Technology is shaping the way Muslims spend Ramadan.
Islam requires followers to go without food, water and other liquids between sunrise and sunset during the Muslim holy month. This religious custom, known as fasting, is meant to bring people closer to God.
Now during Ramadan, more and more Muslims are spending time on social media, computers and other electronic devices.
People in the Middle East spend close to 58 million more hours on Facebook during the month. They also watch more YouTube videos now than at any other time of the year. This makes Ramadan an important time of the year for advertisers.
Ramez Shehadi is Facebook’s managing director for the Mideast and North Africa. “Consumption and time spent on our platforms does indeed increase,” he said of Ramadan.
In general, Muslims stay up a lot more at night during Ramadan and have more free time. This is especially true before “iftar,” the nightly meal that breaks the daylong fast, and the “suhoor,” when people gather to eat before another day of fasting. Many people also work shorter hours during the day.
All that means that people have more time to look at social media. Shehadi said that during Ramadan, people spent 5% more time on Facebook’s platforms. That represents nearly 58 million more hours. Put another way, there are almost 2 million hours of additional time spent daily on Facebook in the Mideast during Ramadan.
So much advertising money is spent during Ramadan that Google launched “The Lantern Award” to celebrate the most creative ads of the month.
Google does not report total watch time for YouTube during Ramadan. But the American company says that in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, for example, viewing of sports videos jumps by 22%. Viewing of travel videos increases by 30%, and action games, simulation and video games see an increase of 10-20% during the month.
People also spend 27% more time watching religious material on YouTube.
Joyce Baz is Google’s head of communications in the Mideast and North Africa. “To us, YouTube brings people together. We see a lot of people wanting to watch things together,” she said.
Baz added that Google products, like its search engine, are there “to simplify people’s lives so that they can focus on things that matter like being with their loved ones and family.” The company’s “Qibla Finder,” for example, helps Muslims find the direction of Mecca so they can pray toward it, wherever they happen to be.
Google says the top trending searches during the first week of Ramadan this year were surprising. In Egypt, Iraq and Saudi Arabia the top results included a mix of “Game of Thrones,” prayer times, Ramadan TV shows, movie timings and English Premier League games.
To better connect with about 180 million users in the Middle East, Facebook and Instagram launched special Ramadan icons. These signs or images give people more ways of expressing themselves online. Instagram also has a campaign to promote acts of kindness during the month.
Shehadi said that Facebook is trying to magnify “goodness as opposed to what might seem on the surface” to be more “consumerism.” He also said the idea of Facebook is about “bringing people together around things that matter to them.” This idea is close to the ethos, or spirit of Ramadan, he added.
Haitham el-Ghoneim, a Jordanian living in Dubai, said he uses Facebook to connect with friends during Ramadan. He shares traditional greetings for the holy month and communicates with his family in Jordan.
Still, he does not think the rest of it — all that time spent online, on games and ads — is a good thing. “It’s not being spent in a useful way. It’s mostly fake news, or jokes and things that have no benefit,” he said.
I'm John Russell.
And I’m Jill Robbins.
Words in This Story
consumption – n. the act of using up something
platform – n. computers : a program or set of programs that controls the way a computer works and runs other programs
viewing – n. the act of inspecting or looking at something
simulation – n. a recreation of a process or situation
focus – v. to pay attention to someone or something
trending – adj. currently popular or widely discussion on social media or the internet
online – adj. connected to or controlled by a computer or a computer system
magnify – v. to make (something) greater
ethos – n. the guiding beliefs of a person, group, or organization
benefit – n. a profit gained from something