Six years ago, in an effort to share the essence of the month of Ramadan with family and community, I started a blog. I wanted my kids to understand that beyond fasting, Ramadan is about doing good deeds, expressing gratitude, and being our best selves. I thought that by keeping a blog we would stay mindful of these issues each day. We decided to do one good deed each day; the blog became ‘30 days 30 deeds’.
Since then, each year we have focused on a different theme – from gratitudes, to duas, to traditions, to inspiring stories. This year, we’ll take a look back and highlight some of our favorite stories, add new posts to each theme, and see how the blog has evolved.
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, 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. Some days Saanya and Zayd, then 14 and 8, simply spent time with their grandparents, listening to Nunno’s stories or teaching Nani computer skills, and inevitably making them smile. As Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, even a smile is a form of charity.
Each day we wrote about one thing that we were grateful for. The list ranged from universal themes like food, water, and life itself; 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.” Saanya wrote a letter to me, for which I was so immensely grateful.
We said a special prayer for someone we love, discussed a situation around the world that needed our prayers, or recited a Qur’anic dua (supplication) to help guide and protect us. When I asked Zayd if there was one thing he could make happen with sincere prayer, 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, in the midst of thinking about colleges, said: “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.”
The following year, as the blog attracted more and more readers, I wanted to come up with a theme that would engage our audience. We decided to focus on traditions, from family recipes, to cherished memories, to annual rituals. The contributions were amazing, ranging from the art of cutting a watermelon, to an ode to the fruit chaat, to fasting and fastballs, to childhood memories of breaking fast.
I wanted to share some of the inspiring stories of people I’ve been blessed to meet and interview. I wrote about one of my personal heroes, the incredible Pakistani octogenarian humanitarian Edhi sahab; about singer-songwriter Sami Yusuf, whose post broke the record for most likes in one day; and about my loving father, the ultimate storyteller, on the occasion of his 80th birthday. With each story we included the organization that the person is involved in or supports, to encourage another special aspect of Ramadan – giving generously.
The blog has grown organically and gained a large and loyal following of Muslims and non-Muslims around the world, from Azerbaijan to Zambia. Last year, a digital media and film company called Ummah Wide included 30days30deeds.com in their curation of 30 global Ramadan projects. This year, the creators of an app called Ramadan Legacy want to share its content through the app, introducing the blog to even larger global audience. I’ve been invited to talk about the project at the United Nations and at the U.S. State Department; and the blog has received significant media coverage in both international and local press.
But perhaps the most rewarding aspect has been the comments I receive from readers of all faiths, like this one: 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. Your stories, therefore, have become important counterpoints to the stories of “Islamic extremism” that so frequently are in the news. 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.
Thank you so much for joining us on this 30-day journey, which I hope will share some inspiration to last a lifetime.
I’m a writer by profession — writing personal essays and stories about people making a difference for magazines and newspapers around the world. I’m also Chief Inspiration Officer of an NGO that promotes service, called MoverMoms. You can learn more about me on my website, at salmahasanali.com. Here you’ll find my feature stories, profiles, reflections, and op-eds, as well as information about my consulting work. One piece in particular, my personal essay titled “Pakistan on the Potomac”, tells the story of how my family came to the U.S. from Pakistan when I was seven years old, and the issues surrounding raising kids and blending cultures. I’m a mother of two wonderful children, a 20-year old daughter and a 14-year old son, and my husband and I will celebrate our 27th wedding anniversary during this Ramadan. We live in Washington, D.C.