Connecting through millennials' Ramadan culture

Millennials and Ramadan

Is Ramadan on the marketing calendar of your brand? If not, it should be because Islam is the world’s fastest-growing religion.

And if it is, you might well be thinking how best to use this unique window of opportunity to connect with the young, digitally-savvy and active Muslim audiences in an innovative and meaningful way.

There is still time to make brave decisions as this year Ramadan is expected to begin in mid-May.

Last Ramadan, a team of Y&R strategists set out on a global mission to find a fresh perspective on the Ramadan culture of the new Muslim generation so that in 2018 we could help our clients create a stronger cultural footprint during the most sacred and important month in the Islamic calendar. What did our inquisitive strategists discover?

They observed that modern young Muslims are showing a different approach (from their parents and certainly grandparents) to how they internalize or externalize their spiritual journeys, how they rely on technology to personalize the meaning of Ramadan and how they reinvent traditions in harmony with their modern lifestyle.

While the core and timeless values remain unchanged, Ramadan traditions and rituals are being reviewed by the current young generation that grew up as digital natives with unlimited access to information and digital communities.

When older people reprimand youth for drifting away from traditions they are overlooking a serious need to let the youth contextualize Ramadan within their contemporary culture. Without allowing youth to find the new formats for the old Ramadan rituals, the traditions of Ramadan might gradually wane. Young people claim that shaping their own Ramadan culture in the modern multicultural, fast-paced and digitally transparent world brings them closer to faith.

Let’s have a look at how this is that possible:

Deciding for themselves

Access to numerous sources of information and the ability to exchange opinions with wide circles of people inspire the younger generation to uncover the full depth of the meaning of Ramadan and define the relevance of its rituals for themselves.

‘What’s in it for me spiritually, emotionally and physically?’ is the question that motivates today’s pragmatic and purpose-driven youth to challenge the thousand-year-old doctrines and shape their own point of view. Although many of them feel pressure from parents to strictly follow the traditions, they don’t want to be told what to do but want to decide for themselves.

They find debating the interpretation of Quran verses at school much more interesting than memorizing them; they appreciate the ‘mental detox’ effect of Ramadan; they take the argument that ‘fasting is good for your body’ with a grain of salt; they say that with the power of information they debunk myths and find out what is real and what is mere hearsay.

While the pressure from elders demands conformity, the pressure of modernity demands flexibility.

Since Ramadan drastically changes a person’s daily routine, the younger generation claim a certain degree of freedom in deciding for themselves how they want to externalize or internalize their spiritual journey during Ramadan, including fasting. Many of them start to believe that it is not so much how you practice Ramadan but why you do it that makes you a good Muslim.

A task versus a challenge

The depth of Ramadan’s impact on an individual is about the difference between a religious task and a personal challenge that leads to self-discovery. Take fasting for example. We all know that youth don’t like tasks but respond to challenges. One way to observe Ramadan is to treat fasting as a task required by religion, and diligently perform it.

Another way, practiced by many young Muslims is to choose to fast as a personal challenge, to test themselves, to discover their own limits, see and apply it as a learning to become a stronger and more empathetic person. Then fasting suddenly starts to have much more meaning and value and provides a sense of accomplishment.

Interestingly, such an approach towards Ramadan as a journey of self-discovery not only brings Muslims closer to faith but makes many of its rituals contagious to people around them. It becomes very common that non-Muslims want to experience Ramadan and the impact it can have on a person and start fasting themselves, even if it is only for a few days.

Traditions grow stronger in culture

Embedding Ramadan into the contemporary culture helps to preserve its traditions, because culture is about the present. The Ramadan culture of the new generation is different from the past. It is more social, more flexible, more mindful of the fast-paced lifestyle people live.

Young people shared a few examples. A millennial uncle gives his nieces Amazon gift cards instead of cash. A busy young Muslim family chooses to occasionally replace a lavish traditional Ramadan meal with a barbeque. The reason? It does not require much preparation, does not add the stress of setting an immaculate table, and at the same time is a great way to share a meal with family and friends.

And isn’t this what Ramadan is all about – sharing, friends and family?

The younger generation undoubtedly makes Ramadan more showy, more ‘instagrammable’ with fashion and social media fueling the ideas and interactions - doing Ramadan looks for Instagram, dressing up in Swarovski-embellished capes, showcasing high-end abayas of the day, booking into expensive hotels for lavish Iftar buffet tents. Even personal charitable activities that are supposed to be carried out discreetly without any publicity, get shared on social media.

One might argue that this contradicts the values of abstinence and humbleness. But youth inspires us to look at it from a different angle. They are customizing Ramadan symbolism and rituals to make them part of their popular culture - relevant and contemporary, personalized and shared, and powerful enough to keep the traditions alive. For the first time we hear the expression ‘My Ramadan’ – very individualistic, yet so full of ownership!

What does it mean for brands?

Potentially quite a lot! Acknowledging that the new generation is entitled to redefine Ramadan traditions in their own fashion presents an opportunity for brands to develop affinity with the Muslim communities in a very special and intimate way. Such aspects as self-reflection, self-discipline and self-exploration might be inspiring topics to start with to expand others’ knowledge about the cultural values of Muslims and promote cultural understanding, inclusion and harmony.

And before I sign off, can I suggest that you ask yourself these questions to help your brand capitalize on this new youthful perspective on Ramadan?

  1. What can we do to support young Muslims’ quest to connect with the depth of Ramadan in a true and personal way?
  2. How can brands facilitate the adoption of newly formed traditions?
  3. How can we help young people accomplish their personal challenges and use their personal discoveries to motivate others?

If you can give exciting, fresh and relevant answers to these questions you might just give your brand a lift in May and June this year.

By Olga Kudryashova, Planning Director, Y&R Middle East and North Africa