Celebrating Ramadan by Sharing Our Stories: The “30 Days” Project

Our stories may seem ordinary to us, but it’s our ordinariness that makes us feel more at home with each other.

Our stories may seem ordinary to us, but it’s our ordinariness that makes us feel more at home with each other.

This Ramadan I’ve been asking a diverse group of Muslims, from journalist Mehdi Hasan to content creator Amena Khan, to answer a personal question about a defining moment in their life, what brings them joy, a failure they’re grateful for, and more, as part of my “30 Days” project.

The responses have been poignant, intimate, and honest, allowing us to get to know each other beyond the professional and social media facade; and giving non-Muslims an opportunity to “meet” Muslims through our personal stories.

I started the “30 Days” project 12 years ago, initially as a way to celebrate Ramadan with my young kids. That first year in 2011, the kids and I decided to put into daily practice an essential value of the month—doing good—and share our reflections with family and friends through a blog to keep us disciplined for all 30 days.

We found opportunities to do good—from collecting produce at a farmer’s market to donate to a food bank, to baking moon-and star-shaped cookies to share with neighbors, to simply making grandparents smile, as that too is a form of charity. The next year, the theme was gratitude, and we expressed thanks for big things, small things, and everyday things; then 30 traditions; 30 duas; 30 inspiring stories, and so on.

Over the years, a community developed around the project; it grew organically as one person shared the stories with the next. Now it’s become an international storytelling platform followed by people of all faiths or none around the world. 

It’s also become a way for people of different traditions and backgrounds to get a glimpse into the life of a Muslim family and a diverse group of Muslims, and feel a sense of connection through our shared values.

One reader wrote, “I’m Jewish but anxiously await Ramadan each year so I can revel in your stories and have my soul strengthened and rejuvenated.” Another said, “Your writing allows readers to see the beauty in the Muslim people and religion at a time when front-page stories recount only radical offenses. Through your narratives, we can feel like we’ve met them ourselves.” Another shared, “I lost my faith a long time ago and I miss it sorely. It is a joy in my heart to feel and understand the meaning of your faith for you.”

At its core “30 Days” is about storytelling—sharing our stories to help us connect with each other, and to encourage others to do the same. I think our stories are the most precious things we have; the only thing that is uniquely ours. Our stories may seem ordinary to us, but it’s our ordinariness that makes us feel more at home with each other.

There’s a quote I love (attributed to several people) that the shortest distance between two people is a story. It’s our stories that we’ll leave behind for our families and for future generations. So reflecting on our stories, writing them down, and sharing them with each other is one of the most important things we can do—an act of love, an act of hope.

As the month of Ramadan is so much about reflection and introspection, these 30 days present an opportunity for us to think about the things we’re grateful for, the lessons we’ve learned, and the inspiration we seek. Thinking about our stories deepens our understanding of ourselves, and sharing our stories connects us more intimately with others, across faith or any other difference, and helps reveal how much we have in common. 

On the 10-year anniversary of the “30 Days” project I produced a limited-edition book, 30 Days: Stories of Gratitude, Traditions, and Wisdom, a collection of both personal stories and reflections by Muslims including Darjeeling Express restaurateur Asma Khan, scholar Dalia Mogahed, and photographer Peter Sanders.

The 30 Days Journal is an opportunity to capture our own stories around these themes. The idea is to answer a prompt each day, and by the end of 30 days, you have your own book of personal stories. The book and journal are hand-made, with beautiful original artwork (the book includes exquisite miniature paintings and illuminations by Afghan artist Sughra Hussainy and the journal has dynamic calligraphy and whirling dervishes by Aadil Abedi), Italian paper, unique design elements, and postcards, produced by Drik. I feel our stories are precious so the books that contain them should feel like a treasure.

This year’s theme is inspired by the prompts in the 30 Days Journal. The first prompt is to write a letter of gratitude to someone and to read it out loud to them. As we know expressing gratitude is good for our physical, emotional, and mental health; studies have shown that reading a gratitude letter to the person addressed increases endorphins even more, and the benefits last for weeks.

I decided to write a welcome letter to my mom, as she moved in with us just before Ramadan began. It begins, “I remember Ramadans as a teenager in our Tenafly, NJ home, you’d try and wake me up for sehri (pre-dawn meal); some mornings I’d make it downstairs, but typically I’d fall back asleep and you’d come up with a bowl of cereal and banana so I could eat something before it was too late. Now, we’re planning your sehris, so you won’t have to come down the stairs—there’s a small microwave in the laundry room to heat your tea, a tray with boiled egg, toast and orange marmalade of course, and fruit on a table in your room. What a precious month this will be.” I read it to her after she broke her first fast; you can imagine her reaction! 

From the section on Wisdom, I asked social media content creator Amena Khan about a life lesson she learned the hard way. She shared a personal reflection about the burden of carrying other people’s shame. “Just give it back to them, it’s not yours to carry,” she told me. “We are born into a culture that hands us all this shame that we are too innocent to understand…it’s like carrying a rucksack that keeps getting heavier and heavier.”

I asked journalist Mehdi Hasan a prompt from the Reflection section about the most defining moment in his life. “I have been blessed with so many defining and memorable moments in my life but none compare to the birth of my two daughters,” he said. “To the stark realization that you are responsible not just for the safety and nourishment of other human beings but also responsible for equipping them with the right tools and skills to thrive and flourish in life.” I also asked him about wisdom from an elder that guides him; his story about the lesson he learned from his father is poignant and telling.

From the Inspiration prompts, I asked Dr. Yusef Salaam—who was wrongly convicted in 1989 in the “Central Park Jogger” case in New York City, spent seven years in jail, and was later exonerated—what brings him joy. His response is one of the most humbling and inspiring reflections I’ve heard. “You can curse God, or you can let go and let God. Allah’s plan is the best of plans, and when you allow that reality into your consciousness, it gives you a certain understanding. You might not be able to explain it, but the peace that you find, the happiness, the humility, the grace, the blessing—you find all of that, and you’re ok. This is what brings me joy.” 

Some of the stories are vulnerable, others joyous, all heartfelt; they reveal our shared humanity. And as I share them with my newsletter subscribers, people feel encouraged to open up in ways they wouldn’t have otherwise and share their stories too—someone I’ve never met shared a tender memory of her late mother, another revealed how something her father said to her gave her the permission to go on her own faith journey and convert to Islam, another revealed a time when he was unkind and how he wishes he could repair the situation.

These are the stories of our lives; the ordinary everyday stories that make us who we are, that give our life meaning—the memories we want to always remember, the traditions we want to pass on, the wisdom we’ve learned and shared, our reflections on love and loss and life. Let’s take some time to really reflect on our stories. 

Because each one of us is mortal, but our stories will endure.



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