The Muslim festival of Ramadan: How are influential people shaping it? - Cafeqa

The Muslim festival of Ramadan: How are influential people shaping it?

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Social media activity among Middle Eastern influencers peaks during Ramadan. There are those who think they are destroying the festive spirit and many who think they may be a catalyst for good

Modern technology has revolutionized the way Muslims celebrate Ramadan, a month-long holy month.

Apps have made it easier than ever for celebrants to do things like time their prayers and donate to charity from the convenience of their smartphones. During Ramadan, it is customary to give to those who are less fortunate.

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Unsurprisingly, social media influencers are part of the more contentious issues in the digital realm that pertain to Ramadan.

People living in the rich Gulf nations have some of the best global connections. As an example, Germany has a 93% internet penetration rate, whereas the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has an estimated 99%.

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People in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar spend an abnormal amount of time on their phones and social media during Ramadan, according to polls.

Simultaneously, there is a dramatic increase in internet buying throughout Ramadan. It is common practice to buy new clothing and exchange presents at the month’s conclusion. People could dress more formally for prayer and community meals since they are more likely to mingle with one another.

Prominence of influencers during Ramadan


At the crossroads of all this is the influencer, who is often characterized as someone with a large online following and the ability to “influence” the views and actions of that audience.

“[Influencers’] incorporation of religious themes can range from a discussion on religious practices to suggestions about product purchases and which Ramadan streaming drama to watch,” shared Gary Bunt, a professor of Islamic studies at the University of Wales and author of the book, “Islamic Algorithms,” with DW. “As with other sectors, Muslim influencers may also market their own products or be sponsored to promote others.”

“Ramadan has always been a focal point for accounts with an Islamic edge, going back to the 1990s,” said Bunt. However, he went on to say that the rise of influencer marketing in the Middle East “aligns with the expansion of digital platforms, reduced digital divides and particularly the growth of TikTok.”

Some of the most popular themes among Gulf state influencers are elaborately decked-out tables for “iftar,” the big meal eaten after sunset to break the fast, and partnerships with local fashion and cosmetics businesses for exclusive Ramadan collections. Influencers with a specialization on food may promote establishments or assist roll out Ramadan meal specials.

On the other hand, some Middle Easterners worry that Ramadan is also becoming too commercialized, just as some Europeans worry that Christmas is getting too commercialized.

Sociology professor Iyad Barghouthi of Ramallah, an occupied West Bank city, told DW that an increase in religious commitment has not occurred as a result of more influences. His argument was that Ramadan rituals were really become more ornate, artificial, and superficial.

Digital humanities expert Marc Owen Jones of Qatar’s Hamad bin Khalifa University acknowledged, “There’s something of a link between the increasing commercialization of Ramadan and influencers and marketing.” I couldn’t agree more. The commercialization of Ramadan, however, is not an entirely recent phenomenon. He clarified that this was only an alternative approach. And it’s absolutely on the rise, which has caused some people to react negatively. Many people are angry at individuals who they see as trying to profit from religious gatherings, as you can see from the comments on various social media platforms.

The ongoing situation in Gaza has only served to heighten their annoyance with influencers who promote pricey meals and fancy jewelry. “There’s definitely some pressure now for people not to share so much indulgence because of what’s happening in Gaza,” DW reported.

Making a difference in society during Ramadan?


On the other hand, there is proof that influencers may make a difference during Ramadan; in fact, some scholars have even speculated that they are altering the holy holiday’s practice.

For instance, in the recent past, the majority of those who were seen preparing food for community feasts were women. Nevertheless, things are starting to change. In 2022, Ailidh Smylie, managing director of Dubai-based social media marketing firm Socialize, noted that there has been a change in the norm regarding fathers and male chef influencers. Instead of only seeing them outside of the kitchen, they are now helping out around the home and even decorating for Ramadan. “Brands are definitely stepping away from the cliche and traditional ways of portraying Ramadan.”

Campaigns urging people to not waste food during Ramadan have also recruited influencers to help spread the word. Chef Leyla Fathallah of Lebanon has been collaborating with the UN Environment Program for two years on a program to reduce party food waste. “Be Mindful” was an initiative in 2023 that used influencers in Oman to encourage residents to reflect on the amount of food they really consumed during Ramadan.

Opinionated onlookers note that influencers also provide a more intimate avenue for younger Muslims to engage with Islamic traditions.

“A new generation of social media influencers has recently emerged in the Muslim world,” said the authors of a research titled Digital Islam and Muslim Millennials, which was published in April 2022. “They are Western-educated, unique storytellers, and savvy in digital media production.”

This next cohort is referred to in the article as “GUMmies,” an abbreviation for “global urban Muslims,” and the report contends that their engagement with their faith is changing, particularly during Ramadan.

“Their religious practice focuses on storytelling rather than dogmatic texts, on human relationships, civil life, and what it means to be and act as a human being who happens to be a Muslim,” according to the study. People with GUMmies “still interested in matters of worship — such as how to pray and fast in Ramadan — but they live in an information and media ecosystem that demands engagement, interaction, immediacy and personalization.”

In addition to commercializing or altering Ramadan customs, the research found that influencers might be “a potential sign of profound cultural change.”

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