Ramadan is a holy, peaceful month – centred on kindness and charity and sacrifice. How has this month, designed to create Zen Gurus out of all those who practice it, become the most entertainment-loaded, anger-filled and gluttonous month of the year? How has it ‘evolved’ from a month of minimalism and meditation to an avalanche of 30-odd TV shows, advertisements everywhere, corporate greed, massive feasts and binge-eating ‘innovative’ Middle-Eastern fusion desserts?
This article isn’t meant to offend anyone. As a semi-active participant in society, I feel like I have some thoughts on the way a majority of our culture perceives and practices Ramadan. These thoughts are in no way a critique of Ramadan in and of itself – I believe in the idea of Ramadan and how effective it can be if practiced ‘correctly’. Unfortunately, human beings are the real issue here and, inevitably and invariably, they ruin everything.
First, let’s talk about television. I’m sure I don’t need to explain the ridiculousness that is TV in Ramadan. The market and the powers-that-be have decided that this month should hold 95% of all television programming for the year. The decision has also been made that they will fund these shows based solely on advertising revenues. Obviously, the rationale is that if it’s a cash-cow, you should milk it until it’s dry.
We have an entirely disproportional amount of advertising and it is absolutely insulting to viewers who want to watch any of the – mostly terrible – shows produced to make as much money as possible this month. How do people survive 20-minute commercial breaks? How do they watch ad after ad of ‘Come to this compound!’, ‘Use our mobile services!’, and ‘This washing-up soap will change your life’ without either flinging themselves off the nearest balcony or having their brains lulled into vegetative states?
We, the people, accept a disrespectful viewing format from every single channel this Ramadan. Over the years, it seems that, as a society, we’ve taken to making up all the hours we fast by consuming double what we regularly do. Not just talking about TV here, we’re onto the food portion of this discussion.
Our Iftar tables have unimaginable quantities of every food possible. We create and buy crazy desserts that nobody, in the history of the world, has ever finished and for Sohour we frequent lavish, overpriced tents all over town. If we’re going to characterise Ramadan as anything, I’m sad to say it’s wasteful. We spend insane amounts of money overfeeding ourselves and consuming everything we come across – ignoring entirely what we were doing in the morning. Where is the moderation?
We have another dirty little secret. It’s a shameful habit that seems to erupt, more so than usual, around Ramadan. Anger – the language of the fast – is a dialect spoken by all on the streets of Cairo. The thing is, the streets, on a good day, are a really hostile place – but you add the heat, remove the food, the water and the cigarettes, and everything is amplified. Stresses are accentuated, tempers flare over the most insignificant things, and we dive – headfirst – into a state of ‘don’t mess with me while I’m fasting’. Where is the tolerance? WHERE IS THE ZEN I WAS PROMISED?
Overindulgence, gluttony and anger mix together and form a Ramadan cocktail (non-alcoholic, of course) that nobody signed up for. People lose sight of why it exists and it warps and changes Ramadan into the most profitable time of year.
Religious holidays are profitable. The profitability detracts from the true meaning. It happened with Christmas and Easter, and it’s happening with Ramadan. Who needs the true meaning of Ramadan – charity, kindness, fasting, and family – when you can get angry at strangers, eat everything and watch stupid TV for hours on end?
Instead of being different from the other eleven months, Ramadan is a more extreme version of what we experience on the daily. It’s an exaggerated version of our everyday existence, with all the negative elements accentuated.
Ultimately, it all comes down to people. We can accept the state of affairs as it is, or we practice these holidays and occasions in our own ways. Switch off your TVs, try not to buy more food than you need, chill out, or do something nice for someone less fortunate than you. We can take the elements that we value and ignore the things that are forced upon us by tradition and corporations.
By Yousef Adris