Hala Shah, a 21-year-old Muslim senior at New York University, is currently celebrating the month of Ramadan and sharing her weekly journals with Beliefnet. Each week she will write about what Ramadan is, what it means to her, and memories from past Ramadans.

Dear Journal,

Every year as Ramadan approaches, we watch the news, call our families, search the Internet, maybe even gaze up at the sky on a clear night, all in search of the moon. Upon sighting the new moon, Satan is locked away, and we begin our fast with hope that our diligent prayers and good deeds will keep the angel on our left shoulder busy erasing, and the angel on our right shoulder busy engraving.

As often happens, this year some countries sighted the moon when others didn't. Although my family and most people in North America started the day after the Middle East started, I chose to start a day early. It wasn't because I think the countries in the Middle East were right and North America was wrong. Rather, I wanted the day to be a test, a preparation for the real thing. I remember days when I was little and would thrust open the refrigerator door, take a bite of a tantalizing goody and realize, oh no! I just broke my fast! I wonder how many adults still do that every once in a while. I almost did. That test day gave me the chance to train my mind to remind me, when seeing, smelling, and hearing about food and drink, that I can't eat or drink. This way when Ramadan really started the next day, I wouldn't be weary of my fingers casually plucking a grape or my dry lips taking a sip from a beckoning water fountain.

Another bonus from the trial day was rooting out all the glitches in my daily routine. That day, as I headed to my evening class, "making the documentary: art and techniques," the thought of soft, sweet dates wafted through my head and down to my stomach. But with little time to spare, where would I find any? True, you don't have to break the fast with dates, as the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) did. But for me, dates are extra special because I used to hate them. I remember years ago I would cringe at the sight of my father's shriveled, giant bug-like dates. And it was in just the past year or two that I tried one and liked it! Now I love them, can't get enough of them, am downright obsessed with which ones are best (I like them plump and with the pit). So I hopped from grocery store to grocery store on campus in search of my gooey brown friends. But sadly, I ended up breaking my fast with Sour Jelly Bellies.

"God was planting seeds in my soul..."
Read more on page 2 >>

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  • My new love of dates holds added significance since it corresponds with my renewal of faith. After the age of six, when my parents separated, I no longer lived with my father. On top of that, he was living overseas while my mother, brother, sisters, and I all lived in the United States. When he came for month-long visits, the first things I dug out were a backgammon set and a deck of cards for playing Basra. It was, and still is a tradition for us. I showed absolutely no mercy, beating him almost every time, and gloating over my victory and his humiliating scores. He would then joke that he let me win, I just was lucky, all the usual excuses! And of course, the one or two times that he did actually win, he too earned the right to excessively revel in his success. But amidst the fury of non-stop backgammon and Basra competitions, there were the quiet moments when we would pray together. After we finished our prayers, he would shake my hand and kiss my forehead with such tenderness. In these moments I could feel his soul, so pure from having just prayed, and so content and honored to be by his daughter's side.