I knew there was a piece of the puzzle missing when I saw MAC’s suhoor makeup tutorial. My friends on social media had already began roasting the video’s concept, when I came across it and could not help but join.
The thought of wearing makeup at 3AM is absurd to most people, hence why many Muslims are reacting with jokes to the idea of the video. It seemed too ridiculous to not make fun of, even during Ramadan, when we try to be on our best behavior.
Truth be told, something about the video’s absurdity struck a chord.
After all that roasting, it was removed.
A friend of mine confirmed that there actually are some people in the Middle East who make an occasion out of suhoor (also known as “sehri” amongst South Asian counterparts).
According to The Teal Mango, some people in places like Dubai stay up together after Taraweeh prayers and eat until the sun comes up. The occasion can get formal and call for a little bit of glam.
According MAC’s commentary given to Teen Vogue, the video was inspired by suhoor customs in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The GCC excludes Iraq and is made up of monarchies in the Middle East. These regions are distinct from any other place you would find Muslims as majorities or even minorities in.
The eye-rolling from Muslims in the west is thus understandable because of the cultural differences.
We are no strangers to seeing customs of a subgroup being used to paint a larger picture of Muslims in general, nor are we unfamiliar to our western counterparts taking bits of our customs without properly understanding them.
Think about this: if someone who had no idea what suhoor was stumbled across the video, that person could easily assume that many Muslims, if not almost all of them, glam up at 3AM during the Holy Month.
That seems harmless, if not another reason for people to judge us based off of a misunderstanding. Muslims in the west are already exhausted from almost two decades of trying to detangle other misunderstandings, some from peers who have done lazy research.
As we carry those frustrations, how could we not have a laugh at the concept of the video?
Upon seeing the video, it almost seemed like someone who worked for the company grabbed ahold of a word that is used a lot during Ramadan and threw it into the mix. Even with the context about the video being catered towards Gulf kingdoms, it still seems like the people behind the video were missing many pieces, since they did not anticipate the reaction of other Muslims around the world.
The Middle Eastern makeup artist in the video did not use the word “suhoor” on her Instagram posts about the look, instead she used “#ramadangatherings.” Therefore, it can easily look like someone took the finished video and put a Ramadan-related word on its description to give it direction.
Perhaps other businesses can use this incident as an example as to why doing proper research on specific consumers they want to reach is important. In a global aggregate that is endlessly diverse, Muslims still seem foreign to Western brands that have began targeting them.
Consultancy groups that aim to provide practical support in Muslim consumer engagement do exist. I simply wonder if the genuine concerns of Muslim consumers are enough for companies to turn to such agencies, let alone for companies to even realize that they might need some serious help in that department, if they are trying to appeal to Muslims.
On an optimistic end, I hope that in an attempt to understand Muslim consumers, groups in the West come to understand Muslims better overall. On the other hand, as people find a way to capitalize off of the community, I remain worried about Muslims being further misunderstood as this has happened before.
As this process goes on, maybe in some strange way the expanding market will bring people closer to knowing one another rather than allowing them to remain alienated.