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Understanding Boycotts And Buying Within Our Communities



Someone inquired of Imam Ahmad, “Can a man buy from the enemy?” 

Imam Ahmad (may Allah have mercy on him) answered, “Nothing should be bought from those who gain power over the Muslims.” (Masāil Ibn Hani)

Boycotting—along with protests and donations to charitable organizations—is just one way to express solidarity with the Palestinian cause. And like all methods of solidarity, it comes under scrutiny.

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On the flip side, in our earnestness, we may seek to boycott anything and everything we think is part of a boycott list. Some have coined the term “boycott fatigue” to express the dismay of being unable to buy certain products from certain businesses. There is a grain of truth in the sentiment; we may overwhelm ourselves with a pressure to participate in every boycott that we hear of and restrict our purchasing decisions to a point where we cannot work effectively.

This piece will emphasize the importance of boycotts, reiterate the specific outcomes of a boycott, and suggest alternatives.

Internalize That Boycotts Are Permissible—And That They Work

We remember a foundational principle in our faith: “الأصل في الأشياء إباحة.” All things are permissible, unless there’s something that makes it reprehensible or rewardable. So when it comes to transactions with non-Muslims, the default is that they are permissible. However, there are concerns when those transactions directly contribute to the harm of our people. [Ikmāl al-Muʿlim bi-Fawāʾid Muslim of al-Qadi ‘Iyad]

We often hear of one boycott from the seerah, termed as “The Boycott.” Muslims were confined to one valley for merely practicing their faith. 

After the hijrah, a man named Thumamah was in charge of the wheat in Yamamah. He came to accept Islam after being captured in Madinah. With the permission of the Prophet ﷺ, he left to perform Umrah. While in the holy city, he proclaimed to the Makkans that he wouldn’t give them a single grain of wheat unless the Prophet ﷺ, again, gave him permission. The Prophet ﷺ didn’t rebuke him for this action. In fiqh, we learn that this is a tacit approval of boycotts. So we’ve learned that boycotts are not only permissible; they can be encouraged.

The similarities between the seerah and the ongoing crisis are many. Where the early Muslims in the past had to eat leaves in order to survive their boycott, Palestinians have been forced to move from tent to tent, “safe” zone to “safe” zone, exiles in their own land. The situation is so severe that Palestinians made “bread” out of animal feed. This stark reality gives us reason for pause. We must examine our own food critically and see if it contributes to this genocide. McDonald’s and Starbucks are two examples of food companies complicit in apartheid.

In just the past quarter alone, McDonald’s and Starbucks suffered huge losses not only in profits, but in worker strikes. Those losses stemmed from each individual’s decision not to purchase their products. It’s a beautiful reminder of the hadith, “Even if the Resurrection were established upon one of you while he has in his hand a sapling, let him plant it.” [Musnad Aḥmad 12902] Deeds like these are small, but they have a large impact.

Scholars like Hatem al-Haj have offered another framework for participating in boycotts besides their economic effectiveness:

“The effectiveness of boycotts can be variable, and my personal contribution may seem minuscule. However, my commitment to them is not dependent on their practical outcomes. It is a spiritual and moral choice, a means to consciously disassociate from the oppression and those who inflict it upon my brothers and sisters and those who support them. It is a practice I undertake to uphold the integrity of my character, preserve the tranquility of my soul, and safeguard my standing in the hereafter.”

Not only does this build qualities of restraint (إمساك), but also consciousness (تقوة). If we’re able to restrain ourselves from a subscription service like Disney+ or another purchase from Amazon, it allows us to refine ourselves into more conscious consumers, and ultimately, more practicing Muslims. Just because something is halal (permissible) doesn’t mean that it is tayyib (good).

The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “Allah the Almighty is Good, and accepts only that which is good. And verily Allah has commanded the believers to do that which He has commanded the Messengers. So the Almighty has said:

O messengers, eat from the good foods ( tayyibat) and work righteousness. Indeed, I, of what you do, am Knowing.” [Surah Al-Muminoon: 23;51]

And the Almighty has said:

“O you who believe! Eat of the lawful things that We have provided you, and be grateful to Allah if it is [indeed] Him that you worship.” [Surah Al-Baqarah: 2;172]

Then he ﷺ mentioned a man who, having journeyed far, is disheveled and dusty, and who spreads out his hands to the sky saying ‘O Lord! O Lord!,’ while his food is haram, his drink is haram, his clothing is haram, and he has been nourished with haram, so how can he be answered?” [Hadith 10, 40 Hadith al-Nawawi]

Understanding Boycotting

There are a few categories from movements like the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. The first are targeted boycotts versus non-targeted boycotts.

Targeted boycotts

Targeted boycott (PC: BDS website)

The method of targeted boycotts was inspired by other movements that focussed on a few companies and products. A company or product on a targeted boycott list has a proven link to Israel and a desired outcome. The BDS movement has eight main targets: Hewlett Packard, Siemens, AXA, Puma, Israeli Produce, SodaStream, Ahava, and Sabra.

Non-targeted boycotts

Non-targeted boycotts (PC: BDS website)

A non-targeted boycott is Pepsi-Co, one of the parent companies of Sabra. While Pepsi-Co does operate factories in Atarot, an illegal Israeli settlement, BDS specifically targets Sabra because of its support towards the Israeli Occupation Forces.

Returning to the idea of targeted boycotts, there are four sections that the BDS movement illustrates.

  • Consumer boycott: Complete boycott; company has dedicated proof of support for Israel. Examples include the main targets above, as well as Carrefour, Chevron, Caltex, Re/max, and Texaco.
  • Divestment and exclusion: Avoid purchasing and investing; company profits from Israeli apartheid. Examples include HikVision, Barclays, Cat, Volvo, and Intel.
  • Pressure target: Find alternatives as much as possible; these companies continue to market themselves, promote, and operate in illegal Israel. Examples include Google, Amazon, Airbnb, Expedia,, Teva, and Disney.
  • Organic boycott: Grassroots boycott; supported by larger BDS movement. Examples include McDonald’s, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Wix, Domino’s and Papa John’s. 

It’s also important to note that many of these companies show up on multiple boycott lists. Many Palestinian activists promote boycotting Nestle due to their stake in Osem. They also emerged on the Lakota People’s Law Project for their deforestation as well as harmful water pumping practices.

Where To Buy From Instead

Consider supporting Muslim-owned businesses, even if you find that a non-Muslim company is considered “safe” from boycotts. Malcolm X (may Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) have mercy on him), had a brilliant idea within his biography: that black men and women should exclusively support black-owned businesses. The same can be said for Muslims. Imagine what our community could do if the daughters and sons of grocery store owners had parents who could further fund their futures. All it takes is for us to support the businesses of our brothers and sisters.

If you are unable to avoid a certain product or company, consider making a minimal donation to a charitable organization every time you make that purchase.

Ultimately, remember that it comes down to intention. We all do our best, but many factors are at play—like medical conditions, environment, and income. Do not forget the comforting words of the Prophet ﷺ that remind us that we can do whatever is within our capacity:

“Whoever among you sees evil, let him change it with his hand. If he cannot do so, then with his tongue. If he cannot do so, then with his heart, which is the weakest level of faith.” [Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 49]

Boycotting is an effective method of resistance, not just economically, but spiritually. 

May Allah ﷺ allow us to have halal wealth, and to be upright with how we spend that wealth.



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Israel and Apartheid | Taking Action with BDS

Keep supporting MuslimMatters for the sake of Allah

Alhamdulillah, we're at over 850 supporters. Help us get to 900 supporters this month. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Hannah Alkadi is a lawful good social media master, cat mom, and total nerd. She began writing in the pixels of online threads with friends since she was 13. Now, she continues in the pages of essays, short stories, and poetry. Her work has been published in Amaliah and Muslim Youth Musings by the grace of Allah ﷻ.

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