One of the biggest enemies of productivity in our world today is the comfortable consumerism culture that we’re living in.
Everything is within reach and we’re constantly looking for the latest, quickest, or smallest! Each of us (except whom Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala) had mercy upon) is literally ‘killing’ themselves running after acquiring more and more of today’s world and what’s sad about this is that we, as Muslims, should know better.
History seems to repeat itself, for the Muslim Ummah did indulge in such consumerism more than 1,000 years ago, during the Golden Age of the Islamic civilisation. The success of the expanding empire brought new riches unknown to the early Muslims which started corrupting the Muslims and making them forget their true purpose. True to the words of the Prophet (Peace be upon him), this consumerism destroyed us. In a hadeeth, the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) said:
"By Allah, it is not the poverty about which I fear in regard to you but I am afraid in your case that (the worldly) riches may be given to you as were given to those who had gone before you and you begin to vie with one another for them as they vied for them. And these may destroy you as these destroyed them.” (Sahih Muslim, Book #042, Hadith #7065).
So what’s the problem with consumerism? And what’s the cure? This is what we’ll try to tackle in this article insha’Allah.
At first glance, nothing seems to be wrong with consumerism, in fact the objective seems noble and peaceful: it’s about living a comfortable and happy life and enjoying this world to the fullest. Nothing sinister, right? Well, not really. If you start thinking of our lives in terms of dunya AND Akhira, you start to realise that this consumerism culture is actually a distraction us from our true purpose in life, of worshipping Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala) and being His true vicegerent on Earth.
Let me give you an example: Imagine a student who’s supposed to start his University degree this year, he’s so concerned about ‘comfort’ that he asks for a special couch in the lecture hall, 3D HDTV screen to watch his favourite show whilst the lecture is going on, and of course popcorn and a packet of chips, and he doesn’t want to take exams nor do any assignments. Who thinks this student would survive university life? Or would even get a degree?! Sounds bizarre, right? But that’s exactly what we’re doing, instead of us working for our Akhira, we’re so concerned about the comforts of this life and how we can make our lives just that bit extra comfortable and easier, that we’re trading our finite world with the infinite Akhira! There’s nothing wrong in being comfortable; but when this becomes our sole objective, that’s when it becomes a problem!
Another issue with consumerism culture is that it literally entraps and enslaves people so they think of nothing else but how to ‘get more and have more’. People get into debt to buy bigger houses, get into more debt to buy a better car, few years down the line, once they’ve paid their debts, they go through the whole cycle again and get into more debt. We always want the latest, biggest, smallest, newest, and as the Prophet (Peace be upon him) said:
"Nothing fills (satisfies) the son of Adam except Dust”. (Sahih Bukhari, Book #76, Hadith #445)
i.e. A person will never be satisfied till he meets death. The cash-less credit card society is teaching us to buy now and worry about paying later. It is directly feeding us into a 25-50 year slavery to financial institutions and banks; on most accounts, this was one of the reasons behind the recent severe global financial crisis.
A third grave consequence of the consumerism lifestyle – and this one has truly affected the Muslims – is that we’ve become lazy, expecting “others” to produce whilst we consume. We do not grow what we eat, we do not make what we wear, we do not produce what we ride, everything is imported from planes to biscuits! And everything is at our convenience. But there’s a problem here: we become dependants on “others” for our survival, and hence have a weak economic status in the international sphere. How do you think China, India and Brazil started to get noticed by the ‘Developed World’? They became producing/exporting countries and unless we as Muslims really get our act together and export more than we import, I’m afraid the consequences would be severe for the Ummah.
An Anti-dote: Zuhd
So how do we get out of this? Al-hamdulillah, we’ve a very powerful Islamic concept that would work as an anti-dote to consumerism culture. This is known as ‘Zuhd’ (known in English as Asceticism). Unfortunately, this concept has been grossly misunderstood and misinterpreted by many Muslims to mean complete refusal of dunya, hiding in a corner, and living a miserable, harsh and sad life.
Far from this, Zuhd according to the Sunnah of the Prophet (Peace be upon him) and the understanding of the Companions (May Allah be pleased with them) has a very simple but powerful meaning: it means to hold dunya in your hand, but not letting it into your heart. What this means is that you should work for dunya, but never let that take over your life that you forget the Akhira. You should build this dunya but when you’re asked to sacrifice some of it for Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala) and His Messenger (Peace be upon him), you can easily do it, because the dunya is in your hands and not your heart.
If we look at the life of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) and His companions, we’d find many examples of such understanding of ‘Zuhd’. Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) once said:
"The worldly comforts are not for me. I am like a traveller, who takes a rest under a tree in the shade and then goes on his way.” (Tirmidhi).
The companions of the Prophet (Peace be upon him) even feared the worldly pleasures. One example being that a meal was brought to ‘Abdur-Rahman bin ‘Auf once when he was fasting. He said:
"Mus'ab bin ‘Umayr was martyred and he was better than I and was shrouded in his Burd and when his head was covered with it, his legs became bare, and when his legs were covered his head got uncovered. Hamza was martyred and was better than I. Now the worldly wealth has been bestowed upon us (or said a similar thing). No doubt, I fear that the rewards of my deeds might have been given earlier in this world.” Then he started weeping and left his food. (Sahih Bukhari, Book #23, Hadith #365).
I want to emphasize at this point, that I’m not against people improving their livelihood in this world and enjoying the blessings of Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala). Some of the Companions (May Allab be pleased with them) of the Prophet (Peace be uponhim) had thriving businesses, ate good food, and built nice homes, but once the call to sacrifice for Islam came, they threw all that away and ran for the Akhira.
Work and Sacrifice were the building blocks of the Islamic civilisation, not the palaces, art, and consumerism lifestyle. Those who came after the first 3 generations of Islam forgot these 2 ingredients and the Muslim civilisation declined.
After all that, don’t worry – there’s still hope!
We can still pick up the tools that were left by our ancestors, the tools of hard work and sacrifice, and rebuild our Ummah bi’ithnillah. Equipped with these, we can push dunya from our hearts and into our hands. Individually and collectively we can rebuild a new beginning for the Muslim Ummah – one that fights consumerism, encourages production, and gives back to the world more than it consumes.
Some Practical Tips
I leave you with 3 tips to help you take action today:
Adopt a Minimalistic lifestyle:
Build your life around what you ‘need’, rather than what you ‘want’. Be like the traveller as the Prophet (Peace be upon him) said in the hadeeth and live simply. Donate or throw away what you don’t need, and only keep those items that are essential to your day to day life. Believe me, you’ll feel so much ‘lighter’ as a consequence.
Invest more, consume less:
Try your best to always invest more of your resources (time, money, strength) and consume less. Invest your time in learning, helping others, volunteering, and worshipping. Invest your money in charity, new or existing businesses, helping Muslim charities and non-profit organisations. Invest your strength in working for Allah (Subhanhu Wa Ta’ala), helping the poor and needy and supporting those around you in whatever physical means possible.
Spread the simplicity message:
Encourage your family and friends to live a simple life rather than a material based one. It was said that simplicity is a part of faith and therefore try to spread the message about how we can fight our consumerism culture and what actions we can take from the Qur’an and Sunnah today to achive this. With sincere intentions and hard work, it can be done!
I hope this article has inspired you to take a look into your life differently, and inspired you look at dunya as a door to Akhira and not a door to limited comfortable life.