Islamic Texts on Consumption Behaviour

Descriptive Postulates about Human Nature

Qur’an mentions that humans are generally hasty (Al-Isra: 11), miserly (Al-Isra: 100), impatient (Al-Ma’arij: 19) and have love of wealth (Al-Aadiyat: 8). Thus, humans have impatience, positive time preference, tendency to economize on expending and desire for material resources.

Islamic texts recognize consumption externalities and desire to consume positional goods and indulging in conspicuous consumption (Al-Takaathur: 1-2). According to Islamic texts, human instinct prefers goods which serve survival needs as well as other wants which serve non-survival needs (Aal’-Imran: 14). The story of Jews asking Moses (pbuh) for variety of food (Al-Baqarah: 61) also hints at the desire for variety in consumption bundles and diminishing marginal utility.

In a hadith, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: “If Adam’s son had a valley full of gold, he would like to have two valleys, for nothing fills his mouth except dust (of the grave)…”[1] This also hints at the instinctive desire of humans for non-satiated preferences. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: “The heart of an old man remains young with regards to two things: Love of life and wealth.”[2] However, in next Sub-sections, we shall see how Islamic teachings prescribe guidelines for moderating these instincts and inculcating empathy in conduct and behaviour.

Moral Filtering on Seeking Endowments

In this Sub-section, we discuss how the Islamic teachings govern the pursuit of earning incomes. The Islamic teachings encourage striving for Halal means of earning as long as impermissible means and ways of earning are avoided, such as interest (Al-Baqarah: 276), bribery (Al-Baqarah: 188), fraud (Al-Mutaffifeen: 1-4), gambling (Al-Maida: 90), theft (Al-Maida: 38), business of intoxicants (Al-Maida: 90) and prostitution (Al-Nur:19), for instance. In general, barring the above exceptions, Qur’an allows mutually beneficial and consensual exchange (Al-Nisa: 29).

Islam discourages idleness, dependency and unnecessary exit from labor force. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: “For one of you to go out early to gather firewood and carry it on his back so that he can give charity from it and be free of need from the people, is better for him than to ask a man who may give that to him or refuse. Indeed, the upper hand (giving) is more virtuous than the lower hand (receiving), and begin with (those who are) your dependants.”[3] In another hadith, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) explained: “The upper hand is better than the lower hand, and the upper hand is the one that spends, and the lower hand is the one that asks.”[4] Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said that begging is not lawful for the rich and physically fit except for the one who is severely poor or in perilous debt.[5]

Divine Will on Endowment Inequality

According to Islamic teachings, this worldly life is a trial for humans in which they are being tested for their thankfulness and obedience to Allah (Al-Mulk: 2). In this test nature of life, Allah has given unequal endowments to humans so that they employ each other (Al-Isra: 30; Al-Ankabut: 62; Saba: 39; Ash-Shura: 12 and Az-Zukhruf: 32). The divine will on endowment inequality is also a means to test their thankfulness and patience.

Allah in Qur’an says that had it not been a very difficult trail for the believers, Allah will have made every house of the non-believer with gold and silver (Az-Zukhruf: 33-34). Thus, Qur’an asks Muslims: “And strain not your eyes in longing for the things We have given for enjoyment to various groups of them, the splendour of the life of this world that We may test them thereby. But the provision (good reward in the Hereafter) of your Lord is better and more lasting.” (Taha: 131).

Nevertheless, Islam does not approve extractive institutions such as Riba (usury) and public policies which result in concentration of wealth.  Islam accords due importance to redistribution and reducing concentration of wealth in few hands (Al-Hashr: 7).

Moral Filtering on Consumption Set

Islamic teachings make a distinction between permissible and impermissible goods. Qur’an says “… Eat of that which is lawful and good on the earth…” (Al-Baqarah: 168). Islam forbids intoxicants (Al-Baqarah: 219), meat of dead animals, blood and flesh of swine (Al-Baqarah: 173). In financial services, Islam forbids interest (Al-Baqarah: 276) and gambling (Al-Maida: 90), for instance. On some occasions, even the lawful goods become impermissible, such as during the time of fasting (Al-Baqarah: 183). Fasting in Islam is prescribed for Muslims to make them become God-fearing by restraining their desires and achieving moral consciousness. Nevertheless, Islam does not approve monasticism (Al-Hadid: 27).

Moderation in Consumption

Instead of being miser and spendthrift, Islam wants Muslims to have moderation in their consumption, both with respect to contemporaneous consumption as well as inter-temporal consumption. Allah in Qur’an says: “And let not your hand be tied (like a miser) to your neck, nor stretch it forth to its utmost reach (like a spendthrift), so that you become blameworthy and in severe poverty” (Al-Isra: 29). In another verse, Qur’an says: “And those, who, when they spend, are neither extravagant nor niggardly, but hold a medium (way) between those (extremes).” (Al-Furqan: 67). In a hadith, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: “Spend according to your means; and do not hoard, for Allah will withhold from you.”[6] Islam expects Muslims to avoid being spendthrift and extravagant. Allah in Qur’an says: “… Waste not by extravagance. Verily, He likes not those who waste” (Al-Anam: 141). In another verse, Allah in Qur’an says: “…Spend not wastefully (your wealth) in the manner of a spendthrift.” (Al-Isra: 26).

Avoiding Envy, Pride, Egoism & Boastfulness

Islamic principles recognize consumption externalities and counter them by explicitly cautioning against envy, egoism and pride. Instead of consuming positional goods and indulging in conspicuous consumption, Islam wants Muslims to observe humbleness and shun pride (Al-Isra: 37; Luqman 18). Qur’an says that Allah does not like prideful boasters (Al-Hadid: 23).

Islam also does not approve envious behaviour. Qur’an says: “The desire for piling up of worldly things diverts you until you reach the graves.” (Al-Takaathur: 1-2). Instead, Qur’an prescribes: “… Do not covet the bounties which God has bestowed more abundantly on some of you than others…” (Al-Nisa: 32).

Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: “Envy consumes good deeds just as fire consumes wood, and charity extinguishes bad deeds just as water extinguishes fire.”[7] Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) educated Muslims to be like none except the one who is given the knowledge of Qur’an and the one who spends in charity.[8] Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) advised: “Look at the one who is at a lower level than you, and do not look at the one who is above you, for that may keep you from scorning the blessings of Allah.”[9]

Qur’an educates Muslims that wealth will not last forever (Al-Humazah: 1-3). Wealth and children are only a trial (Al-Taghabun: 15). The temporary nature of this worldly life and material dispensation is eloquently summed up by Qur’an as follows:

“Know that the life of this world is only play and amusement, pomp and mutual boasting among you, and rivalry in respect of wealth and children, as the likeness of vegetation after rain, thereof the growth is pleasing to the tiller; afterwards it dries up and you see it turning yellow; then it becomes straw…” (Al-Hadid: 20). In one hadith, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: “Richness is not in having many possessions, but richness is being content with oneself.”[10]

Encouragement towards Pure Altruism

Islam does not recognize impure altruism to satisfy ego and to achieve fame and recognition (Al-Baqarah: 264; Al-Maoon: 6). Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) advised anonymity and secrecy in charitable giving such that the right hand does not know what the left hand is giving[11]. Allah says of the ideal believers in Qur’an: “And they give food, in spite of their love for it to Miskin (poor), the orphan, and the captive. (Saying): ‘We feed you seeking Allah’s countenance only. We wish for no reward, nor thanks from you’.” (Al-Insaan: 8-9). Qur’an urges believers to spend what they love in order to achieve righteousness (Aal’-Imran: 92), spend throughout their lives (Al-Munafiqun: 10) and the ideal is to spend whatever is beyond their needs (Al-Baqarah: 219).

Qur’an urges Muslims to show kindness, generosity and benevolence to their fellow human beings. Allah says in Qur’an: “… Do good to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, Al-Masakin (the poor), the neighbour who is near of kin, the neighbour who is a stranger, the companion by your side and the wayfarer (you meet) …” (Al-Nisa: 36). Qur’an says in another place: “So give to the kindred his due, and to Al-Miskin (the poor) and to the wayfarer…” (Ar-Rum: 38). Feeding orphans and poor is regarded as highly virtuous acts (Al-Balad: 12-16) in Qur’an. Qur’an exhorts Muslim to look after orphans and treat them with kindness and generosity (Al-Fajr: 17-20), work honestly in their property (Al-Baqarah: 220) and avoid oppressive treatment (Al-Dhuha: 9) as well as refrain from harsh behaviour (Al-Maoon: 2). Qur’an strictly prohibits usurping the endowments of orphans (Al-Nisa: 2).

Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) declared that the best charity is to spend (in charity) while you are healthy, aspiring, hoping to survive, and fearing poverty, and not delaying until death comes to you”[12]. Allah wants the believers to avoid miserliness (Al-Nisa: 37). Instead of enjoining miserliness, Islam urges Muslims to help one another in good acts and endeavours (Al-Maida: 2).

Since Islam only accepts pure altruism, it promises numerous incentives for it in its two-worldly view of life. Several verses in Qur’an promise due reward for pure altruism (Al-Tauba: 121; Fatir: 29; Al-Hadid: 7). In several other verses, spending in charitable ways for the sake of Allah is compared to a good loan which Allah will repay with manifold increase (Al-Hadid: 11; Al-Hadid 18; Al-Taghabun: 17; Al-Muzammil: 20). In several Ahadith also, Muslims are encouraged to spend so that Allah also spends on them with His blessings.[13]

Leaving Familial & Philanthropic Bequests

Islam regards spending on one’s dependents as charity if done with the intention to please Allah.[14] Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said that the greatest reward for what you spend is on your spending on family.[15] Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: “It is better for you to leave your inheritors wealthy than to leave them poor begging others…”[16] In another hadith, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: “As for one who is the guardian of an orphan who has wealth, then let him do business with it and not leave it until it becomes consumed by charity.”[17] On the other hand, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) also allowed philanthropic bequests[18], but instructed that these bequests shall not exceed one-third of wealth.[19]

References

[1] Al-Bukhari, Book of Ar-riqaq, Vol 8, Hadith No. 6436.

[2] Al-Muslim, Book of Zakat, Vol 3, Hadith No. 2410.

[3] Jamai-at-Tirmidhi, Chapters on Zakah, Vol 2, Hadith No. 680. Also, Sahih Al-Bukhari, Book of Zakah, Vol 2, Hadith No. 1470.

[4] Sunan Abu Daud, Book of Zakah, Vol 2, Hadith No. 1648.

[5] Jamai-at-Tirmidhi, Chapters on Zakat, Vol 2, Hadith No. 653.

[6] Al-Muslim, Book of Zakah, Vol 3, Hadith No. 2378.

[7] Sunan Ibn-e-Maja, Chapters on Asceticism, Vol 5, Hadith No. 4210.

[8] Al-Bukhari, Book of Virtues of the Qur’an, Vol 6, Hadith No. 5025. Also in Al-Muslim, Book of Virtues, Vol 2, Hadith No. 1894.

[9] Al-Muslim, Book of Asceticism, Vol 7, Hadith No. 7430.

[10] Jamai-at-Tirmidhi, Chapters on Zuhd, Vol 4, Hadith No. 2373.

[11] Al-Muslim, Book of Zakat, Vol 3, Hadith No. 2380.

[12] Sunan Abu Daud, Book of Wills, Vol 3, Hadith No. 2865. Also Sunan An Nisai, Book of Zakat, Vol 3, Hadith No. 2543.

[13] Al-Bukhari, Book of Commentary, Vol 6, Hadith No. 4684. Also in Al-Muslim, Book of Zakah, Vol 3, Hadith No. 2308. Also in Sunan Ibn-e-Maja, Chapters on Expiation, Vol 3, Hadith No. 2123.

[14] Al-Muslim, Book of Zakah, Vol 3, Hadith No. 2322. Also in Al-Bukhari, Book of Al-Maghazi, Vol 5, Hadith No. 4006. Also in Jamai-at-Tirmidhi, Chapters on Righteousness, Vol 4, Hadith No. 1965.

[15] Al-Muslim, Book of Zakah, Vol 3, Hadith No. 2311. Also in Sunan Abu Daud, Book of Zakah, Vol 2, Hadith No. 1691.

[16] Al-Bukhari, Book of Al-Maghazi, Vol 5, Hadith No. 4409. Also in Al-Muslim, Book of Wills, Vol 4, Hadith No. 4215.

[17] Jamai-at-Tirmidhi, Chapters on Zakah, Vol 2, Hadith No. 641.

[18] Sunan Ibn-e-Maja, Chapters on Charity, Vol 3, Hadith No. 2396.

[19] Al-Bukhari, Book of Wills, Vol 4, Hadith No. 2742.