Islamic Perspectives

Commercialisation of Ramadan — Need to ban Advertisements

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SM Mohamed Idris, President of Consumers Association of Penang, Malaysia hopes that this years' Ramadan will be free from sinful practices

“Ramadan Buffet…The Buka Puasa feast in this hotel is recognized to be among the most exciting spreads…has drawn an increasing number of patrons for corporate entertainment and family dining… The menu comprises more than 100 dishes daily…as you break your fast to the tantalizing treats available, live Ghazal Asli music fills the air…a Surau is made available for our Muslim patrons’ convenience…RM95 nett per adult and RM48 nett per child…” (Malaysian Ringgit 95 = 1600 Indian Rupees; RM48 = 800 INR)

This is an advertisement that appeared in a local daily on the last day of Rejab this year, one month before Ramadhan.  More such advertisements will appear as we get nearer to Ramadhan promoting clothes, shoes, carpets, curtains, and other goods and services.  

Iftar, breaking fast, traditionally in the home with the family members or in the mosque in a spiritual environment, has been turned into a “feast with a 100-dish spread” and for “corporate entertainment”. Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. broke his fast with only three dates.

Ramadhan is the holiest month in the Muslim calendar when the holy Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet. Allah says in the Holy Quran that fasting has been prescribed so that we may attain Taqwa (God consciousness) and it has been reported of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) saying: “Allah said, every action of the son of Adam is for him except fasting, for that is solely for Me, I give reward for it.  The fast is a shield”.

Ramadan is supposed to be a month of intense devotion for Muslims as it is a month when the shyaitan is chained, a God given opportunity when Muslims can collectively dedicate themselves to deepen and strengthen their Taqwa.

It is such a sacred month and it is being trivialised by the calls to buka puasa feasts and promoting mindless spending. This commercialization of Ramadan is as offensive as uncouth Muslims eating in public during the fast.

Fasting is not only abstaining from food but keeping all our senses under control so that we do not commit sinful activities – gluttony, lying, back-biting, wasting time, and oppressing others. Muslims are required to spend their time in prayer, remembrance of Allah, helping the poor and needy, and practising charity. Our fast has no value unless we strive to become more spiritual. Otherwise, as the Prophet (pbuh) said:  "Many receive nothing from the fast except hunger and thirst."

Islam enjoins its followers to avoid gluttony, waste and extravagance. The Prophet s.a.w. said: “The son of Adam does not fill any vessel worse than his stomach; for the son of Adam a few mouthfuls are sufficient to keep his back straight. If you must fill it then one-third for food, one- third for drink and one-third for air.”  Contrary to this teaching, some people eat and drink so much that they become lazy and neglect to perform their terawih prayers and even the mandatory ones. Gluttony also has serious adverse health effects – diabetes, coronary diseases, and hypertension - on those indulging in it.

Excessive varieties and quantities of food prepared for iftar and sahur leads to waste. A lot of food is thrown away by hotels and families into the waste dumps. Last year the Solid Waste and Public Cleansing Corporation (SWCorp) reported that every Ramadhan 200,000 tonnes of food go straight into the rubbish bins. This quantity of food could feed 180 million people.  An average of 9000 tonnes of food was discarded daily during Ramadan. [The Star Online, 19 June 2015].

Throwing away food is a sin as it deprives food for the needy ones and the future generation. It also depletes resources and contributes to environmental degradation through pollution of seas and rivers and discharge of carbon dioxide, responsible for global warming. One of the objects of fasting is to feel the pain of hunger experienced by the poor and marginalized so that we will have empathy for them. Millions of people in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Palestine, Myanmar, India, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Pakistan and Afghanistan are facing starvation and yet we are throwing away huge quantities of food in the holy month.  

The Qur’an condemns those who waste and squander as the brothers of Shaitan. [Surah Al-Isra Verses 26, 27] Further, the Qur’an says: “…and eat and drink without going to excesses. For Allah does not like those who go to excess.” [Surah Al-Araf Verse 31].

The TV stations also produce soap operas, comedies and entertainment targeting those who fast. Families spend more time before TV sets than in the mosques trying to come closer to Allah through prayer and other spiritual activities.  In some Arab countries, Ramadhan tents provide lavish dinners and late night entertainment until sahur. An online portal reported in 2014:

“Much of the region [West Asa] turns nocturnal during the Holy Month, so it’s the best opportunity to hook fast-weary viewers with the newest series and TV dramas. How it pans out is that families will sit in front of the TV together after iftar… and that’s pretty much it. They’ll be watching episode after episode of different soaps and programmes, then may be even the re-runs until suhur.”

The commercialisation of Ramadhan has stripped it of its spiritual significance to become an opportunity for the promotion of consumerism and its purveyors like sports stars, models and actresses in skimpy clothes, and pop icons. It is the desacralisation of religion and the practice is akin to the commercialization of Christmas which has become a season of shopping. The health of the United States economy is dependent on the level of Christmas shopping.

It is not confined to Malaysia only but has become a global phenomenon with the invasion of capitalism and its hedonistic consumer culture. From New York to Jakarta, Ramadhan advertisements are coaxing consumers to indulge in gluttony and extravagance which are prohibited in Islam.

Commercialization of Ramadhan, Aidil Fitri and Aidil Adha is a subtle process of secularization of our ideas, tastes and culture. It is like the termites silently eating away at our pillar of iman without us being conscious of the damage. It promotes materialism and wasteful excessive consumption, burdening us with debts. We become so obsessed with making money and getting rich to purchase unnecessary goods, services and entertainment that we neglect our duty to and relationship with Allah.   We forget that we are travelers on a journey to the hereafter.

What must we do to arrest this creeping secularization? Advertising products and services using Ramadhan,Aidil Fitri and Aidil Adha must be banned. The Islamic scholars, must strongly condemn this abhorrence and must issue fatwas prohibiting the exploitation of Ramadan and safeguard Muslims. Muslim civil society organisations must also launch a campaign against desacralisation of Ramadhan, Aidil Fitri and Aidil Adha.

Insha Allah Ramadhan this year will be free from these sinful practices and adhere to Allah’s call to attain Taqwa.

The author may be contacted by email: consumerofpenang#gmail.com

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