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These Photographs Capture The Diversity Of Ramadan For American Muslims

"I remember in the beginning when I came here, we didn’t have any family. ... This is why I invite these families.”

For the Ramadan in 30 Faces campaign, photographer Ridwan Adhami and writer Chancey June Gannett have been posting daily photographs of and interviews with American Muslims of immigrant background from around the world for the charity Islamic Relief USA.

They told BuzzFeed in an email that they wanted to feature all the places Islamic Relief USA delivers food to, but that the project ended up being about the diversity and similarities among the Muslim community. Each photograph and story is posted with a link to donate to an impoverished family in featured countries.

1. Linda left Kosovo as a refugee when she was young.

Ridwan Adhami / @RidzDesign (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook)

“'During Ramadan in Kosovo, all your neighbors, even people you meet on the streets, will invite you for iftar. There would be so many people,' she remembered. 'There would be mismatched tables, one shorter, one taller than the other, and mismatched chairs, just so we could make space for everyone, and some people would sit on the floor.'"

2. Imam Magid from Sudan has lived in America for 30 years.

Ridwan Adhami / @RidzDesign (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook)

“'There’s a very nice tradition in Sudan where the people in the neighborhood would bring the food every night outside on the street and break fast in the street, and they would not allow anyone passing by to pass without sitting and eating. There would be some people who would stand in the road and insist for people to get off their buses and stop the cars to join the iftar, and they would insist for you to not be driving after sunset.'

"When Imam Magid came to the United States, Ramadan felt much emptier at first. 'I remember that I fasted Ramadan in the '80s while going to university, and I used to break fast by myself,' he said. 'Now, in every university, there’s a huge gathering of Muslims, and some universities have iftar together every night.'

“'You feel this togetherness. If you look around the room, you see people from every ethnic background. It reminds me that there’s a goodness in every culture, there’s a goodness in every community, and all of us come with value and traditions that enrich this collective experience.'"

3. Yunus is from Indonesia and loves music.

Ridwan Adhami / @RidzDesign (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook)

“'(In Indonesia), all the popular songs turn into Islamic songs with new lyrics,' he recalled. 'You know Ramadan is coming when you start hearing Islamic songs in the streets.'

“'In the village my parents grew up in, we have these ‘suhur brigades.’ A bunch of young kids will stay up all night, and when suhur time comes, they use something loud like percussion instruments or utensils and frying pans. They walk through the streets and knock on people’s doors to wake them up.'"

4. Delila fled Bosnia-Herzegovina at age 11.

Ridwan Adhami / @RidzDesign (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook)

“'One of my earliest memories of Bosnia was when Ramadan was in the summer, and I remember us fasting throughout the day and then 20 or 30 of us would crowd together in this small space. It was just happiness and joy.'

“'Bosnian people love to complain about stuff,' she laughed. 'And in Ramadan, it’s almost like all of that stuff gets removed. In the old part of town they do communal iftars for those who can’t afford it, and people bring iftar to families of soldiers who died in the war.'"

5. Ghuydar left Syria for the U.S. at age 19. He has had difficulty visiting since the revolution.

Ridwan Adhami / @RidzDesign (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook)

“'Aleppo is known for two main things: the food and the music,' he said. In Ramadan, the food and the music are a main focus. Ghuydar remembered exchanging dishes in his neighborhood and enjoying a wide variety of treats. 'Every family would send a child before maghrib time to the neighborhood shop to get fresh falafel, hummus, and atayef. The most important thing is the atayef,' he said, remembering this special Ramadan pancake stuffed with ricotta cheese or walnuts and fried.

"This year, the beginning of his Ramadan was extra special. He was given the opportunity to perform a public recitation of the Qur’an at the funeral of Muhammad Ali. 'I’m still beginning to fathom the honor,' he said."

6. Mariem is from Tunisia.

Ridwan Adhami / @RidzDesign (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook)

“'Ramadan in Tunis becomes really busy. There’s a focus of life around iftar...I love Ramadan in the US. But here, because we’re a minority population, it can kind of glide by.'

“'People clear out the supermarkets weeks before Ramadan. If you go to the markets the day before, there’s absolutely nothing there, and it’s mayhem. There’s a focus of life around iftar. Work gets out early, and cars are speeding around maghrib time … rushing to get home.'"

7. Mo Black came to the U.S. as a Somali refugee.

Ridwan Adhami / @RidzDesign (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook)

“'(In the refugee camps), it was a very rough time,' he remembered. 'A lot of the time the food was very limited. My mom was one of those people who would always give up her portion. She would rather us eat until we’re full before she gets one bite.'

"'It just makes me appreciate everything,' he said. 'Especially being in America with so many opportunities and resources. I can’t waste food. And it’s not just a food thing. Don’t waste anything.'

“'Whether it’s being patient to eat, or for an opportunity to come,' he said. 'No matter what situation you’re in, patience teaches you how to wait.'"

8. Aflal is from Sri Lanka.

Ridwan Adhami / @RidzDesign (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook)

“'In Sri Lanka, the mosques collect money from the surrounding neighborhoods, and they make a soup with it called kanji, made from rice and coconut milk. It’s really fun,' Aflal smiled. 'The whole neighborhood brings containers from home and they line up to get it...When you get kanji, you know it’s Ramadan.'"

9. Ghatool hasn't returned to Afghanistan since she came to America at age 19.

Ridwan Adhami / @RidzDesign (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook)

“'In Afghanistan, there’s a lot of poor people,' she said. 'In the front of our house we had a man who sold vegetables on a tray, and on the other side was an old man who fixed shoes. I remember I always used to send them food every day in Ramadan, and my father would pray for me. But here, people don’t always think of that.'

"'From the year I came to United States until now, I invite people who don’t have family so they’re not alone. I remember in the beginning when I came here, we didn’t have any family. I remember those days, and this is why I invite these families.'"

10. Zainab is from Pakistan and now works in Capitol Hill as an advocate for Muslims in America.

Ridwan Adhami / @RidzDesign (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook)

“'(In Pakistan), they go all out. In the streets, outside of our family home in Lahore, people would put up lanterns and string lights. You would think it’s somebody’s wedding. If you go shopping to the bazaar you see decorations. It’s just a really festive time of year. People keep completely different hours, and businesses close during the day.'

"Zainab also said Ramadan in Pakistan is not complete without Rooh Afza... a (pink) drink made of a sweet aromatic syrup of fruits, herbs, vegetables, flowers, and roots."

11. Hamadoun is a student who originally hails from Mali.

Ridwan Adhami / @RidzDesign (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook)

“'When I was a kid,' he said, 'Ramadan was a big thing. The kids didn’t usually go to taraweeh, instead, we would wear masks made of ash from burned coal and go door-to-door to people’s houses, asking for money. It’s sort of like Halloween.'"

12. Nour, from Jordan, celebrates Ramadan with delicious desserts every year.

Ridwan Adhami / @RidzDesign (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook)

"Jordanians often break fast with special Ramadan drinks like qamar al din, a juice prepared from dried apricot paste, or erk-sous, a black, mildly sweet and slightly bitter beverage made from the licorice root.

"And of course atayef. 'Atayef you only eat in Ramadan,' she said. 'That’s why people love it so much. The bakeries set up the griddles outside, and you see the lines of people coming to get their atayef to take it to go home.'"

13. Asli is from Kenya originally.

Ridwan Adhami / @RidzDesign (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook)

“'In Mombasa, we use coconut for everything,' Asli reminisced about Ramadan in her hometown of Mombasa.

“'It definitely feels more family-like (in Mombasa),' she said. 'We sit on the floor for iftar, a lot of family and neighbors too. We have a big foyer where my grandmother lived, and she had a tradition of doing a big Friday gathering where she served us popcorn and tea.'"

14. Souheil owns a Lebanese restaurant in Virginia.

Ridwan Adhami / @RidzDesign (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook)

“'I remember I was fasting a full day from the second grade,' he said. 'I still do it even though I have diabetes. If I feel bad, I can break my fast. Otherwise, I don’t worry about it.'

“'During Ramadan,' he said, 'you pass by stores and you see the food in the window and think of all the food you want, but you know you can’t have it because you’re fasting. That makes you feel for the poor. I remember I used to save some of my allowance and pass it to some poor people I see in the streets. It really helps bond the community together. If you know someone is out of work or sick, you take care of them.'"

15. Nora, from the Philippines, insisted her daughter pose for the photo.

Ridwan Adhami / @RidzDesign (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook)

“'Whatever we do in the Philippines, I have (my children) do it here,' she said. 'The original teacher is the mother. The real university is the home.'

“'People ask me if I converted when I came to America,' Nora said. 'But my great grandparents were Muslim!' Islam is actually one of the oldest organized religions in the Philippines, and its roots date all the way back to the 1300s.

"'In Philippines, when Ramadan comes, everyone is happy,' she said. 'Even though they don’t have much food. Their favorite food is chicken with coconut, but 80% can’t eat like that. We send money for them. It’s too hard to eat good food while your neighbor is suffering.'

“'If you are not a giver for 11 months, during Ramadan you have to be a giver. Our grandparents used to say our Ramadan won’t be accepted if you are eating and your neighbor doesn’t have food.'"

16. Alaa has spent her last two Ramadans in America, after evacuating from Yemen due to the war.

Ridwan Adhami / @RidzDesign (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook)

"Every year, Yemenis look forward to new shows that premiere in Ramadan. 'There is usually a comedy show around iftar time and a drama at night,' she said. But this year, she’s not sure if the shows are airing as usual. She was evacuated from the war, and has spent her last two Ramadans here in the United States. She imagines that Ramadan doesn’t feel quite the same there. “It was really bad,” she said, 'there was no electricity, no water. There was shooting and bombing.' She recalled bombs falling in the nearby mountains, and hearing the sound of gunfire throughout the night. Once the impact from a bomb caused her windows to fly open.

"She misses enjoying Yemini sambusa, a pastry dough filled with meat or potatoes. 'We have to do sambusa,' she said. 'If you don’t do sambusa, it’s not Ramadan.' And there are other desserts famous only in Ramadan, like rawani, a spongy cake soaked in sweet syrup, or shafoot, a refreshing dish consisting of a pancake and a special blend of yogurt, herbs and spices.

“'I always hope to go back and experience Ramadan in Yemen.'”

17. Yousuf left Myanmar in 1972 and is a sixth-degree aikido black belt.

Ridwan Adhami / @RidzDesign (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook)

“'When we would wake up for suhoor,' he remembered, 'we would wait for fajr prayer on the porch, and the Rangoon zoo was just three miles away. When everything was very quiet in those early mornings, we could hear the lion from the zoo roaring before the adhan.'

"His (Aikido) students have noticed that when he is fasting, his moves are more powerful. 'I think because the stomach is empty, we can focus better,' he said. 'And even though there is physical tiredness, we bring out that inner power. The mind is really focused. And when the mind and body are focused and united together, it gives out much more power.'

"'We had respect for every religion,' he said, remembering always sharing traditional foods on holidays with Buddhist and Christian neighbors. Until this day, he remains close to his multireligious friends from his youth. 'They are my brothers,' he said."

18. Hiyam left Gaza 30 years ago, never to return home.

Ridwan Adhami / @RidzDesign (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook)

“'In Ramadan, the whole city is different...The kids go out in groups with the lanterns. And it was safe, you never worried about bombs. It was so peaceful. We would take the lanterns and knock on doors. We would say wahaweeya wahawee, and they would open the door and give us candy. Every night in Ramadan, I looked forward to it.'

'It was so beautiful to wake up with the family. My mom would come wake us up and she would have the table ready,' she remembered, saying a special prayer for her mother.

"'We have a cannon for everybody to hear it’s maghrib time,' she said. 'I remember that sound. It’s a beautiful sound to us.'"

You can follow the rest of the series and donate to all the countries featured here on Islamic Relief USA's website.

Featured quotes are condensed and used with permission from the interviewer, Chancey June Gannett.

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