I remember my siblings and I, as kids, innocently asking my dad if we could buy a VCR since there was nothing to watch on TV. As a ten-year-old, there can be no worse nightmare then living in a country where the local television station offers no cartoons in your language. His reply was unexpected; “Sure, but you’ll have to buy it on your own”.
We were nonplussed. “How are we going to do that?”
“You get pocket money each week. Start saving up”
That was one of the first lessons we received on the value of money. Over time, we got similar replies whenever we asked for something bordering on the excessive. So we went on to save up and buy our first tape recorder, digital camera and mobile phones. Along the way, we learnt the difference between enjoyment and extravagance, the fine line between want and need. We were also taught that we couldn’t get everything we asked for (there was a resounding “No!” to our request for a Playstation). And most importantly, we learnt that material things should never hold worth for us.
Unfortunately, even with my parents’ careful training, I saw the effects of materialism start to creep up on us. It was evident in my sisters’ squabbles over their Nike and Converse shoes, in my brother’s unending obsession with bigger and better mobile phones, in my own growing interest in high-end beauty products. Were we to blame when everything around us positively screamed the message that in order to be happy and successful we must acquire material things? We were being sent signals from everywhere, be it through unrestrained advertisements or unfortunate peer pressure, that the only way to live was to give in to a lifestyle of consumerism.
“Beautified for men is the love of things they covet; women, children, much of gold and silver (wealth), branded beautiful horses, cattle and well-tilled land. This is the pleasure of the present world’s life; but Allah has the excellent return (Paradise with flowing rivers) with Him.” (Al-Imran:14)
As time passed, it became increasingly clear to us that there is no end to a person’s desires. We watched the aftermath of the global economic recession, which left thousands of houses repossessed and hundreds of people unemployed. Yet the majority of society simply could not live without their Jimmy Choos and Pradas, their Audis and Range Rovers. Their world revolved around the latest gadgets and trendy designer-wear.
The trap of materialism
The truth of the matter is that we never stop wanting more. I cannot recall the number of times that I bought a certain cosmetic product truly believing that my life would be complete after I had it in my hands. A week or two later, I’d be bored with it and would have already set my sights on something else. So once we have what we want, something else starts looking better. A newer version of the iPhone is released, another movie comes out which you can’t live without seeing, another book which seems so much better than the one you just read and so on.
Ibn ‘Abbas (RA) and Anas bin Malik (RA) reported that the Messenger of Allah (SAW) said, “If a son of Adam were to own a valley full of gold, he would desire to have two. Nothing can fill his mouth except the earth (of the grave). Allah turns with mercy to him who turns to Him in repentance” (Bukhari, Muslim)
Have we ever taken a step back and asked ourselves why we are always in the pursuit of better things? We delude ourselves into believing that contentment is only a designer handbag away. This is a very dangerous trap and if we fall prey to the monster that is excessive consumerism, we might end up wasting our years away in the pursuit of material things. No one wants to wind up at the end of a life that was once so full of possibilities and realise they have thrown it all away in the greed for more.
Islamic directives on worldly things
Materialism distracts us from our true purpose in life. We are so busy getting a better car, house, phone etc. that we never stop and question ourselves about why we’re so involved in the rat race and what the end result is. However, our beautiful deen has given us a completely different criterion for success. We are taught that the one who succeeds in the Hereafter is the one has truly won.
As is stated in the Qur’an, “The mutual rivalry (for piling worldly things) diverts you, Until you visit the grave (i.e. until you die)” (At-Takathur:1-2)
Does Islam forbid every and all material things? Absolutely not. The definition of extravagance changes from person to person. What might be excessive for one person might be completely normal for another. We are our own best judges when it comes to deciding what falls under the category of overindulgence.
Things to do
So how do you stop yourself from remaining unaffected by the rampant consumerism that is taking over society? Here are a few things we can implement in our daily routine which will, insha Allah, protect us from the negative effects of this Dunya.
• Never brag about any material thing that you may be blessed with. Showing off has a very negative impact on those who are not privileged enough to have as much as you. This includes posting your vacation pictures on Facebook or Instagramming every single aspect of your life. Let’s be a bit more considerate towards our disadvantaged friends.
• Make it a habit to give sadaqah and instil this practice in your children from a young age. Ask them to keep a portion of their pocket money aside for charity. This lessens the importance of wealth and material things in us.
• Visit graves so that you remember how near death is to you. Your true purpose is to gather wealth for the Hereafter in the form of good deeds rather than wealth for this world.
• Remember that each and every blessing is a test from Allah (SWT) and moreover you will be held accountable for it. Allah (SWT) describes these blessings in the Qur’an as ‘An-Naeem’. The noble Companions used to include small things like the shade of a tree on a hot day or a drink of cold water as An-Naeem, whereas we usually consider these things our right.
• Start counting things you are grateful for every time you feel you want something else. That stops us from being miserable at all the things we don’t have.
• Do not go shopping unnecessarily, especially if there’s a sale on and you don’t need to buy anything. Sales are the worst traps when it comes to piling up useless stuff. Make a list of things that you need before you go out and make a point to stick to it.
• Volunteer at charities and aid organisations with your family. One-on-one interaction with the less fortunate is crucial in helping us appreciate what poverty looks like up close.
• Follow the news on the Muslim countries that are in a state of war, unrest or famine. Any time you feel that you just have to buy those stylish but ridiculously expensive jeans, images of starving children in Sudan or fleeing refugees from Syria should jolt you back to reality.
And finally, make du’a to Allah (SWT) to keep our hearts connected to the Hereafter. Just as poverty is a test from Allah (SWT), so is wealth. The day we feel we can give away our entire wealth and the thought doesn’t make us bat an eyelid, we will have freed ourselves from the shackles of this Dunya.
Madiha Khan is a risk professional, freelance writer and mother to a sprightly toddler. She enjoys baking, reading and travelling in her free time and occasionally forces herself to work out. She lives in the United Kingdom with her husband and daughter.