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Eschewing Extravagance in a Consumer Culture



I cast a cursory glance upon the numerous food delivery and takeout flyers on my kitchen counter, wondering what to order. Chinese Chow Mein or Burmese Khau Suey? Chicken Fajita pizza, or Iranian Chilo rice? There are days when I just don’t feel like cooking and that’s when such modernday ‘luxuries’ come to the rescue.

And yet, who would have thought that a day would come when a tired homemaker would face indecision about what food to order for her family? A few decades ago, cooking food at home was the only option!


Modern technology has done wonders for the retail industry: almost every business now has a Facebook page that is updated in real time with tempting photos of products and new offers. Window shopping has never been so easy: now it can be done on the computer whilst sitting at home, with a few clicks of the mouse or taps on the touchscreen facilitating instant purchase and shipping to your doorstep.

That’s not to say that the world’s economy is booming; few things today come cheap. Yet the rapid mushrooming of megamalls, hypermarts, online businesses and designer labels is indicative of consumers’ increasing buying power.

That’s not to say that the world’s economy is booming; few things today come cheap. Yet the rapid mushrooming of megamalls, hypermarts, online businesses and designer labels is indicative of consumers’ increasing buying power. The question, though, is this: does possessing enough money to make a purchase justify it in the eyes of Allah?

Ever since I hit my thirties, I have been ‘enjoying’ greater freedom in spending, not only because I have more economic independence than I did before, but also because more life experience allows me to make better buying choices, alhamdulillah.

However, now I find myself facing a new challenge – how not to spend money on what I deem to be superfluous, unnecessary luxuries. In other words, how to stick to the praiseworthy quality that our pious predecessors possessed – ‘zuhd’, that is, being content with very little and harbouring indifference to the glitz and glamour of the dunya.


Let’s face it, when a woman starts working and earning her own money, the world of retail opens up for her. She then considers buying herself a flashy new smartphone, leather shoes, designer clothing, or even real estate. Alternatively, when a woman marries, moves into her own home, and is blessed with children, she eventually starts to want to periodically redecorate it and purchase products for her growing family’s needs: food, books, clothes, toys, and shoes. A new world of family-related retail shopping thus opens up: couture, kitchenware, extracurricular activities, furniture, garden accessories, automobiles and foreign holidays.

Eventually, a time comes when an adult person starts to spend on things that are not necessary; things that will only garner added comforts and luxuries. It is at this point that the guilt pangs kick in. Then one needs to question oneself: “Am I being extravagant? Am I indulging in israaf (excess)?”


Contrary to widespread belief, having ample resources is a trial just like it is to be poor. One might start off with the intention of living frugally, restricting enjoyment to only simple pleasures but, if one is not careful, the abundance of resources might thwart that noble intention.

Here are a few tips I personally use to avoid extravagance and ‘keep my feet on the ground’:

Spending in the way of Allah

Sadaqah, both obligatory and supererogatory, should be a regular, preferably daily, action once you possess any amount of wealth, or start earning money. You should know that your income is blessed if giving zakaah is a top yearly priority for which you set money aside beforehand, and nafl charity – even a little – is the first thing you do whenever money rolls in. This includes what you spend on your parents, spouse and children.

Have a savings account that is credited every month

Spending most of your money as soon as you get your hands on it indicates immaturity, impulsiveness and lack of wisdom. When testing yourself for extravagance, see if you have savings or not. Save a portion of your income as soon as it comes into your hand. Most finance sages advise that this should be 5-10% of your monthly income/salary. The ideal scenario is to have an amount stashed away that will cover 6 months’ worth of household expenditure. Don’t dip into these savings except for emergency expenses.

Prioritise monthly and yearly expenses

You should have a list of fixed expenses, both monthly (such as rent and gas bills) and yearly (such as property tax and zakah), written down in your journal if you keep one. This will help prevent you from wasting money on unnecessary luxuries.

Avoid retail therapy as an anti-depressant

Make a list of what you need to buy before you go out shopping. It is wise to not go shopping, especially in expensive malls or markets, with a large amount of money in your bag. Never indulge in shopping as a means of temporary relief from anxiety about some other problem in your life. This will provide but a momentary high, and once back home, the problem will still be there. Only, your wallet will be lighter and your heart plagued with guilt.

Allow yourself occasional perks and rewards

Once you have taken care of savings and expenditures, allow yourself some oncein-a-while perks. Partaking in pleasures that are halal, within moderation, is an act of worship in itself, as it makes the heart fill with gratefulness towards Allah I. So buy yourself a gourmet meal, embellished couture, or a new book that you’ve been desiring for months, even if it is a tad expensive.

Remember, extravagance is something that varies with each individual; it cannot be measured with one yardstick. It is primarily detected by that twinge of guilt in your heart which follows an unnecessary splurge.

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