Each Ramadan for the past seven years, I’ve been keeping a blog to share the essence of the month. Ramadan is about so much more than just not eating or drinking; it’s about gratitude and giving, about compassion and community, about taking care of each other while we focus on becoming our best selves. The first year, my kids and I decided to do one good deed each day; the blog became “30 days 30 deeds”. We’ve had a different theme each year, from 30 gratitudes, to 30 traditions, to 30 inspiring stories. The blog has gained a loyal international following of Muslims and non-Muslims alike, from Azerbaijan to Zambia; I think It speaks to the power of personal storytelling as a way to bring us closer together. This year the theme is 30 refugee stories, as Ramadan is also about caring for our neighbors, near and far. These are stories of refugees I’ve had the privilege of meeting in camps in Athens and Lesbos and in my own Washington, DC community. As we approach World Refugee Day on June 20th, please join me in sharing these stories, and in letting our new friends know that they’re not alone.
There is the story of the Syrian dressmaker who had a lingerie factory in Homs and used to make wedding dresses. His factory was bombed, his family fled to Egypt, and now lives in the U.S. Last month, a bride asked him to make her wedding dress. “If you take a blood test from me, you’ll see making dresses is in my blood,” he told me. He hopes this dress is the first step to achieving his dream of having his own tailoring business. “I came here not to rely on someone else, but to rely on myself and on my work.”
Fahim used to be a professional soccer player in Afghanistan, but was forced to flee when he started getting death threats from the Taliban and was attacked several times. Now he lives in a container at a refugee camp outside Athens, and coaches the kids at the camp, who simply adore him. All he wants is to see his mother in Germany, whom he hasn’t seen in almost five years. “My goal is my mother,” he told me. “First my mother. Then my football and my futures.”
Hoda shared with me her harrowing journey from Syria to Lesbos with her three children, one of whom is autistic; at one point, the smuggler even told her to leave her child behind. Despite it all she said, “This is a test from God, yani you have to be patient and deal with all the issues of life. Everything that comes from God, you have to accept; this is fate.”
Mohammad loves to play the tambor and wants more than anything for his children to go to a good school. We shared a cup of Syrian coffee together in his apartment in Athens, and when I commented on his wife Manal’s delicious coconut cookies, they gave me the entire plate to take home, and a second plate to take back to my family in the U.S. There is a lack of so much here, but hospitality overfloweth.
These are stories of immense courage, faith and forbearance; of hope, hospitality and perseverance. It is these stories that the world needs to hear, allowing ‘refugees’ to become neighbors.
Please read these and other stories on the ‘30 days 30 deeds’ blog at www.salmahasanali.com