Caught in the Consumer Trap

What do complaints like “I’m on a diet”, “I’m too busy” or “I can’t make up my mind” have in common? Well, they’re distinctly problems of wealthier societies. Obesity now rivals smoking as the largest cause of premature death, an average Brit consumes some 150 pounds of sugar annually. This is one side effect of being wealthy. Another is time squeeze – the sense that we are very busy; there isn’t enough time to do things and this despite the fact that total work hours have dropped over the years. We still complain and the complaining rises with rising income. This is not a paradox as Isa (Alayhi Salam) explained “man does not live by bread alone”. As more and more of our material wishes become satisfied our desire for more increases. It is a vicious positive feedback cycle; the more we have the more we want.

Is it not true that what we really want is not more material objects but love, compassion, respect and happy families? Sadly these traditional values are not available on the supermarket shelves. I think we can do two things to remedy this problem.

Firstly, we need to nurture and develop traditional values like patience, tolerance, compassion and honesty. These will help us to share our wealth with others. Secondly, we need to learn to spend our money wisely, not merely for self-gratification but avoiding impulse buying.

However, the most powerful means of avoiding the consumer trap is to develop a particular mindset and attitude towards consumerism. This attitude in Islamic terminology is called Zuhd, strict self-discipline and abstention from too many worldly possessions. It leads to spiritual growth and Divine proximity. This is not about living an ascetic life or living like a monk but maintaining a balance between worldly activities and spiritual life.

The teachings of the Quran and Sunnah are clear on this topic: The Quran often mentions the fleeting and temporary nature of the world, ”And this life of the world is only amusement and play, surely the home of the hereafter is the real life if only they knew” (Surah Ankabut: 64). The beloved Mustafa (peace be upon him) warned Muslims against the excesses of worldly life once he said, “What concerns me most about you is the abundance of material wealth” (Muslim). On another occasion, he said “the world is sweet and green whilst you are its custodians, be aware what you are doing, be careful with wealth and be careful with women” (Muslim). Thus warning us against the allure and the deception of material and sensual things. This is not condemning material wealth or women, far from it, but warning us to be careful how we use them and not to abuse them.

One way of avoiding the worldly trap as the Messenger (peace be upon him) taught was to ‘look at those who are less wealthy than you and don’t look up to the wealthy for this will keep you from belittling the favours of Allah’ (Bukhari).

However, the Messenger (peace be upon him) did curse those who fall in love with material things and who love vanity, he (peace be upon him) declared, ‘he is ruined who loves gold and silver and clothes made of silk’ (Bukhari).

Instead of putting Allah and His deen first he puts material things first. On another occasion, he (peace be upon him) advised his followers this lifestyle: ‘Live in the world like a stranger or traveller’ (Bukhari).

We have unfortunately become discontent with Allah’s provision and our fear of not having enough for us and our family has driven us to seek more and more of this world. This has preoccupied us so much that we have forgotten the akhirah, which is doing righteous deeds that are pleasing to Allah such as kindness, giving charity, and remembering Allah.

We have become a generation that is inspired by so-called celebrities and show-offs and the immense pressure from advertising is constantly emphasising its importance by the hope of becoming like these superstars, instagramers, youtubers and wealthy individuals.

Another major problem of our era is that we waste our time watching useless TV shows on Netflix and spend our money on shopping for things that we already have plenty of.

The solution is to simply return to Allah and follow the way of His Prophet (peace be upon him). In his last sermon, our beloved Prophet (peace be upon him) concluded that we shall not go astray if we follow Allah’s book and his way of life (sunnah). Begin your day with the Fajr prayer so Allah may put blessings in your day and be keen on performing the rest of your prayers on time. The most important part of the solution is to change our lifestyle for the better by removing those things that are standing in our way to accomplish what is best for us.

May Allah give us the ability to overcome the consumerist trap, Ameen.