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ISLAM & CONSUMERISM / ENVIRONMENTAL ANALYSIS

As Muslims ever-increasingly find themselves surrounded by material goods, sales,
gadgets and latest fashions, Dr. Hafiz Ather Hussain al-Azhari explores the
Islamic perspective on consumerism.

It is now unfortunately a common occurrence. People of all ages are racking up
huge credit card bills in their pursuit of the latest fashions and gadgets. Loan
companies are making millions from consumers who prefer to buy first and
suffer later. Christmas has become synonymous with shopping rather than
religion. As one observer put it, people are now ‘buying goods they don’t want,
for people they don’t like, with money they don’t have.’
Even the sales have an underlying message that helps to keep the ‘haves’ and
‘have-nots’ divided. For the entire year, ordinary people are bombarded with
£2000 handbags and £300 shirts, as shown in the shop window and flaunted by
celebrities. The sales is a small window of opportunity to attain this vain, false,
celebrity lifestyle.

What does Islam say about consumerism? Is there any Islamic guidance on how
to behave in the shop? Like with everything in life, only Islam has the answer.
Allah and His Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) have
tendered excellent advice on how to survive the consumer jungle.

i. Buy goods based on need, not greed.
In the Holy Qur’an, Allah tells us not to spend wastefully (17: 26), adding that
such people are the ‘brothers of the Shaytan’ (17: 27). For most part, the clothes
we wear and the phones we have are more than sufficient for our ease. But it is
the advertising industry that sometimes makes us think otherwise. They are
constantly brainwashing us to think that the clothes we are wearing are last
year’s fashion and out-of-date. The mobile phone industry, with its constant
updates and newer models, are always convincing us that because we do not
have the latest model, we are suffering. The whole idea of having the latest model
is a myth. Retail experts themselves admit that if a person enters a computer
shop and asks for the latest laptop to purchase, it is already old by the time
he/she reaches home and opens the box. Another ‘newer’ model quickly replaces
it.

Islam teaches us to base purchases on what we need, not necessarily what we
desire. Like everything, money is a gift from Allah and should be used wisely.
After all, Allah will ask us about how we spent it on the Day of Judgement.

ii. Strike the right balance.
Allah says, ‘And let not your hand be tied (like a miser) to your neck, nor stretch
it forth to its utmost reach…’ (17: 29).
In other words, Allah Almighty is asking us to strike right balance between over
and under-spending. Indulgence in material goods whilst minimizing spending
on health and education is damaging in the long run. A desire to ‘look good’
should not be preferred over the desire to ‘feel good’. After all, Allah looks not at
our outward appearances, but at the state of our hearts.

iii. Never forget the currency of Allah.
We are sometimes lured into buying goods because of the attractive, reduced
price. We persuade ourselves it is a worthwhile purchase because it is ‘good
value for money’. There is nothing wrong with this approach. But Islam asks us
to find bargains in Allah’s marketplace too. Compared to reading alone,
congregational prayers are twenty-five times more rewarding, so why do we not
see this as value? We do not think twice to pay up to £60 for a computer game,
yet the same amount to purchase Islamic literature seems too dear.

iv. Think like a Faqir.
Never show pride with the money you have. Even if you are billionaire, you are
still only a destitute (Faqir) in the eyes of Allah. It is He that has given us all. If we
think in this manner, then we will never hesitate to spend in the path of Allah.

Dr. Hafiz Ather Hussain al-Azhari
@hafiz_ather
BA Principles of Theology, al-Azhar University, Cairo, Egypt.
MA Arabic and Islamic Studies, Dar al-Ulum Muhammadia Ghawsia, Bhera, Pakistan.
BA Political Science, MPhil Theology & PhD Theology, University of Birmingham.

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