DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Muslims around the world began to observe the holy month of Ramadan last night. Every year, worshippers mark the month with day-long fasting, prayer and acts of charity. This year, Ramadan comes less than two months after a gunman killed 51 people in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, and also after other attacks on houses of worship here in the U.S. and elsewhere. Joining us in our studio is the writer and playwright Wajahat Ali. Welcome. And I guess, I - what is the proper greeting for Ramadan?
WAJAHAT ALI: You could say, Ramadan Mubarak. You could say, Ramadan Kareem. You could say, Happy Ramadan. And you could also be like, stay away from me because I can smell your Ramadan breath. And...
GREENE: I'll go with, Happy Ramadan. How about that?
ALI: Yeah, go for that. It's all good.
GREENE: You know, I just want to reflect a little bit because I - you know, we spoke to you last - I think right after the attack in New Zealand, and you were talking about the vulnerability that Muslims felt and also worshippers of all religions. So I mean, does this Ramadan feel different?
ALI: You know, it's the first time ever - and this was last week - where - you know, I've been born and raised in this country; I'm 38 years old - where a brief thought went in my head and said, huh, will we be safe in our mosques during this Ramadan? This was after the latest tragic shooting in the San Diego synagogue.
GREENE: Yeah. The synagogue, right.
ALI: And you know, six months after the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, and just like you said, two months after the terrorist attack in New Zealand. And so the fact that that thought even creeps up in your head, as an American citizen living in America, for the first time in your life, just shows you kind of the sobering reality of the times that we live in, with the rampant, you know, rise of white nationalism and hate against religious minorities and ethnic communities and the fact that we can't feel safe in our houses of worship.
But that being said, there is a resilience and a hope and optimism among these religious communities, and most Muslims still feel optimistic about Ramadan and the fact that, you know, these terms, like fajr, which is the morning prayer, or suhoor (ph), what is the meal that we just ate, like, an hour and a half ago, is now trending next to Cersei and Dany (ph), the mother of dragons, in America. So it's like, oh, OK...
GREENE: So it's, like, holding onto all the traditions that you're familiar with to deal with kind of these fears that are new and very serious.
ALI: Yeah, and that is a way of responding to tragedy and crisis and is also being resilient and moving forward and loving your family and loving your community and fasting and, you know, opening your fast at, you know, IHOP if you have to. It's the...
GREENE: At IHOP?
ALI: Yeah, sometimes, you know, listen...
GREENE: Is that where...
ALI: Sometimes you need to do an emergency pancake dinner.
ALI: Or sometimes in the morning, you're in a crunch, and so you go to IHOP. But also, one thing I want to mention is how America is becoming more inclusive. There's something called dineafterdark.org, where local restaurants here in Virginia are actually staying up late or getting up early in the morning to accommodate many Muslim Americans, and it's good for business. And just - this is something I didn't have growing up, David, and it shows you despite the tragedy and the chaos in 2019 America, majority of people are actually welcoming Muslims and saying, hey, this is part and parcel of the American fabric, and we'll stay up a little bit late and make some extra money to feed hungry or some hangry (ph) Muslims.
GREENE: Wow. So I mean, IHOP - and nothing wrong with IHOP. I mean, I enjoy it.
ALI: Nothing wrong with IHOP.
GREENE: But it was a sign that that was the only - one of the only options, and now that's changing; you think that's such a good sign.
ALI: It's not just IHOP. Now you got Middle Eastern restaurants. You got Yemeni restaurants. You got, you know, South Asian restaurants. And like I always said, diversity is good for America because it makes America tastier.
GREENE: Writer and playwright, Wajahat Ali. Thanks so much for being here, as always, and Happy Ramadan.
ALI: Thank you, sir. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.