Whole Foods Market is feeling the heat from anti-Islamic bloggers and other radicals over the chain's marketing promotions for Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting (which this year falls in August). The store's Ramadan campaign essentially consists of promoting and couponing a line of halal-certified products from Saffron Road. Still, the mere mention of supporting the dietary preferences of Muslims during an important religious time in their calendar outraged a cabal of bloggers, who ignorantly accused Whole Foods of being anti-Israel and supporting Muslim terrorists.
Sounds crazy and like the kind of accusations one would blatantly ignore, right? Well, as you know if you've been following this story, at least one regional manager within the Whole Foods empire was shaken by the attack. He sent an e-mail (obtained by the Houston Press) advising his Whole Foods employees not to "specifically call out or 'promote' Ramadan."
Once the media caught wind of this e-mail, they started accusing the retailer of caving in to the "wingnuts." In response, a Whole Foods corporate spokesperson released a statement saying that the company "was NOT cancelling its current halal promotion, which is centered around the timeframe of Ramadan." The statement, which has been circulated to the press and disseminated via the Whole Foods Twitter feed, went on to say, "We stand behind [halal products] and our promotion of them, just like we do with other seasonal and holiday products."
Although it provides great fodder for blog posts and other snarky commentary, this whole Ramadan "controversy" is really just sad because it emphasizes how much power we've given to the fringe voices in our country. Retailers have a right to celebrate and promote any holidays they so choose; and as Natural Foods Merchandiser reports, natural products stores (such as Whole Foods) are wise to stock and promote holiday products that appeal to America's increasingly diverse communities.
One silver lining to this ordeal is that it motivated me to reach out to one of my Muslim friends to learn more about Ramadan and the importance of halal dietary laws within Islamic culture. Many Muslims, he told me, adhere to halal standards because they ensure the humane treatment of an animal throughout its life—a rule emphasized in the Qu'ran and one that a growing band of natural products consumers deem important. Furthermore, through fasting and prayer, Ramadan is meant to teach Muslims about patience, kindness and humility—important values that could benefit all of us, whether we are Muslim or not.
So here's to celebrating, promoting, appreciating and learning from Ramadan and Hanukkah and Christmas and Kwanzaa and Thanksgiving and any other holiday or event that can maybe bring us together and free our collective dialogue from the chains of intolerance and fear.