The new Westfield mega mall recently opened in East London, amid much media hype and celebrity endorsement. A shiny futuristic maze of shops and boutiques, complete with restaurants and even hotels, all designed so that the visitor can immerse themselves within the cosy consumer bubble that is Westfield.
What is clear to anyone observing the mall, is the number of Muslims constantly entering and exiting, shopping bags in hand. In fact, for a large percentage of east London’s young Muslim population, this is the prime location not only for shopping but for leisure and relaxation. It even has a prayer room. But what do we know about Westfield? Do we ever think about where our money is going? We are probably all aware that big corporations are hard to avoid, and we may rationalise our buying from them, with many excuses such as price, availability and convenience, and in fact we may even balance our sense of discomfort by giving to charities, buying 'eco friendly' and avoiding known boycotted brands. We excuse ourselves, rightly or wrongly, from turning a blind eye to child labour, oppressive conditions, and sweatshops, arguing ignorance and lack of alternatives. We may even argue that our money is bound to end up in the wrong hands eventually, and it is futile to try and stop it.
There may be some truth in the fact that we do not always know where our money goes, and it may possibly end up funding wars and oppression indirectly, even if we shop carefully. However, Allah SWT in His infinite mercy does not hold us accountable for that which we do not know. With Westfield, however, we have no such excuse.
The founder of Westfield Group, Frank Lowy, does not disguise the fact that he is a retired Israeli commando, having fought against the people of Palestine during the 1948 war, nor does he hide his close friendships with high profile politicians including former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. He gives millions to the rogue state of Israel, a state which is illegal according to international law. Furthermore, he established an independent think tank focusing on Israeli and US security and foreign policy whose research is consistently Islamaphobic and imperialistic, and far from hiding his involvement in the project, he named it "The Lowy Institute".
It is clear, then, that we as Muslims cannot simply blame our compulsive consumerism on lack of knowledge, because it is freely available. Nor can we just turn a blind eye to these facts. Simply put, by shopping, eating and spending in Westfield, we are directly funding the murder of Muslims in Palestine. Our money also contributes to the destructive, barbaric and inhumane policies put forth by US and Israeli Governments in conjunction with the Lowy Institute. Every pound spent in Westfield, leads to misery on the West Bank.
We must ask ourselves honestly, where do our priorities lie? Are they with consuming, owning and spending, regardless of the consequence? Or are they with the ummah? Undoubtedly, when confronted with our obligation to deprive ourselves of luxuries and comforts, it is a difficult truth to face. It would be more convenient to forget, indeed that is what Westfield is there for, to encourage us to seek solace in material goods, and forget ourselves in designer labels. However this is contradictory to Islamic teachings. As Muslims we are fortunate to know that true satisfaction can only be gained through submitting to the will of Allah (Subhanahu wa Ta’ala), and the Sunnah of our Prophet (Sal Allahu Alayhi Wassalaam) has provided us with a comprehensive and fulfilling way of life. Westfield is completely built upon the capitalist philosophy at odds with Islam, a philosophy of consumption and instant gratification. According to this framework, we should adopt objects and ownership as our spiritual goals. We must work harder, in order to buy more things. In fact, if we took this as a model for our lives, we would literally shop ‘till we dropped!
A Muslim is a brother to another Muslim. The Prophet (Sal Allahu Alayhi Wassalaam) told us that “The relationship of the believer towards the people of faith is like that of the head to the body. The believer feels the pain of the people of faith just as the body feels the pain of the head.” We as an ummah need to fight collectively against our urge to dull the pain we feel at the plight of our brothers and sisters, by buying, shopping and consuming, because in reality we are only perpetuating our own destruction.
Ibn al-Qayyim spoke about the obligation of helping our brothers and sisters in his book, AlFawaa'id:
"There are different ways of supporting a fellow believer: with one’s wealth, with one’s position of authority or power, by means of physical service, by offering sincere advice and guidance, by making supplication (du’aa’) and asking for forgiveness for them, and by feeling their pain.."
We can all make dua, even if we may not be able to provide power or authority. But by continuing to shop in Westfield, not only do we avoid and shy away from feeling the pain of our brothers, and not only do we fail to support them with our wealth, but in fact we actually increase and exacerbate their difficulties. Just as we would not take our own money and purchase the weapons by which our family would be killed, just as we would hate to contribute towards the death of our own mother, sister, brother; So we have a duty, at the very least, to prevent our money from funding the death and destruction of our brothers and their countries, our countries. We, as Muslims, cannot simply pick and choose our morals and principles to suit our mood, and then proceed to shout in outrage when those morals we have deemed applicable to uphold, are violated.
We must no longer be our own worst enemy.