بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
Earlier this year, I had the chance of visiting the annual Mausummery Lawn Exhibition that is held in the city during spring.
For those who do not know what a “lawn exhibition” is: it is a public, widely marketed event in which light, printed, unstitched cloth or fabric that is used for making Pakistani ladies’ summer clothes, is sold in an upscale, usually air-conditioned hall of a local hotel, or other similar venue, for 2-3 days. Local women flock to these lawn exhibitions in hordes, and buy stock of lawn cloth to make three-piece shalwar kameez outfits, usually for their whole year’s wardrobe.
This year, annual lawn exhibitions were held with the usual pomp and fanfare throughout spring. I have nothing against these flagrant displays of cloth flaunting the end-product of the toil and hard work of creative designers employed by our thriving textile businesses, but I must say that what I witnessed at the Mausummery Exhibition at the poolside marquee of Marriott Hotel, had a lasting effect on my psyche.
It was not the incessant traffic jam, nor the excruciating parking space constraints on the main double-road right outside Marriott; nor was it the sight of long queues of ladies standing in the heat outside the entrance to the marquee that piqued me. It was the behavior and body language of the mostly respectable, affluent and educated ladies that I saw once I got inside that utterly shocked me.
Pushing, shoving, scurrying to and fro with frazzled, frantic facial expressions; climbing on top of the raised display platforms to get a closer look at the prints; earnestly touching and pouring over the prints displayed on the mannequins; rudely waving paper slips (handed out by the sales guys standing next to every print, which had to be necessarily filled out to make a purchase) in the respective sales men’s faces in a desperate attempt to get the latter to write out the design number on it for them, along with the number of outfits of that design that they wanted to buy; standing in long, long, LONG queues for 2-3 hours to buy the prints that they had chosen; ignoring the pleas of the crying and perspiring toddlers and babies dangling in their arms or dozing off with their heads at weird angles in their strollers; enduring heat, stifling humidity and incessant perspiration for the sake of buying lawn, and of course – the crème de la crème – walking out happily with 10-15 bags in each hand (with one bag having one outfit).
As I realized that I was just not ready or willing to spend 3 hours in a long queue just to buy one or two lawn outfits, and I left (or rather, fled) the marquee, I tried to sort out my thoughts and feelings. I had no idea why the experience left me so mentally troubled – especially witnessing the way the ladies were behaving inside.
It was not these ladies’ apparent “need” for making new clothes every year, nor how they obviously spent tens of thousands of rupees in one lawn exhibition, that hit me so hard that morning.
“All for some new clothes…..CLOTHES.” I thought to myself.
The words that came to my mind to describe the aura inside the marquee, were: desperation, steely determination, self-absorbed pursuit, obsession and greed.
But tut-tut! I must not judge others. How self-righteous of me to pass opinions on other people and their behavior. That is a privilege reserved just for the liberals when they decide to talk about “fundo’s” like me. 😉
But seriously, I digress.
After having a few discussions with some friends, I realized that perhaps I shouldn’t be forming opinions about other women’s spending or shopping habits and their insatiable desire for making clothes. Allah knows best how much wealth they have and, consequently, how much they spend on clothes.
One of my friends told me that she revamps her entire summer wardrobe every year, and gives away her previous year’s lawn outfits in charity. Another told me that if I could spend money on good books without regrets, others can spend it on clothes. (Remember Imam Bukhari using whatever extra wealth he had to buy new books and in traveling in pursuit of knowledge?)
Which led me to start thinking about how each and every individual is unique in their spending, saving and money-managing habits.
One rule that applies to all of us, however, is that the money habits we practice in our adulthood, and the mindset we possess about money, wealth and material assets in general, is usually a direct result of the way our parents raised us to think about, want, pursue, use, spend and save money.
We are a subconscious product of our parents’ money mindset, habits and lifestyle. Very few of us ‘grow up’, break away and form our own mindsets about money after we become adults, especially if we change the way we look at wealth after studying our Deen, and if that change in mindset clashes with that of our parents. This clash or conflict is magnified even more with the degree of control our parents have over our wealth.
There is no doubt about the fact that – in theory – the more a person comes close to Allah, the more ascetic [“زاهد”] they become i.e. indifferent to the glitter and glamor of this worldly life [دنيا].
Hence, their humility becomes apparent through, for example, their wearing simple, non-flamboyant clothes and their eating light, coarse food. They do not feel desirous of, or strive to acquire, extra material benefits of this world beyond that which they need to live a relatively easy life, and are usually contented/satisfied with little.
Keeping track of one’s spending is important. Any financial expert or money guru will let you know that very candidly.
We should try to keep track of how much we spend on the fulfillment of our personal desires as well as on luxuries/assets, and how much in the way of Allah.
Note: spending on family is considered sadaqah/in the way of Allah as well, but nevertheless, it is good to spend on others who are less fortunate outside our families, preferably every month. Not only does it make one feel good to know that we are helping ease someone’s financial difficulty, but more importantly, giving in charity pleases our Creator too – if we intend to please Him via our supererogatory spending.
On the other end is miserliness or “بخل”: being so tight-fisted that even though Allah has blessed you with ample, you still refuse to spend open-heartedly on yourself or others. So misers might live looking like something the cat dragged in, and not take care of their health or hygiene, and always think about earning more money just to hoard it.
Misers tend to focus only on how much something – anything – will cost, and then avoid spending on it. They also hoard a lot, and do not spend on others, much less on their own selves. E.g., they will eat stale, bad toast for breakfast and not have eggs, just to save spending on fresh bread and eggs. They will keep getting the same house slippers repaired by a cobbler so that they don’t have to buy news ones, even though they can easily afford new ones.
A matter of the heart
At the end of it, it boils down to your heart. What you intend when you spend on yourself, or save for the future. What you intend when you give to others.
A lot of time, we spend on things just because we desire to have what we see others possess, even though we don’t need those things. This makes the love of the world creep into our hearts.
I think whenever such avarice creeps into our hearts, we should try to quell it. E.g. if my wardrobe is already overflowing, yet I feel the desire to go out to buy a new outfit just because my friend raved about an open house sale at a nearby clothing store from which she just bought something fabulous, it is an action I should avoid doing before it becomes a habit and I don’t even realize it.
What is extravagance (اسراف)?
كُلُواْ وَاشْرَبُواْ وَلاَ تُسْرِفُواْ إِنَّهُ لاَ يُحِبُّ الْمُسْرِفِينَ
“Eat and drink: But waste not by excess, for Allah loves not the wasters.” [Al-Qur’an – 7:31]
وَالَّذِينَ إِذَا أَنفَقُوا لَمْ يُسْرِفُوا وَلَمْ يَقْتُرُوا وَكَانَ بَيْنَ ذَلِكَ قَوَامًا
“Those who, when they spend, are not extravagant and not niggardly, but hold a just (balance) between those (extremes);” [Al-Qur’an – 25:67]
The word اسراف means “to exceed limits”. The verses of the Qur’an above warn us against exceeding limits, both in eating and drinking, and in spending money. We should adopt a middle course, as the second verse above specifies. The two extremities from which we should steer clear, are اسراف and قتر.
Whether or not someone is being extravagant, depends upon their income, saved wealth, material assets and economic power. Each person is unique, and sometimes no one else knows how much wealth they possess. Hence, there is no single benchmark or standard that can be used to determine exactly what is, or is not, اسراف. We should, therefore, not overly concern ourselves with how extravagant someone else is being, unless glaring evidence exists right under our noses.
It is my wish to present to my readers how difficult it is to decipher whether someone is bring extravagant or not. The cases below are loosely based on cases of real people:
- Lady A: Saves Rs 8000 every month, so that in a year, she will be able to buy diamond earrings in 24K gold that she has been admiring at her jeweler since a year.
- Lady B: Same as above, except she wants an Apple iPhone4 in 10 months’ time.
- Lady C: Goes shopping to Joria Bazar, Bohri Bazar, Saddar and Empress Market in order to get good bargains on the year’s stock of cloth for herself and her family. Spends Rs 6000 a month on buying cloth that will allow her to make 5 good 3-piece lawn or cotton suits that month. Goes out on a few more shopping trips to buy lace, ribbons, and buttons. Pores over fashion magazines, designs the style for each outfit, then makes a few more trips to the dyer and tailor. Finally, in a few weeks, she is done – all for Rs 6000 a month, albeit with a lot more personal hassle and scurrying to and fro thrown in. But she is happy at how she has “saved” money.
- Lady D: She has a husband who loves to eat out like her. Every 3 days, he wants to go out, sometimes for a club sandwich, sometimes for a tikka, at other times for a pizza. They spend Rs 6000 per month eating out.
- Lady E: Works in 5 bungalows as a cook and maid, manages to earn Rs 1000-2000 at each. Saves Rs 1000 a month so that she can buy clothes at the end of 3 months.
- Guy F: Earns Rs 45000 per month, and spends Rs 20000 of it on eating out, bowling, hanging with friends and his own clothes and accessories. He gives some of what it left to his parents and saves the rest. Single and carefree, he doesn’t know why his married friends are so stingy. 😉
- Lady G: Twenty-something years old, single and from a business family, her parents refuse to let her work at a job, because a single girl going out to work undermines the “honor” of their affluent family. She therefore volunteers at several welfare organizations and can easily get Rs 25,000 for anything she wants, just by asking her father for it. She wants to throw a party and buy a small gourmet cake for her BFF who has just had a baby. The picture of the cake with its fondant icing showed cute little baby things on it that just took her heart away. So she has the gourmet cake ordered for Rs 9000 as a gift that will make her friend happy at the party she is throwing to celebrate the birth of her baby.
Which one of the above are doing extravagance (اسراف)?
Can we even know?
Each one has a different income level and a different background/upbringing. It is all about an individual’s intention in their heart and in how much they fear Allah when dishing out the “moola”.
My personal growth as a “finance manager”
When I was single, in my teens and early twenties, each and everything I possessed was according to my parents’ wishes/spending habits. Every outfit in my wardrobe was made or approved by my mother, as is mostly the case when kids are young and need Mommy’s help in everything. I had no idea who “Sadaf Farooqi, the spender/clothes designer/cook/homemaker” was, because in so many ways I was an exact replica of my parents’ homemaking and spending habits. Due to being young and dependent, I didn’t have much economic independence at all.
My perception somewhat changed when I joined Al-Huda at the age of 21 and started mingling with women of all ages. For the first time I saw (i.e. my eyes were opened) the economic power most well-to-do Pakistani women possess. Some of my friends were from business communities (you perhaps know that usually these communities have a different level of spending) and when Eid came near, a couple of them were discussing where to get clothes made.
For the first time in my life, I heard young, twenty-something women discussing making Eid outfits for Rs 10,000-Rs 12,000 each (this was back in 2000, so you can perhaps imagine); who considered this absolutely normal.
I was a bit shocked, to say the least, but soon I realized that my shock was not because they were doing something wrong, but because of my own lack of exposure to other kinds of people and the diversity in economic ranks afforded by Allah to His creation, and because of my own juvenile enslavement to the way my parents/family thought about or spent money.
It was the first time I had left my little cocooned existence influenced mostly by my parents’ way of thinking and saw how different other people were e.g. some of the diamonds I saw women routinely wear to class at Al-Huda were as big as peanuts. 😉 But lets leave the subtle fashion show that took place daily within some students’ circles at Al-Huda for another post.
Fact is: Allah has blessed some people with trillions and others with next to nothing. So if the one with the trillions buys a sports car, can we call it اسراف? Can we? Can we hold the Sultan of Brunei or Queen Rania of Jordan accountable for living in a palace, or for being born with golden spoons in their mouths?
Why did Prophet Sulaiman [عليه السلام] have a palace with a crystal floor, with a stream of water gushing underneath it? Why did he live in a palace [“الصرح”] at all? [Al-Qur’an – 27:44]
The point to note – he never allowed his riches to divert him from worship and obedience to Allah (remember the horse incident?). He had jinns who could bring him the throne of the Queen of Saba within the blinking of an eye.
It was Allah who granted him so many privileges, worldly dominion, authority in the lands, kingship and “perks”.
The best example اسوةٌ حسنةٌ:
Prophet Muhammad’s [ صلى الله عليه و سلم] example is the one we should look up to. Simplicity is most praiseworthy, and we should follow the sunnah of our Prophet [صلى الله عليه و سلم]. That would mean perhaps sleeping on a coarse mattress on the floor, eating on the floor, and not eating two cooked meals every single day.
Yet we cannot point fingers at the apparent “extravagance” of people who have millions and who spend more than he did in his personal life.
Those who do not reach his level of simplicity, however, and so who, for example, eat on dining tables and sleep in comfortable beds- are they sinning?
That is, indeed, a very tough question.
I for one think they are not sinning – but they *are* losing out on the reward of following the sunnah of our Prophet [صلى الله عليه و سلم] and of not reducing their expenditure to the bare minima.
I think each one of us should look at ourselves and focus on tazkiyah (cleansing) of our own selves. I say this to myself first and foremost, because many a time I find myself dwelling on how others spend money, where as I do not even know (or care) how much their income is, or how much they have inherited from their forefathers in property and assets.
If we start broad-brushing, then living in a big 1000-yard plot/house, buying a car worth Rs 25,00,000 when one costing Rs 800,000 will suffice to transport us every where, owning a flashy Blackberry or smartphone worth Rs 40,000 when getting by without a cell phone is also possible – all of these things would become wrong, wouldn’t they?
What to avoid:
- Making and breaking relationships on the basis of money, assets, wealth and nationality. This happens as early on in life as primary school, when the child with the big house, extravagant birthday parties and the wide array of expensive toys attracts more friends, to latter stages in life, when a couple’s adult offspring are well-settled and established, and the elderly parents immediately choose the most financially well-off one to live with. It is a simple question of ‘going where the money is’.
- Letting money be the final deciding factor in every life decision, big or small. This happens a lot when deciding a marriage, especially among parents of girls. They might overlook the fact that a prospective husband doesn’t pray regularly or deals in usury, because of the palatial home he lives in and the BMW he drives.
- Wondering, estimating, or – Allah forbid – outright asking how much money someone else earns or has saved. I can’t tell you how irritated I get when people ask me, or others in front of me, how much they earn or what their salary/income is!
What and how you think -> determines your success in life
Leisure reading of online articles on money management, especially those inspired by the knowledge and experience of magnates like Warren Buffet, lead me to learn and realize many important things; things that are even endorsed by our Deen.
Just as our thoughts, convictions and beliefs determine not just our behavior and actions in this life, especially those that affect our Akhirah, everything else in our lives is also influenced primarily by how and what we think: our relationships, attitude, success, failure, our reactions to successes and failures, our achievements, and also the amount of wealth we possess and cause to increase in our possession.
It seems superficial to simplify this formula to such an extent. However, a cursory reading of the famous book Think And Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill confirmed this very fact to me – that successful people (with success meaning mainly worldly achievement, popularity, and wealth) think a certain way. They have a certain mindset regarding money and wealth; it is this mindset that helps them achieve success and get over (read: overcome and conquer) the failures that they encounter in life.
An objective observation of real people confirms what I learned through my leisure reading. Have you ever wondered why some people stay exactly the way they are, throughout their lives? Their habits, their way of talking and thinking, their personal relationships, their attitudes towards life’s challenges and pitfalls, their lifestyle – none of these change even with the passage of decades?
And yet, there are other people, perhaps from the same family, who grow and succeed; who become more learned and polished with the passage of each year; who acquire more knowledge; more new and sincere friends, more wealth and assets, and more honor and prestige, with the passage of time?
They succeed and grow just as a seedling transforms into a sturdy, solid, deep-rooted tree; a tree providing others with fruit, flowers, foliage, scenic lushness, shade and oxygen; a source of happiness and good that becomes a magnet for people to come and seek knowledge, lessons in life, advice and help from.
أَلَمْ تَرَ كَيْفَ ضَرَبَ اللّهُ مَثَلاً كَلِمَةً طَيِّبَةً كَشَجَرةٍ طَيِّبَةٍ أَصْلُهَا ثَابِتٌ وَفَرْعُهَا فِي السَّمَاء
“See you not how Allah sets forth a parable? – A goodly word like a goodly tree, whose root is firmly fixed, and its branches (reach) to the heavens,-” [Al-Qur’an – 14:24]
Did you ever stop to wonder, what is it that makes some people grow, mushroom, flourish and prosper in life as they grow older, whereas others stay the same – even if they achieve some degree of financial or career success?
The answer is simple: it is how and what they think. How they react to events in life. How they choose their responses to people’s actions and tough challenges. How they refuse to let themselves be affected by the negative statements and actions of “scrooges” around them.
And most importantly, how they conquer their own negative thoughts in an ongoing inner battle in their minds that never abates, fighting off the insinuations and doubts placed there by their avowed enemy – Shaitan – to proactively and consistently give negativity, despair, hopelessness and consequently – all failures in life – a big, confident, kick in the butt!
My observations about mindsets produced the following results, which I have tried to summarize below. I know that it involved generalization and stereotyping; but that is why I would like to specify beforehand that these observations are based on my own personal experiences in life.
They are by no means a final declaration intended for readers to pigeon-hole others by. Also, there can be a lot of overlapping between the characteristics of the three different money mindsets that I have come up with. That goes without saying, because the creation of Allah is extremely diverse – with each human being, being unique and one-of-a-kind among all of mankind.
The poverty mindset:
- A person with a poverty mindset usually hails from a humble background or poor upbringing. They might have had a childhood that was spent in a mostly impoverished, deprived state.
- As adults, they might find it difficult to set aside money to save. Even if they do, they spend it before they can stop themselves.
- They tend to splurge on their desires as soon as money (salary, bonus, increment, pocket money) comes in.
- They usually have minimal savings in the bank, despite having a good salary. They might never have had a savings account simply because they cannot save any money.
- They spend their whole salary within a few days, then spend the remaining days till the next paycheck almost hand-to-mouth. For dependent women with such a mindset, they might spend all the money their father/husband gave them without keeping track of it, then demand more from him as soon as/when they need it.
- They get visibly distressed in expensive, over-priced shops, restaurants and malls. Their eyeballs might start to resemble golf balls; the sight of price tags might cause them to take sharp intakes of breath. They feel better as soon as they leave.
- They keep meticulous track of special deals, discounts, free giveaways and annual/yearly sales in what they consider to be the “expensive” stores.
- They express glee and excitement when they hear of a sale, promotional deal or clearance giveaway. They love to enter ‘free giveaway’ contests. They love the words “discount”, “sale” and “free”.
- They might possess a gender-specific money attitude: they might believe that it is justified for men to spend lavishly because they are the ones who earn money, whilst women should make do with less, as they are dependents on men. So, for example, if a man sits in an air-conditioned office at his workplace all day, he is considered to ‘be productive’ and hence deserves the privilege (even his office won’t be blamed for this ‘extravagance’ in its unlimited use of central air conditioning), whereas, if a housewife spends an intolerably hot day in an air-conditioned home, she might be considered a callous spendthrift or “high maintenance”.
- They mostly go for quantity over quality; going for buffet food over gourmet à la carte, for example. They might buy commodities in bulk from wholesale outlets to spend less money.
- For Pakistani’s with the poverty mindset, they tend to gravitate towards people who possess foreign citizenship/nationality or who live abroad, for the prospects of future sponsorship, or other possibilities of gleaning benefits from the latter (viz. asking them to bring imported, out-of-reach commodities when they visit, or help get their adult offspring a job abroad, or foreign college admissions etc.).
- Again for Pakistani’s: they believe with conviction that a lower- or middle-class lifestyle can only be upgraded, and more money can be only earned, by relocating abroad to developed countries. Hence, they might possess a burning desire to relocate, be it anywhere in the Middle East or in the West, or to at least have all their children settle/marry abroad. They thus prefer a cramped one-bed apartment anywhere abroad over a spacious duplex in Pakistan any day!
- “Us vs Them” way of thinking: considering rich people a separate, exclusive class that lives in a niche of their own – a world that doesn’t have room for them.
- They shop only at clearance outlets and cheap stores, especially when they need to buy gifts for others.
- They consider or call all affluent people ‘spendthrifts’ and ‘wasters’, yet look up to and wistfully admire their assets, wardrobe, and lifestyle.
The extravagant spendthrift:
- Has a high flying, socialite lifestyle. Feels mostly bored and stifled at home.
- Makes friends with/wants to be seen with rich, stylish, popular people with similar lifestyles.
- Drops someone from their friends’ list as soon as the latter goes bankrupt/slides down from riches to rags.
- Feels no qualms in going to Daddy dearest when ever they need money to buy something they do not possess the requisite money to buy.
- Quickly becomes weary of new acquisitions and switches them for new ones every few months e.g. cell phones, bags, shades, shoes, couture.
- Squanders most of their wealth on fulfillment of desires and self-indulgent hobbies.
- Earns much less than they appear to, to the objective onlooker. Saves next to nothing every month.
- Focuses more on looking rich rather than on being wealthy (contented and self-sufficient).
- Might look down upon lower, lower-middle and middle-class people and consider or call them miserly, tight-fisted, cheap, crude or crass. Sympathizes with them, maybe even works for their welfare, but socially, keeps them at a yardstick’s distance.
- Goes first and foremost for ‘the tag’ during retail shopping: fashion labels, designer names, and brands. Also classifies others according to these tags (the so-called have’s and have-not’s).
- Won’t likely be found in a thrift shop, lunda bazar, or clearance outlet. Considers these places good enough only for the have-nots and so-called ‘paupers’ for whom they attend/organize/host charity events and benefits.
The “rich” (self-sufficient) person:
- Owns more wealth than they appear to possess. They usually cause raised eyebrows on the faces of poverty mindset-holders as well as the affluent ones – when they are seen wearing or possessing something expensive (since onlookers tend to judge their wealth based on their simple appearance).
- Super-saver: they save first, then spend. As soon as money comes in, the first thing they do is save a portion of it. Then they spend it according to these priorities: needs first, then limited, genuine wants. Their control of their desires and penchant for living a simple life enables them to have an amount that is many times their monthly income stashed away in the bank.
- Investment-savvy: these wise, “self-sufficient” savers like to keep their savings invested so that halal income can be generated for them while the asset lies idle. Please note: this does not include or imply riba-based investments. Halal investment options include: buying gold, property, halal-business shares, stocks, foreign currency, or diamonds – anything whose value is expected to increase with time.
- They are comfortable, unruffled and calm, in both – an overpriced restaurant, mall or store – or in a thrift shop, flea market, clearance/second-hand shop. They behave the same, whether they’re having grilled shrimp platter at an expensive seafood barbecue joint, or enjoying a bun kabab or mix chaat from a roadside vendor.
- They do not go just for labels, brand names or price tags – they buy what they like, when they need to, no matter what the label. They usually avoid designer wear and brand names, but don’t consider them taboo as such.
- They have an eclectic group of friends – including the so-called ‘filthy-rich’ as well as those who are ‘poor’. They enjoy conversation, meetings and meals with all kinds of people.
I acknowledge that the above sets are generalized and that in real life, most people will not fit into these “pigeon-holes” but rather, possess some traits from each set. I stress, though, that sometimes one needs to put forth generalizations such as the ones above in order to get the intended point across.
It is interesting to know that people who become financially successful in the life of this world possess and work according to what is known as the “millionaire mindset”, whereas those who are born with innate talents yet are thwarted from achieving success that can change their state for the better think according to what is called the “poverty mindset”.
I find it interesting that our Prophet Muhammad [صلى الله عليه و سلم] also thought according to the “millionaire mindset”. The difference between him and the “millionaires” of today was that he invested all his savings in the Akhirah instead of in avenues that would get him worldly returns.
It was not that he did not have the financial wealth that could get him whatever he wanted during his life. Rather, the fact was that he chose to willingly forfeit that wealth in order to live in almost abject poverty, proving to those around him that true ‘wealth’ is actually: self-sufficiency, contentment and indifference to the glitter of the life of this world.
A believer who emulates the Prophet’s example, therefore, doesn’t eagerly jump into the incessant rat race to outdo the Joneses. Rather, he uses any wealth that he possesses in this world to achieve the ultimate purpose of his life: the pleasure of Allah and success in the Akhirah.