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,

Drowning in the non-stop downpours flooding the northeastern seaboard, my husband and I vamoosed out of New York on the Vamoose Bus, to bathe in the clear fall skies and mild temperatures of Washington, DC. As soon as I stepped onto that bus, I began a journey that would cross paths with Christians, Jews, and other non-Muslims, who, whether or not they knew it, were all helping to make a successful Ramadan.

I have taken the Vamoose Bus many times, but it wasn't until that trip to DC that I realized a non-Muslim was helping me reach my family so that we could celebrate this holy month together. The owner of that bus is a Hassidic Jew. And his bus, his services, safely escorted me to DC. True, there are numerous ways to travel, and the men and women who provide transportation services practice many different religions. So what is important is not necessarily who is what religion. Rather, what is important is the coexistence and support network that people living together knowingly or unknowingly create. Some people try to surround themselves with and rely exclusively on members of their own religion. But in American society, to some extent, this is not possible. Many of the vital services, not just transportation, that we depend on, are provided by a person of no faith, or a different faith. At the end of the day, I try to look at my neighbor as just another human. It does not mean that I ignore what the Qur'an says about relationships with people of different religions. It means simply that in order to take head of and understand these teachings, I have to first understand my neighbors as they exist and behave as human beings. We are all made from and will return to clay. And God determines what path we take, and what religion we choose. Doesn't it make sense then to keep this commonality in mind when interacting with people of different faiths?

The second leg of my journey floated in on a relaxing brunch cruise down the Potomac River. Accompanying me on the cruise were almost twenty other Muslim relatives from my husband's side and around a hundred other non-Muslims. For various reasons, many of them health problems, only five of us were fasting. With a buffet of shrimp cocktails, a chocolate waterfall, and many more tantalizing treats, my stomach was oddly complacent amidst the tables of happy diners and even happier appetites. But there was no need to look at the fellow cruisers with resentment and contempt since their presence did not keep me from fasting. In fact, the cruise crew members accommodated our fasting by giving us doggie-bag boxes for both the entree and dessert. I think I took home more food than the other diners ate. So what initially seemed like a bad idea - a buffet cruise during Ramadan - actually improved my fast.

"If I want to go on a cruise and test my strength to resist food, then I will."
Read more on page 2 >>

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  • One of the highest good deeds during Ramadan is feeding another person and helping them keep their fast. While the masses of food around me and the other fasters would seemingly be temptation to break the fast, it wasn't. And when 6:30 or so rolled around that evening, what food did we break our fast with - the food from the cruise. Regardless of what faith the crew members were, I pray they will receive the blessing of feeding the fasters. And I pray also that the non-Muslims on the cruise will see that Muslim holidays can peacefully exist in a predominantly non-Muslim society. And finally, I pray that other Muslims will learn to appreciate all the help that non-Muslims provide during Ramadan. Yes it is Ramadan, and yes I take it very seriously. But how I spend my days does not change because I am fasting. If I want to go on a cruise and test my strength to resist food, then I will. If I want to go to a coffee shop with a non-Muslim friend and chat amongst frappuccino filled mouths, then what is to stop me? If I baby myself during Ramadan, then what am I learning? There are people in the world that don't have the luxury of altering their daily schedules just because they are hungry and thirsty. So why, if I am supposed to learn how blessed I am to have Krispy Kremes and sushi everyday, should I grant myself that luxury to make things easier for me.