Merciless Merchants

By Sumayyah Meehan, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

Ramadan is the most profitable time of year for most merchants in the Middle East. Consumers have no choice but to buy a lot of groceries to feed their families and their Ramadan guests. And there are no such things as coupons or super saver clubs here. Most families get stuck with a very high food bill this blessed month. Clever merchants consistently look for new ways to cheat their customers and increase their sales. They have no mercy in their hearts and are acting against what the spirit of Ramadan is all about.

In Jordan, consumers have seen almost a 50% price hike across the board for goods in the Kingdom. The prices of staples like rice, flour, sugar and milk have skyrocketed. The price of fresh and frozen meat has also seen a sharp increase. The watchdog for price gouging in Jordan is called the ‘Market Surveillance Department’ (MSD). They spend most of their time touring markets to penalize shop owners engaging in unfair pricing. It is a slow and painstaking job with the odds most certainly against them. However, the MSD has been using a new tool in the fight against merciless merchants. They have been using the media to advise the public to buy only the bare minimum of what they need during Ramadan and not to stockpile groceries for more than a week. This way the demand will slow and the prices will hopefully stay down.

Dubai has also seen a wave of price-gouging hit the region this Ramadan with some goods being increased in price by 15-30%. However, this is nothing compared to the most recent heinous crime that merciless merchants in the region have come up with. Several grocery stores have been offering promotional items. For example, if you buy a big canister of drink mix you might get a tub of tahina for free. But unless consumers check the expiration date they might have just purchased an expired food item, which is past its sell-by date. Recent consumer complaints in Dubai have included one store selling expired nuts while another has been changing the expiry date stickers to ‘mask’ the true date of expiration. This is the worst crime and will most assuredly take public awareness to root out. The Muslim fast is long, dry and at times tiring. People are pleased to break their fast with delicious food in thankfulness to Allah. Due to the risk of possibly eating food not fit for human consumption, some people can look forward to upset stomachs and food poisoning.

The State of Kuwait, as expected, also has seen a sharp rise in the price of consumer goods by at least 15-20%. However, one of the trickiest crimes to hit this tiny gulf state concerns the local cake and patisserie shops. After the Iftar meal and the Taraweeh prayers, most people in Kuwait stream out into the streets to visit their friends and family. Of course, they cannot visit anyone’s home without first taking pastry to give as a gift to the host. Any time of the year, the local bakeries offer a wide variety of mini-frosted and decorated cakes. They cost about the same as a box of donuts and are sold by the dozen. But this year, not a single bakery is offering these cakes. Sale staffs unbelievably tell customers that they simply ‘ran out’ but it is evident that this is a blatant lie. Especially considering that all the cases are brimming with full-sized cakes with not an empty shelf in site! Customers have no choice but to shell out between $20-$35 to purchase a large full-size cake.

The actions of merciless merchants casts a dark shadow over the otherwise splendid Ramadan season. The spirit of Ramadan should never be about profit making or deception. Rather it should be about worshipping the one and only Allah and being thankful for all of our bounties.


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