Insha’Allah may this Ramadan be COVID-free so that the custom of shared iftars and communal celebration and prayer resume.

For many of us, the last two COVID-plagued years have been a blur with many events that should have been special occasions drawing together family and friends lost – from graduations to weddings to funerals – and life throwing up new and ‘unprecedented’ challenges.

The first lockdowns in March, April and May 2020 meant the first ever lockdown Ramadan – unprecedented in itself with no opportunity to share nightly iftars or special occasion iftars with extended family, friends, colleagues and the wider community.

So it was at the eleventh hour that a few community organisations and individuals banded together to create something they hoped would be a replacement iftar, an invitation to share food and to exchange stories of our lives virtually.

Whilst Zoom and Facetime became the new norm for connecting with our families and friends and for working and studying from home, Recipes for Ramadan also harnessed digital and social media to create and celebrate community and cultural diversity.

The simple idea was for Australian Muslims to share their family recipes, the sort of food they might present to guests at iftar that would start conversations about family history stretching back to the lands of their ancestors and unpacking a wider social and political history and a discovery of countries and cultures their guests may never have visited.

An opportunity to celebrate your family or a peak into someone else’s history. The project also hoped to increase understanding of Ramadan outside the Muslim community, the meaning and intention of fasting as an act of self-sacrifice and the significance of food as an act of hospitality and of charity.

And so the recipe-sharing and story-telling started. The dedicated website (www.recipesforramadan.com) now offers over 50 dishes and stories from more than 20 different cultural and geographic backgrounds – laid out alphabetically from Afghanistan to Turkey.

There’s home cooks and foodie influencers, family photos and professional ‘chop-and-chat’ videos. Suggestions for suhoor, snacks and soups for iftar, national and family favourite dishes for dinner and mouth-watering sweet things too – all opportunities to try food from other countries, to hear other people’s stories, understand a little of the history of different places and to reflect on the things we inherit from our grandparents and those before them and how that contributes to who we are now.

One of the founding partners was Amity College which has its own established tradition of hosting a number of community and family iftars over Ramadan. Unable to do that, students, staff and parents contributed recipes from places as unexpected as Japan and Italy as well as Turkey and the Middle East.

In 2020 they co-hosted a Facebook Live Zoom Iftar with Unity Grammar and educational not for profit Together For Humanity, hosting students and families as well as other community partners, mayors, councillors, state MP and Shadow Minister for Education Jihad Dib and former Socceroo and human rights activist Craig Foster, eating apart but talking together. Proving it was possible to bring large numbers of people together for iftar even in the most challenging circumstances.

This year, we are all hoping that another COVID spike won’t prevent community iftars but in addition to hosting its usual program, Amity hopes to host a special iftar face to face, cooking up some of the recipes from the Recipes for Ramadan online ‘cookbook’, and sharing stories with special guests.

We are also delighted to welcome My Ability Care as a new community partner this year. Director Nasreen Hanifi and her mother Maryam contributed recipes and memories from Afghanistan in 2020 and last year shared their stories with ABC Radio’s Simon Marnie and a NSW-wide audience on his Sunday morning radio program.

My Ability Care has a deep understanding of the role of culture, of celebrating individual strengths and of the value of talking and confiding to combat loneliness, sharing the tough times as well as the good and we are exploring how storytelling and food can support that.

Mahboba’s Promise, the Australian aid organisation established by Mahboba Rawi OA some 25 years ago to support widows and orphans in Afghanistan, is also partnering to support a drive for more Afghan Australian stories.

With the horrendous events of last year and the arrival of many Afghans in recent months, it is crucial that we maintain a spotlight on the plight of those internally displaced and that we give the Australian public more opportunities to get to know more Afghan Australian stories.

Rahaf Ahmed and her team at Whiteflame are leading on social media with AMUST as founding community media partner and mainstream media including Guardian Australia running a second series of stories and recipes chosen from the Recipes for Ramadan repertoire.

The series will run every Saturday from the first day of Ramadan fasting on Saturday 2 April until the last Saturday on 30 April 30.

ABC Radio National’s Sunday program Soul Search will explore the significance of food in Ramadan and feature stories from Afghanistan and Bosnia on the first Sunday of Ramadan 6pm April 3). The hour long special will be repeated on Wednesday and Thursday and will be available on the RN website and wherever you get your podcasts.

Across my career, it’s been an enormous privilege for me to hear and help tell the stories of so many people from so many different places but for a reason that’s hard to put my finger on, this project has been special.

I am grateful that people have invited me into their lives and allowed me to tease out their stories and enabled me to learn about the places their families came from. It’s been a lesson in armchair travel, understanding recent history and the histories that contribute to what it is to be Australian in the 2020s.

At the end of last year, the project was awarded the NSW Premier’s Multicultural Communications Award for Best Use of Digital or Social Media. That award really is for the people who have shared their stories, their hospitality and their faith.

And with Australian Muslim family roots believed to stretch back into 183 countries and every corner of the globe, there’s obviously room for more!

May this year, 2022 be another year and another opportunity to explore stories of Australian Muslim culture and heritage – stories of people and places that can be unlocked in the conversation that opens up over good food.

Ramadan Mubarak.