Ramadan: Brought to You by Burger King

Category: Americas, Faith & Spirituality, Life & Society Topics: Eating, Iftar, Ramadan Views: 3927

One of the best things about Ramadan in America is that it is still under-the-radar. After all, it doesn't take long for entrepreneurs to realize the commercial potential around religious holidays, as the "holiday season" can attest to. And even as Ramadan's visibility increases, it would seem odd that a religious holiday centered around self-restraint and denial of impulse could be seen as an opportunity to promote consumerism. 

But in some parts of the Muslim world, that's exactly what is happening. There are indeed aspects of Ramadan that involve consumption--gifts for children at the end of the month, dressing up for the Eid holiday in your finest clothes, and of course going out for dinner during the month--and which open the door for enterprising business to move it. Hence advertising like this Ramadan greetings ad from Burger King, which implies that you should be breaking your fast with a Whopper.

So what happens when you combine Ramadan with rampant commercialism? In some places, a holiday of introspection and self-restraint becomes a shop all night affair. Instead of filling the evening with prayer, the malls are open all night with a shopping frenzy very similar to the Western holiday season. Huge sponsored Ramadan tents are erected that that combine dinner with shopping and promotions. The restraint of fasting during the day is offset by a public feeding frenzy. And the solemnity of Ramadan is turned into a joke.

This kind of commercialization is starting to happen here in America as well, albeit slowly. I remember my jaw dropping when I got an Eid card from AT&T offering special rates for calling overseas relatives to wish them Eid Mubarak (blessed Eid). But aside from a few isolated examples such as this, American businesses are still reluctant to court Muslim purchasing power, even though a recent study pegged the total at $170 billion a year in the US alone.

The creeping commercialization of Ramadan in the Muslim world gives me pause, but I am hopeful that, because we are in the early stages of defining Ramadan in its American incarnation, we can head that off. It would take a concerted effort to solidify the practice of Ramadan in America based values such as charity, reflection, and self-restraint -- values that don't easily lend themselves to opportunistic advertising. If Muslim Americans are successful in doing this, perhaps it can offer an example of how other religious holidays can be reclaimed from the marketplace.

Shahed Amanullah, a frequent Beliefnet contributor, is one of the country's foremost Muslim journalists. He has harnessed the power of the Internet to spread a positive view of Islam. Amanullah is the editor of altmuslim.com, a Muslim news website, and founder of Halalfire Media, a network of Muslim-themed websites with more than five million annual visitors. Through his work Amanullah has tapped into a strong force of online activism. He lives in Texas with his wife and two sons, and looks forward to the spiritual rewards of Ramadan every year.


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  4 Comments   Comment

  1. Muhammad Abdul from usa

    It seems to me that such an ad by Burger King should be applauded. The ad represents a step in the right direction as Islam comes into the mainstream and out of the alleys and dungeons of western society. Islam is not a religion, it is a dean - way of life that encompasses all elements of our existence...fast food is a part of that existence. Once the food is halaal, muslims are not prevented from eating at Burger King, and many of us do, so why should I patronize a business that does not pay me the common courtesy of recognizing the holidays that are important to me? Why shouldnt a percentage of my dollar spent not be re-allocated to me to commemorate my holiday? Why should my dollar instead be spent only on mainstream holidays like Christmas and national holidays and ignore my beloved holiday.

    Kudos to Burger King, and insha'allah many more will follow suit.

  2. Mokaddes from USA

    People must eat. And they need other daily products for everyday use. When Eid roles around people often buy gifts, not only for loved ones but a lot of times for the poor.

    If their are two businesses, there will be competition and each one will try to get people to buy there products. They will use advertisement to let people know about their business.

    The concept of "rampant" is itself a arbitrary concept. How much trade and commerce(because that is what is happening at the end of it) can be claimed to be rampant?

  3. Romesh Chander from USA

    Quit blaming commercial interests. Just don't visit Burger King during Ramadan and at Eid -- the commercialization will stop. After all, Burger King is closed on Christmas.

    In Muslim countries, Burger Kings are probably owned by muslims; so it is the muslims who are doing the commercialization of Ramadan and Islam -- the very western traits which muslims decry.

    Don't sit there and complain. Do something. Don't patronize which is against your islamic ethics. Don't be hypocrite first by consuming goods and services and then complaining about them.

  4. Sylvia Horton from Canada

    Ramadan Mubarak to all.

    I found this article quite interesting. I pray that Americans will always remember what Ramadan is truely about, and practice that. I think that the countries that are practicing eating out, and shopping all day long, are definitely straying away from what we were instructed to do during this holy month. To me, American Muslims are already good examples for others. After moving here to Ottawa, I really do have a high appreciation for the American muslims. I miss the community feel, and just seeing people striving in general. May Allah guide us to the right path.

    Sister Fatimah