In recent times, it has become a somewhat forgotten value that we, as consumers, should take responsibility for the purchases we make and how these decisions affect society as a whole. This article is not just for the business-minded, but is to remind us all about the important role we each play as individuals.
As Muslims in the West, the following points are noteworthy:
1) We must stop neglecting our small local businesses
When a large supermarket branch is opened opposite a small family-run grocery store, naturally everyone prefers to shop there instead. The small family business suffers, as it cannot compete with the supermarket’s higher quality goods for cheaper prices.
Whilst it’s understandable that we want to cut down on our spending where possible, in cases like this, it’s worth it to spend a little extra. The supermarket will not make as much of a loss as the family who depend on the earnings of their small store. Where possible, paying slightly more for a product from the small grocery store, rather than buying it from the supermarket, should be seen as an ‘investment’ rather than a loss.
It’s also worth noting that whilst supermarkets are able to supply quality at cheaper prices, this often comes at a cost – usually in the form of environmental or ethical compromise. On the other hand, generally speaking, independent retailers provide a refreshing level of variety, service and community spirit, whilst also enabling you to help boost the local economy.
2) We must show more support for Muslim businesses
On a similar note, it is a duty that we show support to our fellow Muslims’ businesses where possible. There are always alternatives out there, companies selling the same products/services for cheaper, but it is vital that we make investments – of money, time and trust – in our own people. Unless we support Muslim businesses, we cannot expect to see each other prosper and our communities grow and flourish as an Ummah.
3) We must be better business people
We as Muslims need to be better business people. We must reclaim the Muslim way of doing business, and that means ethics, integrity and trust. It means professionalism which is primarily honest and upright. It means striving for excellence (ihsan) in our products, service and manners. Business should not be about harsh cold-hearted trade, or the easiest way to empty consumers’ pockets, but rather, it should be about building relationships and trust.
As Muslims, we believe in barakah (blessing), and part of the barakah in rizq (livelihood) comes from our honesty and character in our business dealings. Whilst it’s easy to get caught up in the ‘get rich or die trying’ mentality, we should never forget that Allah is the One Who provides for us and our rizq is fixed – therefore we should strive with honesty, knowing we will be provided for, and we should not proceed with the mindset of worldly greed.
4) We must recognise ethical buying as a lifestyle change
No one said buying ethically would be easy – but it’s also not that difficult. It simply requires a dedicated amount of research and solid determination, so that one can make informed choices and stick to them. Buying ethically really is a lifestyle change, and (hopefully) a long-term one, which takes time and patience.
One example of this is the BDS movement. Over recent years, the pro-Palestine BDS movement, which promotes the boycott of Israeli or pro-Israeli goods, has become increasingly well-known and celebrated. When speaking to individuals about BDS, some of the key challenges which cropped up included: 1) there are too many large brands which would need to be boycotted, therefore it can become extreme and/or difficult, 2) it’s overwhelming to research which brands are pro-Israel and whether or not they are to be trusted, and 3) it may be difficult to find alternatives for well-loved and/or well-priced products purchased from a pro-Israel brand.
· To address point 1, the key is to start with a handful of brands to boycott and replace them with alternatives. This not only gives you a chance to explore and experiment with different brands/products, but also enables you to reach out to smaller (perhaps even local) brands. Over time, it becomes normal for you to avoid these brands, and it becomes easier to adjust your shopping choices to fit in with your values.
· Point 2, there are many resources available in regards to brand ethics, especially if you’re looking into a specific concern or about a specific brand. It’s also beneficial to keep track of news reports covering ethical consumer issues. And finally, the Buycott app (free, available on iOS and Android) is a brilliant tool which supports many ethical campaigns including BDS, and works by scanning products using your phone so it can then alert you about whether or not the brand ‘clashes’ with your values.
· Finally, point 3 – sacrifice and compromise are key ingredients for making a positive change in our world. However, in some cases, you may even stumble across products which are just as good, or even better, than the original. The key is patience and perseverance. If, for any reason, you find you cannot boycott or replace a product (medical reasons, for example), make an exception for that particular case. Adjust and make decisions you are morally comfortable with.
Ultimately, we must do as much as we can knowing that we are all responsible for our individual impact on the world. Islam is about outward responsibility and practical concern for others, as much as it is about prayer and self-improvement.
Indeed, the Beloved Messenger ﷺ himself would plant date trees which would benefit those in its vicinity and those in generations to follow – so let us follow in his blessed example and be proactive in our everyday decisions. May Allah accept and grant us tawfeeq (ability). Ameen!