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Materialism and Excessive Consumption
Political Issues
Nikhat Sattar


As the world moves into the umpteenth generation of technological progress, and globalization converts the entire planet into one big market, the gap between those who possess wealth and riches, and those who suffer illness and death due to lack of basic needs widens. Today, the richest 20 percent account for three quarters of the income in the world; the poorest 40 percent make do with only 5 percent. At least 80 percent of people live on less than $10 a day. And 22,000 children die every day due to poverty alone.

Poverty is not a state of life that is God-given. God has provided more than enough resources to his creations to enable them live comfortably. And most of His creations do use the resources they need in just the amount necessary. It is only human beings who consume in excess, over and above their requirements. They not only use far more than what is their due share, they also waste much of it – leaving little or nothing at all for others, and thus usurping their rights. The poor are thus made poorer because the rich get richer. Resource distribution in the world becomes even more inequitable, and paradoxically, economic and financial institutions and policies that claim to work for poverty reduction actually manage to increase both the incidence and depth of poverty.

Institutional and public failure to reduce poverty owes its roots to degradation of moral and ethical values. And none more so than the tendency to accumulate wealth, spend and “show off” worldly and material goods to society. Unfortunately, despite the fact that Islam calls upon its followers to spend wisely and in moderation, Muslims are one of the most afflicted by the evil of excessive consumption. Even to satiate may be considered overly indulging oneself. God has warned against the accumulation of wealth in the Qur’ān. Real wealth is the good that human beings do towards others, and the love for God and the purity of spirit.

Yet, throughout the world in developing countries that house the world’s poorest populations, Muslim rulers, the so called elite, business groups and rich billionaires and millionaires live in ostentatious palaces, change new makes of cars every few months, collect jewels and ornaments, and spend a fortune on their wardrobes and perfumes. The lavish lifestyles of Muslims in South and East Asia and the Middle East would shame the most spendthrift of royalty in the west.

In an article published in London in 2012, it was reported that the weeks leading up to Ramadān saw millionaires and billionaires flock to London from across the Middle East. They came to relax, party and show off their wealth with a change of the most expensive of cars for each shopping destination, thousands of pounds of shopping at each shop, even buying and furnishing flats worth millions of pounds.

Compared with the average British shopper who spends £120 during a trip to the West End of London and an American £550, an average Arab spends £1,900. In the month before Ramadān, the amount spent by Middle Eastern visitors will be double that in other months!

This is not unique to the Middle East. The rich in Pakistan go to Dubai to shop for a wedding, spending amounts that would be enough to keep hundreds of families in comfort for their whole lives. Rulers are known to possess wealth and assets worth millions of dollars, even wearing personal ornaments that range in the millions. The greed for more feeds on itself, and the desire to show off is an evil that has taken over society almost completely. There is little attention to obtaining sound education, and spending time and effort on research, thought and reflection and invention. Both men and women are bent upon obtaining material wealth. The race never seems to end.   

The excessive consumption of the rich in the world has taken away from the poor what they need for basic survival, and has further robbed the earth of its valuable resources that God had provided so plentifully. Water that was so abundantly available has been extracted to levels where it is no longer possible to recharge dried up soils and the burden has fallen upon the poor who depend on agriculture and livestock. Scarce energy resources are exploited wastefully by those who care little for conservation. Forests are cut to benefit the timber mafia, and corporate farming is carried out at the cost of poor and small farmers. The feudal landlord system continues to prove to be a stranglehold on landless farmers who work as labourers, often bonded on the farms that they till, in exchange for a little food and terrible living conditions.

If Muslims could understand that they will be accountable in front of God for every piece of additional resource they consumed above their need or wasted, and for every additional personal expenditure that they incur, they are trespassing on someone else’s right, perhaps Muslim societies could be more fair and just, and perhaps God would be inclined to improve their lot.   





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