By Samana Siddiqui
The simplicity movement has swept across North America. People are sick of the rat race-the fast-paced, stressful culture that has developed. They want to kick back, relax and live simpler, much less complicated lives.
Part of this means reducing the material objects that have cluttered our lives. Generally, it means living with less and being happy.
Sadly, Muslims are not immune from the rush for the material trappings of modern society. Muslims in some communities literally compete to see who has the bigger house, the nicest cars and clothes or the most expensive education.
But a Muslim was never supposed to live this way. He or she should be the representative of the "less is more" concept when it comes to material things. Some Muslims are, while others may be struggling to be. Others perhaps just want to get out of debt. Still others may want to completely revolutionize the way they've lived their lives and their finances are just another aspect of this.
Whatever your reasons, below are some tips to help you simplify your life's material side, and see the bigger picture.
Tip #1: Think about this Dua
"And of them (also) is he who says: 'Our Lord! Give unto us in the world that which is good and in the Hereafter that which is good, and guard us from the doom of Fire'" (Quran 2:201).
This is a common Dua of Muslims, and it indicates that we don't have to abstain from seeking the good in this world to attain good in the next.
Tip #2: Make your will
This may be scary but it will give you a true picture of where you are and where you have or want to be. Who doesn't want to die debt-free, with money left for loved ones? By making a will, you will see the bigger picture-how much you owe, how much you have left to give-and it could provide the much needed kick in the pants many of us need to start doing things we have to do to get our financial house in order.
Tip #3: Question your sources of income
Is it Halal? Where is my money coming from? These are life-changing questions. Be ready to take a hard look at the job you may have been doing for years. Be ready to take a drastic but gradual step towards an income that may be less but Halal as opposed to one that is more but Haram. When it comes to Halal income, less really is more in terms of blessings and protection from Allah's punishment.
Tip #4: Make a personal financial plan a second grader could understand
When people hear budget, they may think of cold accountants expressionlessly number crunching over a stack of papers. But your personal budget does not have to be this way. If you like computers, get a program that can help you do this. If not, get a notebook or folder and start doing this. Make it simple. Picture yourself as a second grader and ask yourself how you would budget your money. Remember, the only math functions you really need for this are what you probably learned in grade two: addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, that's all.
The purpose is to help you identify where your money is really going, how you can pay off debts and spend your money more wisely.
Tip #5: Write down and pay off all of your debts
Whether it's the $20 you borrowed from your wife for your haircut last week, the $100 you were lent by your brother or your student loan, write down every debt that you have and incorporate repayment of all of your debts into your personal financial plan. In fact, set a specific part of your income whenever you receive it for this purpose only. Just start. Don't wait to have a big amount. Put in $5, $10, $15. Whatever the amount, begin today.
Tip #6: Avoid buying unless you've got the money
It's this very attitude that promoters of the credit card seek to change. They want you to think that this silly piece of plastic is the ticket to happiness. It means you can buy when, where and how you want.
Not true. Remember, if you buy on credit, you will have to deal with the stress of paying off this bill before the interest kicks in. If you don't, the original price will keep increasing. Not only is this a headache. Taking and paying interest is Haram.
Tip #7: Try to reduce borrowing
Unless it's really necessary, avoid borrowing money, even if it's interest-free from a relative or friend. This just adds to the stress of constantly remembering that you have to pay someone back and it takes away from your ability to spend on what is really important. In some cases, it can have a negative effect on relationships with people (if the lenders are family or close friends). Pay off what you have left and try to avoid this habit. If you practice tip #2, you will have have less of this problem, Insha Allah.
Tip #8: Don't use shopping as a fix
Shopping is not simply a mechanical activity in our culture. It's what many do when they are depressed or want to have a good time. Whether it's the teenagers who hang out at the mall, or those who see getting groceries on Saturdays as a family trip, shopping has become recreation. Make a rule that you will not go shopping unless you have an exact item you want to buy or some real work to do. Then take up some other interesting activity to replace your fix: family time, a Halaqa, sports, reading, etc.
Tip #9: Read this Dua before entering the shopping mall or market
La ilaha illallahu Wahdahu la shareeka lahu, lahul mulko wa la hul hamdo youh yee wa youmeetu wa huwa hayyu la yamooto bi yadihil khayru wa huwa 'ala kulli shayin qadeer.
Translation: None has the right to be worshipped except Allah, alone, without partner, to Him belongs all sovereignty and praise. He gives life and causes death, and He is living and does not die. In His hand is all good and He is over all things, omnipotent.
This was reported in Tirmidhi and Al-Hakim
Tip #10: Try to avoid shopping without a list
And stick to it, even if there are only one or two items on it. Normally, people use this for groceries but the concept can be extended to buying clothes, shoes, etc. If you can stick to the list, you can see beyond the fancy marketing gimmicks at the front of the store and just walk right to wherever you have to go, get what you have to get, and leave without being suckered into buying some useless knickknack or other object on sale that day.
Tip #11: Set a quota for your obsessions
Tell yourself you will not spend more than say, $50 per month on things that aren't really necessary, but you like to have (i.e. lots of clothes, chocolate, junk food, computer games and videos, etc.) or whatever your obsession is. Then keep only this amount in your wallet. Don't withdraw any more from your account.
Tip #12: Give, give, give
Sadaqa does not decrease wealth. Be on the lookout for opportunities to give (i.e. Ramadan, if you know a relative or another Muslim in need, etc. ).
Tip #13: Treat interest like the disgusting thing that it is
When you start to refocus and begin to identify the Halal and Haram of your financial life, you will see that perhaps many of the things you used to do (i.e. your source of income or how you spent it) are not in line with Islamic values. Giving and taking interest is one of these (to see why it's not in tune with Islam, check out Verses of the Quran and Ahadith about Money Matters. Treat interest like what it is: a disgusting disease that enslaves people and makes them miserable. Be conscious of it and avoid it at all costs, no matter how little. Encourage others to do the same.
Tip #14: Save a specific percentage of your money
This is not so you can hoard lots of money. Emergencies happen. Your savings can help you out here. Or you lose your job and you're the sole supporter of your family. Your savings can help you in the short-term by at least covering the bare necessities until some other arrangement is worked out.
Tip #15: Resist the urge to "keep up with the Jameels"
The Jameels got a new house. But then the Syeds got a bigger one. In response the Sakrs got a mansion. And the cycle continues. This kind of competition for material things is another example of material enslavement. Resist the urge to keep up with the Jameels or anyone else for that matter. If the pressure is too intense, consider widening your circle of friends to those who don't base their relationship with you on how much money you make or how many cars you have.
Tip #16: If you can, chuck the T.V. or reduce how often your kids, especially, watch it
Television is one of the best things to ever happen to peddlers of toys, weight loss gimmicks and insecurity. Getting rid of it or reducing its consumption, especially for your kids, will decrease the need to buy the latest action figure, Barbie and what not. That doesn't mean the desire will go away. But when kids (adults as well) are not bombarded with daily messages feeding on their need to have the same toys or insecurities their friends have, these items will have less importance and help reduce the need to use material things as a source of personal satisfaction. (See Sound Vision's UnTV guide)
Tip #17: Do Istikhara before buying major items
An interesting true story: a sister and her husband went to buy a sofa. They found two they liked. They decided to do Salatul Istikhara. When they got back to the store, one of the sofas was sold. The lesson: (for me at least) before buying big ticket items, seek Allah's guidance and help, and He will give you what is best. It will also give you time to think about whether or not you want to spend over $500 on something or look for something cheaper.
Tip #18: Imagine yourself as a traveler
What do you notice about travelers? They are focused on their destination, and keep very few things that will load them down. Our destination as Muslims, Insha Allah is Jannah. We need to keep our eyes focused there. That also means not getting too bogged down in things like fancy homes and cars (which are almost always purchased using interest. See some choices without Riba).