Ramadan is upon us. As with every Ramadan that comes, we should feel a sense of anticipation towards spiritual renewal. The dust and dirt of that has sullied our souls during the course of a year have a chance to be cleansed in this month of forgiveness.
For any Muslim, Ramadan should be seen as a humbling experience. We willingly undertake a lifestyle of austerity in terms of our consumption and other activities to focus on our Lord and our duties towards Him.
Through this abstinence of food, we lower ourselves to the status of the pauper who does not have the means to eat three meals a day, and we gain a new appreciation for the wonderful blessings of Allah. At least, this is what it should be.
Have We Lost The True Meaning of Ramadan?
The problem for so many years is that Ramadan has become the opposite of what it should be in Muslim countries. Rather than focusing on the world to come, we are aggressively assaulted with imagery to cultivate our present worldly desires. I refer of course to the constant advertising for food products that Muslims are bombarded with during the month.
The most delectable cuisines and finest dishes are saved for their special Ramadan screen time. The central image for the month is not Muslims congregating for Tarawih prayer but the family coming together for iftar with a sumptuous meal in front of them.
We may defend such activities as the necessity of advertisers to make their revenue in a difficult period for them, and their advertising focuses on the iftar meal when eating is permissible but this misses the point. The very fact that during a month of fasting, Muslims are encouraging fellow Muslims to eat more and think about food is both sad and twisted.
To paraphrase Noam Chomsky’s opinion on advertising, the claim of the industry is that it intends to create informed customers who make rational decisions on their purchases, but the reality is that it creates uninformed or misinformed customers who make irrational decisions. Advertising is a desire-based industry operating in a month when desires are to be curtailed.
Advertising Is Not The Only Cause
The effects of such advertising are clear to be seen. Speaking on an anecdotal level (though I am sure many can corroborate this), many Muslims I encounter actually eat MORE on average daily during Ramadan than they normally would the rest of the year, and even gain more weight by the end of the month (the rest of those who do not usually make up this weight loss during Eid!)
Of course, we should not limit the root cause of the crisis to simply advertising. This is just a symptom. The problem is deeper and relates to a change of the Muslim traditional value system in favour of the modern capitalistic and consumerist mindset.
I may be wrong, but I would wager that in the past, the concept of a ‘Ramadan buffet’ which is so common in Malaysia did not even exist in Muslim lands. To get back to our roots, we may require a Herculean effort of resisting all these temptations and recapturing the essence of Ramadan.