Enhancing their incomes has become the main concern of Egyptian citizens who tend to think of how and when they will be compensated prior to taking any action. As a result, ‘business’ has become the main driving force of society today! Being a business-oriented society does not only involve increased trading in goods and services; it has more to do with shaping a mindset that guides people’s behaviors. Sadly, the holy month of Ramadan, meant to be dedicated to spirituality and devotion, has become entrapped by this phenomenon, and is now the most commercialized month of the year.
To enable Muslims to spend more time on spiritual activities, the government reduces the number of work hours per day from eight to six during Ramadan. However, it is widely known that productivity during this month drops substantially, not only because employees and workers are permitted to pray more and to read the Quran while on duty, but also because they naturally tend to work less and spend more time socializing and napping to compensate for nights of lost sleep. We use the fasting workday to run errands that are unrelated to our official duties in order to be free during the non-fasting hours.
Maximizing returns is the collective goal of Egyptians during Ramadan! The purpose of the holy month is to catch a glimpse of, and share in, the suffering of the poor, yet Egyptians tend to engage in substantially more activities (praying, eating, entertaining and socializing) than throughout the rest of the year. Contrary to the very essence of Ramadan, people stretch the 24 hours of the day to squeeze in more prayer and more food, to follow Ramadan soap operas and to organize more social get-togethers over the ‘Iftar’ and ‘Sohour’ meals.
Egyptians’ tendency to participate in more religious and non-religious activities prompts many entities to promote their products and services during Ramadan. Food consumption almost triples, the number of TV drama series (the epitome of Ramadan entertainment) is multiplied (approximately 35 this year), and higher TV viewership encourages business entities to spend substantial portions of their advertising budgets during Ramadan. Even the Imams in mosques call for more worshippers, believing that extended prayers and loud speakers will make society more religious.
During this holy month, excessive activity manipulates Egyptians’ minds. We spend time discussing the nonsensical narratives of TV soaps, which often highlight negative social aspects that are perhaps more appealing to our society. The overload of TV commercials does not hold viewers’ attentions and ends up wasting advertisers’ money, overeating increases obesity and diabetes among citizens, and religious practices eventually revert to the habitual, pre-Ramadan patterns.
Monitoring our behavior closely over the years will reveal that we have become a less religious society, our happiness is diminishing, diseases are on the rise and work productivity is dropping – while food and entertainment businesses are growing substantially. This indicates that we Egyptians are trapped by the commercialization of Ramadan; rather than enhancing faith and spirituality, the entire society immerses itself in a variety of frenetic activities.
Egyptians confuse religion with culture. As a society, our lives are shaped by our culture, which impacts religion; however, we tend to defend our behavior by claiming that we are complying with religious precepts, when in fact we are satisfying our cultural desires. People are supposed to reduce their material needs and to become more spiritual during Ramadan. Since this appears difficult to do, we simply maintain our material needs – but dress them up in a coat of spiritually.