Ramadan wisdoms

30days30deeds” is a Ramadan blog created by Salma Hasan Ali to share the essence of the month through personal stories of gratitude, compassion and tradition. This year Salma has collected wisdoms passed down from elders to their loved ones—one wisdom for each day of Ramadan. AltMuslimah would like to share two of these pieces of sage advice with you.

God has to sprinkle his favors on everyone.

Growing up, I was a quiet, reserved girl, happier studying than socializing. I wasn’t one of the cool kids or a theater geek who came alive on stage or a girl who was admired for her athletic abilities, so doing well academically became my ‘thing.’ I got used to getting straight As.

Until my sophomore year in college, that is. I took Astronomy to fulfill a science requirement, assuming the material wouldn’t be as challenging as the other science classes and would help me maintain my GPA.  When the professor handed back my final exam with a red C+ scrawled across the top, I was mortified!

I used to commute from Columbia University to my family’s New Jersey home each day; that afternoon, tears streamed throughout the ninety minute ride home, first on the #1 train, then the A train and finally the 84 bus. I scuttled upstairs to my mom’s room, collapsed on her bed, and, in a quivering voice, told her what had happened — that my GPA was ruined, my dreams crushed, my future dimmed (yes, I was a classic overly dramatic 19-year-old!).

My mom listened calmly, not at all phased by my histrionics. And then she said, “Beta, Allah has to sprinkle his favors on everyone. He can’t have you excelling in English, History, Math … and Astronomy. He has to be fair and make someone else good at some things.”

It sounded logical enough. My tears began to dry up and I thought to myself; perhaps I was being presumptuous to think that I should receive all of God’s favors. It’s a wisdom I’ve turned to over and over again when things haven’t gone my way, on exams or interviews or life. I’ve shared the sentiment with my own kids too. Don’t expect to be good at everything; focus on what comes naturally to you and what you’re willing to work hard for, and leave some of the favors for others to enjoy.

Thanks, Mom.

This plate of food is like heaven, you have to sweep it clean.

My niece Mariya, who is visiting from Calcutta, India, was cooking kheer (rice pudding)as she told me this story. “When we were younger, Mummy and Amma (grandmother) would tell me and my sisters, ‘Consider this plate of food to be heaven; you certainly can’t leave heaven dirty, so you have to eat every morsel off this plate.’”

Jannat ko jharu daina hai,” her mother and grandmother would say. You must sweep heaven clean.

The wisdom, learned at such a young age, still remains engrained in my niece, as I noticed during Mariya’s visit. Mariya finishes every last bite on her plate, even if she’s stuffed, and what isn’t eaten is repurposed–two-day old roast chicken gets revived into chicken cutlets, while over-baked cookies become a bus ride snack. 

“I even have to catch myself on a plane from telling fellow passengers, ‘No, no, don’t open your meal if you’re not going to eat it or keep that yogurt container for later!’” she laughs.

Cooking and hospitality prevail in our family. Mariya’s grandmother (my father’s sister) was a legendary cook. So incredible in fact, that when a girl’s family was entertaining a proposal from a boy’s family, they would come to Mariya’s grandmother and ask her to prepare her famous murgh musallam, a chicken marinated in ginger-garlic paste with the two boiled eggs stuffed deep inside. She’d happily oblige every request and cook the dish with such love that the boy’s family, assuming the girl in question had prepared it, would be impressed! “At least six or seven marriages have resulted from my grandmother’s cooking,” Mariya laughs.

Even when Amma was bedridden and suffering from dementia, if a visitor came to see her, her first question to her family would be “Kuch Khilaya?” – have you served them anything? No one could leave her house unfed, and no morsel of food would go to waste.

Friends, a request from Mariya. It has been 18 years since Mariya’s mother disappeared. Mariya was 13-years-old when she, her sisters, and mother were covering school books with paper. They were three books short and Mariya’s mom left to buy more paper. She stepped out in her slippers just taking a few rupees, not even her wallet. She never returned. There was a two-year intensive search for her at the time, with no leads. Mariya has revived the search and asks that we share this tweet on social media in case anyone has any information. Thank you. 

Salma Hasan Ali has a storytelling consulting practice where she helps businesses, nonprofits and individuals tell their ‘story’, helps lead a nonprofit called KindWorks that promotes community service, and writes personal essays to help us understand each other better. You can read her stories and follow all 30 wisdoms on her website or on social media @salmahasanali. Please share your own wisdoms from elders in the comments.

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