Minimalism In Islam
By: Menal Elmaliki / Arab America Contributing Writer
Let’s set the scene. Imagine your house or building was on fire. The flames of the fire quickly spread and you have less than a minute to escape. What would you grab before evacuating?
Take a minute to really think, about what is special enough to save. What material items are worth risking your life for? Despite the horridness of this scenario, the silver lining is that it forces us to reconsider what is valuable.
Much of our love for the material is an ignis fatuus because you won’t die trying to save your closet full of clothes, or all your technological gadgets. Everything material is replaceable, so why then do we go GAGA for limited edition clothes, or shoes, only to be worn a few times and then to be tucked away, lost, and forgotten in the back of your closet to merely collect germs and dust.
America is notorious for reality tv, and amongst the most popular reality tv show is Hoarding: Buried Alive. The show shows us a bitter reality that it is very easy to drown in overconsumption. Consumerism is an epidemic, and we all suffer from materialism in some ways. Our actions have become mechanical and we buy without much thought. Thus the robotic cycle plagues us, the endless cycle of buying and then throwing out, cluttering, and then decluttering.
This embarrassing feat of hoarding has pushed for a more minimalistic style of living. It began as an art movement in post WW2 and was eventually introduced in literature and design. Minimalism is more than just an aesthetic; it became a philosophy to not only change the way one lives but also the way one thinks.
We’ve all become like an empty canvas, painting ourselves with material items. We practice associative identity where we want our living space and clothes to mirror our personality. How can something that’s lauded in modern culture be very harmful? The sordid reality is as small as buying a new article of clothing is, our desires are polluting the environment.
The problem of consumerism is much deeper than economics and global trade, it has to do with power structures, big businesses, monopolies, and lobbying. There is the overfilling of landfills, abuse of workers in 3rd world countries, child labor, as well as excessive use and depletion of water and natural resources. Everyone takes part or is guilty of global pollution and the grim truth is we can only prolong the evitable.
This so-called modern simplicity of living has become popular due to these factors of global warming, environmental damage, debt, etc. Minimalism, today, is considered a new form of living, but how modern is this new trend of living?
As the saying goes, temporary things only bring temporary comfort, so why do we buy an abundance of unnecessary. Most religious traditions or cultural traditions are in congruence with their environment. They preach against the vices of materialism, all forms of insatiability, and promote self-discipline, and humility. The Arabic word for life is دنو (dunya), and it means to be lowly. Mankind should be modest and simple in all aspects of life. In Islam, the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said,
This reminds us that life is temporary, we chase life but in the end, death is an inescapable fate. Even Buddha taught that if you hold on to things, it only creates more suffering. Attachment is the enemy of peace. Live like a traveler because when you die you can’t bring anything with you.
You might buy a house and think that you own it but when you die, it becomes the home of someone else. Much to the disappointment of ancient Egyptians, who preferred to hoard their wealth by burying it with them, your wealth outlives you.
Even in the bible, in Luke 12:15 (NIV):
“Then he said to them, ‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.’”
Christianity warns against gluttony, as it deprives you of helping the impoverished and needy. Gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins according to the Christian Tradition. Buying less means you are free. Free from your own desire, and you are also disciplining yourself by changing your habits. Overall, buying less is also an act of worship, it showcases your appreciation of God, as well as the respect you have for God’s creations such as plant and animal life.
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying life and living in luxury, but it should be done in moderation. One must remember that in order to change your environment, one must confront themselves. There’s a quote in the Quran,
“O ye who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves,” from verse 135 of Surat- Al Nisaa, meaning ‘The Women.
This is something even I need reminding of and though the journey is difficult the results are everlasting. The gist is that in life, you are your enemy. It’s easy to fall, victim, because manipulation plays a vital role in capitalism, and the first step in asking yourself, am I a shopaholic? Do I buy things I don’t need? What can I get rid of? We as humans, eat, collect, and then simply throw away, not aware of where our garbage goes.
The second step in change is understanding the art of persuasion. We are being controlled and manipulated every day of our lives. You are being influenced daily to spend. Companies spend millions of dollars in marketing ad revenue and all in the name of profit. Little features on a website are designed to unconsciously persuade you to buy more, if not now than later. Things like little heart buttons, save for later, payment plans, and daily emails, are methods in persuading you to spend more.
To avoid overspending is to not make an account with a retail website, and to also unsubscribe to their emails. Essentially, you buy because you have this mindset of “I want it,” not “I need it,” so in order to overcome, simply question the value of anything before you buy. To change, one must discipline themselves and with advertising, we become like headless chickens chasing our desires and words like a sale. Always ask yourself the question, is this worth dying in a fiery and scorching blaze for?
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