A package of almond butter and dark chocolate for a friend in the peace corps, sharing moon and star-shaped cookies with neighbours, an interfaith iftar, making and selling greeting cards for charity, walking at suhoor to raise money for children in Somalia, planting trees, taking cupcakes to homeless shelters and foot massages for mom... these are just a few of the good deeds that Salma Hasan Ali got down to last year during Ramadan, in a bid to teach her children, Saanya (16) and Zayd (10) to care for others and to give back, while documenting the journey on a blog, 30days30deeds.com.
Creating better lives
“We decided as a family that we would try and do at least one good deed each day — something that would help someone else, make their life a little easier, or simply put a smile on their face,” she says.
The task, often daunting, proved to be easy because Ali is active in a group called MoverMom, which promotes family-friendly service.
“Some days I would panic when I didn’t have a specific service project in mind. But those days ended up being even more meaningful, because I would ask the kids for suggestions on good things we could do that day, and we would come up with simple, easy-to-do deeds — like writing letters or sharing stories with grandparents — and in that process realise that a good deed is as easy as making someone smile, and it is something that we can all do every day,” Ali says, in an email interview with GN Focus.
One of the 30 good deeds was to visit a recycling plant, taking with them brush, cardboard boxes and a bag full of materials that could be burned and made into power. The children came back empowered to recycle and with an understanding of how the process works.
On day 22, deed 22 was ‘leftar’, where you have an iftar meal out of leftovers. The deed held special significance for Ali, as she remembers her father-in-law living through the Bengal famine in 1943. “What he saw — people dying of hunger on the street — is etched in his heart, and in his habits. He never takes more than he can finish; his plate is always polished, and he has no issue eating leftovers for days. He is one of ten children; growing up, there was rarely seconds to go around. My kids need to learn these lessons; and so do I. I felt terrible throwing away fresh basil this morning that had turned limp and brown; I had only used a few leaves,” she says, in the blog entry for that day.
Lessons in charity
On the blog 30days30deeds.com, each day’s deed is accompanied by an inspirational quote from the Quran — including those on recycling. “I would write the deed, and then research a verse from the Quran or hadith which ever seemed to fit. This was something I hadn’t thought about doing in advance, but it was wonderful in that I learned so much that I didn’t know; for example, planting trees is so important in our faith, and you get continuous rewards from planting a tree when others benefit from it,” Ali says.
The year gone by has seen the ripple effect of the good deeds. One task included the children making two resolutions for Ramadan, one for themselves and one for the family.
“For the family, we committed to at least one dinner together each week (no easy feat given [husband] Arif’s travel),” Ali says.
A year down the line, she says, “We’ve been much better about having one meal together each week — sometimes even two!”
The bigger picture
At a larger level, there are ripples too. Ali says that what initially started as an interfaith teen group has turned into “a much more cohesive, committed band of teens of different faiths who do service projects together, and have fun doing it. They now call themselves, more officially, Capital Area Interfaith Friends. They did a Unity Walk, cooked and served dinners at a local shelter and ate with the women there, tutored young kids, watched a film about a Muslim football team (Fordson), and a film about the Holocaust (Paper Clips), learned more about a religion by giving up one thing for Lent, learned about Prophet Mohammad’s [PBUH] birthday, and just hung out getting to know
Buoyed by her success last year, Ali has a blog and deeds planned this year too. She says: “This year, I’m thinking it will be 30days30gratitudes. The idea again is to focus and reflect on the true meaning of Ramadan — whether it’s performing good deeds, or in this case, expressing gratitude for everything God has given us and to appreciate all that we have.”