Ramadan Stories of Gratitude, a Labor of Love that Resonates All Year
November 23, 2021
When Salma Hasan Ali’s children were small, she liked to start new family traditions for the month of Ramadan. One year, they did a good deed each day – “30 days, 30 deeds.” They did small things, like spending time with a grandparent or helping a neighbor.
Ali wanted her kids to know that “you don’t need to change the world for it to be meaningful or have an impact. Start with your own family, with your own neighborhood, with your community, and find small ways to make someone’s life a little bit better.”
The tradition evolved, and the following year, she came up with a new practice: “30 days, 30 gratitudes,” a list of what they were grateful for each day. The lists turned into a blog. Before long, it went viral. “Neighbor to neighbor, friend to friend, the posts were shared,” she said. “People all over the world were reading it, from Australia to Zambia. The emails I would get is, ‘We don’t celebrate Ramadan, but we look forward to it because we get to share in this.’”
“It’s not a blog about Ramadan, it’s not a religious blog as such, it really is about the things we have in common, the things unite us, the things that make us human,” Ali said. “Sharing stories is such a powerful way for us to get to know one another.”
The blog is now a beautiful, handmade book: “30 Days – Stories of Gratitude, Traditions and Wisdom.” The project emerged while Ali and her family were isolated during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it became an international effort. Ali, whose family emigrated to the U.S. from Pakistan when she was 7 years old, enlisted Afghan artist Sughra Hussainy for the book’s delicate calligraphy, connected with a group of artisans in Bangladesh to hand-stitch the pages together, and invited contributors including renown Bangladeshi photojournalist Shahidul Alam.
One of Ali’s favorite stories in the book involves a Catholic woman who reached out after reading her blog online. The woman, who had only heard Islam described in a negative light, was distraught that her 19-year-old daughter had fallen in love with a Muslim man and wanted to convert to Islam.
“So I sent her some book ideas and connected her with people that she could speak to, and we start this online friendship,” Ali said. Over time, as the woman read more, got to know Ali and met her future son-in-law’s family, she came to support her daughter’s journey. “And now she speaks to the media and to church groups about the Islam that she’s come to know.”
Ramadan begins on April 2 next year, but Ali’s book resonates far beyond Islam’s holy month. From Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, Hanukkah to Winter Solstice to Christmas, themes of gratitude are plentiful this time of year. Ali hopes her book will be a timely gift for people of any faith who want to spread some cheer this winter.
“In our faith tradition, there’s a hadith that says making someone smile is a form of charity,” Ali says.