One might not immediately connect raising awareness about celebrating Ramadan with advocating for newly resettled refugees but that is just what Fatima Dirie is doing in Salt Lake City, Utah. As the Policy Advisor for Refugees and New Americans in the Mayor’s Office, Fatima works to help make the city a more welcoming community for all. For Fatima, one important way to help newly arrived families feel welcome is by showing support for their faith and practices.
Fatima understands this firsthand — she is also a former refugee and arrived in Salt Lake City as a child after her family fled war in Somalia. At the time, there were few practicing Muslims in the community.
“It was a small community when we first came here,” Fatima recalls. “We didn't even have a mosque and we were praying at a woman's home during the month of Ramadan.” But over the years, the community has grown, and Utah has been a welcoming state for refugees arriving from around the world. “Things are definitely different,” she continues, “the community has grown and we have a mosque in almost every city in Utah.”
“I think we're lucky in the state of Utah because it's such a faith-based state,” says Fatima. There are opportunities for interfaith dialogue according to Fatima because members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also observe a fast once a month on a Sunday.
“I've participated in different interfaith seminars and panels to discuss what Ramadan is and the purpose behind Ramadan,” she continues. “I’ve hosted interfaith celebrations to bring people together, share dialogue and share a meal.”
And while there is much to celebrate about the welcoming spirit of communities across Utah, some challenges remain for Muslims celebrating Ramadan. Fatima’s advocacy work is shifting from raising awareness about what the observance is, to building social support to help Muslims celebrate Ramadan in its full cultural practice.
“I think the biggest challenge is for school-age kids who are participating in gym classes or they're playing a sport, and explaining to the teachers why they can't participate and trying to find a different activity so that they can pass their classes,” explains Fatima. “This is one of the conversations that I've been spearheading with school counselors and teachers.”
But Fatima remains hopeful and is constantly trying to build cultural bridges and keep the conversation open. “I think our schools have a better understanding [of Ramadan] and people are opening up to it.”
“Ramadan is a month of giving, a month of showing gratitude and doing what you can to lift the hands of others and elevate their dreams and their goals,” she explains. “I’m open to every opportunity that I have to educate, teach and invite anybody that's new to the religion or engage people who are just interested in learning. It has always been my inspiration and motivation for doing what I do.”
How you can help
This year, many refugee families will be observing the holy month of Ramadan in extreme poverty and away from their homes. Your support can help them cover their immediate needs and restore hope for a better future. Whether through Zakat or Sadaqah, it only takes a few seconds to share your blessings this Ramadan.