Ramadan e-belgique 1Our church shares space with a Muslim community, so it happens that I often see Muslims coming to pray. During the school year, preschool pickup coincides with mid-day prayers and the parking lot is a mix of parents emerging from minivans and Muslim men wearing a mix of Western clothing and kurtas and thobes.

I always make an effort to smile at these men and say hello in an effort to try to make them feel welcome. I always think about saying “salaam alaikum,” but I never do. Somehow I am always afraid I will pronounce it wrong, or not know what to say next, or that I will come across as inauthentic. When I articulate my hesitations, they seem absurd. But still I’m nervous and I just say, “hello.” They always smile back and say hello to me.

Right now it is Ramadan. This is a holiday I might have previously been unaware of, but the Muslim community at our church gathers at night to break their fast. Sometimes when I am leaving an evening meeting at church, Muslims are arriving to pray and eat.

My friend D was waiting outside for her ride and I heard her say, “Ramadan mubarak,” which means “blessed Ramadan.” All the way home I practiced pronouncing it correctly.

The next time I was leaving an evening meeting, I worked up my courage and said it to a couple individuals walking up the path. I said it out the window of my car to a man in the parking lot. They all looked pleasantly surprised and thanked me.

Today I had to get a routine blood test at the doctor’s office. The phlebotomist was wearing a hijab. I took a deep breath and wished her “Ramadan mubarak.” She said it was going to be Eid Mubarak, the celebration marking the end of the month of Ramadan, in a week. I wanted to ask her about it–what exactly Ramadan represents and what happens on Eid, but I didn’t. Partly because I was focused on making sure my vein and blood were cooperating, but also because I was embarrassed that I don’t know what Ramadan is about. Now I looked it up, and I know. She asked me if I was fasting, because I was supposed to in advance of the blood test, and I said yes. I wanted to ask her if she was fasting for Ramadan, but I didn’t. I thought it might be disrespectful to not assume she was because that’s what healthy adults are supposed to do. I wanted to ask her if she had any personal connection to the 17-year-old Muslim girl who was beaten to death with a baseball bat in Sterling. I refrained, realizing it was ridiculous to assume they would know each other and not knowing how such a conversation would proceed. I was reminded of stories about my Jewish paternal grandmother spotting a Christian church in her travels near my mother’s hometown, snapping a photo, and asking my mom if that were her church.

I ask everyone I meet all kinds of questions all the time. It’s what I do. But for all kinds of reasons, none particularly good, I was reluctant to ask this phlebotomist about her religion.

I am still working up my courage every day to make these connections and have these conversations. It is absolutely necessary.

Ramadan mubarak. You can say it too.