Last week, the Middle East arm of MAC cosmetics published a make-up tutorial titled “Get ready for Suhoor”. Cue the onslaught of outrage. Within hours, social media channels were alight with – mainly Western Muslims – denouncing the cosmetics company for being out of touch, making a marketing blunder by confusing Iftar with Suhoor or just generally trying to “consumerise Ramadan”.
Some of the responses to the video were quite humorous, but others took a more angry and cynical tone; some even went as far as to accuse MAC Cosmetics of having done ‘no research or work’ in the area of Ramadan. An Imam posted a quote about the campaign, saying it exploited non-whiteness for its market value. Anyone would think a fatwa was in order against the cosmetics company, but it soon became apparent that it wasn’t MAC that was out of touch with Ramadan culture, but the Muslims themselves who were outraged about what they thought was happening versus the reality.
“In a society preoccupied with diversity, non whiteness is a valued commodity. And where a society is founded on capitalism, it is unsurprising that the commodity of non-whiteness is exploited for its market value.” @nancyleong pic.twitter.com/kEm8A6MnsJ
— Suhaib Webb (@ImamSuhaibWebb) May 27, 2018
The clue was in the name, it was a video put out by ‘MAC Cosmetics Middle East’, clearly they were targeting a Middle Eastern audience. Perhaps there was a time difference in people’s responses to the video, but soon Muslims who had experience of living in the Middle East began to provide explanations – including myself.
For anyone confused; this is an actual thing in the Middle East.
There are 'Suhoor buffets' from 9pm – 3am.
Women dress up. But not as much as the iftar parties.
— MariamHakim (@MariamKSHakim) May 27, 2018
In the Gulf, it has become quite normal to go out for either Iftar or Suhoor to restaurants, parties, home gatherings and upmarket (but reasonably priced) ‘Ramadan tents’.
Ppl like to dress nicely & it's an attractive environment. But there's always a risk the spiritual element is diminished. pic.twitter.com/XtjFOsH9c2
— MariamHakim (@MariamKSHakim) May 27, 2018
These tents offer Iftar buffets, ending around 9 pm and then immediately afterward a Suhoor buffet starts, which can range any time from 9pm-3am. People can join in and leave these buffets at any time. The point isn’t to sit around stuffing your face for hours till Suhoor ends, but rather to give these meals a social element. The buffets in particular cater for a large number of guests offering a range of different cuisines.
As a Western Muslim, who is currently staying in the Gulf, this is a new concept to me and something I’ve recently been learning about. My own Suhoor meal times have often been a very paired back, quiet and — at times — even a lonely affair.
When I was younger, it was challenging and sometimes I doubted if I should have even bothered waking up. I could’ve just slept through like the other Muslims I knew, but the great thing was that the emotional hardship deepened my faith, made it more resilient and also stronger over the years. Waking up for Suhoor was something I did mainly alone and out of choice at home. I didn’t want to wake anyone else up and I’d be keen to catch some sleep soon after.
So, I can understand people’s dismay with the promotion of make-up at this, often discreet, time of night. Going out for a Suhoor meal with friends or family may seem at odds with many people’s experiences, but it’s clear there’s a trend of socialising Suhoor that is growing globally in different ways – even in America. And in the Gulf, where entire countries have reduced working and school hours, to bolster a culture of fasting during Ramadan, it makes sense to have Suhoor social events where inevitably some women will wear makeup.
There is, of course, always a risk with any kind of social gathering that the spiritual meaning behind the activity is diminished. Ramadan in Muslim majority countries is already commercialised, and I personally see the MAC Cosmetics campaign as an inevitable product of the intersection between religion and consumerism. It’s up to Muslims if they allow this commercialisation to reduce the spirituality of the Holy Month.
The sad thing I could see out of this whole issue was that Western Muslim women are clearly out of touch from those in the Middle East (and probably vice versa) but were so quick to be outraged and judgemental first without doing any research.
There were even articles published in reputable media channels promoting this ignorance, CNN was a prime example. Had they spoken to actual Muslim women in the Middle East, the outcome of their news piece would have been very different and more informative for us all.
I’m not defending this makeup company, but it was never meant to be a universal promotion, yet people took it that way and the ignorance snowballed – to the point where some became hostile to the women this campaign was aimed at. I was personally accused of “sleeping in all day” (bit hard with two kids) just for giving an explanation of Suhoor buffets.
And this comment, for example, reeks of sexism and control of women, so let me be clear: Muslim women can have a strong connection to their faith even if they’re wearing make-up.
Clearly, we all have a long way to go in terms of seeking knowledge first and reconnecting with each other as an Ummah globally.