I’m old enough to remember when that Nando’s Dubai Ramadaan advert was first flighted. From over the seas, I watched the ad on my third-world broadband connection and thought: “Look! Islam is going mainstream!”
The advert was niche, directed at Muslims, but it also further endeared a much beloved brand to millions of chicken-guzzling fanatics.
Never again would I have to explain to others why I fast, or how come we can’t eat or even drink water. The world would know more about Muslims and it was going to be wonderful.
What I didn’t realise of course, was that other businesses realised that Muslims were an untapped market that needed to be, err, tapped – a whole one billion people, many with money to burn, have just been sitting around, eating their dates quietly. But oh we Muslims do love our things as well.
What started as a cute, “Look how wonderful”, “Our story is also being told”, was no longer just about creating conversation, we were a target market, a living standards measure (in marketing speak) and businesses now know it.
And then of course the entire world, including Pringles and Martha Stewart has also tapped into the market. Yes Martha, using dates as a name card holder is GENIUS!
I don’t want to come across as the ghost of Ramadaan past, or the wretched grinch of the Ramzan, but I remember a time when buying ready-made samoosas was the last word of convenience for working mums, who didn’t have to prepare for the fasting month some months in advance. Alas, ready-made samoosas were just the peephole into a whole other world.
What started as a convenience for working Muslims who had to deal with boekah (iftaar) rush hour from work has now become a whole industry that just needs you to throw money at it. Whole meals will now appear at your table; hell, you can even get banting options (only in Cape Town, of course). Anything you want from carb-free soup to dark chocolate effigies for your sweet tooth are just a phone call away.
But it’s not just the iftar meal that’s been coloured by the ghostly hands of capitalism.
Gifting rituals have emerged that also tend more towards waste than spreading love. Dates drenched in honey and nuts encased in boxes with polka dot wrapping. Today, even the falooda is ready-made. As for dates: Muslims have made a meal out of the modest bite. Giving dates to Muslims in Ramadaan is like giving fruitcake at Christmas. You will be eating it for months after, because even corporates gives gifts of dates to their Muslim staff and clients.
I’m writing this from Cape Town, where, the business side of Ramadaan still feels novel. But I know as well that in the Middle East, Ramadaan is a month-long session of self-indulgence.
As someone who works in marketing, I am unsure why I am surprised by these developments. I can’t help but think the idea of communal meals was to bring back a spirit of festivities and to connect with families and friends. But it feels increasingly like we’ve ceded Ramadan to our commercial overlords.
Never mind the spirtual recharge, best you keep the change. Muslims, we’ve gone commercial. I’ll see you all at the Eid Fair?