Balloons, banners, greeting cards -- the trappings of a holiday. This year the Muslim holy month of Ramadan wades even further into the ocean of popular culture with the appearance of greeting cards produced by industry giant Hallmark Cards, which joins the ever-growing Internet Ramadan products industry.

The cards do not mark the entire month of Ramadan, which is expected tobegin this year on Oct. 27 with the sighting of the new moon, but are forthe celebratory day at the end of the sober period -- Eid al Fitr, on Nov.25. The cards are new for Hallmark, but greeting cards and otherRamadan-oriented products are increasingly common.

"Ramadan, in particular, has through most of the 20th century beengetting more and more attached to secular rituals" like gift-giving,card-sending and festive meals to break each day's traditional dawn-to-duskfast, said Walter Armbrust, a professor at St. Anthony's College, Universityof Oxford. Armbrust is researching trends in Ramadan celebrations in Egypt.

Armbrust, who spoke to Religion News Service from Cairo, said he hasseen a trend in the Muslim world toward observing Ramadan in a morecommercialized fashion, a development which he says runs counter in someways to the original purpose of the observance.

"Ramadan is not supposed to be a holiday in which you consume more thanyou do in the rest of the year," he said. "In some ways, Ramadan has beenadopted as a local variation of Christmas."

Likewise in America, an industry of Muslim products -- Ramadan-orientedand otherwise -- is growing.

Several Internet Muslim communities have built up commercial componentsthat include Muslim artwork and books in addition to Ramadan gifts,greetings and decorations. Secular greeting card companies like AmericanGreetings have offered online Eid greetings for several years now.

Muslim business owners say that the commercial element of Ramadanrepresents not a departure from traditional Islam, but a higher degree ofacknowledgment and acceptance in American culture.

Abdul Malik Mujahid, president of, an online Muslimstore that also has two showrooms in the Chicago area, said that on a recenttrip to the bank he was surprised to see a banner -- one of his company's --hanging in the branch wishing Muslim patrons a blessed Ramadan.

Mujahid said some of his patrons are non-Muslims who want to expresswarm wishes to Muslims in their neighborhood, a phenomenon that peaked inthe wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Ramadan, which migrates throughout the year because Muslims follow alunar calendar and not a solar one, fell in December in 2001, and Mujahidsaid that year was the "best ever" for his business. Last year businessreturned to normal pre-Sept. 11 levels, and the past six months have broughtthe worst sales figures in the past half-dozen years, he said.

"Negativity toward Islam is very high at the present moment," postulatesMujahid in accounting for the drop. Soundvision receives more hate mailtoday than it did in all the past 10 years, he said.

Citing talk radio and other media personalities who he says paint anegative picture of Muslims in America, he said many of his Muslim customersare more reluctant to publicly display their faith during the holiday.

"There is a general feeling that Muslims are the last to be hired andthe first to be fired," he said. "A lot of people don't share aboutRamadan."

Other Muslim business leaders say any drop in business has more to dowith general economic trends than anti-Muslim sentiment.

In fact, some report a growing demand for their products as the MuslimAmerican population grows and feels more comfortable in mainstream culture.

"As a growing community here in the United States, I see that there is agrowing demand," said Mohammed Abdul Aleem, president and CEO of Islamicity,an online Muslim community with a commercial "bazaar."

The site, which hosts 1 million visitors per month, offers books, gamesand other products for Ramadan and is developing MP3 files to downloadIslamic and holiday music. It sells California dates to people around thecountry to use as the traditional way to break the daily fast.

The site also offers "Race to the Kaba," a question-and-answer boardgame leading to Islam's most holy site in Mecca. It even sells a clock thatis programmed with a voice-activated call to prayer for the five dailyprayers required of Muslims.

But the commercialization of Ramadan, Aleem said, does not represent an"Americanization" of Islam.

"We have to get out of that thinking, because materialism is everywhere.There is a need, and if people can afford it, people will buy it," he said.

Aleem, whose business is based in Los Angeles County, was pleased withHallmark's decision to offer Eid cards.

"Providing Islamic greeting cards is going to be very positive for themand the community," he said, adding that Muslims in his area are eager topractice their faith and be accepted in greater society. "For the Muslimcommunity here, they are going to feel they are part of the community also,when you have businesses catering to them."

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