Islam and ethical consumerism
Sarah Javaid from MADE explains the points of intersection
Sarah Javaid from MADE (Muslim Agency for Development Education) in Europe explains the points of intersection between Islam and ethical consumerism.
As Muslims start a month of fasting during Ramadan, thoughts around consumerism and consumption will be at the forefront of people’s minds.
We start to really think about what we are putting into our bodies – after all it has to get us through 18 hour fasts at this time of year! – and become deeply conscious of the numerous material blessings such as food, clothes, technology and other things that we often take for granted.
Fasting fosters a strong sense of solidarity with those who have less, who have to struggle on a daily basis without basic needs, while others have so much. In this way Ramadan is an annual reminder of what our faith teaches as standard – to be a Muslim is to be an ethical consumer.
The basis for ethical consumerism within Islam comes from the teaching of tawhid or Divine Unity, which ultimately leads to an awareness of the unity of creation. Islam recognises the interconnection of all living things from the plants to the seas, the birds, the trees, humans and the bees, each with its own unique purpose and role within the delicate balance (mizan) of the earth.
Human beings have been given a special role which is that of stewardship (khilafah). This does not mean ownership or dominion over the earth, but a humbling responsibility to protect, safeguard and uphold the rights and the balance of God’s creation.
Here is a look at some of the specific teachings in Islam which drive Muslims to be ethical consumers and examples of British Muslims who are leading the way.
1. Living simply and consuming moderately
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) advised his followers to only consume what is necessary, being mindful of the use of natural resources and avoiding waste, even if resources are plentiful. He led a very simple and sustainable lifestyle, eating little and fasting often. He used to repair his own shoes and sew his clothes and when he received a new item of clothing, he would take its name and give thanks to God, acknowledging the value and blessing of each and every possession.
Young British Muslim entrepreneurs are promoting sustainability and simple living by upcycling and re-using items to create useful everyday products – Moments Of Life Crafts sells cards and notebooks made from recycled materials.
2. Workers’ rights and fair trade
The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was a trader by profession and known as “Al-Amin” (the trustworthy) for his exemplary ethics and integrity in business dealings. He advocated that trade should be established by mutual agreement, and there should be no harm or injustice done to either party or the wider society through any business transaction. Long before the emergence of trade unions or human rights charters, Islam set out and promoted the rights of workers including working conditions, pay, rest and contracts.
British Muslims have been very active in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel and building on this energy, Muslim youth organisation MADE launched the #BuyPalestinian campaign to promote fairly traded Palestinian products in partnership with Zaytoun CIC (see below).
3. Ethical Finance
Islam advocates an economic system governed by ethics whose primary purpose is the distribution and circulation of wealth. It is not opposed to growth or wealth creation but the key point is to avoid extremes of wealth and poverty, and disproportionate influence and power being held by a few.
Some of the key mechanisms through which this is to be achieved is the prohibition of interest or usury (riba), the concept of profit and risk sharing between investor and investee, and the system of zakat whereby Muslims give a small percentage of their wealth each year to those in need.
There has been a growth in the Islamic banking sector in the UK with Al Rayan Bank (formerly Islamic Bank of Britain) leading the way and featuring in the top 3 'Banks with a difference' in Move Your Money’s ratings.
4. Animal welfare
There is much controversy around halal (and kosher) slaughter in the UK and across Europe with calls for a ban by animal rights activists with claims made that it is inhumane. Yet the method of halal slaughter, when performed properly, is intended to ensure the highest standards of care and respect for the animal.
The Qur’an teaches that food must be tayyib (translated as wholesome, good and pure) which includes the animal being raised in a humane way, not being mishandled or caused any stress and not being killed in sight of other animals.
Part of the problem with halal slaughter today is that it is part of the mass industrialised industry which also dominates non-halal meat. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) considered meat a luxury and warned against excessive consumption in general. His close companions would caution against meat in particular, calling it “addictive.”
Muslim family-run farms such as Willowbrook Organic Farm, Zuss Halal and Abrahams Natural Produce are offering an alternative to Muslims who are concerned about animal welfare providing organic and free range halal meat.
5. Protecting the environment
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) encouraged people to make use of unproductive land, teaching that the earth is sacred and that like all of God’s creations, the land also has rights. He created conservation areas called hima and haram, which were to be left untouched on a temporary or permanent basis to protect land, watercourses and wildlife.
There are a number of Muslim-led businesses which prioritise environmental ethics including Green Sparkle, a London-based cleaning company which only uses environmentally friendly cleaning products.
Where to buy your Ramadan dates
Here is a run down of some ethical shopping sites that are popular among the Muslim communities due to their support of Palestinian farmers.
The list was compiled by MADE and the companies rated by Ethical Consumer.
Cannan Fair Trade
Cannan is a Palestinian company that sells mainly certified organic and fair trade products. They say that, "We educate farmers about sustainable practices and support conversion to certified organic production."
According to the company website they, “have built direct working relationships with communities, paying sustainable prices for their agricultural products to ensure fair wages for labour along the supply chain."
Hadeel is owned by the charity Scottish Palcrafts. The company sells mainly Fair Trade products and is a member of the British Association for Fair Trade Shops and Suppliers. It also visits producer groups in Palestine where all its products came from.
In addition any surplus they make is gift aided to Palcrafts which distributes small development grants to producers in Palestine
New Farm was formed a group of socially conscious agricultural cooperatives, the Peasants Union and three Palestinian NGOs. They say their focus is on helping rural women in Palestine.
The company say that they have a focus on sustainability but their main purpose is to, “assist our cooperatives with processing and marketing.” The aim of their model is to help a large number of small scale producers consolidate into larger groups of cooperatives so that they can benefit from more market opportunities world-wide.
The company say that they, “aim to be ethical in all transactions, giving farmers and producers fair prices for their goods." However no further details about the companies ethics or policies are given on the company website.
Zaytoun is a UK-based community interest company that supports small scale Palestinian farmers. The company received a best Ethical Consumer rating for environmental reporting.
The company had close ties with all its producers, many of whom had Fairtrade accreditation and produced organic foods. All the products that it sold were fairly traded although not all carried the Fairtrade logo.