Ramadan in Pakistan: Religious month or commercial carnival?

By Sameet Shahid

Ramadan is the month of charity, worship and tolerance. But many Pakistanis complain of losing its true spirit due to rampant consumerism in media

As a kid growing up in the 90s, I vividly remember the festivity, the atmosphere enriched with blessings, devotion, and charities during the sacred month of Ramadan – or Ramzan as it is called in Pakistan.

Back in those days, Pakistan’s state-owned channel PTV used to broadcast few programs keeping in view the religious beliefs respecting the month of Ramadan. Even on TV, the moments of Sehr-o-Aftaar were filled with excitement and joy of seeking Allah’s rewards and blessings through fasting, prayers and pleas to the Almighty.

Ramadan TV show PakistanFast forward to 2017, switch on the television and all you see is TV channels are broadcasting the 12-hour live transmissions which blend Umrah lotteries with Musical Naats, the lucky draw for a car coupled with charity for poor.

What are we observing on-air 24/7 during the holy month is lavishly renovated sets, TV anchors in branded clothes along with distinguished ulemas from different religious sects and Naat khawaans. This whole scenario is captivating and meant to somehow add flavor to the feel of festivity for the viewers since amplest of charity is extended to underprivileged during live marathons that engage and trigger the affluent viewer to engage in the philanthropic work.

Religious issues are discussed with competent scholars. Quiz competitions are proceeded to give the grand prizes to the winners while enriching the general knowledge of viewers as well. But all that glitters is not necessarily gold. An individual, even with ordinary intellect, lost touch with the true spirit of Ramadan as soon he/she switched on the television.

Ramadan is meant to be a month of charity, worship and self-control. However many Pakistanis complain that they are losing the true spirit of the holy month because of rampant consumerism promoted by Pakistani TV channels over the last few years.

Ramadan TV show Pakistan

Each TV channel, in the pursuit of high ratings, has hired the faces with the highest star power and market value in the entertainment industry by throwing the substantive pay packages. Distinctive segments having gift hampers are designed to keep the audience engaged, consistently. At least 15 to 17 channels are broadcasting the live Ramadan transmission and according to a reliable source, the estimated budget of Ramadan transmission by leading media houses is approximately Rs 160 million this year which seem profligate and extravagance.

As if motorbikes and cars were not enough, surprisingly enough a TV channel is now proclaiming to give away “private jets “among the winners of the lucky draws or quiz shows during Ramadan transmission in a country like Pakistan where an average citizen earns 12k to 15k per month. How intriguing!

Ramadan TV show Pakistan

The aforementioned sketch is against the spirit of the holy month of Ramadan, which comprehends no more than simplicity, philanthropy, and enduring prayers while fasting with devotion.

Another aspect is that except few, most TV hosts are from entertainment industry i.e. actors/film stars/cricketers who are not suitable enough for religious programs which require discussion on varied issues with the religious scholars. Consequently, every year in the holy month controversies arises as to speaking off-the-cuff on sensitive religious issues. On the other hand, a class of some intellectual journalists and scholars are of the view that Ramadan transmissions should only be presented by the anchors who have extensive knowledge of religion. An actor, film star or cricketer conducting religious dialogue is very much similar to as if Ulemas or scholars discussing, let’s say, a newly released movie or a famous drama. Everyone knows only his business well.

Since PEMRA issued a notice, formulating an outline for such transmissions, which somehow is being followed but there is a lot more to do.

What we need is learned and well versed the TV broadcasters who are competent enough to present religious programs without creating any fuss and confusion for the masses. Media houses and production team should focus on content management, philanthropy and promote the religious spirit more instead of “Inaamaat ki barsaat” concept, to encourage positive social impact. Lastly, the focus should be on the real spirit of Ramadan which is tolerance, kindness and moderation.

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