Written by Wardah Abbas
As I lay my hands on the keyboard, I begin to recall all the moments when shopping used to be my real pastime. I loved clothes and shoes and scarves and beauty products and every new visit to the mall increased my thirst for wants. I was totally drowning in consumerism. But often times, when I look back at those days, I find myself asking, “Is there really anything wrong with this?” Of course, there’s nothing wrong in wanting to buy beautiful clothes and accessories; absolutely nothing wrong!
But have we ever stopped to ask ourselves questions about the things we stack into our closets? Where do our clothes and shoes come from? How are they made? How are their materials sourced? Under what ethical standards are they produced? And to talk about ethics, What about the Prophetic tradition that warns against consumerism and buying things that we don’t actually need?
“Evil has appeared on land and sea because of what the hands of men have earned. Thus, He (Allah) may make them taste a part of that which they have done, in order that they may return,” [Surat Ar-Rum’, 30:41]
It is no longer news that people and animals are being oppressed by the very processes that give birth to our fashion. Over a thousand lives have been lost across the globe with many more still on the line. The fashion industries practically enslave their manpower and leave their families to wallow in poverty. A countless number of living creatures are treated with so much cruelty just to get that beautiful dress into our wardrobes. Yet we seem to be helpless.
We often ask ourselves “Are we as buyers of unethical products to be held responsible?” We often say to ourselves that the buyer should only be held responsible for the manner in which a product is acquired by him or her and not for the manner in which the producer or seller acquired it. This is true. But our conscience only makes this a one–sided truth; one that encourages a self–centered mind. This is because there are enough grounds upon which to argue that purchasing a product despite having the knowledge of oppression within the process of production and supply is a means of knowingly supporting oppression which is against the ethics of Islam itself.
Abu Sa’id Khudri reported that Allah’s Messenger ﷺ said: “The world is sweet and green (alluring) and verily Allah is going to install you as vicegerent in it in order to see how you act.” (Muslim)
When it comes to fashion, one thing always comes to light; living an ethical life. There are prophetic traditions that suggest that we live lightly, acquire only what we need and be on earth as a traveler. I am fully aware of the trends of the 21st century and how difficult it can be to wriggle ourselves out of consumerism. It is nevertheless expected of Muslims to keep in mind the need to reduce our wants and start caring about issues of ethics in the day to day choices that we make.
Buying clothing and accessories is definitely permissible in Islam. However, buying clothing that one does not need from a company known to oppress workers and buying fair trade clothing made of organic materials out of necessity may both be legally permissible but are absolutely not ethically the same.
“And waste not by extravagance. Verily, He likes not Al-Musrifoon (those who waste by extravagance)” [Surat AL-Anaam 6:141]
Living a more ethical life is something we can all do in our own unique ways. It is about making intentional choices and living with consciousness, rather than allowing others to dictate what we do and how we spend our time. All we need is to make a decision and take a bold step; and from time to time, revisit our commitments to ensure personal improvements. Let us begin to think outside the box; think about everything from the clothes we wear to the products we put on our skins to where we invest our resources and how we use our time. This can be a means through which we can establish a deeper and stronger connection with God.
How then do we become more cautious of the things we stack into our closet? What exactly are we supposed to do? Below are just a few tips to get you on that very track of change.
- Learn about the minimum ethical standards that a product or item should possess.
- Slow down and think about adding a bit of simplicity to your life
- Make sure that clothing purchased comes from an industry that has been certified to provide fair wages and safe working conditions for its workers. This includes that they have no history of any forced child, women or human labor.
- Make research on companies or industries that operate within these ethical guidelines and those that do not.
- Begin to be cautious when shopping for fashion items and if you can’t find one that is ethically produced, you may buy one second hand to reduce the demands for new items
- Keep track of your slavery and cruelty footprints. This will help you reaffirm your decision to live an ethical life
- Most of all, whenever you find yourself at yet another shopping mall and are just about to spend that cash or use that credit card, ask yourself, “Do I really need this?”
Have you ever thought that in doing one of the things we love doing the most, we could be humanitarians as well as better Muslims? Reducing the blatant exploitation of humans and the environment as well as fulfilling our religious duty as vicegerents. One conscious choice on our part leads to a potential great change for our planet. In the end, we will soon find that our lives become richer and more meaningful when we break free from consumerism and care more about those other creatures with whom we share our earth.
Bio: Wardah Abbas is a Lawyer who chose to pursue a career in writing. She’s passionate about Islam and has a particular interest in green and wholesome living. When she’s not writing, spending time with her family or bonding with a book, she can be found in the kitchen, whipping up edible ingredients into luscious skincare. Find her blogging at greenmuslimblog.com or visit her website at wardahabbas.com