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), zuḥd (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-Ḥadīd, 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?
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.