• Aysha Navlakhi. (Global Sisters)Source: Global Sisters
“Iftar is like having a dinner party at your house every day,” says business owner and mother-of-three Aysha Navlakhi.
By
Daisy Dumas

14 May 2020 - 10:19 AM  UPDATED 14 May 2020 - 10:19 AM

As the sun begins to set during Ramadan, Aysha Navlakhi can usually be found putting the finishing touches on glasses of saffron-scented milk, bowls of soup and plates of home-baked samosas, ready for family and friends to share as they break their day’s fasting.

Iftar is like having a dinner party at your house every day,” says the owner of Events by Aysha and mother-of-three from Brisbane. Over the Muslim holy month her kitchen is usually a busy, happy place and her home is open to nightly celebrations.

But this Ramadan, which began on 23 April, is like no other for Aysha and her community. Emergency responses to the spread of COVID-19 mean that mosques are closed, prayers and iftar meals are at home, and gatherings are limited to closest family and friends only.

Emergency responses to the spread of COVID-19 mean that mosques are closed, prayers and iftar meals are at home, and gatherings are limited to closest family and friends only.

Rather than cooking for her family alone, however, Aysha is now preparing more iftar meals than ever expected, thanks to a monumental pivot of her business brought about by a sense of wanting to ease some of the pressures on households dealing with fasting, homeschooling and working from home in tandem.

When her catering company took a heavy blow as coronavirus restrictions came into effect, she speedily purchased packaging equipment and created take-home halal meals immediately popular with south Brisbane’s Muslim community. The first week of Ramadan saw 200 meals sold, the second week, 400.

Her new clients range from large, self-quarantining fasting families to non-Muslim working single mums who do not have time to cook during the day.

One of her most popular meals has been tandoori chicken with naan - a favourite that she believes brings people together, regardless of faith or ethnicity.

One of her most popular meals has been tandoori chicken with naan - a favourite that she believes brings people together, regardless of faith or ethnicity.

“It’s a meal everybody likes, no matter where you come from,” explains Asyha, “everyone was so excited to have that meal. I think it enhances Ramadan in a different way.

“The meals free people up, they make it much easier in terms of spending your days with your family or with work,” she says.

Aysha’s food - “a big team effort” - is reaching into the community where her local mosque and her large, generous iftar gatherings usually would.

On top of the meals she is selling at $10 each, she is making food drops to foreign students who have lost their jobs because of COVID-19 and, via charity Brothers in Need, donating hundreds of meals to inner city Brisbane’s homeless community.

“I thought I’d have time in Ramadan to pray and relax a little bit,” Aysha tells SBS Voices. “Instead I’m working seven days, from very early to the evening. The adventure, the thrill, the adrenaline that’s pumping because of the orders that are coming through, it’s a beautiful experience.”

She started Events by Aysha with the help of women’s financial equality charity, Global Sisters, which provides the skills, tools and connections to develop successful small businesses. It was her mentor from the organisation who encouraged her to pivot when coronavirus took hold.

Aysha, who has a background in beauty and massage therapy and moved to Australia from South Africa 22 years ago, began her business in 2017, turning from her trained profession to a love of sharing food that runs deep in her life.

While the holy month is less overtly festive than usual, she, like many, is making an extra effort to create a sense of occasion in her homebound family unit.

While the holy month is less overtly festive than usual, she, like many, is making an extra effort to create a sense of occasion in her homebound family unit.

“This year, it’s smaller - with COVID, we’ve probably cut back a lot, but in the same light, we do make it special. We do a lot of cooking, we have immediate family around us and we are still doing little parties.

“The sad thing for us is that we can’t congregate at the mosque. Being in your own home and praying together as a family does strengthen the family unit which is beautiful, but the mosque has a different feel.”

And, despite her “very busy” work days, restrictions mean, in some ways, a particularly special Ramadan, says Aysha.

“With everyone being at home and in the same place for Ramadan, you’re more peaceful, more restful, more reflective.”

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others and gatherings are limited to two people unless you are with your family or household.

If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor (don’t visit) or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus.

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