced during your workshops? Tell us in detail why it left such an indelible impression on you. How did you feel?

Every session I host is beautiful in its own way and leaves great memories. However, the most memorable thus far would probably be when I hosted my first ever bachelorette party cooking session. When I first introduced bachelorette cooking sessions, I knew I wanted it to be more than just laughter and fun.

Asha & Co. strives to be more than just your regular workshop. I wanted my sessions to be relatable and applicable to our daily lives. I also wanted people to walk out of my sessions feeling more confident and positive about themselves. Since parties are usually celebrated with the people we love, I wanted to make it as meaningful as possible. I had prepared a simple game for my guests to play and interact with each other while we were preparing ingredients and cooking. The game consisted of questions that each of them had to ask each other in order to get ingredients to proceed with subsequent steps for cooking. The questions that were asked were:

(1) Tell me something you like about me.

(2) Tell me something I do not know about you.

(3) Tell me something we share in common.

Although they seemed like pretty simple questions, and I was initially quite anxious because the group had known each other for more than 15 years, I was pleasantly surprised and touched when they started sharing and acknowledging each other. It seemed that although they had gone through many experiences growing up together, there were still some things that they did not know about each other and things that they had never expressed to each other. I remembered how the bride-to-be expressed her gratitude on how her friends were there for her when she was facing a difficult moment in her life. The group of friends started thanking each other. There was laughter from reminiscing memorable memories, tears of joy and plenty of hugs throughout the cooking session. The 4 hours we spent made me feel like I’ve known them for a long time and seeing them expressing their love for each other has got to be one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had running Asha & Co.

It is in the littlest of moments like the smile of confidence when someone who had always been terrified of cooking looks at the dishes he/she has cooked, when a participant that I’ve just met opens up and shares with me special moments or struggles they are facing or when someone tells me that they feel relax and rejuvenated after our sessions. These are the moments I hold on to dearly and is my driving force to keep doing what I do.

Who inspires you the most? Why?

Two people; my mother and Khadija bint Khuwaylid (RA), our beloved Prophet Muhammad’s (SAW) first wife.

My mother inspires me because she was the one who gave birth to me and raised me to be the person I am today. I grew up seeing her struggle. She raised my younger siblings and me after my father left us. She never once complained or spoke about her problems to us. There were times where I saw her crying herself to sleep and hiding overdue bills from us. Although she never pampered us with luxuries because we could never afford it, my mother tried her best to be present for us despite juggling a few jobs at a time. She was always there during my lowest like my first ever heartbreak and always embraced me with a smile and a hug whenever I celebrated milestones in my life. When I was a young girl, I remembered teasing her wrinkly, rough and dry hands. My mother would always laugh and say, “I do have hands of an old woman, don’t I?” As I grew older, I quickly realized that her frail and wrinkly hands were a sign of the long hours of her working tirelessly to provide for us. She was resilient. My mother was courageous and patient with whatever tests Allah gave her. I can only pray that I can be at least half as great as she is. She continues to inspire me to be the best version of myself. She reminds me that every test that comes my way is a blessing in disguise. Even if I had to stand alone, she tells me to stand tall for what is right. She teaches me that it is better to have little than to have everything because if we cannot be grateful for the little blessings, how can we possibly be grateful for the bigger things Allah has in store for us? Allah tests those who are patient, and with patience comes great reward. I pray Allah blesses and rewards my beloved mother with the highest of heavens. May He keep her safe and happy and may I always be her daughter that brings comfort and joy to her heart, InshaaAllah!

my mother inspires me because she was the one who gave birth to me and raised me to be the person I am today…

intrigued by how Khadija bint Khuwaylid (RA) has continued to be one of the most inspiring women of all time …

My second inspiration would be Khadija bint Khuwaylid (RA), the wife of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW). I remembered reading about her and I was so intrigued by how a woman who had lived many years ago has continued to be one of the most inspiring women of all time. Khadija (RA) was well known to be a successful and esteemed business woman. She was also an exemplary wife, especially when she comforted her husband and encouraged him during the most difficult days of his life. She was the first Muslim and the first to accept Prophet Muhammad (SAW) as the final prophet of God. She accepted the revelations that culminated into the Quran. She was well known to be a generous woman who gave her worldly riches to those in need. To me, Khadija (RA) is one of the greatest examples of what a pious, modest and courageous woman can accomplish. May we strive to emulate her character and be reminded of the great examples and lessons she has left us.

Above all, I strongly believe that inspiration will not come unless you seek it. There are plenty of things and everyday people I meet that have been a source of inspiration to me. From listening and having conversations with people, be it with my loved ones or strangers, I’ve learned that every person we meet is truly an answer to our prayers and nothing is ever a coincidence. Therefore, listening and observing are two important qualities to me, and once we start practicing more of these two important skills, we will realize that inspiration is almost everywhere. We just have to pay attention.

What’s your favorite verse from the Quran and why?

To be honest, I don’t have a particular verse. To me, the Quran is a penawar (cure) of all diseases and is filled with abundance of rahmah (mercy). To me, each verse in the Quran is something that we are in need of or will be able to relate in our lives at one time or another. We tend to find the most meaning and comfort in verses that we can relate back to the everyday blessings or challenges Allah blesses us with currently.

Surah Al Baqarah verse (2:186), “And when My servants ask you, [O Muhammad], concerning Me – indeed I am near. I respond to the invocation of the supplicant when he calls upon Me. So let them respond to Me [by obedience] and believe in Me that they may be [rightly] guided. (2:186)” is something I feel deeply for and gives me great solace.

When Allah says “I am indeed near”, it feels as if He is talking to us directly and emphasizes on the closeness. We may make mistakes all the time and sometimes our pride and ego get in our way; we may think that Allah will never listen to our duas. We may be on the brink of giving up hope and decide to stop asking Allah to bless us with a child, to ease us from our debts or to bless us with the job of our dreams. This verse reminds me that Allah does not have any conditions to hear us if only we seek Him. Allah is Ar-Rahman and Ar-Rahim, the All Merciful and All Beneficient. He is also Al-Ghaffar and Al-Wahab, the Most Forgiving and The Giver of All. I always end up asking myself, “Then why are you not asking Him?”. This verse reminds me that whenever I feel low, distant and disconnected from Allah, it isn’t because He isn’t listening because indeed He is near. It is me that has to work on my relationship and walk towards Him.

What do you want to say to people who want to choose growth and seek ‘progress over perfection’?

That it’s definitely not going to be easy. There will be days when you will feel like giving up and start comparing yourself with others. When that happens, remind yourself that you are doing the best you can and that your best is enough. That it is perfectly okay to be vulnerable. Whoever said growth was only meant to be a strict uphill climb? Never resort to comparing someone else’s middle to your beginning. Remember that we all have our own set of struggles and we all deal with our struggles differently. So just do you, and do you well. Growing isn’t only about trying new things; rather it is improving the way we do things in our daily routines. It also means appreciating the beauty of progress and accepting setbacks as feedback. How do you embrace progress over perfection? You have to be truly present in the moment and acknowledge the little milestones. Good intentions play a significant role in achieving growth. Hence, it is always important to take time evaluating our intentions and checking in on ourselves. Sometimes intentions change so it is absolutely fine to renew our intentions as well. Above all, Allah never expects perfection from us, because He created us to be flawed beings. Allah only wants us to try our best, and InshaaAllah, He will reward us for our sincere intentions and consistent efforts.

Any last words?

The first place we lose the battle is in our mind. What we dwell on is what we are inviting in. Our minds are like the bulls eye of syaitan’s target. If it can control your thoughts, it will eventually control your life. Never agree with fear. If we refuse to agree with our fears, the only way it can become a reality is if Allah gives it the permission. And Allah’s permission has always been in our favor, never against us. So just start or start all over again and start with good intentions. InshaaAllah, He will guide you through every step of your way.

Asha & Co. was created for like minded individuals with a variety of skills and interests to meet and grow together through interactive experiences. Through soul sessions, be it cooking, art, crafting and more, Asha & Co hopes to inspire one soul at a time; in embracing the journey of growth in our every day. Asha & Co believes in creating a safe environment for learning and growing through shortcomings, exchanging ideas, creating new ideas and exploring our greater potential.

 

Contact information:

IG: @ashaadn

Email: ask.ashanco@gmail.com

Website: ashaandco.com

Upcoming sessions:

Soul Cooking Sessions:

Thai Series 1: 14th August 2016

Thai Series 2 (new**): 31st July 2016, 20th August 2016

Traditional Malay Series: 21st August 2016

Soul Art Session:

Cards of Affirmation- A journey to basic watercolour (Artist: Liow Yeng Lin): 13th August 2016