If you were to randomly pick a handful of people off the street and ask them what they would list as their main causes of stress, what do you think they would say? Aside from maybe a joke or two about their spouse or the kids, I’d hazard a guess that a firm contender for that top spot would be stress caused by financial worries.
On completely varying ends of the income spectrum, so many families and individuals are losing their health to sleepless nights, desperately trying to figure out how to balance the books. Worrying about money, and in particular, debt, has been shown by some studies to cause significantly impaired cognitive function. In a nutshell, this means your ability to learn, remember, be attentive or solve problems is noticeably restricted. The stress caused by financial problems can have a hugely detrimental effect on your mental health, often being a cause of anxiety, anger, and depression, just to name a few. This can then lead to problems you have at work, problems in your relationships, which can then lead to a breakdown in marriage, or even, in extreme cases, suicide.
So how have we allowed money to rule such a tight grip on our lives and our wellbeing? Well, unfortunately, we live in a very consumeristic society. You can’t even step out for a pint of milk without being bombarded with adverts in some form or another. On billboards, magazines, television screens and radios, we are shown product after product after product that will supposedly make our lives better, easier, happier, or in some way make us more ‘complete’. And if you can’t afford these products? Borrowing credit, finance options, buy-now-pay-later… it’s almost like you have no excuse not to; everything is in place to make you think and believe that you can totally afford this lifestyle. But if you can’t afford to buy the product outright in the first place, how do you expect to then pay for it with the additional lender’s interest added on top?
This consumeristic society we find ourselves in risks landing us permanently on a useless hedonic treadmill. Every time we buy something, something new and more advanced becomes available on the market, and so we are constantly made to feel like we need more, that we we are not yet complete. And so we continue to spend and spend and spend…
So How Do We Get Off The Treadmill…?
First of all, let’s look at how not to get on it in the first place.
In not just Islam, but also in the religious texts of Buddhism, Judaism, and Christianity, usury, or interest, is regarded as an enormous sin. According to an Islamic hadith (narration), the Prophet Muhammad (may the peace and blessings of God be upon him) said, “Spending a single dirham of interest is worse than committing adultery 36 times” (Sahih al-Jaami’). We all know adultery to be hugely sinful, yet somehow interest, known in Arabic as riba, is so often over-looked. With the evidence of our debt-epidemic nation, it’s not difficult to see what an enormous negative effect interest plays on a community.
The advice is simple – if you can’t afford it, don’t buy it. This is a more complicated story if we’re talking about food or something necessary for survival, but so often our high-interest and sometimes financially crippling purchases are things we don’t even need; holidays, cars, a new kitchen, new clothes. These things are nice to have, but do you know what else is nice to have? Peace of mind and healthy cognitive functioning. Don’t sell your health for something material or fleetingly temporary. There are cheaper cars, there are more affordable holidays, and you’ll be bored of the new clothes in a few months anyway.
It’s time to be strict with ourselves and have a thorough detox of our finances – myself included. I have witnessed through people close to me how debilitating debt can be, especially when paired with a low wage income.
With a few life-lessons in hand, I intend to focus on following the guidance provided in Islam in sincere attempt to keep my income in a healthy and positive state inshaa Allah. This means:
This includes even that trickling of one or two pennies a month that drip into an otherwise inactive savings account.
Almost every single UK bank involves interest in some shape or form, even if you barely notice it. But as insignificant as one penny might seem to us, it’s still a haram income, and might be colossal to Allah.
There are shari’ah-compliant bank accounts available in the UK, some offered by an Islamic finance company, and at least one that I know of offered by a popular high street bank. It’s just a case of doing a little search on Google, and if we want more barakah (blessings) in our earnings, then it’s time to make the switch.
Unless you absolutely need to (say, to keep a roof over your head), and can do so without owing any interest, by borrowing from a family member for example, then it’s simply not worth doing. Especially if your debt is going to last longer than the purchase you’ve incurred it for.
Make Sure Your Income Is Halal
This doesn’t just include the obvious like not selling alcohol or not earning through gambling, etc, but also asks the question, does the source of your income cause a distance between you and Allah? Does your work sometimes delay you or even prevent you from your salah (prayers)? How can the money you earn in this world be worth more than your situation in the next? If your job prevents you in any way from offering the five obligatory daily prayers, then there will be no barakah in your income, even if you spent it in charity.
This leads me to my final intention. I hope that if Allah ever increases me in wealth, then He also increases me in generosity, because as our beloved Prophet (pbuh) told us, no one ever decreases in wealth by giving charity.
“Sadaqah (charity) does not decrease wealth, no one forgives another except that Allah increases his honor, and no one humbles himself for the sake of Allah except that Allah raises his status.” (Sahih Muslim).
Our wealth is a loan from Allah, and it is both a gift and a test. We will be asked how we earned it, and how we spent it, and the answer we give will help determine our fate in the eternal akhira (afterlife). If we keep ourselves firmly upon the understanding that all our wealth is from Allah, and all of our spending goes back to Allah, this should keep us safe from stepping back onto the useless hedonic treadmill, and instead seek much more fulfilling and beneficial means of attaining happiness, contentment, and completion.