Another religious holiday commercialized

I remember a sermon where a pastor pointed out that if it weren’t for commercialization of religious holidays, they’d be far less celebrated. This has stuck with me so much that it has changed my negative feelings about the commercialization of Christmas. Now I just wish Pentecost and Ascension were similarly “ruined” by capitalist entrepreneurs. I try to keep the liturgical holidays and seasons in my home but other than Advent, Christmas, Ephiphany and Easter … it’s pretty slim pickings.

So I really enjoyed this story about Ramadan from Huffington Post‘s Jaweed Kaleem. “Ramadan Business A Boon In Islamic Market As Muslims Talk Of Growing Commercialization.” (And don’t miss “Ramadan Start Date 2013: Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday? Muslims Disagree” by the same reporter.) Any reporter will tell you that they struggle to cover annual events. This leads to some systemic bias against the coverage of liturgical churches or against annual religious holidays, such as Ramadan. How does one come up with an informative but fresh angle on a story that is literally over a thousand years old? Here’s how Kaleem handled it:

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.”

A lot of information is put into this anecdotal lede and the rest of the story is enjoyable and readable as well as informative. We learn more about Ramadan as well as the larger contours of the debate on commercialism. We hear from an event director at the American Muslim Consumer Conference, too. Another sample:

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?”

Please let us know if you see any other interesting or particularly good stories about Ramadan. The Detroit Free Press had a substantive piece here. The Jerusalem Post had an interesting angle. And if you want to see a collection of Ramadan ads (some of which are a bit over-the-top!), check out this site.

  • Jerry Lynch

    Merry Ramadan.


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