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My Best Ramadan – Four Stories Of Ramadans Past

Four Muslim brothers and sisters from different nations and communities relate the stories of their favorite Ramadans of the past.



Four Muslim brothers and sisters from different nations and communities relate the stories of their favorite Ramadans of the past.

By Wael Abdelgawad, Jehan Hakim, Abdul Qadir Aba and Naeemah Damis-Salaam


Wael Abdelgawad: Staring at the Water in the Ditch

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Wael Abdelgawad is an Egyptian-American author, martial arts instructor, and founder of He lives in Fresno, California.

California orange grove

California orange grove

It’s hard to say which Ramadan was my best, but one of my first Ramadans that was truly memorable took place when I was 17 years old, and working in the orange groves in California’s Central Valley. It was the summer before my first year of college, and I’d been hired by an Egyptian Christian who owned a pest control company. My job was to hang sticky insect traps on the trees. Later I would collect the traps, and study them under a microscope to identify the types and density of insects present in the groves.

Summers in the valley are brutal, with temperatures routinely soaring above 110 Fahrenheit (43 Celsius). I spent hours every day in that roasting heat, trudging up and down endless rows of trees. My throat became as dry as dust, and all I could think about was water. The farms used ditch irrigation, and I would look down at the cool blue water running in the muddy ditch, and I wanted so much to fall to my hands and knees, scoop that water up in my hands, and drink it.

I had fasted many years before that, but that year was the first time I suffered for it. The first time it hurt to fast. The first time I had to draw deeply on my willpower. When it came time to break fast, that first sip of water was like the greatest blessing I’d ever been given. And when the month was over, I truly felt like I’d accomplished something important.

Jehan Hakim – Ramadan in Yemen

Jehan Hakim

Jehan Hakim

Jehan Hakim is a Bay Area native Yemeni-American, and a mother of four. She is a culturally responsive educator and community organizer.

Feeling the Ramadan spirit while living in California is not the most ideal location to thrive spiritually during the month of the Quran. Yes, my family and I have suhoor and iftar together (alhamdullilah), and we go to the masjid for taraweeh. But, it’s not always easy. School and work continue as usual, and so do the deadlines. Most of us have to wake up early, come home late, and function ‘normally’, while dehydrated and sleep deprived.

We also have to be extremely intentional about what we watch, listen to, how we spend our time, and how we speak, to ensure we are reaping the benefits of Ramadan, even while working or going to school with others who cannot relate to our experiences. It can feel isolating. As if you’re existing within your own world, until you get home, and you’re reunited with other Muslims.

I do remember a time when Ramadan felt less hard. Growing up, my family and I would take summer trips to Yemen. When I was sixteen, I stayed for over a year, and that was my favorite Ramadan experience.

Ramadan in Yemen was everything I needed. The school and work day started later (so you could sleep in!). The buzz in the streets didn’t start until noon, and the masajid broadcasted the adhaan and the prayers. And of course, all the food was halal.


Stories. Ramadan lanterns for sale in Yemen.

Ramadan lanterns for sale in Yemen.

s Maghreb time approached, the decorative string lights illuminated the streets and everyone, old and young, scattered home or to the masjid for iftar. The homes and masajid were filled with takbiraat and melodious Quranic recitations. After taraweeh prayers, the food courts and markets were alive. Families were sprinkled all across the aswaq (markets). The ‘night life’ was wholesome and halal, and didn’t slow down until suhoor time drew near. It was magical.

There was no need to shift my practices -whether it was salah or fasting- due to my environment, for salah and fasting was the environment! I didn’t have to write to my teacher or manager about how my schedule might be different due to my observance of Ramadan. The cultural homogeneity made it so easy to exist and lean into the Ramadan spirit mashaAllah. While I make the most out of the Ramadan experience living in a society that doesn’t center Muslim practices, I really miss Ramadan in Yemen!

Abdul Qadir Aba – Ramadan in a Manila Prison

Abdul Qadir Aba is a community organizer and educator in Manila. He writes here under an assumed name.

Overcrowding in the Manila City Jail

Overcrowding in the Manila City Jail

I was imprisoned at the age of only 19 years old for Islamic activism. Violence did not appeal to me, and I was not engaged in violence of any kind. I was a daa’i, a caller to Islam. I made Islamic street art on wall surfaces and distributed pamphlets at Quiapo market, which happens to be next to Quiapo church! Many even in the Muslim community told me that my activities were silly and dangerous, but I was committed. More significantly, I was a member of an organization that worked for the rights of indigenous communities in Mindanao, the Muslim-majority area of the Philippines. These people were fighting for their human rights and land rights against a brutal government.

Police came to my parents’ home and warned them that I had been “red-tagged” and should stop my activities. Red-tagging is a tactic used by the Filipino government, in which activists are labeled as communists and accused of being a part of the communist New People’s Army. Red-tagging is used against journalists, social activists, and opposition politicians. This is a very dangerous practice, as those who are red-tagged are sometimes tortured and extrajudicially killed.

Within six months I was arrested and sent to prison for two years. It could have been worse. I was given leniency, perhaps because of my youth. In the end, Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) decree always comes to pass. Alhamdulillah.

When Ramadan arrived, it was very difficult. There was a strong group of believers in the prison, and we supported each other and kept each other safe. But the prison chaplain was Catholic, and stubbornly refused to make allowances for Muslim mealtimes (suhoor and iftar) in Ramadan.

Because breakfast was served after sunrise, we could not eat a morning meal. And because dinner was served before sunset, we could not eat the evening meal. In order to survive during Ramadan, we pooled resources. There were two Muslim brothers who worked in the kitchen. They smuggled meager amounts of food to the rest of us, mainly rice, powdered milk, and occasionally a few eggs. In addition, we bribed kitchen workers to save food for us.

We had to work our regular jobs, starting at 7 am every morning. Some of the brothers worked in labor-intensive jobs, such as janitorial, landscaping, or factory work. We lost a lot of weight, I can tell you that.

But the hardship is not what I remember most. What sticks with me is the way the Muslim brothers supported each other materially and emotionally. It was the tightest-knit community I have seen. I never felt alone. I felt that along with the others, I was engaged in something powerful and special. By the end of Ramadan I was nearly dizzy with hunger and delirium, but I felt as strong as a lion, and deeply connected to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), who I knew was always with me, and would always help me through the trying times. Alhamdulillah!

I continue to work for the rights of indigenous peoples, though now I do so online, under a different name. I do not regret the activities of my youth, nor the time in prison. My predominant emotion regarding that time is gratitude for the two Ramadans I spent there, and the lessons I learned. I will always share a bond with those brothers, and will always remember them.

Naeemah Damis-Salaam – Is This For Us?

Naeemah Damis-Salaam has been a Muslim community leader and businesswoman in Los Angeles and Fresno, California for decades. She and her husband Abdul Karim Damis-Salaam founded Masjid Al-Aqabah in Fresno.

Naeemah and Abdul Karim Damis-Salaam

Naeemah and Abdul Karim Damis-Salaam

Alhamdulillah, by the mercy of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) I’ve had many wonderful Ramadans. And so many adventures in life with my husband and children. One I remember, cause memory ain’t what it used to be nah. We were working the Los Angeles county fair for 28 days and staying with Amina in Pomona during Ramadan. It was our first family Ramadan together, and her kids didn’t expect suhur the way I do it. They thought to get up, eat dates or toast, drink water, make salat, read, and go lay down.

They came to the front room and stopped, looked, and their eyes was wide with wonder, lol. We each had 9 kids at the table! My kids walked past them and sat down to eat, looking at them, wondering, and asking, “Why don’t they come eat?” Amina’s kids said, “Are we having company? Who’s this for?” I’m still bringing food to the maaida (the table) and asking my kids is there anything else they need.

Amina kids all ran to me and gave me hugs and said, “Auntie is this for us?!”

I said, “Of course it is baby, you’re fasting and it’s my job to see to it you have a good one, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) gives us the food and we prepare it for you.”

They ran to sit down and polished off grits, eggs, smothered potatoes, pancakes, halal sausages and bacon, toast, and bagels with cream cheese. Left the dates, lol. We made salat and I cleaned up. They said, “We don’t have to clean up?” I told them, “Not for suhur.” Got me another wonderful hug!

When they saw this is our Ramadan, my husband Abdul Karim got them up every morning, I made sure suhur was on the table by the mercy of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), he led salat and had taleem every morning, they were the happiest babies. I had to stop them from bringing their friends over at 4 am though! We had 18 kids at table and they brought 4 more! Lol, I just told them they had to share their plate with any guests they brought to table.

They and their friends still talk about their best Ramadan was when Auntie and Uncle come to visit. They enjoyed the taleems and the food.

When Siddiq, the youngest at 4 years old asked Auntie where all the good food come from?

I said, “From Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). I make dua’ and ask Him to provide for all of us, and He answered my dua’. My husband work and make the money Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) gives him and he shares it with me to feed the family.”

Siddiq said, “I’m going to make dua’ all the time, right Wali?”

Alhamdulillah, your namesake (brother Wael Abdelgawad), my own Wa’el, who I call Wali, and was the same age as Siddiq, said, “You ask a lot of questions, Diq. I just eat.”

More About Naeemah Damis-Salaam

This biography was sent in by sister Naeemah’s son, Musad:

Naeemah Damis-SalamNaeemah Damis-Salaam was born December 24, 1957, and raised on a 120-acre farm in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She was raised in a devout Baptist family and became Muslim right after graduating high school in 1976 at the age of 16. There’s a story there, for another time.

It took her family another 16 years to accept that she wasn’t going back to Christianity. She never second-guessed her decision, even through all the adversity, name-calling, and pain of being different in a small town. She eventually met and married her first Muslim husband, Abdus-Salam, who had a daughter named Zakiyah, and they moved to California.

Along the way, Naeemah was in a car accident that broke both her ankles and left her hospitalized in Tucson, Arizona for three months. At the same time, she found out she was expecting her first child! By the time she arrived in Watts, California, she had two more children, Aishah Abdus-Salaam and Jamilah Abdus-Salaam. During that time she became a single mother for three years, and got a job as an administrative secretary for Nicolson Gardens in Los Angeles, where she created on-the-job programs for the constituents of low-income families in the projects of Nicholson Gardens, teaching young women how to dress, walk, talk and act in order to get and keep employment. She was responsible for auditing the budgets for the projects to keep and increase grants for community services.

Naeemah was a member of Masjid Mumin in Los Angeles when it was just a house on Broadway Street, before the new building was bought and the masjid moved to St Andrew’s Place. There she met, was courted by, and married Brother Abdul Karim Damis-Salaam at Masjid Mumin on May 29, 1981. She helped him and Brother Sunni with the vegetable market established on the side of the masjid selling vegetables to the community on Fridays.

At the end of that year, the family moved to a 40 acre farm in Indio, CA where they bought and raised cattle. Their first son Musad Abdul Karim was born and delivered by her husband; there’s a story there for another time.

The family eventually made their way to a town called Goshen, in California’s Central Valley, where they raised chickens, goats, lambs, ducks, and an attack turkey. Naeemah tended the farm and children while her husband completed his master’s degree at Fresno State University. During that time her husband taught at Goshen Elementary. They met so many wonderful Muslims from Tulare, Visalia, Oakhurst, Squaw Valley, Hanford, Reedley, and surrounding cities.

In 1989 tragedy struck twice. Naeemah lost a son 4 months in the womb in January. Not long after, the house caught fire, and they lost Zakiyah (the eldest child) at the age of 12. In the chaos of the fire, unknown to the parents, Zakiyah ran back into the burning house to see if the baby of a family that was staying with them had gotten out. She never came out.

Naeemah was expecting their 10th child at that time, and the family was temporarily homeless. Through all this, her litany was, “From Allah we come, To Allah we shall return.” And, “Allah will not put a burden on us greater than we can bear!”

They moved to nearby Fresno, CA, and became members of the Shaw Avenue Masjid when it was a small house, before the community built the beautiful, prosperous masjid that now stands on the same property.

Her husband told her one day, “We must have a Masjid on the West Side (a predominantly African-American area of Fresno) to help those in need and tell people about Islam.”

Naeemah remembers answering, “Husband! We are in need. But whatever you want to do, I got your back.”

They began looking for a place to put a masjid in order to tell people in West Fresno about Islam and help families struggling to practice and care for their loved ones.

When her husband asked, “What shall we call the masjid?” She thought of girl names to the frustration of her husband, then became serious and said, “You know there will always be trials working with our people and others who want to come pray there.”

Abdul Karim looked at her and said, “The path that’s steep.”

Naeemah asked what that meant in Arabic and her husband said, “Masjid Al-Aqabah.”

For the first 5-7 years her husband paid the bills for the masjid. Together they opened Al-Jamiah Community Thrift Store, ran their businesses East West Fragrance, DS Goods Pallet Distribution, and the Baytul-Nisa Women’s Shelter. Naeemah created the programs, and filed all business and state documents needed, except for the 501c3, which she gladly handed to Imam Ali Umar. Meanwhile, she was the female chaplain for the women at Fresno County Jail, as well as cooking and feeding the homeless in front of the masjid on Fridays and for Eid.

Naeemah took a hiatus from her work on the Masjid Al-Aqabah board after the death of her husband Abdul Karim. However, she has now returned to the board due to the recent death of the masjid’s beloved Imam Ali Shabazz. She continues to help build and rebuild the masjid’s programs.

Related Posts:

Ramadan With A Newborn: Life Seasons, Ibaadah, And Intentionality

My Hardest Ramadan Ever

Keep supporting MuslimMatters for the sake of Allah

Alhamdulillah, we're at over 850 supporters. Help us get to 900 supporters this month. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Wael Abdelgawad's novels can be purchased at his author page at Wael is an Egyptian-American living in California. He is the founder of several Islamic websites, including,, and He teaches martial arts, and loves Islamic books, science fiction, and ice cream. Learn more about him at For a guide to all of Wael's online stories in chronological order, check out this handy Story Index.



  1. Shoaib

    April 15, 2023 at 8:37 AM

    Wow, what a powerful collection of accounts. I am struck by the diversity of all the settings. An orange grove, a Muslim majority country, a prison in the Philippines, a large loving family in California, all taking part in the same act of worship for the sake of the same God. As someone interested in history, I the last two stories most interested me, as they are primary historical accounts of a true Muslim hero and heroine.

    • Wael Abdelgawad

      April 15, 2023 at 10:32 AM

      I completely agree about the last two stories being the most inspirational.

  2. Hebat Bakhach

    April 15, 2023 at 8:46 AM

    I loved reading this!!!!

  3. Zainab bint Younus

    April 15, 2023 at 8:42 PM

    What powerful stories, subhanAllah. May Allah grant aunty Naeemah ease in this world and the Next for all that she has endured!

    • Wael Abdelgawad

      April 15, 2023 at 8:47 PM

      Ameen. I told her she should write a full length biography, but she says she’s too busy.

  4. umm ismael

    May 13, 2023 at 9:48 PM

    Asslam u alaikum brother
    waiting for you to resume your other pieces of writing….

    • Wael Abdelgawad

      May 14, 2023 at 1:35 AM

      Thanks Umm Ismael. I’m going through a period of personal difficulty in which I find it hard to write. My mother has been in the hospital. I have a daughter that I raise by myself. I’m not complaining, I am grateful to Allah for all that I have. But I do slip into depression sometimes and it’s difficult to focus.

  5. Umm ismael

    May 14, 2023 at 9:39 PM

    Asslam u alaikum akhi
    May Allah Create a way out for you through every difficulty. May He heal your mother completely ameen. And give you strength fortitude and wisdom to raise your child. May He increase all your material and spiritual provisions manifold ameen

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