Subscribing to halal consumerism could be a way to always be deliberate in connecting one’s everyday life and thoughts to tawhid
Consumerism, in general, is understood as a concept that increasing the consumption of goods is economically desirable. Consumerism is undeniably essential for the livelihood of people. However, consumerism is commonly tied to capitalism and materialism, leaning towards achieving commercialisation and profit. To some extent, excessive consumerism activities can cause harm to the environment and bring about social injustice.
A brief history of consumerism
Modern consumerism emerged in the 18th century when goods were mass-produced in factories for the first time. With this mass production, ordinary people could afford to buy textiles, jewellery, and other items which were otherwise exclusive to the upper social class. In the 19th century, advertising became very popular in many countries, including Germany, France, and the USA.
The first department store was opened during this time. The Bon Marché in Paris is the first department store that began as a small shop in the early 19th century. Meanwhile, Harding, Howell & Co’s Grand Fashionable Magazine at 89 Pall Mall in St James’s, London, opened in 1796, is the rival contender for the world’s first department store title.
In the 1960s, the ‘Golden Age of Consumerism’ began. Goods became much less expensive, and some products could be sold at an immense scale due to effective marketing campaigns. Modern consumerism exploded with the arrival of the internet in the later 20th century and well into the 21st century. The internet changes consumer behaviour. The algorithm reveals what the consumer wants, disrupting the supply and demand balance and often breaking down consumers’ resistance to purchase only the necessary.
The many types of consumerism
Responding to the negative connotations of excessive consumerism, consumers began to re-evaluate their consumerism practices. It led to the establishment of a social movement that later developed into many types of value-laden consumerism, including green consumerism, ethical consumerism, empowered consumerism, and conscious consumerism.
The movement’s ethos is in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) No. 12 – Responsible Consumption and Production – where sustainable consumption and production should decouple economic growth from environmental degradation while increasing resource efficiency and promoting sustainable lifestyle (https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-consumption-production/).
The concept of prosumer, where a person both consumes and produces, is also becoming more fashionable. However, some groups defined themselves as minimalist, and to the more extreme, groups described themselves as anti-consumer.
The consumer is always right
Regardless of the types of consumers that one subscribes to, a consumer, being a customer, is always right. It becomes almost a cliché that a customer is always right. However, is it a very true statement? The problem lies in the consumer, where only a fraction exercises their rights. The fundamental rights of consumers (taken from https://aseanconsumer.org/cterms-consumer-protection/consumer-rights-and-responsibilities) include:
• Rights to comfortability, security, and safety
• Rights to choose product/service
• Rights to receive accurate information about the product/service condition
• Rights to complain and be heard
• Rights to advocacy, protection, and dispute settlement
• Rights to be informed about your rights
• Rights to be served and treated without discrimination
• Rights to seek compensation and redress
World Consumer Rights Day is celebrated every Mar 15, but perhaps it is not a very popular yearly celebration which could partly explain the lack of awareness of consumer rights. The Ministry of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs (Kementerian Perdagangan Dalam Negeri dan Hal Ehwal Pengguna, KPDNHEP), Malaysia, recently rejuvenated its Consumerism Movement Development Programme, formerly known as Skuad Pengguna (Consumer Squad), and rebrand it to Rakan KPDNHEP (Friends of KPDNHEP).
The primary roles of the members of Rakan KPDNHEP include voluntary monitoring of prices of goods and services and reporting any business misconduct to the Ministry.
Consumption and consumerism in Islam
While modern consumerism only emerged in the 18th century, Islam has recognised and provided clear guidelines on consumerism in the Qur’an and Traditions of the Prophet Muhammad (Sunnah) – peace and blessings of God upon him (pbuh) – some 1400 years ago.
Ibn Mas’ud narrated that the Messenger of God (pbuh) said: “The feet of the son of Adam shall not move from before his Lord on the Day of Judgement, until he is asked about five things: About his life and what he did with it, about his youth and what he wore it out in, about his wealth and how he earned it, and spent it upon, and what he did with what he knew.”
(Da’if) [Abu ‘Eisa said:] This Hadith is Gharib, we do not know of it as a narration of Ibn Mas’üd from the Prophet except through the narration of Husain bin Qais. Husain [bin Qais] was graded weak in Hadith [due to his memory]. There are narrations on this topic from Abu Barzah and Abu Sa’eed. (Jami` at-Tirmidhi, Hadith No. 2416)
The message from this hadith implies that (i) wealth is not only dealt with its quantity aspect but also its quality, and (ii) equally important is the responsibility of gaining and using it, according to Shari’ah. From the Islamic point of view, human desires should be controlled and bounded by religious values, not lust.
Islam believes that goods and products are bounties from God, The Most Gracious. Two terminologies from the Qur’an are of interest concerning goods consumed by humans: al-tayyibat and al-rizq. These terminologies describe the moral virtues binding the products with the religious obligations associated with them.
Al-tayyibat refers to goods that are halal and pure. This concept assumes that humans are accountable to God and their fellow human beings when (s)he consumes al-tayyibat goods. As such, goods acceptable to the Islamic shari’ah are only those which are halal, have good values, and are pure, wholesome, and safe for consumption.
Goods that are impure, unbeneficial, and worthless are prohibited. Al-rizq refers to natural resources to sustain life, of which the natural resources are the gift and endowment from God, The Most Gracious, who provides all humankind and grants them necessities and requirements. Human beings are accountable for the bounties that God provides.
Hence, the implication of the concept of al-tayyibat and al-rizq include:
• consumer goods should be worthy in their material, moral, and spiritual aspects for men to own, consume and obtain benefits from them, and
• goods that are not beneficial, not contributing to the general well-being of the mankind are not considered to be a worthy product and is unacceptable to be an asset.
Halal consumerism and wasatiyyah consumerism
Adhering to the Islamic principles of consumerism, several types of consumerism have been proposed and debated by scholars. Wasatiyyah consumerism focuses on the level of consumption, guided by the components of the Maqasid al-Shari’ah (MS) – the higher objectives of the shari’ah. Consumers make purchase decisions based on the levels of MS – daruriyyah (basic/life needs),
hajiyyah (additional needs), tahsiniyyah (complementary/convenience needs), kamaliyyah (luxury needs), and dangerous or destructive goods.
On the other hand, halal consumerism advocates the functional reciprocal relationship between the entrepreneur (manufacturer/producer), products/services, and consumer. While these elements are inherently present in all types of consumerism, some may focus only on a particular perspective. For instance, consumers are often told to be aware of their rights and exercise them. Less has been focused on the manufacturer’s responsibility to produce a product that ticks all the boxes of good consumerism. Less is also being focused on the Islamic ethics of consumers to steer away from tabzir (misusing or spending on unlawful things/indulging in prohibited activities) and israf (overspending on halal products).
Embracing halal consumerism would assist in the realisation of a holistic and thriving halal ecosystem. More importantly, consumerism is embedded in daily activities; subscribing to halal consumerism could be a way to always be deliberate in connecting one’s everyday life and thoughts to tawhid (absolute monotheism) in the pursuit of achieving mardhatillah (God’s pleasure). After all, the hukm (rulings) of halal (lawful) and haram (unlawful) is indeed an instruction and guidance from the Creator Himself. Proper consumer behaviour signifies a good habit in Islam and a sign of obedience to God.
“O mankind! Eat of that which is halalan toyyiban (lawful and good) on earth, and do not follow the footsteps of Satan; verily, he is to you and open enemy.”
[Q. Al-Baqarah, 2: 168]
Am I a halal consumerist?
When consumers make deliberate choices over their consumption, guided by the ethos and principles of ‘good’ consumerism, the negative impact of consumerism can be greatly reduced. The Cambridge dictionary defines a consumerist as an adjective relating to a society in which many goods are sold to individuals, which is very important to the economy.
Hence, we are all consumers. But, to make this activity worthwhile, achieving the holistic goals here in the present and hereafter, one should constantly ask oneself: I am a halal consumerist, or am I?
Islam believes that goods and products are bounties from God, The Most Gracious. Two terminologies from the Qur’an are of interest concerning goods consumed by humans: al-tayyibat and al-rizq. These terminologies describe the moral virtues binding the products with the religious obligations associated with them.”
BY Yumi Zuhanis Has-Yun Hashim and Nur Hanies Mohd Latiff