What is the best and most simple step we can take to get things back on track? The answer is simple: spend less than you earn. This is a very simple idea to understand but a tough one to implement. It means getting off of the treadmill of paying for lots of things, and getting a paycheck so we can keep paying for more things.
“Did you see that new house Mr. Naqvi bought? It’s huge!”
“Yeah and did you see that new Porsche he got for his son? It’s awesome!”
Unfortunately, for those who come to the mosque or center for the right reasons, this a lot of the banter that we hear at our Islamic centers. Despite the fact that this admiration of material wealth can take our mind away from the remembrance of Allah, it can also lead to a dangerous condition known as “Keeping up with the Joneses”. Or, in this case: “Keeping up with the Naqvis”.
It is no secret that the economy has been in trouble lately. From the bursting of the housing bubble to the unnecessary and overly expensive wars being waged in the Middle East, the underlying reason that the economy is in shambles and the unemployment rate is high is because of overspending – either individually on our part, or by the government. The average American credit card debt as of January 2010 is about $8,000 – and this doesn’t even include debt incurred from mortgages and car loans.
This is affecting the Muslim community as well. Most people know of someone in their center who has been a victim of foreclosure, laid off from their job, or generally having trouble finding a job. The aforementioned Mr. Naqvi could have been riding high with the new mansion one year, but suffered with a foreclosure the next. These economic conditions have affected everyone in some way, and things are not going to change unless we take actionable steps to change it.
What is the best and most simple step we can take to get things back on track? The answer is simple: spend less than you earn. This is a very simple idea to understand but a tough one to implement. It means getting off of the treadmill of paying for lots of things, and getting a paycheck so we can keep paying for more things. It means taking a value-based approach to the things we buy and the experiences we enjoy. In the case of people who hold Islam as a high priority in life, this means exhibiting Islamic Conscious Spending.
Islamic Conscious Spending is nothing more than cutting out those superfluous things in life that can take us away from the remembrance of Allah, and to use our money and to focus ourselves on the goals of bettering ourselves and the communities around us. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to sell your house and live among the animals in the forest. It means prioritizing the things in your life. Many people would love to go for Hajj and Ziyarat to the holy places, but are stuck working in order to pay for the too-big house and the too-expensive cars. Instead of taking out that huge mortgage, we should try our best to live frugally and gradually save up that money needed to take the long awaited journey to Mecca. Imam Ali (peace be upon him) has said, “To consume more than needed is extravagance.” (Mustadrak al –Wasa’il) It is this middle road that we should follow in all aspects of life, especially in spending our money.
Another advantage of spending less than you earn is that it frees up money for us to spend on worthy causes, such as helping the oppressed and hungry around the world. Many people literally have no money left over at the end of the month to spend for charity since they are just making ends meet by paying for all of their current expenses. Let us make sure to set aside some funds to help those worthy causes because according to the Qur’an, this is the best investment we can ever make: “The parable of those who spend their property in the way of Allah is as the parable of a grain growing seven ears (with) a hundred grains in every ear; and Allah multiplies for whom He pleases; and Allah is Ample-giving, Knowing.” (2:261)
If there is anything we can learn from the overspending of the majority of Americans and of our government, it is that spending more than you earn can have dire consequences. Spending less than you earn is easier said than done, but it is the most effective and sustainable way to economic recovery in our households. Islamic Conscious Spending will lessen our awe and admiration for the material aspects of the world while increasing our remembrance of Allah. “Our Lord! grant us good in this world and good in the hereafter, and save us from the chastisement of the fire.” (2:201)
Editor’s Note: Wajahat Hussain received his bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Maryland and a doctorate in optometry from Pennsylvania College of Optometry. He lives and practices in Maryland and has kindly agreed to write about social and lifestyle topics for Islamic Insights on a biweekly basis.