Is Eid being celebrated or eclipsed by consumerism?
It’s 5.30pm in a major mall in Amman — rush hour. Only the mall is almost empty and what a week before was the loud hubbub of shoppers has quietened down to the baritone hush of a few determined consumers.
“It’s Ramadan. We are closed,” an impatient sales assistant informs the thinning crowd as they are ushered out through the door of a department shoe store 30 minutes later.
At 6pm the mall is shut. It will reopen at 9pm to greet the horde of bargain hunters who will flock to the stores, brightly decorated to celebrate the Muslim fasting month.
As with Christmas, Easter and other religious holidays, Ramadan, and the feast that follows it, Eid Al Fitr, have seemingly entered the consumer market with a bang.
“Usually, people buy more during the month of Ramadan, especially after the 10th day,” Sadam Abu Mayyelh, a mall store manager, explained.
“We work longer hours and different shifts to accommodate the late night rush during the month. We are often here until 1 or 2am.”
While the traditions of Ramadan are still deeply rooted in notions of piety and self-control, the lead-up to Eid contends with a growing proclivity towards commercialism.
“Eid is great, business-wise,” a Ramadan henna artist who did not wish to be named told The Jordan Times.
“The hours are long but I get more customers during the month of Ramadan than over the rest of the year. Eid, to me, means more business,” she said, not looking up from her work as she spoke.
Her customer, a young woman preparing for the holiday and surrounded by shopping bags, told The Jordan Times that she believes the popularity of henna in the lead up to Eid Al Fitr represents reminiscence of the old days.
A look to the henna artist for confirmation receives a shrug. The cause of her increased revenue seems to hold no interest.
The apparent commercialisation of Eid and Ramadan is not just a local issue; worry about the market takeover has become a worldwide concern.
A global survey carried out by SingleMuslim.com, an Internet-based matrimonial service for the Muslim community, found that 38.5 per cent of its 2,152 Muslim respondents from around the world agreed that Ramadan has lost its traditional value and become too commercialised.
In his book, “Radical Reform”, theology professor at Oxford University Tariq Ramadan calls this process the “Islamisation of Capitalism”, a phenomenon in which “ideas and resistance are reduced to market-oriented variations on the theme of Islam.”
“Ultimately, the ‘Islam’ label, marketed freely, brings money, loads of money,” says Ramadan, who is also the director of the Doha-based Research Centre of Islamic Legislation and Ethics.
Manager Abu Mayyelh does not disagree with this assessment.
“Commission,” he responds, flatly, when asked what personal impact Eid Al Fitr holds. “We get more commission for Eid.”
The sales figures are also in agreement: Domestic resorts reported full occupancy this Eid season, and, in July, the Jordan Chamber of Commerce estimated the sale of Eid sweets would generate JD2 million.
On a personal level, the Eid festival, religiously marked by unity, family and general sense of togetherness has, for many, lost true meaning and the lustre of the occasion has been replaced by holiday discounts and the prospect of record sales.
“Eid doesn’t really mean family to me,” said Fatima, a baker who specialises in traditional baked items. (Her name has been altered upon request.)
“My family are not in Jordan and I don’t speak to them over Eid, but I like Ramadan because people are nicer and I have the opportunity to make more money,” she explained.
At 9pm the salespersons resume their posts at department store tills and the mall is alive again.
Even in the season of heightened “shopping fever”, the image of a lone consumer is a rare sight. Families and groups of friends still make up the majority of those traversing through the shops.
Regardless of their purpose and irrespective of the season, the family atmosphere is still present.
“I don’t really care about Eid,” continued Fatima “but making more money [during Eid] means I can send some to my family abroad and take care of my children.”