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We are incessantly bombarded with such “promises” on TV, radio, Internet, billboards and any other medium which advertisers have in their arsenal in a concerted and carefully calculated ploy to get us to buy more “stuff” – regardless if we need it or not.
At the same time that consumerism is on the rise, people are discussing the need to safeguard our natural resources and protect the environment. Some speak about limiting our consumption of fossil fuels, reducing the number of “obsolete” products which make their way into the landfills, and looking for “greener” alternatives to power our vehicles and to heat and cool our homes. They also talk about the need for us to break our dependence on oil (especially from the Middle East) and to develop our own sources of energy and to seriously think about 21st century dangers such as global warming, green-house emissions, and other threats.
Through a careful reading of the Noble Qur’an, we see that over 1,400 years ago, like many other things, Islam warned us about these issues as they are interrelated – consumerism and the need to protect our environment and natural resources – and this has been taught to us through one initiative: MODERATION. In Surah Isra (17), we read, “And give to the near of kin his due and (to) the needy and the wayfarer, and do not squander wastefully. Surely the squanderers are the brothers of the Satans, and indeed Satan is ever ungrateful to his Lord.” (v. 26-27)
Undeniably, one of the most essential values of Islam which we as Muslims need to explore, comprehend, execute, and educate others about is moderation – in all areas of life.
The dictionary defines moderation as, “the quality of being moderate; showing restraint; avoidance of extremes and excesses; temperance.” Most often than not, when secular sources employ this word, they refer to “moderation” in expenditure and in the usage of natural resources. However, Islam and its wide-ranging outlook on life gives us a much more detailed insight on moderation, and we are told that any God-given gift is a type of wealth and trust from Allah, and thus we are not permitted to squander it! The Qur’an refers to decadence as a quality of the Devil and that one who indulges in this as being demonic – the only time that the Qur’an employs the term “Brothers of the Devils” (Ikhwanush Shayateen)!
How does Islam define immoderation – as the verse of the Qur’an states, “…and do not squander, wastefully”? There are numerous traditions which explain this idea; however, for our discussion, contemplate over the following maxims from the Infallibles (peace be upon them).
The Commander of the Faithful, Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib (peace be upon him) has stated that this verse means, “Spending one’s wealth in an inappropriate way is extravagance and immoderation.”
Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (peace be upon him) is even more direct in his wordings and has stated, “A person who spends anything in the way of disobedience of Allah is considered as going towards extravagance.”
Through these two traditions, we come to the conclusion that wasting anything we have – whether it be wealth, time, knowledge, ability, etc. – is a sin and places us in the category of becoming “brothers of the devils”, and that “wastage” refers to using these God-given gifts in other than His obedience.
Consumption and profligacy are not only related to our personal selves and the money we squander on our own “luxuries” and “things” we want such as the latest cell-phones, TVs, cars, clothing, etc. Just ponder upon the amount of money, food, and other things which are wasted during “community” events! It is not only birthdays and weddings where people squander thousands of dollars, but even something as solemn as a funeral have become events of reckless spending! In addition, programs to mark the birth and death anniversaries of the Infallibles and other noble personalities are also drowned in the usage of hundreds if not thousands of dollars in extravagance. Now, we are not saying that we should not celebrate and commemorate such events, but rather, we need to draw the line between “love of the Ahlul Bayt” and “extravagance in the name of the Ahlul Bayt”.
Some may be thinking, “Well, I am very well-off and am able to spend thousands of dollars on a lavish wedding for my children or in marking the birth anniversary of one of the Infallibles or in the pursuit of the latest gadgets, so why shouldn’t I?” The answer to this question is that the traditions tell us that even if a person has unlimited resources at his disposal, he still needs to be careful not to gravitate towards extravagance, immoderation, and wastage!
Consider the time when the Noble Prophet saw Sa’d, one of his companions, performing the ritual ablution (Wudhu) using an excess amount of water. The Prophet asked Sa’d what he was doing, and he replied he performing the Wudhu. The Prophet replied that even though he was performing the Wudhu, it was not a valid justification to waste water. The Prophet then made a powerful statement and told Sa’d that even if he was sitting at a running stream of water, he was still not allowed to waste water!
Today, step foot in almost any mosque in the North America and you’ll see the level of wastage first-hand. Walk into the bathroom to make Wudhu, and sometimes you feel as if the person before you performed a full body Ghusl in the sink! Taps are kept on for the entire process of Wudhu, wasting liters of water, whereas in all actuality a believer should be able to perform Wudhu with a 12 oz cup of water!
Statistics show that the daily per capita use of water in North America is a staggering 350 liters of water, whereas in Sub-Saharan Africa, it is a mere 10 to 20 liters! Consider this that by going for a shower, you consume 7.56 liters of water per minute; to brush your teeth, you use 3.78 liters of water, and something as necessary as flushing a regular sized toilet uses up 11.34 liters of water! Add to this the performance of Wudhu a minimum of three times per day, and as Muslims, perhaps we go over 400 liters of water usage in one day! We won’t even begin to discuss the amount of food that we as a society waste every year, but suffice it to say that statistics show that the average North American family throws away $580.00 worth of good food every year! How about the food that fast-food chains, coffee shops, restaurants, and other eating establishments throw away every day? Just imagine how many people die of hunger throughout the world every day while we throw away their next meal!
So what’s the big deal, you ask? We have “unlimited” resources in North America, right? Our taps always flow with clean, sparkling water; we (almost) never have blackouts; there are no fuel shortages and we are living on opulence. So why not enjoy life?! Why should we be conscious of this issue when we have so many other things to worry about?
To answer these questions, let us reflect on the Qur’anic narrative of the people of Saba from Surah Saba (34), verses 15, 16 and 19, in which God has mentioned, “There was for Saba aforetime a sign in their homeland – two gardens to the right and to the left. Eat of the sustenance (provided) by your Lord, and be grateful to Him: a territory fair and happy, and a Lord Oft-Forgiving! But they turned away (from Allah), and We sent against them the flood (released) from the dams, and We converted their two garden (rows) into ‘gardens’ producing bitter fruit, and tamarisks, and some few (stunted) lote-tree… But they said: ‘Our Lord! Place longer distances between our journey-stages’: but they wronged themselves (therein). At length We made them as a tale (that is told), and We dispersed them all in scattered fragments. Verily in this are signs for every (soul that is) patiently constant and grateful.”
The nation of Saba had a strong, vibrant economy, was looked upon with favor in the “international community”, were custodians of a large pool of natural resources, and were producing their own food with a very minimal trade deficit – in summary, they were self-sufficient. However, due to their ungratefulness towards their Creator and wasting the bounties of the All-Merciful, they ended up being deluged by a flood and losing everything. What was their outcome? Well, back in those days, there was no IMF, World Bank, G8 or others to bail them out; thus, they were forced to go to neighboring cities to beg for their minimal requirements – what we refer to today as incurring a “national debt”.
They say that “history repeats itself”, and that “those who do not know the past are condemned to repeat it.” Could we be in such a situation today with this “global financial meltdown”? Only He knows…
In closing, one thing which we as Muslims need to understand is that when it comes to “going green” and conserving water, electricity or other natural resources, we need to ensure that we do not do these things simply because they will cut down on our utility bills at the end of the month or because it is the “in” thing to do; rather, we need to do these things because they are religious commandments, and that we will be held accountable by God for such things.
Today, we have two options: we can either jump on the “Qur’anic bandwagon” of moderation and leading a simple life and thus earning His blessings and the continuation of the lifestyle we are accustomed to, or we can become brothers of the devils (Ikhwaanush Shayateen) and be ungrateful to our Lord for the countless bounties He showers upon us day and night and indulge in waste, immoderation, excessiveness, and the devilish trait of consumerism. It is up to us to decide.