Posts Tagged ‘consumerism’

“Contradictions Collapse”: Moral Dignity and Spending

“You only look smart.

You read about consumerism using Starbucks receipts as a bookmark.”[1]

In response to a question posed to me on a DePaul University radio show called Writing Our Story[2] faith I considered how my personal spending habits links me to worldwide suffering.

I believe there is often an inverse relationship between how much we spend and the amount of exploitation we are responsible for perpetuating. This is an important notion to consider in the context of the ideals that Muslims place on themselves.
Many active Muslims call for believers to detach from extravagant stuff and call for establishing Justice in their lives.

Within our frames of understanding, do these lead to a:

“Contradiction” from the Merriam Webster’s online dictionary: “a situation in which inherent factors, actions, or propositions are inconsistent or contrary to one another.”

Let me make this a little more straight-forward. Some measure their frugality by the amount of money they spend on items.

  1. Instead of purchasing high-quality food they purchase processed or genetically modified foods.
  2. Instead of buying long-wearing, sustainable clothing they purchase their clothing at large department stores.
  3. Instead of buying high-quality, sturdy furniture they purchase flimsy pieces.


One of my contentions is that this frugality might actually plunge us deeper into systems of exploitation.[3]

  1. When one chooses cheaply-made foods over organic, fair-trade options one is buying into items that may use slave-labour or crops harvested by under-paid, migrant workers. Mass-produced, factory-foods are also ecologically unsustainable (especially meat products). Multi-national corporations run the food-game and this leads to damaging effects to all who……eat……or starve.[4] This is all said without considering health-effects.
  2. My inverse-relationship theory is weak in the clothing department primarily because many expensive, “high-end” brands also use exploitation to produce their garments. But, generally speaking, affordable, cheap clothing and footwear is made in sweat-shops. In some cases, children and women are being overworked and underpaid…for those sweet kicks.
  3. The furniture sold in the US is often made of rather cheap material. This leads to a high turn-around rate. We no longer repair our items—furniture, appliances, electronics—we just toss them and upgrade! I wonder how long the earth will take that.


In general terms I want to say that we should begin thinking about a few things. Perhaps our framework of buying cheap to be zahid (detached) needs to change. When we get suckered into buying cheap items that are produced by over-worked fellow humans, fall apart in no-time and destroy the earth, are we really being true to Islamic teachings because only paid 20 bucks for the shoes in our closet?

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08 2011

Islam and Consumerism IV: Consumerism, the Qur’an, and Power

[src:]“Yes I know my enemies.
They’re the teachers who taught me to fight me.
Compromise, conformity, assimilation, submission
, ignorance, hypocrisy, brutality, the elite,
All of which are American Dreams…”

Power. Power is one of the primary pieces of the puzzle that Muslims tend to overlook in their discourse in the United States and in their conversation amongst their own communities. Typical narratives and public speeches involve subordinating community interests and Islamic principles for the sake of “integration”, “assimilation”, and other largely hollow phrases. On the other end, some of us speak revolutionary slogans in the masjid for a few weak fist-pumps and a takbir or two. We lack real, solid engagement.

Real engagement with issues involves first implementing real action. That is preceded by creating a foundational worldview. We live in a time where we have so bowed to the power structures that surround us that we can hardly think for ourselves; we can hardly create sentences or thoughts without relying upon buzzwords and empty, often worn out, slogans. “To lack power does not only mean losing the will to struggle and the desire to become alive, ‘but that you become a carbon copy and shade of another human being…’”[1] We have lost the power to think for ourselves, create our own way of life and grapple with contending worldviews.

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11 2010

Islam and Consumerism III: Those Who Mold

This should have been a preliminary article but I feel that it is necessary before continuing the series. We should keep in mind that this theorizing on Islam’s purpose and its ethical imperative toward consumerism and the ills and repercussions of such a worldview—including alienation, oppression, and complacency— demands action. It is not a luxury to be able to “wax philosophical” about the implications of a highly individualistic society that encourages people to fulfill their individual, base desires. Rather, it is a duty that demands a constructive, ambitious plan to effectively change the “reality on  the ground”—to be those who mold.
“What has been put asunder shall again be whole”

At every waking moment an act which defies man’s great status is committed. These acts occur at every level of reality: from the low depths of one’s soul where evil inclinations arise to the high altitudes where the “developed world’s” bombs descend onto innocent civilians in Afghanistan and other war-torn parts of the Third World. If one leaves their cyber-life on Facebook and walks outside with open eyes, opens a book, or reads a newspaper this will all be utterly apparent.

On the other hand there are those who mold—the thinkers and activists who feel empathy, mercy for those who suffer or experience suffering directly. Few and far in between, they struggle and challenge the status quo. They seek to “reveal and expose the underlying causes of the wreckage piling” at mankind’s feet—wreckage created by all of us as a human community.
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09 2010

Islam and Consumerism II: A Muslim Affluenza?

A Muslim Affluenza?


In my last blog entry, I mentioned that the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines consumerism as:  “the theory that an increasing consumption of goods is economically desirable; also: a preoccupation with and an inclination toward the buying of consumer goods”[1]. I would like to add another definition to the mix: “affluenza, n. a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more”[2].

Affluenza is a play on the two words affluence and influenza. It symbolizes the concept of “keeping up with the Joneses”—matching (or exceeding) the same level of material wealth (affluence) and status as your neighbors, co-workers, friends, etc.—but frames it as an illness, a virus. It is the title of both a television documentary and a book that challenge our materialistically-inclined society. In fact, it can be said that we spend (sometimes until we are in massive debt) to feel a quick, fleeting happiness in purchasing a new item.

This condition crosses lines of status, race and religion. The religious perspective, however, is what I am interested in exploring further. More particularly, how does Islam view this conception of life?

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09 2010