At this time of year the stores are pushing their sales at us. Advertising is everywhere. There if a frenzy to buy, buy, buy. Let's realize that as Muslims this is not our way of life. The consumerist madness is a deception. There's no joy or peace attached to it. It's a shallow illusion.

Look at what society has done to itself in the name of consumerism. A day of thanks (Thanksgiving) has become the prelude to “Black Friday”, the biggest shopping day of the year. It used to be that Black Friday did not begin until Friday morning, out of respect for Thanksgiving. Then the starting gun was moved to midnight, and now it has crept into Thursday evening. Nothing is sacred.

The Prophet 'Īsa ibn Maryam (Jesus the son of Mary), peace be upon him, has been turned into a marketing strategy. His purported birthday celebration has become a month of shopping insanity, presided over by a mythical sub-deity named Santa. People go into debt, they fight over sale goods… No mention is made of faith.

We cannot follow this path. Our way is sacrifice, zakāh (purification), ṣadaqah (charity), zud (giving up material luxury). We don't have to be monks, but we must focus on the things that matter: faith and family.

The faith in our hearts is more important than the brand name of the clothes we wear. Where our feet carry us – to someplace good or bad – is more important than the cost of our shoes. The sincerity in our hearts is more important than any gift. May Allāh help us to see what is important in life.

The Enjoyment of Delusion

There's a powerful verse from the Bible, Proverbs 30:8-9:

Give me neither poverty nor riches,
grant me only my share of bread to eat,
for fear that surrounded by plenty, I should fall away
and say, “Yahweh – who is Yahweh?”
or else in destitution, take to stealing
and profane the name of my God.

(Yahweh is an ancient Hebrew name for God).

If you visit the shopping malls at Christmas time, and read the news stories of people lining up from the night before,  huddling in sleeping bags in order to buy the latest gadgets, then trampling each other in the rush; if you turn on the TV to the usual Christmas comedies and “Frosty the Snowman” cartoons, you see that God has been forgotten and has even become taboo. It's not politically correct to speak of God. Just watch what we broadcast, be hypnotized by our Christmas elevator music, buy and forget…

Allāh says about this:

“Know that the life of this world is but amusement and diversion and adornment and boasting to one another and competition in increase of wealth and children – like the example of a rain whose [resulting] plant growth pleases the tillers; then it dries and you see it turned yellow; then it becomes debris. And in the Hereafter is severe punishment and forgiveness from Allāh and approval. And what is the worldly life except the enjoyment of delusion.” – Qurʾān, Sūrat'l-adīd, 57:20

This theme is struck repeatedly in the Qurʾān. The amusement and adornment of the dunya is an illusion that dries up and crumbles like a corn stalk, and becomes dust. It is empty, the enjoyment of delusion. Wow. That phrase, “enjoyment of delusion”, makes me think of a madman alone in a room, tied in a straight jacket, engaged in a pleasant delusion playing only in his mind.

I know people who have a bedroom devoted to all the junk that they have bought but do not use. They never enter that room and the door is kept locked. Isn't that a kind of mental illness?

Gratitude

How do we resist the onslaught of the season? How do we remember Allāh?

The greatest tool in our toolbox is gratitude. By looking at what we've been blessed with, our hearts become content. Socrates commented that contentment is natural wealth, while luxury is artificial poverty. Contentment does not mean complacency or passivity; it refers to a state of awareness of our blessings, and gratitude for the smallest to the greatest provisions – from the tiniest cells in our bodies, to the grand earth itself.

Let's become aware of what we have: the food on our plates, our ability to see and hear, the love and health of our families, sanity, intelligence, knowledge… these things are huge. When we open our eyes and start to see, then we become content and happy, and we see how meaningless are things are like big-screen TVs, the latest smartphone, or another new dress.

Let's remember Allāh the Eternal, and think of our ākhirah (hereafter). While others are are hungering for more, let's be grateful for what we have, and give.

Our local Muslim community center here in Fresno participates in feeding the poor at soup kitchens and is currently organizing a winter blanket and coat drive for the homeless. I encourage every Muslim community to do something similar. Get Muslim adults and children involved in the process of giving, whether to needy Muslims or non-Muslims.

It's liberating to ignore the sales and seasonal hype. When we abandon the idea of acquiring goods, and instead focus on giving, we dump the whole propaganda machine on its head. We change everything. While the frantic buying of “stuff” makes us forget Allāh, gratitude brings us back to Him. That's why Allāh brings together gratitude and remembrance of Allāh:

“So remember Me; I will remember you. And be grateful to Me and do not deny Me.”
- Qurʾān, Sūrat'l-Baqarah, 2:152

Being grateful to Allāh means that our hearts become filled with love for Him; our bodies are obedient to Him; our tongues praise Him; we receive His favors with humility; we thank Him for everything we have received; and we use what He has given us for good. We could never repay Allāh. The least we can do is thank him.

By being grateful and separating ourselves from the consumerist craziness, we set an example of how to live without avarice. We free our spirits, remove a burden from our backs, and shine a light for ourselves and others.

24 Responses

  1. Umm Sulaim

    Good work.

    Many non-Muslim Americans recognise the link between festivities and consumerism and avoid such, example valentine’s day.

    Christmas appears to be the period when even smart persons get in with the mood. Some of my online friends have been shopping for days for their family. I shall ask them what happen to the previous years’ shopping items.

    They seem to enjoy it, though.

    Umm Sulaim

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    • Fezz

      True point, its ONLINE SHOPPING these days that is potentially just as financially consuming. The trip to the mall is now a bit of a social day trip.

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  2. Carlos

    Ah, materialism, religion’s favorite strawman opponent. It does not take much thinking to realize that the opposite of religiosity is not consumerism. Materialistic people and non-materialistic people can be of any religion or can be non-believers. Some people are just more into acquiring “things” than others. Religion’s real nemesis, of course, is science, not materialism, but religion does not fare as well when compared with science.

    Incidentally, the purchasing going on this month is primarily for gift-giving, not for personal use. People buy things for themselves whenever they need or want them, regardless of the season. Christmas shopping is meant for others. That kind of weakens your anti-Christmas argument.

    If I were a Christian, I might be offended by this article implying that Christians are overcome by insane consumerism, or that Santa Claus is considered a sub-deity. “Our way is sacrifice.” Apparently your way is also smugness.

    As for Christmas becoming more secular, I and many others think that is a good thing. It makes us non-Christians less uncomfortable about participating in the holiday festivities. Of course, the secularization of Christmas makes the evangelical Christians very angry. It serves them right for trying so hard to make government less secular.

    Happy New Year.

    Carlos

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    • Abu Sumaiyah

      Carlos, I believe you do not accurately understand what materialism means. Materialism is being devoted to the temporal world as opposed to the spiritual world. All people who refuse to acknowledge Allah are indeed attached to this world. Therefore, they are materialistic. They cling on to wordly advancement in whatever shape or form it takes. Even people living on communes or people who believe anarchism is the right path to develiop asociety are in one way or another following a materialistic ideology.

      Moreover, eventhough the Quran is not a book of science, it is a book of guidance, there are scientific facts that have oly been discovered through the advancement of modern technology. Or mabe you would like me to believe how Aristotle orginally believed how the fetus is formed.

      There is no need to claim that you would be offended about thid article if you were a Christian. Even Christians and even secularists alike admit that Christmas is a consumer driven festivile

      My last question. Why do you keep on coming back to this website and posting your arguments? Are feeling insecure with yourself that you need to come to a Muslim blog and try and get your point across?

      I wish you could ask Christopher Hitchens about he now thinks about his entire life fighting religion, namely islam.

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    • Wael Abdelgawad

      Carlos, you’ve raised some important points and I appreciate your comment. It’s true that not all Christians or non-Muslims in general are caught up in the consumerist frenzy; and there are indeed movements among non-Muslims that promote simpler lifestyles, environmentalism, back-to-nature, etc. In fact non-Muslims tend to be ahead of Muslims in these areas these days. So if I came across as generalizing or smug, then I need to rethink my mode of expression. I was referring mainly to the blitz of marketing and sales hype at this time of year, and those who buy into it.

      You say the purchasing going on in this month is for gift-giving. If I buy my wife an iPod and a pair of Gucci shoes, and she buys me a flat-screen TV, that is hardly the spirit of generosity and giving that I am advocating. I’m talking about giving to the poor and the homeless, to people who are suffering and starving around the world. Giving to people who have nothing to give back. Giving with no expectation of reward or reciprocation, giving to those who care nothing for us and may even hate us.

      Your point about science being the nemesis of religion does not apply to Islam and is irrelevant to this article.

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    • Mustafa

      Carlos, yes we’ll find atheists who care so much for the environment they live of what can sustain them and nothing more.

      In the same vein, we’ll find atheists with the character of a good believer, giving in charity with a smile on their face and not desiring a single word of thanks.

      And in the end, it amounts to nothing.

      http://quran.com/18/103-108

      So you can keep labeling arguments, then blaming us for using those arguments. The end result is the same. None of your arguing helps you.

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  3. Fozia

    Very important reminder Wael. I am trying to beat this problem myself and yes, I agree with you – it is a major problem! I deliberately avoid shopping malls, I just don’t go to them, I find the glitz very unpleasant and distant from deen and they make me go dizzy. And when I go to the local shops for grocery shopping, I pass through the market, and this is a dua to say for when entering a ‘market’.

    “None has the right to be worshipped but Allah alone, Who has no partner. His is the dominion and His is the praise. He brings life and He causes death, and He is living and does not die. In His Hand is all good, and He is Able to do all things.” (Reference: At-Tirmithi 5/291, and Al-Hakim 1/538. Al-Albani graded it good in Sahih Ibn Majah 2/21 and Sahih At-Tirmithi 3/152.)

    http://www.islamawareness.net/Dua/Fortress/098.html

    ***

    Our deen give us answers to it all, don’t hang out wasting time, don’t waste money on excess clothes, shoes, on extravagant clothes, or on the latest mobile phone. Simplicity is so much better! And our Deen frees us from being exploited by consumerism, which is nothing but an agent of shaytaan.

    Thank you for bringing this very important issue to light.

    Fozia

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      • Fozia

        Wael, maasha’Allah you are already a very disciplined soul, your persistence in Martial Arts is an example of that. But still its good to recite the dua.

        Theres a motto that can be applied to everything in life: ‘No pain, No gain’. To discipline ourselves, we need to endure a certain amount of pain for a while, because we are supressing our desires and fighting our nafs. For me, I have to supress my desire to shop and to sleep at the time of Fajr. Hmm, topic for a new article Wael! :0)

        Fozia

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  4. ibn Ahmed

    Excellent reminder, very practical. If you don’t have gratitude towards Allah subhanuhuwata’ala, the you will never be contented with what you have.

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  5. Anon

    Nice article, MashALLAH… May ALLAH bless you, Ameen…

    One should be trained about the items that a muslim requires in their lives.. Usually, a Muslim doesnt know that.. and thats why he/she falls into the pit of buying, buying, buying and hoarding stuff…

    A Muslim shoudl be trained to:
    1) buy ONLY the items they need [e.g one pair of joggers and not three pairs per person]
    2) good quality [which are good for the health of feet and reasonable in price]
    3) replace them when they are worn out…

    Alhamdulilah, life will become better and EASIER.

    Its a must to own a cell phone. But changing a cell phone every four months, simple casue a newer model has arrived.. ?!

    8 to 10 casual shirts are fine. But a wardrobe exploding with tonnes of clothes ?!

    Two good quality women purses are fine. But a collection of 13 purses of various colors ?!

    Muslim Ummah, buy only what you need. Neither be a miser and nor a spend thrift.

    Its hurts to see a rich Muslim lady walking in Dubai Mall, showing off, her branded abaya, branded heels and a carring a branded purse worth 80,000 Dirhams.

    SubhanALLAH.

    A Purse worth 80,000 Dirhams ?! Wouldnt a purse costing 1,000 Dirhams be enough for her. Cause at the end of the day, all she has to do is carry the necessary items in her purse. The only differnce i could spot between that expensive purse and a cheaper one, was the differnce of a logo ! The rest looked all the same to me ! The space it provided ! the funtionality it was used for !

    O Muslims, brands do not give us status.

    It is “Islam” that gives us status and respect in the society.

    If brands and richness and possession of items would give anyone respect, then every body would have respected the Pharoah and the current leaders (Bush, Muamar Ghadaffi, Asif Ali Zardari, etc…. !

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    • none

      Mr. Anon
      Im a man but you probably a man too. Your sense of fashion is lacking. There is nothing wrong with looking pleasant and matching an outfit if you are blessed with means and give of the right upon your wealth. Sure many people over do it but many of the Sahabah and Tabieen were generous in charity and generous in spending alhamdulilah.

      It ain’t trickin’ if you got it (a hip hop phrase). Let those who have means use it on themselves and upon others inshaAllah.

      Sometimes (at least in America) Brands mean quality. I have Calvin Klein sweaters from 11 years ago that look brand new. I also have pants from Old Navy (lesser) that lasted 4 months.

      Piety and hayaa should not prevent you from matching.

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  6. Amy eatrada

    Salaams,

    Worth much more than your original article is your gracious and magnanimous responses to those who have a differing opinion. I’m taking notes…definitely a priceless gift that nothing for sale out there right now could trump!

    Truly though, I would have tried to argue back, “no I’m not (whatever I’m being accused of)” and list off proofs why. Thank you for showing having the humility of taking a nobler course, from the bottom of my nafs’ heart!

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    • Fozia

      Lol Amy…I agree!

      Wael has some qualities and traits that are maash’Allah very praiseworth indeed. May Allah(swt) bless him always, aameen.

      Fozia

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  7. Abu Ibrahim Ismail

    The holiday season is an annoying yet essential part of American life. I don’t agree with it, but it has become so ingrained in the American fabric, there’s little chance of it every changing.

    Entire industries (the toy industry for example) base their survival on these five weeks. Financial markets, investors, and corporations judge whether they’ll survive another year based on how well they’ve done during this period.

    This is not to say we should get involved in this madness. The author is correct to advise Muslims to concentrate on those things which Allah has advised us to be aware of.

    On another note, it seems we Muslims are also victims of a similar madness. And our madness also lasts roughly a month.

    It’s called Ramadan.

    Every year, every Muslim blog (hyperbole, I know) rants and raves about how Muslims all over the world are observing Ramadan incorrectly.

    Either Muslims are over-eating at iftar, or over spending preparing for iftar, or iftar-hopping (going from one iftar celebration to another).

    I don’t think the Christmas frenzy is unique to Christians, or Westerners, or the modern age. I believe this is just a product of human behavior, as Muslims are doing similar things.

    Humans are going to find a way to profit and squeeze enjoyment out of anything and everything.

    There will always be the conservatives (Muslim and Christian) who will bemoan the commercialization of sacred events. But the vast majority of the public (Muslim and Christian) will continue to march to the same beat.

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      • Fozia

        Its worse in Ramadan. Because Ramadan is all about supressing one’s physical desires, about taming those desires which distance us from Allah(swt), about feeling the pangs of hunger, and about learning to be truly grateful to Allah for what we have. But many Muslims end up doing the complete opposite by over indulging in food and buying glitzy clothes for Eid. So yes its worse.

        But insha’Allah every day is a new day and we can do tawbah and try to sacrifice for the sake of Allah. Such articles as this are good reminders.

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  8. Kaleem

    Assalam O Alaikum brother Wael,
    Masha Allah another beautiful article. I think it is important for us Muslims to realize our true purpose in this world. True happiness and peace of mind can only be obtained by being content and moderate in our approach; now a days everything has become a fashion. It is not only on Christmas but also on Muslim festivals as brother Ibrahim mentioned above. In fact, now Muslims start shopping months before the festivals (Eids). We shouldn’t completely avoid shopping but we should also think before hand that why we are buying something? For instance, I have seen people who spend insane amount of money on electronic products such as mobile phones, laptops, etc when they already have machines which serve them just fine. It’s kind of a competition with people around us. As Muslims we are supposed to go to crowded places likes malls, markets and shopping centers when it’s absolute necessary because they take the very purpose of our existence in this world away from as we indulge in those things over their. That is why we are advised by our beloved Prophet (PBUH) to attend funerals, go to graveyards (which are quite opposite of malls/markets, also our final resting place) to remain steadfast on our path and to remember our purpose of life on earth.
    Thanks for this lovely reminder and keep writing these inspirational articles to help Ummah; may Allah (swt) give you more strength, wisdom, understanding, piety and focus in life on things which are/should be important to every Muslim to achieve their eternal goal. (Amin).

    Muhammad1982:)

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