OBSERVING MUSLIM RAMADAN DURING THE CHRISTIAN EASTER SEASON
Phillip & Connie Church, Falls Church/McLean, Virginia May 2022
We “observed” both Christian Easter Season and Muslim Ramadan this year, 2022. The choice was ours but then maybe, as part of some divine equation, it was not. Whatever, it has been a rewarding and fulfilling experience, one worth sharing. Notice that we put “observed” in quotes, because the month-long dawn-to-sundown fasting part of Ramadan is a bit more than we can handle. (Certain exemptions from fasting exist, of course, for the pregnant, elderly and infirm among others.)
Our Ramadan observations began on Friday afternoon, April 1. That day Phil responded to a knock on the door, opened and welcomed HM into our home. Twenty-seven-year-old HM is part of the second wave of Afghan evacuees to arrive in America since August 2021. He left Kabul, Afghanistan in January 2022 for Islamabad, Pakistan where the US Embassy arranged for him to fly to a US military base outside Doha, Qatar. There, he underwent background checks, physical exams and vaccinations, and processing of his special immigrant visa (SIV) application.
In mid-March HM boarded a Qatar Airlines flight to Dulles International where he was met by his US sponsoring organization, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington which arranged short-term lodging for him and for some other Afghan evacuees at an Arlington hotel. When his US government-funded lodging allowance was exhausted, HM was expected to find other living arrangements that he could afford - not an easy task in Northern Virginia, one of the region’s most expensive and competitive housing markets.
HM is now our houseguest. We’re getting to know this interesting and intelligent young man, supporting his efforts to resettle in America, learning about the troubling challenges facing his parents and siblings still living in Kabul, Afghanistan, and meeting some of his friends from the growing Afghan diaspora here in Northern Virginia. The following is a daily log of events surrounding HM’s stay with us during the month of Ramadan.
[Note: As a precaution against possible repercussions by the Taliban government against family members remaining in Afghanistan, US State Department protocols urge that, until safe to do so, communications, particularly electronic media, use initials in place of full names of Afghan refugees resettling in the US.]
WEEK 1 – GETTING ACQUAINTED
DAY 0 (THURSDAY, MARCH 31) - A phone call. It’s Thursday afternoon when Phil’s cell phone rings. On the other end is NF, a former Afghan employee of the US Embassy in Kabul with whom Phil is working on his job search. NF is resettling in America with his wife and three daughters. They arrived in the US as evacuees in September and settled into housing in Pittsburgh, PA. Phil hasn’t talked with NF for a few weeks, not since NF started working.
NF is calling with a request. A former work colleague in Kabul, HM, arrived in Virginia three weeks earlier. HM has now exhausted his lodging allowance but has not yet found a place to live on his own or with friends. He does not yet have documents needed to work or to rent an apartment here. NF asks Phil if he could talk to HM about finding a place in our area where he can afford to live. Phil agrees.
Within an hour HM calls Phil. He explains he can’t afford the hotel’s nightly room charge that his resettlement agency had been paying up to that time. His Afghan friends in the area have large families in small apartments; they just can’t take him in. HM is open to whatever Phil can suggest as to a cheaper place he might stay while he gets his papers in order and conducts his job search. He needs to check out of his hotel by noon the next day, Friday, also the day before the month-long Muslim Ramadan begins. Phil and HM exchange email addresses. Phil asks HM to send his resume.
Off the phone with HM, Phil calls the Catholic Charities office to inquire about HM’s refugee status but no one answers and all voice mail boxes are full, an indicator most likely of just how overwhelmed are the nine nonprofit agencies contracted nation-wide by the US government to resettle arriving Afghan refugees. Phil emails the organization but is not hopeful for an immediate reply. He has the evening to ponder the situation; he calls to consult Connie who is at our daughter’s townhouse for some mother/daughter time together. Phil and Connie concur that, absent any other viable options, HM could stay with us for a while.
DAY 1 (FRIDAY, APRIL 1) - HM arrives. Phil’s morning is hectic. He reaches out again to Catholic Charities and is now able to leave a voice message and email address. By late morning he does get a proforma email message back that it is the organization’s policy not to release to third parties any information about its clients. Dead end, but understandable. Phil calls HM’s cell to see if he has been able to make any alternative living arrangements. None. Phil looks over HM’s resume. It indicates a college degree in computer sciences with lots of IT certifications and work experience with USG contractors in Kabul. The resume is well-written, reflective of the very good English with which HM communicates over the phone.
Phil invites HM to stay at our house in one of our empty-nester bedrooms. He offers to come to the hotel to get HM and his things. HM accepts the offer to stay with Phil and Connie but indicates that one of his Afghan friends will bring him to our home.
HM arrives with his Afghan friend, JN, who came to the US two years earlier and is living in Alexandria in a small apartment with his wife and six school-age children. Phil invites both HM and JN in and they settle into the sunroom for some tea and cookies and a brief chat. Phil senses that he is being sized up by both HM and JN who likely are a bit uncomfortable imposing on a Christian household, on such short notice for an indeterminate period of time. Phil must have passed the test, because after an hour, JN indicates he must get back to work and they will get HM’s suitcase and gear from his car.
Phil shows HM the bedroom that he has quickly arranged to accommodate him. Phil suggests HM freshen up and then they go out and get some lunch together and talk. Phil takes HM to his favorite take-out ‘gourmet’ restaurant, POPEYE’S! Phil, thinking ahead buys a few extra pieces of chicken realizing Connie could return home from our daughter’s might be hungry enough to excuse his wandering off onto the no-fast-food path.
That evening Connie prepares a shrimp appetizer – HM, growing up in a landlocked country - has not experienced very much seafood – and meat balls and spaghetti for dinner. HM is hungry but not very enthused about the shrimp or the meatballs. Not spicy enough we will learn later. The rest of the evening we talk and plan for the next day. HM expresses concerns over his Ramadan fasting commitment and how that might impact our daily routine. Phil and Connie tell HM that we’ve lived and worked in Muslim countries – Bangladesh and Pakistan – and are familiar with Islamic practices. HM appears relieved at hearing that.
DAY 2 (SATURDAY, APRIL 2) – Ramadan begins. Phil works with HM today on his job resume. Though HM’s written English is very good, his five-page resume needs some rewording to bring it down to just two pages of more focused information and to highlight his accomplishments better. HM works on revisions over a good share of the rest of the day. He is now fasting (since sun-up) and will not eat or drink till after sunset about 7:15pm. Connie wonders what to fix for dinner. In the middle of that quandary the doorbell rings and it is another of HM’s friends who has come to drop off Iftar (dinner) food for the three of us. Later HM explains the Muslim tradition of sharing Iftar food with others during Ramadan. We graciously accept the rice biryani, cut up chicken, and spicy okra vegetable dish. We eat well that evening. HM observes Phil’s and Connie’s practice of preceding dinner asking God’s blessing; we observe as, is HM’s practice, that he follows dinner with his thanks, “Praise Allah (God) who has fed us!”
DAY 3 (SUNDAY, APRIL 3) - HM’s family in Kabul. Connie and Phil had hoped to take HM to church service with them this morning. The night before, he had responded positively to our invitation and expressed interest in the experience. But when we tapped on his door in the morning we were greeted with a very drawn and exhausted HM who appeared to have had a sleepless night. We worried about that one shrimp or the meatballs, but later we would learn that he had been on his computer using WhatsApp to communicate with his family - Kabul time is nine hours ahead of ours – and HM admits he is a bit stressed and unsettled. Maybe next Sunday ….
Later in the day, HM explains that when he left Afghanistan, he left his mother and father, a sister and a brother still in Kabul. HM’s father works in a government statistics and census office. Under the Taliban government he is still expected to report to his ministry job daily but there is neither work to do or nor money to pay him. He tried to resign, HM reports, but the government refused his request. His father feared that if his father just stopped showing up for work there might be unfavorable repercussions for his family.
When we return from church, we find HM sitting in our living room with HS, yet another Afghan refugee friend. HS, we learn, is a trained dentist who came out of Afghanistan in early September with his family of 11 including wife, kids, parents and grandparents. He has been resettled nearby in Woodbridge. HS needs to pass the Virginia state dental board exams before he can continue his practice in Virginia. That will require at least a year of so more to prepare. Until then he is only able to work as a much lower-paid dental assistant.
There is one happy note: HM has been using HS’s home as his mailing address to receive letter mail related to his refugee status. HM’s social security card arrived in the mail and HS brought it to him today. HM is one important step closer to qualifying for employment.
DAY 4 (MONDAY, APRIL 4) – Halal food shopping. Connie and HM go food shopping at a Halalco supermarket in a nearby area where many middle eastern as well as Hispanic immigrants have settled. Their objective is to pick up some food items HM thinks Connie and Phil would enjoy eating. The items they bring home include 1x3 foot flat bread, very hot chili spices, specially seasoned ground beef, basmati rice and Tunisian dates. (Note: See photo image. Breaking fast with water and grapes is an Islamic practice that dates back 14 centuries to the life of the Muslim prophet, Mohamud.) HM sets about preparing Halal dinner with Connie helping. It’s a unique and delicious meal we have for dinner. HM has very developed cooking skills far exceeding Phil’s, for sure.
DAY 5 (TUESDAY, APRIL 5) – Opening a bank account. Today, one of HM’s friends comes by to take him to set up a bank account, now that he has a SSN. While Connie is out of the house doing volunteer AARP tax advising and HM is getting his bank account set up, Phil is left alone. He takes advantage of the moment to ‘break fasting’ and sneak a couple of pieces of leftover POPEYE’S chicken from the fridge.
DAY 6 (WEDNESDAY, APRIL 6) – Computer Geek as well as Gourmet cook. The router signal is very weak in the back bedroom where HM sleeps and works so he sets up his laptop at the kitchen table. Not good for his privacy and concentration when working. Our home wireless router needs a booster, he tells Phil. Can HM install a booster? asks Phil. Sure, says HM. Off to Best Buy they go and in less than a half hour after they return, HM has the booster installed and paired to our router with a strong enough wireless signal to return to working in his bedroom. HM is now hard into looking exploring job websites and talking via WhatsApp with his family in Kabul, often till the early hours of the morning.
DAY 7 (THURSDAY, APRIL 7) – A Ramadan fasting secret: cut the day in half by sleeping late. HM wakes up and appears downstairs about 2:00pm today to chat, no food, of course. He was up a good share of the night working till about 4:00am sending off job resumes and filling out job applications. Phil and Connie discover that during Ramadan, HM will spend his late evenings and early mornings on ZOOM working on his job search and talking with his family in Kabul while snacking, so he is plenty full with only a short half day to fast when he wakes up around noon. A young Muslim man’s clever way of accommodating lifestyle and religious practice.
WEEK 2 – SETTLING IN
DAY 8 (FRIDAY, APRIL 8) – Phil is becoming expendable. HM arrived at our home a week earlier with clothes freshly washed and cleaned at a laundromat close to his hotel. He now needs to wash his clothes again. Connie shows him how to use our washing machine, how much soap to put in and what settings to use. HM now knows something about how to run our house that Phil doesn’t know. Phil is beginning to feel a bit expendable.
DAY 9 (SATURDAY, APRIL 9) – A helping hand from church members. Phil and Connie send out a request to our church fellowship group for a chest of drawers that HM might use in his bedroom. Within less than an hour after our request “hit the streets” we have a call with the offer of a 3-drawer chest. It’s now installed in his bedroom. He can take it with him – along with our daughter’s unwanted student desk - when he finds his own place to live.
DAY 10 (SUNDAY, APRIL 10) – Another Afghan friend, HA, comes to visit. We learn that HA arrived in the first wave of evacuees with his parents and a brother and was housed at Fort Bliss. It has taken HA nearly six months since his arrival to get all his immigration paperwork processed and only recently has been able to find a job as a data analyst with an area company. He brings, of course, food from his family’s Iftar dinner the night before. More delicacies again to please our pallets at dinner.
DAY 11 (MONDAY, APRIL 11) - We celebrate today. HM has a job offer. Not much of one, because it’s a short free-lance contract arranged through an Internet-based company - www.upwork.com - that matches computer techies with small-company clients that don’t need or can’t afford full time IT staff. In HM’s case the work would be constructing a website for the owner of a new restaurant. UpWork has an international talent base and matches employers and workers in a range of business and engineering areas around the world. It just may be of interest to other arriving refugees.
DAY 12 (TUESDAY, APRIL 12) – HM takes over our kitchen. It’s another day of AARP volunteer tax advising for Connie so she will be home late in the afternoon. (Only a few days remain till the tax filing deadline.) Phil normally “cooks” these evenings, that is he goes to get Chinese or Thai take out. When he suggests this option to HM, however, he gets pushback. There is still plenty of Iftar meal ingredients provided by his Afghan friends on hand so he suggests that instead. Phil has no counter offer so HM takes over the kitchen and has a full meal ready when Connie walks in the door. She is delighted. Phil can’t complain. We three break (HM’s) Ramadan fast together. Phil even has trouble carrying out his normal kitchen duty – rinsing plates and putting them in the dishwasher. HM insists he must also do that. (Has HM’s mother back in Kabul encouraged him to be so helpful?) Whatever, Phil is really beginning to like HM. Connie already.
DAY 13 (WEDNESDAY, APRIL 13) – Another family relative emerges. After Iftar dinner together Phil shows HM an Opinion Page article from the day’s Washington Post about the need for the western countries to press the Afghan Taliban government on its promises to keep secondary schools open for girls. The article is written by Roya Rahmani, the former Afghan ambassador to the US (2018-2021) who is now also a refugee in the US and currently is a visiting fellow at Georgetown University’s Institute for Women, Peace and Security. HM declares Rahmani is a relative on his mother’s side. He knows her personally. Another layer of HM’s family-and-friends background emerges.
DAY 14 (THURSDAY, APRIL 14) – More variety in our daily meals. Today Phil and Connie schedule our Iftar meal to follow our Maundy Thursday evening church service. HM chows down as soon as we return home with food that still another friend, HK, has brought to share with him – rice, of course, along with chicken biryani and Qabuli palau, a tomato-based vegetable dish.
WEEK 3 – SHARING THE EASTER EXPERIENCE
DAY 15 (FRIDAY, APRIL 15) – Good Friday and Good Food. One of HM’s friends – we’ve now lost record of all their names – comes by to take him shopping and then to dinner. HM returns later that evening laden down with more halal groceries and foods prepared by his friends. Not only is our freezer and fridge full, but we now have a mounting collection of plastic food containers as we go through some of the left-overs and special dishes that HM brings in. We’re not sure to which of HM’s friends to return which food containers. Beyond some banana bread Connie bakes for JN and his family it’s a challenge reciprocate the continuous flow of delicious Afghan dishes into our house.
DAY 16 (SATURDAY, APRIL 16) – Gardening Together. HM has been pressing Phil to let him help around the house. It’s not sufficient for him to just cook and wash dishes, he tells us. So, Phil takes him out into the backyard today to spread mulch from the mountain of 3-cubic-foot bags that the local Boy Scout troop delivered in mid-March. HM is a huge help at carrying, opening and dumping the heavy bags while Phil follows along behind with a garden rake spreading out their contents under the shrubs and around the perennials. Together they get the job done in half the time that it normally takes Phil to do it alone. And that’s with HM fasting. Still Phil and Connie agree that’s enough outdoor exercise for HM for the day.
DAY 17 (SUNDAY, APRIL 17) – Attending Easter Services. HM had earlier expressed an interest in observing our Sunday church services so we take him to our Easter Sunday service. He has to rise much earlier than normal with a long day of fasting ahead of him, but he is awake and ready when we leave the house. Phil and HM sit toward the back of the church while Connie is up front ringing bells. HM observes the service and follows along in the Sunday program. There is only slightly awkward moment during the period of congregational greeting when we all stand for sharing of the peace with those around us. During Ramadan many of the devout abstain from sexual intimacy, even any male/female contact, so when some of our female congregants offer a hand shake, HM instead raises his hand to his heart. Whether folks feel he is doing that because of Ramadan or Covid, Phil does not know. But folks seem to understand.
DAY 18 (MONDAY, APRIL 18) – Trivia Question: In how many places in its written text does the Quran make reference to the Christian Bible? At Iftar dinner this evening, HM, Connie and Phil get into a comparative religion discussion. HM points out that Ramadan is not only a period of fasting but also of sharing. Breaking fast at the end of the day involves sharing of food with the least fortunate as well as with close friends. He asks if we have the same custom at Easter. We explain that our Christmas season focuses more on giving and sharing than Easter, when we celebrate the triumph of good over evil, of eternal life over death.
HM reflects on this and then points to a passage in his copy of the Quran, which makes reference to eternal life. He reads from the English version of the Quran, which we are surprised to hear starts out as: “O People of the Scripture! You have no basis until you uphold the Torah, and the Gospel, and what is revealed to you from your Lord.” [Quran, 5:68]. We express our surprise at the Quran’s reference to the Torah – essentially parts of our Old Testament Bible – and the Gospel – our New Testament Bible. We ask if there are other references to the Gospel in the Quran. “Oh yes,” HM says. “Several.” There is, of course, a Quran chapter, “Mariah” dedicated to Jesus, a major prophet in Islam, and his mother, Mary. But more? Together we check how many times the “Gospel” is referenced in the Quran. Not wanting to read the entire Quran we take a high-tech short-cut and go to the website https://www.clearquran.com to find a full-text English version of the Quran and do a key-word search. “Gospel” comes up 12 times; “Torah” (16 times). We never would have thought …
DAY 19 (TUESDAY, APRIL 19) – What am I in America? HM continues filling out online job applications. One of the questions he is not sure how to answer is about race and ethnicity. The choices offered most job applicants are: White/Caucasian; Black/African American; Hispanic; Asian; and Native American/Pacific Islander. In only a few cases did applications provide ‘Other’ and none provide a “Middle Eastern” among the options. HM indicates he is confused about both the why and the what of the question. As to ‘why’ Phil explains that increasingly American businesses are working to increase the racial and ethnic diversity of their work forces.
The ‘what’ is a bit more challenging. HM explains that Afghans do not consider themselves “Asian,” a racial and ethnic background they view as related to those from the Far East and from South East Asia – e.g., Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Indonesian, etc. Phil tells HM he’s challenged on how to guide him on responding on those job applications; best to indicate the race or ethnicity to which HM personally feels he relates most closely. HM has consulted his Afghan friends and they all agree that they would respond “White.” Phil’s response: Go with it!
DAY 20 (WEDNESDAY, APRIL 20) – Iftar dinner out. Phil has driven many times down Leesburg pike to Bailey’s Crossroads and into Alexandria without realizing that just a few blocks from seven corners is an Islamic Mosque off to the left. Dar Al Hijrah mosque is located in a residential area across from two other houses of worship, a First Christian Church and Church of Christ. In a very ecumenical spirit motivated by pragmatic considerations the two churches offer their parking lots for those attending evening prayers, particularly nightly during Ramadan.
Phil, Connie and HM are driving to the mosque this evening. We are guests of the mosque for an Iftar dinner at which representatives of other local non-Muslim houses of worship have also been invited. We sit at long tables apart from the rest of the several hundred participants in Iftar dinner following evening prayers. During Iftar dinner, we have a presentation of Islam by two of the Dar Al Hijrah imams (Islamic teachers), and a lively discussion ensues covering topics that include the role and treatment of women, differences between cultural and Quranic practices, and the Islamic calendar with its requisite daily rituals. We feel honored to have been invited along with HM; while he participates in prayers, we observe with women out of sight on one side and men on the other. Then we share the evening Iftar meal together.
DAY 21 (THURSDAY, APRIL 21) – In-house resident computer geek to the rescue. After dinner, Phil mentions that he’s somehow lost wireless communications between his laptop computer and our home printer and can’t get them to ‘recognize each other despite rebooting and all the other trouble-shooting steps he has followed earlier. HM asks if he can try and in less than 30 minutes has the problem solved.
Phil asks HM if he could help ‘decommission’ two older but still internet-ready laptops that he and Connie used in the past so that they could be donated to a family with kids needing a computer for school work. Of course, says HM, and the next day he wipes them clean of all personal files. Phil wonders if there are others out there who could benefit from HM’s computer decommissioning talents and other IT skills. HM indicates he has considered starting a computer support business providing system management and cybersecurity services. It’s certainly great to have an in-house computer geek, in addition to a guest with gourmet cooking and gardening talents!
WEEK 4 – BUMPS IN THE ROAD TO BECOMING AN “OFFICIAL” IMMIGRANT
DAY 22 (FRIDAY, APRIL 22) – THE DMV experience. Qualifying for employment in the US requires Afghan refugees to have a government-issued picture ID. It is not enough to have a special immigrant visa (SIV) but also to have ID issued by the state of residence. So Catholic Charities arranges Uber transportation for HM to visit the local DMV, get photographed and take the written test for a learner’s permit. (He has actually been driving for several years in Kabul, but none of that counts toward getting a Virginia State Driver’s License.) Phil obtains a copy of the Virginia Drivers Manual which HM studies for the test. However, after he arrives at the DMV and waits in line, he is told he must show proof of Virginia residency in the form of a rental agreement, utility bills, bank account with a residence street address on it. He does not have those at the moment.
Back home, HM, Phil and Connie, download print out, fill in, and together sign a month-to-month lease agreement for ‘renting’ a room and bath in our home complete with ‘kitchen privileges.’ We laugh at that kitchen privileges clause because HM is now Connie’s companion cook, stocking our refrigerator and shelves with Iftar meals and food from Costco and the Halal supermarket.
Finally, the rental agreement, along with a bank statement - also now with our home as his mailing street address - make HM eligible to take the DMV written test. He “aces” the exam getting 40 out of 40 questions correct. A week later his learner’s permit arrives in our mailbox. HM proudly shows us the card with his head-and-shoulders photo on it; he’s one step closer to having what he needs to show he’s a worthy job applicant.
DAYS 23 (SATURDAY, APRIL 23) – Venturing into the District on Metro. Today, HM is meeting an American living in D.C. who was his work colleague and project on a US government contract in Kabul. HM wants to learn how to use the Metro Card that Catholic Charities has given him to help in getting to job interviews and for other needs. Phil drops HM at the West Falls Church Metro. HM is back home five hours later after having walked-and-talked much of the Capitol Mall with his former American colleague, then finding his way home from our closest Metro stop using his smart phone’s GPS. HM now considers himself Metro proficient. We tell him that it’s been more than two years, pre-Covid since we have ridden the Metro.
DAY 24 (SUNDAY, APRIL 24) – The same wine in different bottles? It was inevitable that Phil’s and Connie’s periodic comparative religion conversations with HM would drift into the realm of money and provisions in Islamic sharia law that prohibit usury, including charging interest rates to borrowers, or paying interest rates to lenders. An Islamic bank or financial institution, HM explains, becomes the purchaser and charges a markup for doing so under a system called murabaha. Say, a buyer wants to purchase a car for $20,000 and doesn’t have enough cash to pay the full cost. An Islamic bank purchases the car for the buyer who will repay the buyer-bank in, say, 10 monthly installments of $2,200.00 or a total of $22,000.00. At that time, the final buyer takes the title to the car. The Islamic institution keeps the $2,000 additional payment over what it paid for the car to cover its “costs of doing business.” We would see that as 10% interest payment, but, shhhh! That’s not the way sharia-observing Islamic bankers view it. Phil and Connie need to follow up on this conversation with HM some future evening with a discussion focusing next time on saving and investing in the Islamic world.
DAY 25 (MONDAY, APRIL 25) – Job search coaching is now priority #1. This morning HM is up early for his appointment at the Alexandria office of Work Force Development where he will meet with a job counselor about his work status, resume, job prospects, and possibly some tuition-free English language training. Catholic Charities arranged the appointment and for Uber transportation to the appointment and back. Phil and Connie are impressed both to learn that such a Workforce Development office exists and is available to Afghan refugees and that settlement agencies have resources to arrange transport for visits to meet with professional job counselors. In HM’s case the system appears to be working well.
DAY 26 (TUESDAY, APRIL 26) - Becoming his own boss? HM continues to explore the option of marketing his computer consulting services through an online business of his own, while he continues his job search. He reports that several of his Afghan friends are looking at this option as well because they all are having problems landing jobs in their fields. Residency histories and US government-issued security clearances are among the obstacles for specialists in computer systems and cyber security work for which HM is well qualified. HM meets neither of those residency or security requirements still being such a recent arrival in the US. HM asks us where the nearest book-store is, one that sells titles on small business start-ups. Phil says he’s happy to take HM to the local Barnes and Noble, but suggests first that he should go online and look over the rich reservoir of free resources that the US Small Business Administration (SBA) has to offer for aspiring small business owners. More late-night research for HM to conduct during Ramadan.
DAY 27 (WEDNESDAY, APRIL 27) – - Rich Dad, Poor Dad. This evening at dinner we discuss finances. The topic comes up because HM shows us a list of books that he wants to buy to understand better how to start a business. On the list is author Robert Kiyosaki’s book, Rich Dad, Poor Dad. We tell him not to buy that book because we have one of the 35 million copies of this best-seller in our home library. Phil gets it off the shelf and hands it to HM to read.
Later, we also discuss saving and investing and the importance of having your money work for you as well as you working for your money. HM is a bit vague about stock and bond investing according to Islamic sharia law. Phil reminds him that Islam does not prohibit investing in company stocks but does avoid positions in some business sectors. He encourages HM to look at the Islamic approved Iman Fund - [symbol Imanx] www.imanfund.com – which only has holdings in sharia-compliant firms. Excluded, for example, all banking institutions and firms that produce alcohol, tobacco, hallucinating drugs or pork products and are in the gambling and adult entertainment sectors.
Phil also shares that some faith communities – Presbyterians, Catholics, Jewish - have developed similar socially responsible funds that align their investments with their particular values. He tells HM that our Presbyterian denomination has funds that are similar to the Iman Fund but unlike in that those funds include financial institutions. In short, our Christian and Islamic faiths overlap in our investment practices in most if not all cases.
DAY 28 (THURSDAY, APRIL 28) - Give him credit for asking. Phil, Connie and HM are having periodic discussions about money and this evening’s topic is credit cards. Should he have one and what impact does it have on his credit history? HM is wondering. HM indicates he understands it is important to build a good credit history to qualify for a loan to buy a car or maybe someday a small condo or house. Right now, he only has a debit card attached to his bank account. We explain that for some purchases, particularly those made online, a credit card is advisable because he has a better chance of getting his money back should he want to return his purchase or if he gets caught up in some fraudulent transaction. He was not aware. We encourage HM to shop for the best rate and terms as credit cards, unlike debit cards, often come with annual fees. Also, we caution him, it is important to pay off his credit balance and not get enmeshed in credit card debt, against Islamic usury prohibitions. For a Muslim that’s a double incentive to be a pay-go consumer. HM appears to understand that well.
WEEK FIVE – RAMADAN CONCLUDES
DAYS 29/30 (FRIDAY/SATURDAY, APRIL 29/30) – Attending an Afghan Hiring (Job) Fair. NF comes to town from where he’s living with his family in Pittsburgh to meet up with his former work colleagues, HM and JN, whom he hasn’t seen since the summer 2021 when the three worked together on US government funded projects in Afghanistan. NF has come to attend a Northern Virginia Afghan Hiring Fair, sponsored by local non-profits and attended by some corporate recruiters. The three Afghans are hopeful that this event, or others to come, or what may emerge on their computer screens each day, will open doors to productive jobs and self-reliant futures. Some leads emerge from the job fair, but more follow-up work to do with online applications lies ahead.
DAY 31 (SUNDAY MAY 1) – Eid Mubarak! Happy Eid! Ramadan concludes at sunset. Today, HM joins the families of some of his friends for special prayers followed by a celebratory Eid dinner. Phil and Connie wonder how his life and ours will readjust to returning to regular eating and sleeping hours. We wonder what the future holds for him and for us in his life. Our month together has been richly rewarding and a real learning experience for each of us.
Ramadan ends but the Easter season continues until Pentecost the fiftieth day after Easter Sunday. Our interfaith lives together with HM continue as well. Connie and Phil feel blessed to have HM in our home and to be able to support him as he faces the challenges of strengthening his foothold in our American economy and culture.
HM has a lot more to accomplish before he becomes self-reliant and, most important, before he can thrive enough to send money back to Kabul to help his family members whose lives become more precarious each day. We don’t know how long it will take and what challenges still lie ahead for HM here and his family there. But HM’s self-confidence is contagious and has infected us deeply. Our respective faiths and shared values are bonding us closely together.
So, wish us well and stand by! More good news is surely to come. ###
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