- E-Tech Newsletter for August 2009
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At least 5 million people in North America claim Islam as their religion and/or practice. An adherent of Islam is a Muslim, meaning “one who submits” (to God). Muslims are found in almost every country in the world. The total worldwide Muslim population is generally estimated at slightly more than 1 billion. Because the U.S. Census does not collect information on religious affiliation, there are no exact figures on the number of Muslims in the country. According to the American Religious Identity Survey (2001), approximately 1,104,000 adult Muslims reside in the United States. National Muslim organizations estimate it to be about 7 million.
The Muslim population is characterized by its diversity. Some 80 nations are represented in the mosque communities of the United States, including a variety of traditions, practices, doctrines, and beliefs. Approximately 24% of American Muslims are African Americans according to the American Muslim Council’s Zogby poll conducted in 2000. Muslims come from all races, nationalities and cultures. They have varied languages, foods, dress, and customs; even the way they practice may differ. Yet they all consider themselves to be Muslim.
For Muslims, the holiest period in the Islamic year is its ninth month, Ramadan. Ramadan is an Arabic word meaning “scorching heat.” It commemorates the ninth lunar month in the year 610 CE when revelations began from God, via the angel Gabriel, to the Prophet Muhammad. These revelations in Arabic were memorized by Muhammad, passed on orally, and later written down as the Qur’an. It begins at the time of the new moon when the Earth, Moon, and Sun are lined up in that order. Because Ramadan is based on the lunar calendar, it is observed about 11 days earlier each year. It goes through all four seasons about every 35 years. This year it will begin after sunset on August 21st.
It is a time of contemplation and reflection, an opportunity for spiritual and physical purification. Muslims believe that because this month has been blessed by Allah, any good actions during Ramadan will bring them a greater reward. A goal for many Muslims is to complete the Qur’an recitation during this time and to recite special nightly prayers called Taraweeh or night prayer.
Almost all Muslims over the age of 12 are expected to abstain from food, drink and other sensual pleasures from the first light of dawn until sunset during this sacred time. At sunset, the fast is broken usually with a small meal with family and friends. Iftar is the meal for breaking the evening fast right after sunset. Traditionally, a date is the first thing to be consumed during Iftar. Many Muslims believe that feeding someone Iftar as a form of charity, believed to have been practiced by Muhammad, is very rewarding.
The meal consumed early in the morning prior to fasting is called Suhur. It is eaten before the sun rises and before the dawn prayer. Although there are no traditional foods associated with this meal, it is recommended to drink water to avoid dehydration and to eat a light, well balanced diet. Suhur and Iftar replace the traditional three meals a day.
On the evening of the 27th day of the month, there is a special night in Ramadan called, “Laylat Al-Qudr,” the Night of Decree. This marks the anniversary of the night on which the Prophet Muhammad first began receiving revelations from God through the angel Gabriel. Muslims believe that on this night worship of God is rewarded far more than on any other night. Chapter 97 of the Qur’an describes this night as the night when heaven’s angels descend to earth to seek out and sit with the Worshipers of God.
Eid-Ul-Fitr marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan and the beginning of Shawwal, the tenth month of the Islamic calendar. The festival begins with the sighting of the new crescent moon in the evening of the last day of Ramadan. Muslims greet and hug each other with the phrase “taqabbalallah ta’atakum,” or “may God accept your deeds” and “Eid Mubarak”, meaning “blessed Eid.” On this day, Muslims traditionally wake up early in the morning and have a small breakfast usually containing dates to end their month-long Ramadan fast. New clothes, which are specially purchased for this day, are worn. They will then go to a local mosque or any other large open area (such as a field) to attend the “salah,” a special Eid prayer that is performed in congregation. Before the Eid prayer begins, every Muslim who can afford to do so must have contributed “Zakat al-fitr,” a sum to be donated for the month of Ramadan, to destitute Muslims living nearby. The donation is given during the early days of this month so that the recipient can use it for Eid purchases.
The “salah” is held only for a short duration and is traditionally followed by the khutbah (sermons). This is followed by the “dua,” a prayer asking for God’s forgiveness, mercy and help for all living beings of the world. When the “dua” is completed, Muslims greet and hug each other with the phrase “taqabbalallah ta’atakum,” or “may God accept your deeds” and “Eid Mubarak,” meaning “blessed Eid.”
There are no universally traditional Eid foods; food preferences vary from culture to culture. The holiday typically includes rich foods that may not have been eaten during Ramadan, along with elaborate regional or family recipes. For example, Pakistani Muslims will eat swaiyal, a noodle dish, and gaan ka halwa, a minced carrot sweet treat. Malaysian Muslims enjoy such festive dishes as ketupat (cooked rice wrapped in coconut leaves) and lemang (glutinous rice cooked in bamboo cane), served with beef rending (beef “stew” made with coconut milk and spices). Invitations to parties and dinners are common during Eid ul-Fitr, people often take the day off from work to spend time celebrating. Eid is as important to Muslims as Christmas and Yom Kippur are to Christians and Jews, respectively. Cards and baked goods are given as gifts.
According to Islamicity.com, many employers allow Muslim employees to leave earlier during this time. Some company cafeterias adjust their hours to accommodate the Iftar meal. Some provide flexible hours during the month of Ramadan, while others provide floating holiday schedules.
Many brands and marketers have not acknowledged or related to the Muslim community. Some do not recognize the opportunity. Others are not certain how to relate to this multi-segmented consumer group. Whatever the reason, some are failing to connect with consumers whose combined disposable income is well in excess of $170 billion a year in the U.S. alone. This market is diverse. It includes African Americans, South Asians, Caucasians and people from the Middle East, as well as people who are more or less conservative in their religious views.
Marketing to specific segments of this population requires knowledge of their customs, beliefs, and preferences. The challenge for marketers is to better understand the Muslim way of life in order to positively affect a change in future buying behavior. This can be achieved by integrating basic Islamic values into the product development process.
Tone and messaging show respect for this diversity. For example, Hallmark Greeting Cards offers holiday specific cards that now include Ramadan and the Eid celebration. The U.S. Postal Service has produced a stamp commemorating these events just as they do for Christmas, Chanukah, and Kwanzaa. McDonalds serves halal Chicken McNuggets in Detroit and other densely populated Muslim areas. Ikea sells decorative items for the holidays.
Islam represents the unification of religion and culture. Experiencing the realities of Islamic diversity allows us to learn more about Muslims and ourselves. In the spirit of this holy time, we wish all Muslims “Ramadan Mubarak,” “a blessed Ramadan”.
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