Was what my parents did wrong? Every year, Muslims in America write essays arguing against commercializing Eid. They tend to fear that letting the holiday’s religious focus slip would compromise Muslims’ common faith and identity.
For Shahed Amanullah, the CEO and a co-founder of LaunchPosse, the answer is difficult. In an article for AltMuslim in 2014, he wrote, “Our need for belonging makes us applaud any public acknowledgement of our holiday, whether it is a Best Buy ad, a politician’s Ramadan greeting or a department-store Ramadan display.” With this in mind, he warned: “When you start seeing people like Wolf Blitzer at iftars, you just have to wonder what is happening to our most precious religious holiday.”
Dina Toki-o, a style blogger and a designer, suggested in an essay for the website Aquila Style that too often, Muslim Americans forget the true meaning of Eid:
It’s easy … to get caught up in the festivities of eating and socializing, listening to music, spending a fortune on clothes and gifts, spraying ourselves with expensive fragrances, packing on the makeup, throwing parties and all, with the reason: “because it’s Eid”, and then end up forgetting, or failing to truly remember the importance of Eid …
Similar sentiments are expressed by parents, who frequently worry about what the holiday will really mean for their children. “Sadly, it has become materialistic … some Muslims living in Western countries try to overcompensate for their children not being able to join in with the non-Muslim festivities by overspending on them at Eid time,” writes Jameela Ho at Muslimommy.com. Raana Smith, a parent and a blogger at My Halal Kitchen, issued a reminder “to check in with yourself, to pause, to reflect, and to remind yourself there are causes much bigger than your own.”
Wrapped up in the argument against commercialization is a fear of losing faith and identity. But the truth is that American Muslims writing essays about the meaning of Eid are yearning for ideals and values that are no longer mainstream in even Muslim-majority nations. In several countries in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia, Eid has been taking on an increasingly commercial tint for decades, with exorbitant festivals, money- and gift-giving, and markets that crop up around the holiday season. American companies with an international presence continue to market to the holidays in Muslim-majority nations. For example, Proctor & Gamble launched a successful Ramadan campaign, donating one garment to those in need for every “white musk”–scented bottle of Tide detergent sold. Likewise, Mango and DKNY have released lines specifically catering to the month of Ramadan.
In fact, it’s a bit puzzling that Eid hasn’t become more commercialized in the U.S., because it’s so easily commodified: It is a season with distinctive sounds and smells of home-cooked food, desserts of every kind, and tea and coffee for the older folks. And, around the time of Eid, there is a roughly monthlong shift in the rhythm of social life. Take that alongside the documented spending power of American Muslims, and Eid’s lack of commercialization seems like a missed business opportunity. Research by Ogilvy Noor, the Islamic-focused arm of the marketing firm Ogilvy Mather, found that 86 percent of American Muslim consumers believe that American companies “need to make more of an effort to understand Muslim values.” Similarly, 98 percent felt overlooked by American brands.