A new bag – do I want it or do I need it? Is it expensive or reasonably priced? Would buying it be an extravagance or would not buying it be miserliness? How do we find the middle ground recommended by the Qur’an when it comes to spending? How does Islam affect the choices we make as customers? What is halal shopping?
As Muslims we are blessed with the guidance from Qur’an and Prophetic Sunnah concerning every aspect of life. Spending money is no different. Various verses from the Revelation remind us about the importance of moderation when it comes to consumerism, the obligation of paying zakat and the benefits of giving charity. So do we remember all these during our visits to the supermarket? Do we apply any principles to spending money in our everyday lives? And what do we understand as ‘the middle ground”?
When speaking to Muslim women most of them admit that they are leaning more towards being spendthrifts when it comes to shopping and each sister has her own strategies to prevent excessive consumption. Is it a desire or a necessity? Asking yourself this question may be a useful tool in solving some of the consumerist dilemmas, but actually as Muslims we are allowed to enjoy the comforts of life and to spend money on good things not just bare necessities.
The Qur’an teaches us:
‘O Children of Adam! Wear your beautiful apparel at every time and place of prayer: eat and drink: But waste not by excess, for Allah loves not the wasters. Say: Who hath forbidden the beautiful (gifts) of Allah, which He hath produced for His servants, and the things, clean and pure, (which He hath provided) for sustenance?’ (Al-A’raf:31-32)
It is fine then to enjoy good foods and surround ourselves with beauty. If we can afford comforts we should be grateful for them. But then, what qualifies as lawful spending and what is excess? Dr. Muhammad Sharif Chaudhry, the author of the ‘Fundamentals of Islamic Economic System’, qualifies excess as spending money on unlawful things, excessive expenditure going on even beyond one’s means and spending to show off. Yet what may be disproportionate expense for some, might be a justified purchase for others. In chapter 6 of the ‘Handbook of Islamic Marketing’, Fatma Smaoui and Ghofrane Ghariani report on their research on attitudes towards purchasing clothes and fashion conducted among Tunisian women. Without even being asked, respondents connected religion to their choices and broadly their answers fell into two categories: those who classed fashion as materialistic and unIslamic and those who referred to the Islamic teaching that Allah (SWT) is beauty and he loves beauty, so the beautiful clothes are perfectly fine.
As wives we are the guardians of our husband’s house and wealth as said by Prophet Muhammad (Bukhari 89:252). Realising this duty enjoined on us by Allah (SWT) also gives us a sense of responsibility. While we will ultimately answer to Allah (SWT) for all our choices, including the financial ones, here on Earth our husband has a right to expect us to manage the household expenses wisely. Ibtisaam Benzoin, in her blog on Islamic economics (FiqhOnomics), proposes that it is actually a better solution to opt for a single income household in which husband is the sole bread-winner while the wife takes responsibility for sensible management of home finances. This way each of the spouses knows their duty and can fulfil it better. And for women, going to work also incurs certain expenses, such as transport, appropriate clothing and finding childcare while at work, so it may actually prove not to be economical at all.
As riba (usury) is forbidden in Islam, one of the principles of halal spending should be living within one’s limits so as to avoid incurring debts on which interest would have to be paid. Navin Siddiqui, the founder of UnDebtMe.com, the free online guide to help Muslims get out of debt, offers advice on how to avoid debt and riba. According to articles published on her website, the two essential practices to keep us away from debt is being grateful for what we have, for all the blessings that Allah (SWT) has bestowed on us, and finding contentment in our circumstances. Also, not buying what you cannot afford, covering basic financial needs before splashing on luxuries and embracing a simpler lifestyle. The Prophet (SAW) said: “Look upon one who is below you in status. In this way you will not look down upon the grace of that God bestowed upon you.” (Bukhari) And if we look at our Muslim brothers and sisters living in absolute poverty caused by wars or natural disasters, we may feel that what we have is truly a great wealth.
Daliah Merzaban, sharing her ‘Dilemmas of a Muslim Shopper’ in Huffington Post, reveals that going on a shopping spree with her mother made her feel guilty: ‘there I was with a few bags of new possessions and I couldn’t help but feel guilty and, as much as I loathe to admit it, greedy. While that isn’t an adjective I would generally use to describe myself, there are moments when I become so focussed on self-fulfilment that it is difficult to decipher what I really need from what I buy/consume/collect out of sheer indulgence. It is so easy to fall into the trap of consumerism and spend wastefully on things we do not really need’. For her, the solution to keep her spending in check is remembering Allah (SWT) more during shopping and giving regular charity. She applies the teaching of the Qur’an as her principle for halal spending: ‘So fear Allah as much as ye can; listen and obey and spend in charity for the benefit of your own soul and those saved from the covetousness of their own souls – they are the ones that achieve prosperity.’ (At-Taghabun:16)
As she says, ‘the idea of “guarding myself against my own greed” resonates quite powerfully. It is a human tendency to revert to selfishness, which necessitates that we be aware of how and on what we are spending our money. Following my shopping spree last week, I went to bed with a sense of greediness eating away at me. I resolved to donate charity in the morning.’ Miriam M. Islam, a sister from London, expresses a similar idea: ‘I use the motto – if I can afford to buy this item for certain price, I should be able to give equal amount in charity as well!’
How much we spend is important, but does it matter which products we choose, as long as they are halal? Is it important where we do our shopping? I know a sister living in the UK who decided to stop buying from retailers who sell alcohol on their premises, which means she doesn’t buy her weekly groceries from big supermarkets anymore, but rather chooses small local shops, preferably owned by Muslims. Ibtisaam Benzoin also applies the strategy of choosing Muslim-run outlets for halal shopping. Her other tip is to recite surah Waqiah, also known as the surah of wealth, which again points to remembering Allah (SWT) as a strategy for a more halal approach to shopping.
Time after time we hear about the campaigns urging Muslim customers to boycott products from certain countries or brands, deemed as unIslamic. On the other hand, there are more and more brands advertising themselves as purely Islamic. Is it just a marketing trick or is there really goodness behind their halal logo? We have to keep our eyes open and consider our options before making any decisions. We must pray to Allah (SWT) to help us find the right balance, the middle ground in spending and saving, insha Allah.
Klaudia Khan is a Muslim mum and a homemaker living in the UK and Pakistan.