This is a guest post by Samya Ayish.
When I was in high school in the late 1990s, Ramadan was all about high spirituality, good food, and intimate family time. I remember when I was 10; I wished the whole year would be Ramadan. Vivid memories left by this holy month in me over the years are so enduring that I always find it difficult to adapt to the commercialized nature of the holy month we have come to experience these days.
I am deeply pained to see many of us turning a blind eye to the spirituality of this month, turning it into a season of consumption and commercialism. This year, on the first day of Ramadan, I thought I made a big mistake of going to the supermarket to buy some personal items to find myself in the middle of shopping crowds, each with one or two heavily loaded trolleys piled up with food and drinks, much of it would certainly find its way into the waste basket later in the evening. In Ramadan, people tend to buy larger quantities of the same food stuff, and I am not sure whether they do that because they really need that much, or because they are worried markets would run out of those items by the end of the day. Of course, at some point, in this age when we are turned into mere captive consumers, we should point fingers at the huge commercialization machine that keeps telling us that we are good citizens only when we prove that we are good consumers.
When we were children, we used to play outside our houses one hour before Iftar, just to be able to hear the thunderous boom of the Ramadan canon. Every one of us wanted to hear it first to be the first to deliver the news to the family inside the house. We used to wake up for Suhoor on the voice of the “Msahharati”; a man with a drum and a stick who used to wake up people to have their Suhoor, recite some Quran, and then head for the Fajr prayers.
If the 24/7 grinding commercialization machine is to blame for us going off the true Ramadan track, it is television that stands at the center of that machine. I remember in the past, production was meant to entertain Muslims fasting in Ramadan until Iftar time. Today, production aims at “distracting” Muslims from doing their religious duties, by keeping them awake late at night to watch soap operas that are exclusively produced for Ramadan.
The type of soap operas produced in the past was even different. We used to watch a lot of historical productions, such as the life of Omar Bin Abdul Aziz, the Omayyad and the Abbasidss..etc. Today, producers are focusing on social and controversial issues with less spiritual features because Ramadan is the month when family members would actually sit together and turn on the television.
Aside from people going for Taraweeh prayers, outdoor life in Ramadan was virtually non- existent. But these days, we see less indoor family gatherings and more crowded events in public streets and shopping malls. Take for example, the so-called Ramadan tents, which are now open for both Iftar and Suhoor. Their programs don’t only include serving the two meals, but also serving shisha and musical entertainment. We see different hotels and restaurants competing to attract people to their menus, by preparing large varieties of foods and drinks, whose waste these days could reduce the agonies of the hungry in the whole of Somalia.
In the Muslim world, Muslims still pray five times a day in Ramadan, they still go to Taraweeh, and they still read the Quran. But, some Ramadan meanings are being lost. Ramadan was all about family gatherings, helping the poor, and remembering Allah at all levels. Now, it is about crowds, entertainment and material consumption.
I hope one day my two boys will experience the real meaning of Ramadan, and they will wish the whole year could be Ramadan. To realize that, Muslim families should show uphold and practice the real meanings of Ramadan and instill its precious values in their children. We may look too helpless to stop the commercialization machine from eroding the spiritual face of the holy month of Ramadan, but we can at least bring that to our children’s attention.
Samya Ayish is a freelancing journalist based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. She has profound interest in new and interactive media. Samya blogs in Arabic and is also a contributor at Muslimah Media Watch.