Boy! Oh Boy! I’m not Muslim but Ramadan 2020 has been a really special time for me. Made special by the truly special people I’ve spent it with, socially distanced, most of it locked down at my desk 14-16 hours a day, leaving food shopping and preparation to my patient husband and two daughters whilst I’ve been indulging my favourite passions: getting to know new people, hearing their stories, sharing their memories, learning about their families and their culture and heritage, finding out more about the history of the lands they or their parents or forefathers came from, helping them tell their stories so other people can get to know them too – occasionally sparking conversations families hadn’t had before, with much laughter, a few shared tears and a lot of love along the way. I for one don’t want this special experience to end!

Yes, I have missed the Iftar invites of previous years, and the buzz and foodie adventure of the night markets in Haldon Street and Cumberland Council’s Ramadan Festival, but this COVID-19 lockdown Ramadan has given me many different gifts which I wouldn’t have experienced if I hadn’t  been working with so many others to find ways to create an invitation to a virtual iftar – or lots of invitations to lots of iftars – by way of sharing recipes and stories when we can’t sit down and eat and chat together face to face.

I won’t say it hasn’t been tiring. AMUST’s Editor-on-Chief Zia Ahmad jokes that we are a great team because I stop working at 1.30 in the morning and he starts at 3.30 am!  But there’s a price for everything!

Today, I planned to give an overview of the last week but so much has happened, I’ve decided to focus on two special iftars last Thursday and last night – making it Eight Days A Week to borrow from The Beatles!

I wanted to start last Thursday because one of Recipes for Ramadan’s community partners Tender Loving Care Disability Services took up the idea of creating an alternative iftar to celebrate culture and diversity by organising a cooking class at The Culinary School in Punchbowl.

Four of the people TLC supports and four of its staff, half Muslim and half non-Muslim, learned to make Sambousek, little pastries which reminded me of Cornish pasties that I grew up with in England.

Social distancing was observed but the long kitchen benches provided enough room for the Mayor and Deputy Mayor of Canterbury Bankstown, Khal Asfour and Bilal El-Hayak and me to join in too.

What was most rewarding was talking to TLC’s young people. One of the boys had studied Hospitality and loved cooking at school but life took a hard turn and he’d stopped. The afternoon, he said, was giving him confidence that he could pick it up again and the belief he might find a future career he’d love.

Unity Grammar’s Head of Community Engagement Osman Karolia and family greeting Craig Foster.

We all took home a dozen or so Sambousek and I was able to join TLC staff and clients at a special (socially distanced) iftar at their Padstow offices.  Capped off by former Socceroos captain Craig Foster joining us by Zoom to say “Ramadan Kareem”.

A week later, this Thursday, there was another Iftar. This time a real virtual Iftar – if you’ll forgive the pun – hosted by Amity College and Unity Grammar with me MC-ing. Over recent years, the two schools have held a joint iftar for students during Ramadan and it was their enthusiasm six or seven weeks ago to make Recipes For Ramadan a community project which gave it legs.

At the end of March, when it became clear COVID-19 would make so many normal Ramadan activities impossible, the aim was to lift the gloom, to encourage students and families to talk together about their cultural roots and what food means to them particularly during Ramadan, and explore how sharing food is so often the foundation of friendships. All that came together last night in a Facebook Live Zoom Iftar and Chat. A first for me.

The Syed Family’s greeting to Craig Foster.

The evening was characterised by great company, great conversation and of course great food. As with any good meal, we talked for longer than we expected and the evening was rounded off with an invitation to all guests to a joint Iftar next Ramadan with the hope we would continue sharing food and stories in between.

Huge thanks are due to the Community Engagement and Pastoral Care Staff of the two Schools, Serkan Iner, Almila Koca and Osman Karolia and to their respective principals, Deniz Erdogan and Aaron Boyd.

Also to Rabbi Zalman Kastel, National Director of Together for Humanity, Mark Van Ommen Together for Humanity’s Head of Education, Fr Patrick McInerney, Director of the Columban Centre for Christian Muslim Relations, and Sheikh Arshad Khan who together brought a truly interfaith and intercultural dimension to the evening.  The Azan was delivered beautifully by Amity’s Pastoral Care Co-ordinator and Religion and Values teacher Bilal Kilac.

Students and families of both schools literally invited us to their tables and shared their food through show and tell! And were great hosts to the partners who have enabled us to produce such events and were able to join and participate: Mayor Steve Christou of City of Cumberland Council, Canterbury Bankstown Deputy Mayor Bilal El-Hayak, TLC’s CEO Yasser Zaki and of course AMUST’s Editor-in-Chief Zia Ahmad and publisher Mehar Ahmad. It was an added bonus that NSW state MP for Lakemba Jihad Dib and Craig Foster were able to join us too.

Syed familiy’s iftar table.

Sadly, Beth Rich and Ramia Abdo Sultan of Gaza Children’s Fund had prior commitments but Ramia’s signature dish Bamia can be found on the website https://recipesforramadan.com/recipes/ramia/

For me, the evening could be summed up by one of my favourite lines from the Quran,  Surah Hujurat Chapter 49, verse 13: “O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another.”

Posted by Recipes for Ramadan on Wednesday, 20 May 2020