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God-Conscious Consumers

The responsibility of maintaining a just society lies upon us all.If we are aware that a company’s practices conflict with justice, then we must make a conscious effort to administer fair dealing and avoid their products. Muslims are accountable before God regarding the steps they take – be it individual or collective – in order to change society for the better, and if this means spending several more dollars so as to not support child labor, it is a small sacrifice.

The responsibility of maintaining a just society lies upon us all.A quick trip through a supermarket provides us with countless options of the same product at prices so meager that we end up purchasing more than we need. After all, the globalization narrative states that since international trade has taken over for the past 30 years, the world market has benefited from an influx of a more diverse and inexpensive product presentation. It’s great – with McDonald’s in third world countries, who needs clean water when you can enjoy a Big Mac? Globalization and the unmitigated rise of capitalism as a social and ethical doctrine has led to the ascent of India and China as emerging world super powers –at least this is what we are indoctrinated through dirt-cheap products to believe. The contradictory breaking point emerges from the fact that the world celebrates a country’s plunge into capitalism instead of mourning the loss of an opportunity to create a fair and equitable society.

Then again, how does poverty in India and child labor in Thailand have an impact on Muslims? The lack of comprehension of the Islamic economic system has swayed Muslims into accepting our conscious support of businesses who present absolutely negative ethical business practices. This is ironic and disappointing – somewhere, sometime back, our community decided we are going to boycott Israeli products and companies that support the Zionist regime, thereby placing economic pressure on the companies and following in the spirit of the compelling boycott of the South African Apartheid regime which began in the 1960s and achieved its purpose in the 1990s. How is it that any God-conscious Muslim can boycott Coca Cola, Starbucks, and IBM for supporting Israel, yet continue to shop at WalMart, which has engaged in the most dehumanizing labor practices towards impoverished women and children and purchased grain produced by Archer Daniels Midland, which has pushed millions of Indians into utter poverty and forced tens of thousands of farmers into suicide?

The diseases and inadequacies of the capitalistic system can only be countered by Islam’s answer to economics; indeed, it has been proven time and time again that any man-made system is bound to failure and subsequently becomes a mechanism for injustice. Muslims living in the West and around the world are not privileged to live under Islam’s economic system which stresses honesty, fairness, and dignifying the worker and consumer. So instead, we must strive to apply Islam’s guiding principles in every aspect of our daily lives, and this begins with where we spend our money.

Islam was sent as the answer to oppression, a system for mankind to follow and implement in order to strive towards justice and equality. In addition, it is stressed that Muslims must put others before themselves. Companies such as WalMart, Nestle, Kraft Foods, and many others are creating a society where the poor are crushed. By purchasing their products and shopping at WalMart because it is cheaper, we are supporting a system of structural inequality. Muslims are not neoliberals, so why is it that we continue to support these policies? The Holy Qur’an suffices as the sole guide for producers and consumers:

“And, o my people! Give full measure and weight fairly, and defraud not men their things, and do not act corruptly in the land, making mischief.” (11:85)

“O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor, for Allah can best protect both.” (4:135)

Islam does not reject business, profit, or trade. It merely states that both consumers and producers are equally responsible in maintaining a society free of cheating and manipulation. Those who are aware that a company’s practices conflict with justice must make a conscious effort to administer fair dealing and avoid their products. Muslims are accountable before God regarding the steps they take – be it individual or collective – in order to change society for the better, and if this means spending several more dollars so as to not support child labor, it is a small sacrifice.

One must be conscious of the many companies and countries that are oppressive, and measures must be taken to minimize, even attempt to eliminate, our support for these systems to the best of our abilities. There is a glaring hypocrisy found in neoliberal policies which have refused to spend 60-80 billion dollars to sort out the human race’s basic problems (including sanitation, water, literacy and hunger in the third world). The irony is most apparent seeing that these same governments figured out they could raise one and a half trillion dollars in a mere few weeks to address the Wall Street melt-down. Instead of creating answers to poverty, the world’s dominating powers are entering into marriage with multinational corporations and creating superficial markets that exploit the poor, destroy the environment, and ruthlessly impose inequality on millions. How can any person who acknowledges justice, humanity and compassion, support such a system? It is evident however, that these unfair labor practices and exploitation of complete nations is not a theme presented in every company. There are alternatives, so instead of celebrating the cheap prices found at big box corporations, we should instead critically think and ask: why is this so cheap? How many children worked on this product? How many cents were they paid – if any – for that day’s work?

The world has grown accustomed to blaming third world countries for the problems of the developed world. We neglect to realize the current system has regressively broken complete societies in order for large corporations to make a profit and for us to be able to purchase a pair of shoes for 5 dollars at WalMart. Food prices reflect another oppression in and of themselves, and we must consider which companies we purchase our meals from. Just as the food prices in India led 75-year-olds to return to work performing physically demanding jobs, food companies recorded all-time historic profits. Wall Street companies and index funds like the Black Rock index funder were also betting on food. Additionally, unprecedented levels of speculation similar to those that had pushed oil prices to all-time highs were also responsible for skyrocketing food prices, which then never recovered to their original amount. As index funds invested unmitigated amounts of money in food production, food prices began to skyrocket. Rising food prices might hurt us by a few dollars per purchase in the West, but in the third world, where much of the grain is produced ironically, it leads to wide spread poverty and desperation. At the height of the crisis, the highest profits were recorded by Archer Daniels Midland, a grain processor in India. The unit of Archer Daniels Midland concerned with grain storage, transportation, and trading reported a seven fold increase in income while tens of millions fell into the starving ranks around the world.

It is incumbent upon every Muslim to understand and respond to the system of inequality. It is hypocritical to boycott Israeli products and companies while still support those that abuse women, children, and destroy complete nations. Islam commands justice and social progress from each and every one of its adherents, thus by consciously spending and working to protect the abased, we are simply fulfilling our Islamic obligation to better the world we live in.

Editor’s Note: This article is part one of a two-part series. The next issue will include an article containing a list of companies that engage in un-Islamic and unethical labor and business practices.

About Huda Jawad

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  • IK

    Great article. As articles go, we need more of these.

    Can’t wait for the second part.

  • Abdul Wahhab

    I think the Ahlul Bayt would have shopped at Wal-Mart because the prices are super cheap. They would have donated the extra savings to charity. That is why WE MUST shop at Wal-Mart if we are truly followers of Ahlul Bayt. If we shop at more expensive stores like Target, then we do not save money and cannot help poor people.

    I respectfully disagree with all the points made by the author. Their argument is not based on Ahlul Bayt, it is based on the hippie way of life.

    • S Abbas

      [quote name=”Abdul Wahhab”]I think the Ahlul Bayt would have shopped at Wal-Mart because the prices are super cheap. They would have donated the extra savings to charity. That is why WE MUST shop at Wal-Mart if we are truly followers of Ahlul Bayt. If we shop at more expensive stores like Target, then we do not save money and cannot help poor people.

      I respectfully disagree with all the points made by the author. Their argument is not based on Ahlul Bayt, it is based on the hippie way of life.[/quote]

      Are you out of your mind, brother? To being with, why are you bringing the Infallible Ones into something as low as as this? Secondly, How can you even think they would EVER buy from someone who is oppressive and takes unfair labor! And Thirdly, the article talks about not buying from such places, and it doesn’t talk about buying from places that are more expensive. There are not only TWO kinds of markets and shops at one place.
      The author must writing based on her research and knowledge. If anybody doesn’t believe the argument, they should atleast do some research of their own rather than using out-of-context and unknowledgable comments.

    • Magic Hijabi

      At least Shias, aka hippies in your eyes believe in something called soap..

  • Wondering

    Do Kroger or Publix have better records?

  • Chief

    Call me a hippie then 🙂

  • Ali12345

    I found this article very interesting. Although I must say that I disagree with the idea that if a product is cheap it was made in a sweatshop or by children. Today’s modern marvels should also be accounted towards cheap prices not sweatshops and neglect of workers in 3rd world countries.

  • Hajj Ridha

    While many points made are undeniable, the fact of the matter, which is also undeniable, is that BECAUSE of companies like wal-mart, single handedly, millions of people have work which compensates them fairly and offers them benefits that most companies do not.

    It is not a fair comparison, and even it is ignorant, to suppose that one cannot take a stance by boycotting zionist corporations without also boycotting wal-mart and the like. Very baseless and ignorant.

    The author seems to be caught up in an ultra-liberalism mindstate which would have the world run by organic farmers and bazaar shop owners and large corporations would cease to control the economy…… guess what, if that happened then the farmers and the shop owners would have that power, and are you so naive as to believe that they would do any better and you would be happy then????? More than likely the biggest farm owner would engage in unfair practice and take advantage of the little guys.

    I am not the biggest fan of wal mart, I am only being realistic. Being a muslim, or even being socially conscious in general, does not mean we have to live communal lives and grow our own food. It also does not mean we have to avoid discount stores, whom by the way, are the only reason unemployment is not much higher than it is.

    lastly for the brother who said shia have soap and wahabbi dont, why would you lower yourself to their standards? A shia is not someone who believes imam ali (a) should have been the first khalifa, a shia is one who does their best to embody the akhlaq of the ahlul bait,.. and ignorant remarks is not of their (a) stature and it should not be of yours.

    Salamun Alaikum

    • also known as .

      A Shia is not a person who believes Imam Ali (as) should have been the first caliph? Look, I’m with you about us trying to follow their example, but don’t make up stuff about Islam please. Belief in his being the leader of the Muslims after the Prophet (s) is a core Shia belief and should not be played down.

      • Hajj Ridha

        totally agree, but have made nothing up….
        i have studied the history and fiqh of the jaafari school for many years, and what i meant is clear…. but i will restate….

        what was meant is that his being the leader of muslims was not merely a political role as the opponents of shiism would have people believe, but his leadership was a much deeper philosophical and ethical role. therefore, claiming to be a shia merely by claiming that amirul mumineen should have been the first khalifa and then living outside of the precepts that he set forth is futile.

        … in numerous ruwaiyah from all of our holy aimmah, they state that a shia is one who adheres to the edicts of prophet muhammad and his holy family and live accordingly.

        look at words for their meaning and not merely for their physical make up

        • Hajj Ridha

          additionally, people like talha and zubair said they would fight for imam ali (a) to get his rightful position….. but do any of us consider them shia today? no

          • also known as .

            We do not consider them Shia today, not because at one time they followed Imam Ali, but because they later turned against him.

            There are two meanings behind the term Shia, and both of them necessitate belief in Imam Ali’s leadership after the Prophet:

            1. One believes that Imam Ali was the leader after the Prophet. This includes even Ismailis and other people. As long as a person dies with this belief, they are at the very least nominally Shia.

            2. One believes that Imam Ali was the leader after the Prophet. The true Shia are those who follow them in all their actions and support. Whatever the masoom wants is what they want and whatever the masoom rejects, they reject. These Shias are definitely promised success in the next world.

            Either way you look at it, the issue of leadership is a core belief. You can emphasize following Ahlul-Bait, which is good, but do not underestimate the principle of their authority after the Prophet (s) please.

  • Zee

    Interesting article but I also don’t agree with everything. If one wants to really get technical, simply living in America is supporting the oppressors of the world. If not mistaken, I heard that approx. 17% of our tax dollars go toward Israel alone. We can’t stop shopping everywhere–and we can’t label each and every Jewish-ownded company as Zionists either. I think Muslims are making life to hard for themselves. One reason prices are cheap at Walmart is because they buy in HUGE quantities–which lowers the price. My mother used to own a little tiny store–her prices were horribly high because she couldn’t buy in bulk. I guess if Muslims want to go back 1000 years ang start doing everything from scratch in their own back yards–fine. But, it won’t be easy in Michigan where the growing season is only a short 2 months and city regulations won’t allow sheep or cattle in our yars for milk and wool. Muslims, take it easy–things may be tough–but not as bad as you think. Go to the mid-east where there is no forced labor. People are still working for little each day. Chinese workers gain approx. 1$ each day–so does that mean we should also boycott everything Chinese?

  • Chief

    . Each of the Holy Imams (a.s) was having this quality, and that too, at the most excellent level. Neither they ever committed an iota of injustice nor they bore the oppression of anyone in a humiliating way. They always followed the dictum that “death is better than a life of humiliation”. Rather, justice is seen in the fulfillment of the rights of others and in judging between two parties. Every person faces many occasions in his life, when it becomes necessary for him to observe justice. But there are very few people in the world who have never abandoned justice.

  • Jake

    Assalaam alaikum,

    A fantastic article that might not give us all the answers but certainly highlights sin that we are all culpable for in this day of age, may Allah (SWT) have mercy on us.

    It is disappointing that the brothers/sisters who have commented have tried their hardest to find excuses for our negligence. As those who have faith it has become incumbent upon us to strive for justice against oppression, to promote the good and forbid the evil. Excuses are not going to work on the day of judgement, we know this, instead we must work in the way of Allah (SWT) by denouncing unethical businesses and individuals.

  • Jake2

    There are alternatives, I don’t have all the answers but buying from local stores, purchasing locally produced goods, supporting businesses with strong ethical policies, simply buying only what we need and not committing the sin of being wasteful. If we can do this ourselves, and set an example for non-Muslim consumers then we have the power to change the way businesses operate. At the end of the day, their main priority is to please us consumers, if we don’t buy their products, they are going to change their ways in order to retain sales. Monopolies themselves are unethical and un-Islamic, if we support small businesses and local farmers who are dependent on our custom and have a good relationship with us they will not become the ones with power but will be ethical contributors to their local community. And the added bonus to all this is that by shopping more sustainably and ethically you will be addressing many environmental problems and will be helping to protect Allah’s (SWT) creation and maintain its balance.

    Nobody is calling on you to put yourselves in hardship, the degree to which you strive for justice is between you and Allah (SWT), and He will be the one who will judge your actions and intentions. If you want to make a good impression then I suggest that you stop making excuses, take the knowledge you have read on board (now you have been made aware it has become even more your duty to act on it) and do your best to change your lifestyle and the world you live in for the better, inshaAllah you will get a fine reward 🙂

  • Small Steps too hard?

    Small steps can make a huge difference..it doesn’t mean putting hardship on yourself when you avoid companies and name brands that cause social harm and destruction. It’s small steps that can change the world. Even writing to companies is a positive step!

  • PCV

    I agree with the author that we should be conscious consumers. There are still sweatshops in third world country and we are not aware of the working conditions, pay rate, treatment of employees. There is ONE simple answer to buying ethically: FAIR TRADE. Check it out: http://www.fairtrade.net/

    By buying fair trade, you are ensuring that a person is not being exploited and is earning his/her fair share of the product that is being produced. It’s as simple as that.