Sunday, 22 January 2012

Dilemmas of a Muslim shopper

(A version of this article was published by the Huffington Post)
Over the past couple of weeks my sister was in town and, along with my mom, we spent a good deal of time in Dubai shopping malls, taking advantage of discounts during a seasonal sale. Having lost a few kilos in the past couple of months and after starting a new job in December, I had no qualms about treating myself to some new clothes, shoes and accessories. Like many women, I find buying new items quite gratifying.

This is especially so because in the past two to three years, I managed to work toward having financial freedom for the first time. I can now afford to buy nice things for myself and my loved ones while sustaining a comfortable standard of living, building my rainy-day savings and giving charity more generously than I used to.
Courtesy Flickr
Reaching this stage took a great deal of hard work and patience. Growing up, money was often too tight to warrant excessive spending on material goods. My mom taught me and my sisters to steer clear of living beyond our means, and to find a balance between spending wisely and being generous while avoiding stinginess. Apart from the mortgage we took for our family home, I’ve never incurred debts. This meant I had to stay away from elaborate electronics and fancy fashion labels, as well as opt to work rather than pursue a Master’s degree I couldn’t afford.

Quite naturally, with my newfound financial freedom, I do splurge a bit more than I used to. This has been rewarding not least because I know that it is due to my own hard work and sacrifice that I found myself at this stage.

And yet, there I was with a few bags of new possessions and I couldn’t help but feel guilty and, as much as I loath to admit it, greedy. While that isn’t an adjective I would generally use to describe myself, there are moments when I become so focussed on self-fulfilment that it is difficult to decipher what I really need from what I buy/consume/collect out of sheer indulgence. It is so easy to fall into the trap of consumerism and spend wastefully on things we do not really need, an idea that is known in Arabic as Israf.

Dubai Mall's "Fashion Avenue", courtesy Flickr
Living in Islam, which refers to a state of mind where the believer surrenders to God, places a great deal of responsibility on our shoulders over how we handle our finances. We are called upon as Muslims to avoid extravagance, promote welfare and encourage fairness in our families and communities. As with all aspects of life, this is accomplished through moderation, with God instructing us in the Quran to “be neither miserly, nor so open-handed that you suffer reproach and become destitute.” (17:29)

Just one look at my closet teeming with clothes makes me realise how tough it is to strike the right balance. While the wealth we accumulate is a grace from God, it is also a test to see how we will manage, distribute and respect it. The more I earn, the more I am willing to spend to improve the quality of my life because I regard the wealth in my possession as a sign of God’s mercy. Yet it is crucial to always be aware that it is up to us to ensure that we set boundaries that we do not cross.