Another Religious Holiday Commercialized: Ramadan

An interesting development, courtesy Huffington Post:

Growing up in a mostly Christian neighborhood in southern Virginia in the 1970s and 1980s, Raana Smith remembers feeling “lacking” around the holidays. While friends frolicked at Easter Egg hunts and got giddy over the presents under their Christmas trees each December, her Muslim family’s traditions didn’t translate well into toys or games that other kids could understand.

Now 39 and the mother of a three-year-old, Smith is trying to help fill what she sees as a commercial hole for Muslim families raising kids in the United States. Ahead of Tuesday’s first day of Ramadan, the Islamic month when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, her Islamic gifts and stationery business, Silver Envelope, has prepared hundreds of Ramadan wares for shipping. They range from an $8.50 Ramadan cookie decorating package to a $15 “Rockets ‘n’ Robots” Ramadan countdown kit (the concept is similar to that of an Advent Calendar) and, for the ambitious, a $69.95 “moon-sighting party” bundle (the holiday period begins and ends with the viewing of the new moon).

“To say Ramadan is busy for us is an understatement,” says Smith, who splits her time between Doha, Qatar and Richmond, Va. “We are targeting people who are looking to revive the Islamic spirit, who are looking to create their own American traditions grounded in Islam, who want to help children get excited about being Muslim through fun products and characters.”

As the Muslim community expands — Pew researchers have projected America’s 2.6 million Muslim population will nearly double over the next two decades — and more native-born Muslims make up America’s Muslims, a growing number of Islam-related businesses are launching around the nation. While Muslim-owned retailers and services such as Halal butcher shops and Islamic Sunday schools have existed for decades, these new companies cater to a different market. They sell everything from clothing, music and makeup to toys, frozen dinners and cookbooks.

Ramadan, the most important month on the Islamic calendar that ends with one of Islam’s biggest holidays, Eid al-Fitr, is the prime time for the Muslim commercial market in the U.S. and even more so abroad…

…Meanwhile, in Mecca, the growth of five-star hotels and expensive travel packages for Muslims performing pilgrimage (umrah) during Ramadan has added to discussions of excess in a faith that emphasizes simplicity and accessibility.

Though smaller, commercialism has also become a focal point in the Muslim-American community. When it comes to big corporations, Muslim outreach has been largely limited to selling pre-packaged halal foods (Whole Foods, for example, sells a halal line called Saffron Road). But questions remain among some Muslims about the relationship between Islam and business. Amid panels featuring Muslim entrepreneurs and a session on social media at the Muslim consumers’ conference last year, there was a session on fashion industry titled, “Can Timeless Values and Modern Style Coexist?”

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