Four years ago, Salma Hasan Ali began writing a blog called “30 Days, 30 Deeds” to share the essence of the month-long Muslim holiday Ramadan with her children (www.30days30deeds.com). Her writings reveal a heartfelt exploration of Ramadan, but also give insight into the life of a mother seeking to inspire her children to understand the true meaning of performing good deeds, expressing gratitude, saying prayers and practicing charity.
The blog and her subsequent blogs were created initially for family and friends but now have attracted thousands of readers, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, from around the world. Ali is planning to gather the blogs into a book — or a series of her writings, along with the meaningful responses that have emanated from “FOS” — “Fans of Salma.”
Ramadan, the Arabic word for “scorching heat”, is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. The Quran (Holy Book) was revealed to Prophet Muhammad during this month. During the 30 days of Ramadan, Muslims are required to fast from dawn to sunset. In addition to fasting from food and water, Muslims are supposed to “fast” from other negative behaviors. The idea of Ramadan is to focus on prayer and redirect oneself from worldly activities towards more spiritual reflection. The fast cultivates compassion, generosity and good deeds.
“Ramadan makes you calm down and understand and appreciate all that you have,” said Ali. “When you don’t eat for almost 16 hours, that first bite is so delicious. Fasting is difficult, but it teaches you patience and self-restraint. It truly makes you understand how those who live with constant hunger must feel, and makes you grateful for all that you have. Ramadan is about compassion, doing good, and being mindful of your attitude and interactions with others.
“I first started the blog to teach and to remind my children that they should do a good deed each day for the 30 days of Ramadan. We discussed how it does not have to be a grand gesture. Sitting down and talking with grandparents is a good deed, helping a parent or sibling is positive – in our faith, even a smile is a form of charity. Through these experiences I’m hoping my children will have a better understand of the meaning of Ramadan, and become closer to their faith. Hopefully, by reading simple, honest, personal stories, other readers will also get a better understanding of our faith and values.”
One of her most devoted followers is Gayle Damelin, who comments, “I’m Jewish but anxiously await Ramadan each year so I can follow this blog because I know that I will revel in it, learn a lot and have my soul strengthened and rejuvenated.”
A Muslim reader from Houston, Shazma Matin wrote, “The blog has become a staple part of my ‘diet’ every Ramadan.”
Each year, Ali changes the theme of her blog. Three years ago, it was “30 Days, 30 Gratitudes.” The following year it was “30 Days, 30 Duas” (Prayers) and this year it is “30 Days, 30 Traditions.” In this year’s blog, she is asking “guest bloggers” to share family traditions that make their Ramadan more meaningful and unique. Next year, her topic will be “30 Days, 30 Inspiring Stories.”
Ali has been encouraged by the reception the blog has received. She was invited to talk about the blog on a panel on social media at the United Nations. The blog has also received media attention, including through Karen Armstrong’s Charter for Compassion. But the most rewarding part, Ali says, has been receiving emails from people of different faiths, in the U.S. and around the world, expressing their understanding of how much we all have in common, no matter what faith we practice.
Ali moved to the U.S. from Pakistan at an early age. She majored in political science at Columbia College and did her Master’s degree at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs in New York City. She worked as a writer, editor and communications expert for international organizations in Geneva, Paris and Stockholm. She is currently a freelance writer, contributing editor of The Islamic Monthly and author of many articles for journals and magazines, including “Pakistan on the Potomac” for Washingtonian magazine (http://www.washingtonian.com/articles/people/pakistan-on-the-potomac) and “Not My Mother’s Ramadan” for More magazine (http://www.more.com/news/womens-issues/not-my-mothers-ramadan.) In this article she describes the holiday, “This annual spiritual journey is boot camp for my soul." She is also chief inspiration officer for MoverMoms, an active service organization in Montgomery County. She is married to Arif Ali and they have two children, Saanya and Zayd, and a large extended family in the area.
Below are two entries from Ali’s blog that explain why her writing gives so much insight to so many:
Day 12: Caring 101 (from 30 days 30 deeds)
Aug. 12, 2011
Be conscious of God wherever you are, follow up a bad deed with a good one and it will wipe it out, and treat people well.” Hadith
Before we left home, I had a long conversation with my 9-year-old Zayd. I explained to him that we were going to Staples to shop for school supplies for deserving children in Montgomery County. I asked him gently to please not ask for anything for himself, that this trip was about doing something good for someone else. I reminded him that I’ve already ordered his school supplies and that they would be sitting on his desk on the first day of school. And of course I told him that he really didn’t need any more pens or pencils – our house is overflowing with them. So what happens within the first minute of walking into Staples. “Mama, pleeeeezzz, I really need the mechanical pencils with the extra thick lead that never break.” Deep breath.
Zayd was in charge of selecting the supplies. I showed him the sale circular, so he could choose more items for the $20 we had planned to spend. We walked aisle by aisle. He selected notebooks, loose leaf paper, pencil boxes, pens, pencils — stopping to ask if he could get this or that every time something exciting caught his eye. Deep breath. How do we explain to our children to not want everything, all the time. How do we teach them that most of the children in the world have far less, and are far more content. We managed to make it to the cash register with just items to donate in our trolley.
As I reached for my credit card, Zayd pulled out a $20 bill from his pocket. “I’d like to buy this with my Eidee money, mama.” Smile. Day 12: Deed 12: Back to school shopping for kids in need. http://30days30deeds.com/2011/08/12/day-12-caring-101/
Day 19: Our Own Paths to God (from 30 days 30 duas)
July 27, 2013
Three years ago, I got a Facebook message from someone I didn’t know, but who had read a piece I had written in MORE magazine about a day in the life of our family during Ramadan.*
The reader wrote, “Please accept my intrusion on your privacy, but I read about you online and I read your article ‘Not My Mother’s Ramadan.’ I am a Catholic woman with a 19-year-old daughter who told me two weeks ago that she is in the process of converting to become a Muslim. With that sentence, I will tell you that I am afraid, concerned, confused, cautious, curious and searching for answers and direction.”
She wrote that she is a devout Christian and head of religious education at her church. Her family life centered around the church. Her daughter sang in the choir, was a teen leader in the youth group, and taught religious classes to the younger children. She said that all she knew about Islam was what she heard on TV or read in the newspapers. That she was scared.
We started an online conversation, which continues today, although we’ve never met. I tried to answer her questions, provide some resources and contacts. We journeyed together as her daughter converted to Islam; met a Muslim man; got married.
Recently I got this message from her: “My recent trip to Turkey for my daughter’s Nikkah was an amazing experience. Every day there was something new to learn and to experience about Islam. I can honestly say I am at peace with my daughter’s decision. She will no longer be my Catholic daughter. Yet somehow I realize and accept that we can follow our own paths to God.”
My dua, that we try and understand one another, respect one another, make space for one another.
And in the words of a wise, devout, loving mother, “realize and accept that we can follow our own paths to God.”
Day 19, Dua 19: Respect one another
PS: The reader now shares her experience with the Islam she has come to understand with her church group, the media and others. She wrote, “I think that in a very small way I too have been working at dispelling misperceptions.” Ameen.
Follow Salma Hasan Ali’s blog at www.30days30deeds.com.