Conspicuous consumption refers to the purchase of goods or services specifically for the purpose of displaying wealth or social status, especially when other people of that class cannot buy those goods or services. Consumerism is a related concept that refers to the buying and selling of mass goods in a society.
Both these terms describe our consumer society today. We are increasingly in a race that catapults us into buying more, displaying more, and gaining a social status which is directly dependent on the possession of the goods and services our peers cannot access.
A person in such a society becomes more and more reliant on the buying of goods for his or her feeling of well-being and for the sense of identity. Material possession becomes the yardstick by which an individual’s worth is measured. Stripped of the ability to buy, the individual feels worthless. Unable to buy the same things, or better things, than the next person, becomes a source of unhappiness, dissatisfaction and even depression.
As Muslims, Allah has commanded us to spend on the things we require but not to waste the resources given to us as we will be questioned after death, about how we spent them:
O children of Adam, take your adornment at every masjid, and eat and drink, but be not excessive. Indeed, He likes not those who commit excess. (The holy Quran, Chapter 7 Verse 31).
We are also ordered to guard our ‘nafs’ or our base self from displaying wealth and being proud:
Do not exult. Indeed, Allah does not like the exultant. But seek, through that which Allah has given you, the home of the Hereafter; and [yet], do not forget your share of the world. And do good as Allah has done good to you. And desire not corruption in the land. Indeed, Allah does not like corrupters. . (The holy Quran, Chapter 28 Verses 76-7).
Islam is not a religion of austere self-denunciation. It is not a religion which requires us to ignore our human needs, but to indulge them within the framework provided by Islam. Worldly matters and spiritual matters are not seen to operate independently of each other but together in a complementary sense. In the matter of consumerism, Islam instructs us to use what we need, to spend wisely in worldly life and to share our wealth with the poor and unfortunate. By doing so we guard ourselves from excess while also earning the rewards which will ensure eternal success in the afterlife.
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