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Last Ramadan, I set a serious goal for myself, somethingI truly wanted to accomplish. I decided I was going to start wearing the hijab…again. I wore it for a couple of years in high school, but back in the day it was more of a uniform to me, something I would only wearto school and nowhere else. I wanted to start wearing it again, but this time, I’d wear it everywhere I went. Since all of our good deeds are amplified in Ramadan, I thought it would be the perfect time to start wearing the hijab. Oh boy, Ramadan was definitely the perfect month.

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“Single dad of 3 kids. Former Marine. Lost job. Please help.” “Foster kid. Hungry. Please help.” “Homeless. Vietnam Vet. Anything helps. God bless.” We’ve passed him several times. He and the others stand on sidewalks and median of this busy

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It took being apart from Muslims for me to realize how much I need Muslims in my life to help complete my faith. During that semester, it was through the kindness of others, that I was able to observe Ramadan and Eid without feeling alone. Having people from my program actively seek out Muslims for me spend time with, and having these Muslim strangers reach out to me and do what they could to make me feel comfortable, was a humbling experience.

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This year, my ex husband was blessed with the birth of his daughter with his wife. I went to the hospital to congratulate him on the new addition in his life and also the beginning of the new chapter with his wife. I felt humbled knowing that Allah (swt) has brought me to a point in my life where I am able to put aside any misgivings and negative emotions, and sincerely be happy for him and his wife. It was not as tough as I thought it would be – just slightly awkward, but I made it through.

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Imagine you’re driving on the highway – pick your favorite or least favorite one- and you’re in your (dream) car – take a pick, it could be a Mercedes, Honda, Hyundai, Kia – and as you’re speeding down the road, you notice in your back mirror that there are screws on the road behind you. You’re not sure where they’re coming from and don’t possibly believe that it’s coming from your car; it must be someone else’s. So you keep driving until you notice that there’s a bumper on the road, looks like yours but God no, it can’t be. You only drive for a couple more feet until you notice that the back doors of your car have completely flown off… making you realize that the screws and bumper were, in fact, yours. Worried that your car will completely fall apart, but happy that you got a chance to notice the damages were yours before it was too late, you stop in the middle of the road in an attempt to walk back the path you’ve taken and pick up the missing pieces. As you take a couple of steps back, you pick up your back doors. Your bumper can’t be seen for a distance and the screws? Those have been flying out since you hit the first mile! How are you going to walk back that long distance?

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To tell women to pray at home, especially during the last ten nights of Ramadan, is dehumanizing. I am not a houseplant or a goldfish to be left by the window. There is a reason we stand so close shoulder-to-shoulder in line during prayer at the mosques, because it is difficult to worship alone. It’s almost impossible for me stay up in my cement block graduate housing room, by myself, praying and reading the Qur’an all night. It is important for local mosques to welcome men and women. Without SALAM I would have been lost, as lost as I feel now in San Diego among the Muslim men’s club. It is time for the Islamic “brotherhood” to be castrated. I am calling out to my local mosques in San Diego and all other mosques, stop taking women out of the house of God. We have the right to worship with the rest of the Muslims whenever we wish. Imams please, I don’t need your duas, prayers, I need you to let me in when I am at the door.

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Each day brings with it new faces and new stories: students in summer programs, who are just here for a few weeks; community members with families who want to break fast with a larger group; folks who have recently moved into the area and are looking for new friends; people from different faith communities who have heard about Ramadan and fasting from friends or co-workers and want to learn more. Each person is searching for that community which will embrace them, and a community that they can embrace.

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Every year, Muslims remind each other to remember converts in their communities, to include us in their iftars and make us feel welcome in the community, and many do. However, there are probably very few special souls like my Ansaari sister, who made me feel welcome and included despite my naturally reclusive ways, and who doesn’t realize it, but made my year last Ramadan. She embodied friendship for the sake of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala, and I hope the story of her help and generosity inspires others to be that Ansaari sister to a convert this year, insha’Allah.

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So from around 4th or 5th grade, I had to start bringing in a note telling the teacher not to let me have lunch, and that I was “allergic” to pork. I guess because they probably didn’t know how to explain Islam overall, there was just miscommunication because my teachers and classmates felt really sorry for me. Fasting, however, made me feel empowered. I was proud of myself for [my interpretation of] being in solidarity with the poor, beginning at such a young age. Over the years, I maintained my status as a hardcore, “Ramadan-only” Muslim*, that is, until this year.

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Every community has its own personality and that personality manifests itself most clearly during the month of Ramadan. I grew up in Chandler, a suburb of Phoenix, but have been living in Berkeley, California for the past year, after graduating from university. The culture shock I felt when I first arrived is difficult to put into words – from the increase in diversity and plethora of ethnic food options, to the breezy weather and ridiculously expensive real estate, the change was drastic. Since I knew this would be my first Ramadan away from home, I’ve sincerely worried about my ability to maintain my spiritual discipline, and feel happy and healthy while fasting and working full-time. During just one week of Ramadan, I experienced such a diversity of iftar gatherings that challenged my notion of what community means to me and what my needs are from the community.

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