The holy month of Ramadan has begun across the world. This year, the celebration is taking on a different meaning due to the war in Gaza. Fatema Ahmad, executive director of the Muslim Justice League, joined GBH’s Morning Edition co-host Paris Alston to discuss what Ramadan means to her this year. This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.  

Paris Alston: You have been vocal with your activism and your support of those who are suffering in Gaza right now. How are you feeling as Ramadan approaches?

Fatema Ahmad: There are really just no words to describe the pain of this moment for Muslims globally. But, you know, especially those of us living here in the United States while our country continues to support Israel and its genocide in Gaza.

Alston: Now this holy month, of course, is is characterized by the fast. But it's also a time for increased worship, for charity, for good deeds. How does that come into play with what's happening in Gaza? Is there anything about your observance that's going to be different this year?

Ahmad: Yeah. I think, for folks who observe Ramadan, a lot of it is about community and coming together, even though fasting itself can feel isolating. There's supposed to be so much community in that month. There's worship, there's devotion. And so I think for a lot of us, and for me especially, I am thinking about fasting as a test of our strength, of our resilience, you know, what are we willing to sacrifice for justice, which I think so many of us — not just Muslims, but everyone who has been speaking out for Palestinian liberation — has been doing that. People have been losing their jobs. People are getting suspended from school, people are getting arrested quite regularly, for speaking out. And so I think this is a month where we can even step into that even more and people can be in solidarity with us by doing that too.

Alston: And is that something that the Muslim Justice League has been doing over the past several months? Tell me more about what the organization's actions have looked like on the ground.

Ahmad: Yeah, we've pretty much spent, I would say, 99% of our time since October fighting for Palestinian liberation. This has been an ongoing issue for us. But in this moment, we're really dedicating 24/7 to this. We have had constant protests, events, workshops, actions. We've been holding community space for folks who are impacted not only by what's happening in Palestine, but have been impacted by the global war on terror, because this is just another example of what our country has done with our weapons manufacturing, with our military support. So those community events have been really important. And I think it's much clearer to so many people that our government does not represent us, including local government. We had community members call out Boston's complicity at State of the City for Mayor [Michelle] Wu. And they had 20 of us arrested for that. And I saw that she did her Ramadan Kareem post. And many of these elected officials are going to say, you know, 'Ramadan Kareem' when they haven't actually done anything to advance justice for Muslims. So I think that's part of our regular work. And it's just really intense in this moment.

Alston: What do you think that says about the acknowledgment and recognition of the American Muslim experience in general?

Ahmad: I think it's really gone not just under-acknowledged, but is often erased, right? We're a city where Malcolm X grew up and people don't like to talk about, you know, his Muslim-ness. People don't like to acknowledge the Nation of Islam, or the many Black mosques, even, that are in this city. And people really don't want to talk about how Muslims fight for social justice, that is a crucial part of our religion. So I think it was really easy around the Trump era, which is obviously continuing, for people to claim that they are against Islamophobia, really because they wanted to show that they are not like Trump. But in reality, across the spectrum, elected officials and people have supported policies like surveillance, like endless war, that have deeply impacted us, right? That have wrought devastation across the globe, like what we're seeing in Gaza again, is a continuation of what we did to Afghanistan, what we've done to Iraq. We have as a country been responsible for the deaths of many, many, many, many thousands of people who are perceived to be Muslim, right? Not just Muslims, but people from this region who are perceived to be Muslim. And I think it just rings shallow in this moment when people say 'Ramadan Kareem' without acknowledging that.

Alston: Do you think that we've sort of reached a point — I mean, for a while, right, there was a narrative about trying to get people to understand Islam better. But do you think we've crossed a different threshold at this point?

Ahmad: I hope so, I personally always hated the idea that if people just know about the religion and know some Muslims as if they will get over it. I can tell you I grew up in Trump country. I grew up in an Appalachian town and everyone loved me personally, I was very loved by my friends and neighbors. And also most of them voted for Trump and most of them voted for policies that would impact me, because just knowing a Muslim doesn't undo, you know, the media narratives, our military budget, all of the things that we're swimming in. So I hope we're past that. I hope that people really start to understand, like, what has our foreign policy and domestic policy looked like for 100 years now? And how that has impacted our communities?

Alston: That is Fatema Ahmad , who is the executive director of the Muslim Justice League. Fatema, thank you so much for joining us this morning.

Ahmad: Yeah. Thank you for having me.