30 Days, in Review

familycircleRamadan Kareem everyone. The 30 days blog is back iA. This is our sixth year; I had no idea when we started this blog that it would evolve into such a tradition, gain an international following, and encourage people of all faiths to pause, reflect, and connect. Alhumdulillah. This year, Ramadan Legacy, the ‘world’s first fully featured app for Ramadan’, asked to include ’30days30deeds.com’ as content on its app, which will introduce the blog to thousands more readers around the world.

It feels appropriate this year to take a look back and see how the blog has evolved, thanks to your loyal support. Join us as we spotlight our favorite stories from ‘deeds’, ‘gratitudes’, ‘duas’, ‘traditions’, and ‘inspiring stories’; add new posts for each theme; and share comments and highlights from the past five years.

And stay tuned as we continue this 30-day tradition, post-Ramadan. During this U.S. election year and given the discourse around Muslims, we will share the ordinary and extraordinary stories of 30 American Muslims, from Eid until Election Day.

30 Days. In Review. InshAllah.


Photo: Shahidul Alam

Photo: Shahidul Alam

Abdul Sattar Edhi, arguably the world’s greatest and least known humanitarian, passed away last Friday; he was 88 years old. Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un (“We surely belong to Allah and to Him we shall return”). Some people called Edhi a saint, others called him maulana (Islamic scholar); but the children he cared for – the thousands of abandoned, orphaned, destitute children in Edhi centers around Pakistan — simply called him ‘Abbuji’ (respected father). The loss feels so heavy, the shoes seem impossible to fill. But Edhi’s inspiration provides each of us with a challenge — to live more kindly, to do more to lift each other up, to care more deeply, for each being, regardless.

Edhi took care of Pakistan’s desperate young and old for over 60 years. He and his wife Bilquis built a nationwide health and welfare organization consisting of ambulances, clinics, orphanages, homes for the physically handicapped, shelters for runaway children, blood banks, mortuaries, adoption agencies, animal shelters, drug addiction programs, and much more. In a country that lacks adequate facilities for the welfare of its most vulnerable citizens, Pakistanis depended on Edhi to fill the void.

In 1951, Edhi, then 23, used some of his savings to buy an 8-foot square run down shop in the poor neighborhood of Mithadar in Karachi. He set up a dispensary open to everyone, rich or poor, Muslim or not. He slept on a cement bench outside so he could be available at all times. A sign outside read, “Those who give charity are blessed, those who do not are also blessed.” His goal was to change people’s attitudes toward the poor and marginalized; “to get rid of man’s disgust towards human suffering,” as he put it in his autobiography “Mirror to the Blind”. He realized that he had to start with himself and show people through his own example. “From this day onwards, there is no difference in what I am, and what the people see. There will be no expenses on my person and therefore, no contradiction. My home will be open, my life will be the life of the people,” he wrote.

Edhi attributed his sense of compassion to his mother. Each day before school, his mother would give him two paisas and tell him to spend one on himself and the other on someone in need. When he returned home, the first thing she would ask is how he had spent the money; and scold him if he hadn’t found anyone to help. His mother became paralyzed with diabetes; Edhi took care of her, feeding and bathing her emaciated body. In caring for his mother, he likely imbibed the lessons that guided his life’s work: to value life no matter how frail; to give people dignity in life and in death; to care for those whom society has disregarded. The night his mother died, Edhi committed his life to serving humanity.

Edhi’s first ambulance was a dented blue car bought in 1957 from donations by a local businessman, on which he painted “Poor Man’s Van”. He drove it himself night and day, taking the injured to the hospital and unclaimed bodies for washing and burial. “I brought back bloated, drowned bodies from the sea. Black bodies that crumbled with one touch. I picked them up from rivers, from inside wells, from roadsides, accident sites and hospitals. I picked them up from manholes and gutters, from under bridges, from railway bogies, from tracks, water sheds and drains. I brought them home, to my work force, spreading the stench in the air forever. Then I bathed and cared for each and every victim of circumstance, just like I had done for my mother,” he wrote in his autobiography.

Today, there are more than 2,000 ambulances; it’s considered the largest volunteer ambulance fleet in the world.

I first traveled to Pakistan to interview Edhi in March 2009. When I arrived in Karachi, I called Anwer Kazmi, Edhi’s right hand man for 40 years, to ask the address of the center; he said just tell the driver “Edhi” and he’ll know where to bring you. Everyone in Pakistan knows Edhi. I was dropped off at a dilapidated, small, corner, white-washed ground floor office buzzing with activity. Several ambulances were parked outside. I immediately noticed the cradle in front, with the words “Do Not Kill”. There is a cradle outside each of the Edhi centers where people can drop off babies that they cannot take care of. Hundreds of babies, mostly girls, are left in these cradles each year; they’re cared for in Edhi orphanages.

A few men were standing behind a wooden counter fielding phone calls; others sat behind donated desks signing off on bills, ordering medicines, or taking donations. Anwer Kazmi was at the center desk, feet on his chair, arms crossed and tucked across his chest, chewing beetlenut, and talking to a reporter. He ordered chai, and we talked about the monumental work that the Edhi Foundation does every day — 800 people are fed at the free soup kitchen in Karachi; 8,500 rotis are cooked daily; 25,000 people are fed at the various centers; 6,000 calls are received for the ambulance service each day. “This is the work of one man,” said Kazmi. “He motivated the people by his commitment, by his vision.”

Edhi was in Islamabad the day I arrived; it was the day of the ‘long march’ of the lawyers’ movement from Lahore to Islamabad; he went to ask for calm, but feared there might be commotion. He returned to Karachi the next day and I was able to interview him then.

“The greatest thing Islam teaches is insanyat (humanity),” Edhi told me. “At the basis of all religions is humanity.”

Edhi lived simply; he slept on a traditional bed covered by a thin mattress, in a room behind his office. He slept only a few hours, ate roti and chai, and spent most of his day on call, available to anyone in need at any time. His manner was straightforward, at times even brusque, as he had no patience for unimportant things; and anything that kept him from caring for someone, tending to someone’s problem or ailment, was unimportant.

To really know Edhi, you had to visit his centers and meet the people he cared for. I spent a day riding in an Edhi ambulance to several centers, meeting the young boy who had run away because he was being beaten and who found refuge and an education; the man with HIV/AIDS who found treatment and a safe haven; the widow abandoned by her family who found shelter and learned a skill; the elderly woman neglected by her children who found solace and dignity. Edhi is captured in each of these stories, and thousands of others like them.

These past few days I’ve been going through photos and notes from my trips and reading Edhi’s book that he signed for me. I miss him deeply, along with millions who cherished him too; I miss what he means for humanity. I feel for the thousands of people for whom he was the one person who cared, the one person who did something to make their life a little easier. One life, each life. There are many who can speak about Edhi much better than I can. But there is one thing I know for sure. He was not Mother Teresa, he was not Father Teresa. He was Edhi. And there will never be another like him.


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Eid Mubarak, and Thank You

FullSizeRender-92Eid Mubarak, my friends. Hope everyone had a wonderful celebration. We had a family-filled, biryani-full, chai-fueled day — it was delightful🙂

I wanted to sincerely thank each of you for following along again this year. It was wonderful to look back at the past six years, share some favorite posts and add new ones to each theme, and see how far the blog has come, due to your loyal support. I never imagined that this family project would grow to become an experience that reaches thousands, of all faiths, in every corner of the world (we even have readers in the Marshall Islands and Comoros!). Alhumdulillah.

Thank you also for posting comments, sharing how the blog has impacted you, and for contributing posts over the years. I wanted to close this year by sharing some of your messages, which mean the world to me and encourage me to continue writing each year, thank you so very much.

It’s been wonderful to hear that the blog has spurred similar projects on different continents. People have started their own 30 deeds and 30 gratitude initiatives, and shared their lists with me. So many non-Muslims have shared how the blog has allowed them to ‘meet’ a Muslim family and to realize how much we have in common. I feel like we’ve built a community, in this vast virtual world, where we can come together and revel in our human connections.

This blog, after all, is not about Muslims or Islam or even Ramadan; it’s about our emotions and hopes, our stories and traditions. I feel, for all of us, our deepest desires and agonizing worries revolve around very similar issues – health of our families, well-being of our children, safety for our loved ones, gratitude for our blessings, compassion for each other, peace for our world. This is what ‘30 days 30 deeds’ is really about.

Thank you sincerely for reading. Until next year, iA.


“I wanted you to know that your writing has been a blessing to me. As a Christian, I don’t have regular contact with the Muslim community. You have helped to reinforce the idea for me that it’s imperative to separate the stories of violence in the news from the stories and lives of peaceful Muslims who make up the majority of the Muslim communities around the world.  I wish more people could know that, and I think that your writing is an important way to get that concept across to non-Muslims. With every example of a Muslim life to be revered, not feared, non-Muslims can come a step closer to understanding the beauty of the Muslim faith.”    –Denise

“Love this site, the ideas and your writing. Thanks for sharing and inspiring, you live up to your title. I lived in the DC area until six years ago, when I moved to Connecticut. Now I’m back and so happy to see initiatives like this in the area. I’m a lawyer, mom of two, and supporter of all ideas that are both compassionate and cool. 30 days, 30 deeds is both and its an idea is simple and do-able by everyone. JUST LOVE IT. Thanks again, keep up the good work.”  — Rabia

You are like a  photographer but instead of creating a picture of the outside, you give us a look on the inside. To make a good picture, a photographer needs a good camera, but above all she needs to have an intelligent, curious, gentle look; a deep and gentle look into people’s lives. This is what makes a great photographer and this is what I feel in your writings too. As a Catholic living in Europe, I read and hear a lot of frightening and pessimistic stories of Muslims and Islam. Unfortunately, this does not lead to anything positive or constructive in the way I want the world to be for my children. Through your writings and the stories full of humanity and good people, I feel strongly that we share the same values; it gives me confidence in the future and confirms that we – Muslims, Jews, Christians, and all other faiths – are part of the solution and not of the problem.  PS: a song by Jacques Brel, “Il Faut Nous Regarder” (We Must Look) was read at our wedding; your blog makes me think of that song.” — Francoise

“The blog has been a staple part of my ‘diet’ every Ramadan.” — Shazma

“I felt that by reading your blog and incorporating some of the things that you were doing with your family and in your community to embrace the spirit of Ramadan we could all connect more both with our own spirituality and with Muslims and Non-Muslims who share the goals of doing good, caring for others, and living each day with an attitude of gratitude. [Your blog] resonated with me as an American Muslim and inspired me as a human being. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and making so many of us feel more connected. In my humble opinion, it is that feeling of connection despite distance of time and place that is the best and most noble byproduct of social media.” — Masu

“You convey so beautifully the energy and enthusiasm of your heroes. We’re all aware that personal experiences determine our feelings, our prejudices. Your writing allows readers to see the beauty in the Muslim people and religion at this terrible time when front page stories recount only radical offenses. Through your narratives and photos, we can feel your joy and respect for your subjects, and feel like we’ve met them ourselves.” — Marsha

“By reading your stories, I can glimpse the lives of extraordinary Muslims, I am reminded that extraordinariness is not the province of particular cultures or religions, just as hate and intolerance are not. Your stories teach us that heroism and grace exist throughout humanity, and we are better humans when we take notice of it wherever it exists.” — Carol

“Your writing is so clear, sincere and heart-felt that just your words inspire people to step up their game. If anyone can get the world to change, it would be you! I am not a Ramadan celebrant. However, this 30 deeds in 30 days phenomenal idea is applicable anytime. Next thing I know – you’ll be starting the 365 deeds in 365 days revolution! I’m Jewish but anxiously await Ramadan each year because I know that I’ll revel in, learn a lot from, and have my soul strengthened and rejuvenated by your blog.” — Gayle

“I lost my faith a long time ago and I miss it sorely. It was a joy in my heart to feel and understand the meaning of your faith for you. I will read each day one of the gratitudes to remind me of our blessings. Thank you.”

‘Make Me Strong’ – Sami Yusuf

sami-salmaSometimes, for all that we try to make sense of things, reason defies us, closure eludes us. This has been a difficult Ramadan, with so much heartache from Istanbul to Baghdad to Orlando to around the world.

Today, I find myself grasping. Not ready to let this blessed month end on this violent note.

I pressed pause. And listened to the music of Sami Yusuf. His new album Barakah includes ‘Ya Rasul Allah‘, which feels especially poignant given tragic events in Medina, as does ‘Mast Qalander‘, after the loss of a great Pakistani Qawwali artist.

But there was one song I had on repeat.

Sometimes, for some time, maybe we just need to let our minds rest, and bandage our hearts with music that soothes.

Take a listen with me.  ‘Make Me Strong’.

My Lord show me right from wrong
Give me light make me strong
I know the road is long
Make me strong
Sometimes it just gets too much
I feel that I’ve lost touch
I know the road is long
Make me strong

Below is my post from last year’s “30 Days 30 Inspiring Stories” on the music and humanitarianism of Sami Yusuf (my longer feature and interview is here).

To be honest, when I first met Sami Yusuf I didn’t fully realize his megastar status. It probably made it easier for me to ask him for an interview. As I was writing a feature on him for “The Islamic Monthly”, I realized just what a superstar he really is — packing concert stadiums around the world, selling over 31 millions albums, having almost seven million Facebook fans, and amassing some impressive titles: “Islam’s biggest rock star”, according to Time magazine, and the “most successful British musician since the Rolling Stones,” according to European channel ARTE Metropolis.

But it is Yusuf’s spiritual approach to his music, his intellectual pursuit for truth and tradition, and his humanitarian work to feed the world’s hungry that is truly inspiring.

“Music is an extension of who I am,” Yusuf tells me, “I’m a lover of the sacred, and music is an expression of my love for God and for the great traditions.”

He calls his genre “Spiritique”, which he explains is a celebration of timeless wisdom. “You can find this wisdom or truth in all the great traditions; it is in Bulleh Shah and Maulana Rumi as well as in the teachings of Aristotle and other Greek philosophers. All that wisdom has a thread of truth in it, it has the sacred in it, and that’s what I’m concerned with.”

“The message that I have, which may be controversial for some, is that all the religions of this world are ultimately expressions of the same truth. We have to be brave enough to believe in our own faiths, but also respect and accept other orthodox traditions. And we have to promote cross-cultural, cross-religious intellectual dialogue.”

My family went to Yusuf’s concert at the Strathmore Music Center near Washington, D.C. last September. He sang a number of songs from his album “The Centre” as well as traditional favorites like “Hasbi Rabbi”. Many of his songs start off in English, and blend into one of the several languages in which he sings, including Arabic, Persian, Azeri, Turkish, Urdu and Malay. He had an easy rapport with his audience and encouraged us to sing along; the D.C. crowd was definitely more tepid than the ones he’s used to in Cairo and Istanbul. But his music had a visible and audible impact. My father-in-law, typically quiet and reserved, was clapping and tapping along; this was the first time he had heard Yusuf’s music and he said he felt uplifted. My husband said he felt more inspired to pray after listening to Yusuf’s music than he does after many Friday khutbahs (sermons).

Yusuf’s new album, “Songs of the Way” is a tribute to his teacher Seyyed Hossein Nasr, who recites several poems in the album. In February, he released what he calls the first interfaith anthem, called “The Gift of Love”, to mark the United Nations’ World Interfaith Harmony Week; Yusuf doesn’t profit from the song but hopes it will become a rallying anthem for peace. He is working with AR Rahman on a soundtrack for a film about Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), and just finished a multi-city sold out European tour.

I asked Yusuf how he stays centered, given his popularity, fame and the temptations of the business. “Meditation, contemplation, reflection and constant remembrance of God,” he says. “There really is no other way.”

Yusuf is the Global Ambassador Against Hunger for the UN World Food Programme. He’s composed and recorded a number of songs to raise awareness and funds to alleviate hunger around the world. In 2011, he composed a song called “Forgotten Promises”, one of my favorite songs and videos by Yusuf; all proceeds were donated to WFP to alleviate hunger in the Horn of Africa. In 2013, he recorded “Silent Words” to support efforts to help Syrian refugees, and in 2014 proceeds from the song “Hope Survives” aided those affected by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

“Charity is a duty,” Yusuf says, “it’s not something we should get an award for.”

Mighty Woman with a Torch

statue-of-libertyHappy Fourth of July everyone. Seems appropriate to share this post today, from ’30 days 30 gratitudes’, on coming to America, visiting Lady Liberty, and remembering those for whom the American dream remains just that, a dream.
We traveled to NY this weekend to show Saanya’s visiting host-sister from Spain a glimpse of the Big Apple and to try to convince my parents to drive back to DC with us for Ramadan.

We spent the day at the Statue of Liberty. I hadn’t seen her up close since I was a child, and she held a whole new meaning for me. To think of all the millions of people from all the distant lands whose deepest desires she holds tight against her chest, stretching one arm high to provide encouragement and strength.

My family’s port of entry to the American dream was not NY harbor but JFK airport. I was seven, my brother nine, when we arrived in this country, leaving behind our family, our home and any sense of belonging. “Where you wanna’ go”, the airport cabbie shouted at my father, as he tossed our suitcases in the trunk. “Take us to a neighborhood that you think would be suitable for my family,” my father said. And so began our journey, almost 40 years ago. (Our full story here: Pakistan on the Potomac)

I thank God for the opportunities this country has provided my family, myself, and my children, the most profound of which is the possibility to dream our destiny, and then set out to make it happen.

As we stood in line that day, parched and hot, inching our way closer, with hundreds of others all speaking different tongues, to add our own whisper of thanks to this ‘mighty woman with a torch’, an old bearded homeless man crouched on the sidewalk was playing a sonorous ‘Star Spangled Banner’ on his flute — a poignant reminder that the promise has not been kept for all.

He’s Still the One

mearifOn our 27th wedding anniversary today, I wanted to share this post from ’30 days 30 gratitudes’. Anniversary celebrations don’t necessarily have to mean romantic dinners for two. For us, the important thing is being together (Arif was supposed to travel to Europe today but he postponed it until tomorrow); having our kids with us (Saanya came home for the weekend!); and having a few moments to be together as a family (we BBQ’d, with Saanya’s NYU friends who came to visit). It was a good day. Alhum.

What do you call your best friend, first love, life partner and rock all in one? I call him my yaar.

We met more than 25 years ago. He was cooking in a dorm room at Columbia. I was dropping off a dish I had prepared for the potluck dinner hosted by the Organization of Pakistani Students. As he likes to tell the story – I walked into the suite, he turned around and saw me, and poured the whole bottle of red pepper in his curry! That evening, he tried to impress me – with his knowledge of world politics, his worldliness, his travels across the globe. I wasn’t the least bit interested. You have to imagine, here’s a guy wearing a blazer, bow tie and suspenders, speaking in a thick English accent, looking and sounding a bit too full of himself; and there I was, shy and reserved, hardly haven spoken to a boy in high school, feeling way too self conscious and nervous, just waiting for an excuse to leave. For the next two years, he persisted – changing his major so he could enroll in the same classes as me, tucking poems and roses in my library locker, being his incredibly charming self with my parents, and convincing me that I could be anything I wanted to be. It was irresistible.

We celebrated 23 years this summer – a life full of travel, fun, adventure, unforgettable experiences, two amazing kids, and yes, some pain and heartache along the way. He still makes me laugh, holds me up when I’d rather fall, polishes off my sensitivities, and lets me believe that I can do anything.


Celebrating Our Prophet

FullSizeRender-80This week, we had the honor of hosting a beautiful event – a celebration of our Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Celebrate Mercy is an organization that teaches about the life and character of the Prophet, and organizes campaigns and projects that put his attributes of compassion, kindness and mercy into practical action. I learned about the organization’s founder Tarek el-Messidi at a talk at Georgetown University last year; since then I’ve been following Celebrating Mercy’s inspiring work. When Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed in an attack at the U.S. Consulate in Libya, Tarek galvanized thousands of Muslims around the world to write condolence letters to his family; when three young Muslim students were killed in North Carolina, he organized canned food drives around the country as a “Feed their Legacy” campaign; when the San Bernardino attack happened, Celebrate Mercy raised over $200,000 for families of the victims. This is truly the example of our Prophet Muhammad – to counteract evil with kindness, hate with mercy. What an honor to host Tarek and to support the work of Celebrate Mercy.

It was a double pleasure because we had the privilege of also hosting one of my personal heroes – Dalia Mogahed. Many of you have seen her on news programs or heard her speak at events and conferences. I am drawn to every event where Dalia is speaking. She moves me – with her intelligence, her eloquence, her poise, her perspective. She gives voice to our story, and sets the record straight, with facts, grace and humor. And on Wednesday evening, her voice hoarse from having spoken at a conference in London all weekend, she moved us all by sharing a personal story of the impact of the seerah (biography of the Prophet) on her life: the day after 9/11, Dalia had moved to a new city, leaving behind all that was familiar. She was angry and depressed by that was happening – the terrorist attacks, the hatred against Muslims, the war on Afghanistan – and felt herself retreating and her heart hardening. Listening to seerahs on tape, a gift from her halaqa group, saved her mind and soul from the assault on her faith and identity, she said. Hearing stories of how Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) dealt with rejection and humiliation by exhibiting dignity and patience “renewed her protective armor on her heart.”

In last year’s blog, we shared 30 inspiring stories of Muslims. We certainly need to add Tarek and Dalia to that list – along with so many others who blessed our home on Wednesday evening. And there’s one more hero of the evening. It turned out that the night before the event, the number of people coming increased manifold. I was nervous about whether we would have enough food, and frantically called the person who was catering. She went out at the last minute and bought more supplies, stayed up all night cooking, missed her job the next day to finish, and prepared a beautiful Moroccan feast that everyone enjoyed. Her name – Khadijah. Alhumdulillah.






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A Blessing for Our Children

FullSizeRender-75Our kids are growing up so fast mA. The past few weeks have been a celebration for the kids in our family: our daughter turned 20 and is already half way through college; our son and nephew graduated from middle school, and our niece from high school; one nephew started a hifz program in his Islamic school, another is President of his high school class; and others are doing the million and one things that delight and amaze and enchant us each day. MashAllah. MashAllah. MashAllah. May Allah protect all our kids, guide them, make them strong, keep them safe, and enable them to reach their own unique potential.

I wanted to post a blessing that I shared at my niece’s graduation party, in honor of all our kids.

To Our Dear Children,

May you all be blessed with hope. Never, never give up on yourselves. Know that your dreams are valid and they are reachable; always strive in the direction of your dreams, and we will pray that you get there too.

May you be blessed with joy, so much joy, and laughter, and fun times, and wonderful memories – of friends, and new adventures, and learning that opens up your mind and your world to all the possibilities. Seize them all.

May you be blessed with courage and conviction and confidence – to believe in who you are and where you come from, to stand up for what is right for yourself and for others.

May you be blessed with kindness. Lots and lots of kindness. It’s what makes the world go round. Sprinkle it everywhere you go, with abundance.

And may you be blessed knowing that you are loved, so deeply loved. And that we are here, always here. In your court, by your side, cheering you on every step of the way.


Duas: Our Own Paths to God

salmachurch One of my most fulfilling experiences as a writer has been a message I received from someone who had read a piece that I had written for a national women’s magazine, about a day in the life of my 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 Catholic Christian and the Director of Religious Education at her church. Her family life centers 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.

We exchange emails every so often. A few years ago, she wrote: “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 new found friend started sharing her own experiences about the Islam she has come to know, giving talks at her church and doing media interviews. She wrote, “I think that in a very small way I too have been working at dispelling misperceptions.”

This Ramadan, she promised her daughter that she would fast one day a week in solidarity with her and with all Muslims. “I want to be a part of your 30 days 30 deeds too, inshAllah”, she said. Yesterday she wrote, “Fasting for just one day was so difficult, I am amazed at how everyone can do it. I have been keeping  a chart to inspire myself and keep track of small deeds I am trying to do during Ramadan. It helps me stay connected to my daughter – reminding me what this holy month means to her and to all Muslims.”

Here is someone who didn’t know much about Islam or Muslims initially, or what she did know was largely negative; who happened to read an article and took the chance to reach out to its writer. That initial bold step led us on a journey – to share life moments about faith and family, love and loss, joy and sorrow, and the eternal unconditional connection between mothers and daughters.

My dua (prayer) as part of the ’30 duas’ series is 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.”

*Not My Mother’s Ramadan article in MORE magazine.


Traditions: Fasting, Firni, FIFA, and Fastballs

IMG_5293Last night we broke fast at my brother and sister-in-law’s home. Mona made a traditional iftar – cholay, choora, pakoras, patties, mango lassi, channa, dahi phulki, fruit salad, firni, and the list goes on! No doubt Mona’s dear mom was smiling down from heaven; the last time I had such a feast was when aunty had prepared it, oxygen tank in tow but undeterred in preparing all the delicacies of her famous iftars. My nephews arrived from their baseball games just in time to break fast; Nabeel relishing in his mom’s cooking, Ameer enjoying his slices of pizza. The boys led us in prayer, then Zayd and his cousins ran down to the basement to play FIFA. If anyone thinks there’s a contradiction between being all Muslim and all American, they should have joined us for dinner last night.

Here’s a post from our ’30 traditions’ series on fasting, firni, fastballs and FIFA.

I am so proud of my nephews, Ameer and Nabeel. They are growing up with a strong foundation in faith, coupled with a deep passion for sports, especially baseball. They recite the Quran beautifully, and can rattle off any Major League players vital stats. Since Ramadan has been during the summer, faith and baseball come together. The boys have kept several fasts, some days through blazing practices; on game days they break their fast before the first pitch. Ameer’s favorite break fast meal is Panera’s grilled cheese sandwich or pizza; Nabeel loves his mom’s samosas and salans. At night, they pray Isha and Taraweeh at the mosque with their Islamic school community. After eight rakkats, they shoot hoops with their friends in the school gym. Some nights they stay awake playing FIFA on XBox Live with their friends, all the way to suhoor. That’s when they eat their favorite treat –- firni (rice pudding), the way their Anna used to make it. All American Muslim Ramadan. Love you, my Babas.

Anna’s Firni

2 cups of 2% milk

2 ladles of cream of rice cereal

¼ plus cups sugar

Pinch cardamom powder

Dash of rose water

In a metal pot, add milk. Stir in the cream of rice. Stir on medium heat until the mixture comes to a slow boil. Once the mixture thickens, add sugar. Stir for 5 minutes longer until sugar completely dissolves and no lumps remain. Remove from heat and add cardamom powder and rose water. Cool before serving.



My Dad

IMG_6804Happy Father’s Day Dad. Today, and every day, I want to remind you of the amazing life you’ve lived, the loving qualities you exude, and the way you inspire me each day. A post from ’30 inspiring stories’ from my Dad’s 80th birthday last year.

Today, is my father’s 80th birthday. The kids and I, and my brother and his family, are gathered with my parents in New Jersey. Dad didn’t want a fuss, just for all of us to be together. He is surrounded by his four grandkids, and received video messages from family in Calcutta, Bareilly and Karachi – the best presents he could have asked for he said. For me, my dad’s story is the most inspiring one I know. And on his 80th birthday, when he’s feeling not quite himself – a little less confident, a little more fragile – there’s nothing I want to do more than to remind him of his courageous, gutsy, hard working, inspiring life.

My father, born in Bareilly, India, was the first in his family of four brothers and a sister to study abroad and to attain a professional degree. He really didn’t want to go to England to study; he didn’t feel he could succeed. He was content learning to play the guitar; going to movies with his friend every Sunday – the 6pm show at Chowrangi; collecting stamps – the stamp collectors club would meet every 2nd Saturday evening at the YMCA and dad was its youngest member; and saving his pocket money for little treasures from his family’s auction house, the Russell Exchange, a place so full of history and meaning that a film has been made about it. But his brother-in-law insisted; he believed in my father more than my father believed in himself. The day of dad’s departure, dozens of family members came to the train station in Calcutta to see him off, garlanding him with flowers. His father came too, in a wheelchair. He had suffered a stroke just days before. My dad traveled to Bombay and then took a ship to London. So much hope and pride tucked into a 20 year old setting off for an adventure unknown.

My father’s stories of his years in London are full of the trepidation and gumption of a young man trying to make his way, alone. At the airport when he first arrived, a pen pal that my father had exchanged stamps and letters with for years, was supposed to meet him; he was there, and was paging my father. My father had no idea what ‘paging’ meant and was too flustered at Heathrow to hear his name being called. Dad arrived at the hostel where he would be staying, in an upstairs room; the room was so frigid, dad layered on all the clothes he had brought and sat huddled next to a geyser, which he later discovered he had to put coins in to make it blow hot air. He went to Imperial College London and got his degree in engineering. A few years ago, I had the chance to take dad back to Imperial College. He was greeted so warmly at the Alumni office, given an Imperial College mug, and asked to sign their guest book. You should have seen his face. All the memories came flooding back, as he walked around campus and showed his grandchildren the school he once thought he couldn’t conquer.

Two years into his degree, my father’s father passed away in Calcutta; his mother had died of cholera when he was seven. Afraid that my father would return to India without completing his studies, his family didn’t tell him of his father’s death until just before he graduated – almost two years later. My father worked several jobs to pay for his education – at Hartley’s jam factory and at a bakery called Hot Cross Buns. His passion was to travel and to collect beautiful things like fabrics, wall paper, even a tea set. Last time dad came to visit us in D.C., we had tea in that tea set — the first time he had ever had tea in his treasured tea set that he bought in Germany and that he’s carried around the world for 60 years.

Dad worked for a British aircraft manufacturer for a few years after he graduated, and then returned home to find someone to share his life. My father asked his eldest brother and his sister-in-law to find him, a suitable girl. His requirements were quite straightforward: he wanted someone from a good family background, well-educated, but not too educated, easy to get along with, and someone who was family oriented. His brother knew exactly the right match, and wrote to my father: “We have just seen a lovely young girl from a very good family. She’s not too tall, nor too short; she’s slim, has a long braid and mostly wears saris; she seems fairly quiet. We think you two would get along well.” They sent a photograph also, but it was a photo of my mother and her three sisters. My dad did not know which of the four was supposed to be his new bride. My mom was in the first year of her Masters degree when “the letter” arrived, addressed to her father: “I respectfully ask for your daughter Rashida’s hand for my brother Atiq. He has completed his engineering degree from Imperial College in England and has secured a good job. He is highly qualified, honest and sincere. I believe he and your daughter would make a suitable match. Omeed hey ke ap is rishtay ko kabul farmain gay (Our hope is that you will accept this proposal).” And with those words their fate was sealed – a marriage that has spanned three continents, weathered a civil war and countless moves, celebrated two children and four grandchildren, and thrived for half a century.

A few years ago, I interviewed my dad so I could find out exactly how our family came to America, to record that aspect of our family’s history; it ended up being published in the Washingtonian. It inspires me every time I retell the story, which starts like this: “Where you wanna go? Where you wanna go?” I don’t think my father understood a word the cab driver said. “This is our first time in New York, he told the cabbie at JFK airport in his heavily accented Indo-Pak London English. Please take us to a neighborhood that would be suitable for my family.” The cabbie shrugged as he tossed our suitcases in the trunk. We had left our country, our home, our sense of belonging – and now our fate rested in the hands of a NY cab driver from China. We didn’t know anyone in New York. We had little idea of life in America. All of our belongings – some clothes, a few books, a Rosenthal tea set my father had bought in Germany – was in the twine-tied trunk of a yellow cab.

The stories continue — how my father was willing to travel wherever his job took him, to any state, any country, alone, so we could continue our education without having to change schools; how he could never get mad at my brother or myself, and when he did, he would hold his own hand on top of ours and tap it to show his displeasure; how there is nothing he wouldn’t do, no sacrifice he wouldn’t make, for his family’s comfort. To this day. Even though his gait has become a little more tentative, he’s the first one to want to bring my suitcase in from the car; even though his hands have become a little less sure, he’s the first one to want to make me tea in the morning.

Happy Birthday Dad. You inspire me every day. I love you.