In an effort to share the essence of the month of Ramadan with my children, we’ve been keeping a “30 days” blog for the past three years (www.30days30deeds.com). I wanted to help the kids understand that in addition to fasting, this month is about doing good deeds, about expressing gratitude, about praying sincerely for yourself and for others. Keeping a blog helps us stay mindful and think about these issues each day. The first year we decided to do one good deed each day—30 days, 30 deeds.
We spent the month sharing moon and star shaped cookies with neighbors, hosting an interfaith iftar, making and selling greeting cards for charity, walking at suhoor to raise money for children in Somalia, planting trees, and taking cupcakes to homeless shelters. The idea was not to come up with grand service projects each day, but to realize that there’s so much we can do in our daily actions and in our own home that qualify as good deeds. That living with compassion is a conscious choice, but one that is easy to fulfill. With each entry we included a verse from the Qur’an or Hadith that related to that deed. Some days, Saanya (17) and Zayd (11) simply spent time with their grandparents, doing science experiments with their Nunno’s help, teaching Nani computer skills, listening to stories, inevitably making them smile. As Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, even a smile is a form of charity.
Last year we focused on gratitude—30 days, 30 gratitudes. Each day we wrote about one thing that we were grateful for. The list ranged from universal themes like food and water; to deeply personal issues like the tight embrace of family during a frightening health scare; to more everyday pleasures that we take for granted—in Saanya’s case, a “Downton Abbey” marathon! The most poignant entries were letters of gratitude that the kids wrote and had a chance to read out loud. Zayd wrote to his Nunno. “I wanted to tell you that I am very grateful that you are my grandpa…Without your help I could not have done any of the experiments I can now. Especially snap circuits, but I still have trouble with those.” We don’t often take the time to express how we feel about people we care about. As studies have shown, expressing gratitude is not only good for our health and mood; but writing gratitude letters and reading them aloud to the recipient increases our happiness even more. I can assure you Nunno was beaming, and Zayd felt really good too. We’ve tried to continue in a gratitude journal, especially during trying times. There is always something to be grateful for, and that lesson is perhaps best learned through deliberate practice.
This year, it’s “30 days, 30 duas (prayers)”. Each night we say a special prayer for someone we love, discuss a situation around the world that needs our prayers, or recite a Qur’anic dua (supplication) to help guide and protect us. When I asked Zayd if there is one thing that he could create by praying really sincerely for it, what would it be, he wrote: “My dua is that Allah keeps all the animals in the world out of harm’s way and that all animals can live the lives they are supposed to live.” Saanya is in the midst of thinking about colleges. Her dua: “I pray to God to let this application process go smoothly…that my SAT scores are good enough and that my GPA holds up through first semester senior year.”
It’s not always easy to write these entries. After all, prayers are deeply personal, sometimes painful, and usually said in a private, intimate moment with our Creator.. But it’s the personal that helps us connect with each other, to understand one another better, to build compassion and empathy, and ultimately love. And that too is the essence of Ramadan. As one reader beautifully wrote, “whatever each of us can contribute to the ocean of goodness can be a part of the wave that refreshes and rejuvenates us collectively.” It is this very same shared humanity that brings us together across faith. Another reader shared, “I am a Hindu and reading the blog made me reflect not only on life and how I conduct mine, but made me realize (again) how much our religions have in common, especially the parts about the earth, about knowledge, about mothers, about gratitude, and about the greatness of God.”
While we haven’t managed to keep every fast, we have tried to live a little kinder, a little gentler, with a little more gratitude. And on this annual spiritual journey, we will keep trying.
Salma Hasan Ali is a Washington, DC based freelance writer, Contributing Editor of The Islamic Monthly, and Chief Inspiration Officer of MoverMoms, an NGO that promotes service. Her Ramadan blog is at www.30days30deeds.com.