Uzma Saeed 

During the last holiday season, while passing by my neighbor’s house, I couldn’t help but notice their car parked outside the garage, prompting me to reflect on the epitome of the American dream. If you observe closely, you’ll likely find many of your neighbors adopting the same practice. Perhaps you’re doing it too. One of the underlying reasons behind this trend is the accumulation of items over time, turning our homes into storage spaces for things we may never actually use. 

Our society has embraced consumerism, making it the pinnacle of our priorities, and this is evident in our world-leading levels of consumption. Alongside this, corporate greed prevails. We are incessantly bombarded with captivating visuals of products, enticing us with their vibrant colors, novel features, irresistible flavors, and more. Giant corporations skillfully manipulate public psychology through discounts and sales tactics. Moreover, special occasions, holiday seasons, and events are specifically designed to fuel the urge to keep buying, incessantly encouraging us to acquire more and more. 

Consider this… The Christmas holidays, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and other similar occasions are heavily commercialized, enticing the masses with sales that tap into their desire for self-gratification. But here’s the question: Do these commercial activities truly enhance our relationships, or have family bonds been deteriorating with each passing decade?

The demarcation between needs and wants has become so indistinct that the average person experiences a sense of deprivation when their wants go unfulfilled. Social media has only intensified this phenomenon. Now, people aren’t just comparing themselves to their neighbors; they’re competing on a global scale. Material wealth is acquired in pursuit of that sought-after “wow” effect and the accumulation of likes. 

Such levels of consumption not only place an immense burden on resources but also have adverse effects on the environment. Compared to other countries, the average American leads a remarkably lavish lifestyle. In his book “The High Price of Materialism,” psychologist Tim Kasser offers a thought-provoking perspective. He states that as individuals embrace materialistic values, their overall happiness and life satisfaction diminish, while feelings of depression and anxiety increase. Furthermore, Kasser suggests that materialistic individuals are more inclined to exhibit selfish behavior and mistreat or manipulate others. 

Interestingly, this contradicts the messages constantly bombarding the masses. Extensive advertising campaigns go to great lengths to convince people that acquiring certain products will bring them happiness and joy. Sometimes, they even imply that buying specific items will enhance their relationships, making them more meaningful and harmonious. However, the truth appears to be quite the opposite. In contemporary society, the consequences of uncontrolled consumerism are evident on multiple fronts. We witness crises ranging from loan sharks, physical and mental breakdown to environmental degradation, all stemming from the unchecked behaviors of individuals who succumb to impulses and temptations. It has become a lifestyle that resembles addiction, where constant acquisition of new products and services is required to achieve a fleeting sense of satisfaction.

The average person in the developed world often believes they are not spending excessively, but the reality is that they may be unaware of the extent of their consumption. One contributing factor is the individualistic nature of our lives. In contrast, households with more family members tend to consume less, as resources are shared among the larger group. While corporate America may propagate the notion that overpopulation is the cause of environmental degradation, the consumption levels in more populous countries are actually lower than those in the USA. 

Consumerism has also given rise to an exploitative system, where large corporations seek out impoverished nations for cheap labor and sell the resulting goods at exorbitant prices, thereby securing substantial profits for themselves. In Islam, there is a profound emphasis on the rights of all entities on the planet, coupled with guidance against wastefulness. The teachings encourage individuals to strike a balance between being stingy and wasteful, managing their affairs in a moderate manner. Spending recklessly is considered to be influenced by the actions of the devil. 

The Quran addresses this issue, stating, “And give the relative his right, and [also] the poor and the traveler, and do not spend wastefully. Indeed, the wasteful are brothers of the devils, and ever has Satan been to his Lord ungrateful” (Quran 17:26-27). These verses highlight the importance of fulfilling the obligations towards family, assisting those in need, and avoiding extravagant and wasteful expenditures. The act of wastefulness is likened to being in alignment with the devil, while ingratitude towards God is attributed to Satan. 

When we examine our inclination to purchase material possessions through the lens of Islam, two key aspects come to mind. Firstly, there is the pursuit of desires. Often, we hastily strive to fulfill our desires without considering the potential negative consequences. Islam condemns this behavior and promotes moderation, and delayed gratification encouraging individuals to exercise sound judgment when fulfilling their needs. Secondly, Islam emphasizes the importance of recognizing the rights of those around us. It advocates for a way of life that balances between the collective good over individualistic and selfish pursuits. Our relatives, the needy, the destitute, and humanity as a whole have a share in what we possess, and hence charity is a pillar of Islam. 

Islam envisions a society built on principles of welfare and rejects exploitation. It is crucial to recognize that the more we solely focus on ourselves and our desires, the more discontented we become. True peace and contentment are found in cultivating a sense of satisfaction. When combined with a meaningful purpose, it leads to a deeply rewarding and fulfilling life. The Quran states, “And [they are] those who, when they spend, do so not excessively or sparingly but are ever, between that, justly moderate” (Quran 25:67). This verse underscores the importance of maintaining a balanced approach to spending and generosity.

It is high time for us to reframe our mindset and acknowledge that our consumer-oriented mentality not only harms our own well-being but also has negative consequences for others. Materialism cannot bring lasting happiness, and relentless pursuit of wealth through competition drains the joy out of life. In line with this, Tony Robbins, a renowned life coach who has worked with presidents, athletes, and billionaires, observed that among the affluent and successful individuals he encountered, those who experienced true happiness were the ones with a sense of purpose and a focus on giving back to others. In summary, Islam teaches us the value of moderation, contentment, and a purpose-driven life. By adopting these principles, we can break free from the traps of materialism and find genuine fulfillment while positively impacting the lives of others.