So Eid, is that like the Muslim Christmas then?
Next week is the celebration of Eid ul Fitr which comes after the end of Ramadan. How should marketers approach this occasion, and for those who are less familiar with its significance to the Muslim consumer, is it helpful to apply analogies from other cultures and religions? On this week’s Insider’s view, I’m asking “So Eid, is that like the Muslim Christmas then?”
Along with Eid ul Adha which is part of the hajj festival, Eid ul Fitr is one of the largest and most profound occasions of the Islamic year. In trying to understand its significance, and how to relate to Muslims at this time, it’s easy and understandable to draw comparisons with other major global religious and cultural festivals. And there is no easier parallel to draw then that of Christmas and Eid. Both are celebrated by billions of people round the world, both draw their energy from religious meaning, and both show great variation in their cultural manifestations.
Whilst comparisons can be a useful way to grasp the importance of a particular event, it is wise to exercise caution and not show glib equivalences. Eid comes at the end of a month of intense emotional and spiritual energy. Eid is at once a reward for accomplishing the difficult task of fasting for a month as well as a celebration of a fresh beginning. It is the collectivity of both the devotion and subsequent celebration that is key.
Traditionally, there was little by way of present-giving. Instead, children would be usually given gifts of money by their elders. However, this is changing, and there is a growing sense of Eid’s commercialisation which on the face of it seems inevitable, but there is a will across many Muslim communities to resist. The outcome of this tension is still unclear, but marketers would be wise to avoid the appearance of turning Eid into a shopping-fest.
Last year, a Malaysian TV station fell foul of taking Eid’s innate Muslim flavour and connecting it to Christmas. The advert they aired showed an elderly man taking children on a sleigh ride across a starry sky and towards the moon. After considerable criticism that it resembled too closely the imagery of Christmas, they removed the ad and said they wouldn’t show it again.
It is worth noting that in Muslim majority and Muslim minority countries, Muslims may react differently – not always with such vehemence – to the comparison if it is made on a personal level. For Muslims who have grown up in Muslim minority countries, Christmas is part of the annual calendar and may receive the comparison with mild warmth from individuals, friends and colleagues – after all, they perceive that their peers are trying. But corporations will not be given this leeway and ought to know better - this is a distinctly Muslim celebration, and any attempts to eclipse it will not be received favourably.
Comparisons to Christmas may offer an entry point to grasp the enormity of Eid’s importance, but the meaning of Eid is very different, and comes from a totally different context. Brands are expected to know the difference. If they want to build a deep relationship with the Muslim consumer they must demonstrate that they understand with great intimacy that Eid is something distinctly Muslim.
Read more of Shelina Janmohamed’s Insider’s View at Ogilvy Noor every week here on the blog