Globalization Vs Value Vision
Applying the Islamic vision on the economic and social field nowadays is a challenging and complicated process due to the dominance of “globalization” as a universal western vision. In fact, this vision is sweeping across all over societies by an obvious direct[i] approach and sometimes by an indirect approach via media promoting ideas and goods using creative attractive means. So, we can observe a conflict between two models.
Western Consumerist Globalization Model:
This ethically neutral model, with no absolute guide except the market, aims towards achieving the highest level of enjoyment, pleasure and materialistic benefit and forces all, individuals and communities, to reproduce this western model on countries all over the globe without putting into consideration its contradiction with their dogmatic and cultural traditions and financial level. Supporters of this model promote the notion that poor developing countries should adopt these western consumerism patterns to eliminate the gap between them and other industrial developed societies. Because these patterns are supplied only by the fund allocated for the necessities of their nations, “the rich get Richer and the poor get left further behind.”
Islamic Moral Model:
This model depends on a set of principles and guides apart from the market, aiming to achieve a “good life” which reflects the balance between materialistic and spiritual aspects. In fact, this model is derived from a totally different vision compared to the vision highly promoted by westerns. A detailed explanation about the definition of both models is presented below.
- Western Model:
This model depends on a materialistic consumerism vision highly interested in pleasure and enjoyment; promoting “market value” and converting the societies into a one huge market where commodity attracts these societies. Thus, social and humanitarian relationships are considered as a commodity in every sense regarding its characteristics; exchangeable, beneficial, contractual and materialistic interests. Moreover, man’s concern mainly flows towards materialism and his dreams are limited to items.[ii]
By applying this vision, individual gets preoccupied with the commodity in a society described by some researchers as “The Society of the Spectacle”[iii]. In such societies, influenced by broadcast media like TVs, CDs, internet etc., many humanitarian values are treated as commodities and individuals become negative audiences obsessed by the sparks of this image and this “Spectacle”; driving them towards consumerism focusing on both ideas and commodities. While the other world, behind the scenes, maximizes capital circulation, wealth growth and stars and celebrities just to support such model.
Exporting the notion of a prosperous consumerist society out of capitalist countries into developing countries or out of the high classes into middle and poor classes does not need a lot of effort due to the individual’s innate inclination towards prosperity and materialistic consumption. Societies, influenced by consumerism, suffer from a set of disturbances and features.
First, most individuals, at a society dominated by this materialistic vision, suffer from “relative poverty” in seeking all the ways to buy more unaffordable commodities and services. Prosperous societies are known for their continuous materialistic eager; giving the priority to fulfill the individual needs simultaneously.
Second, this hyper consumerism imposes conflictual competitive relationships among individuals which threaten the stability of the society and ruin many of its merciful humanitarian relationships. This leads to social and economic disorders especially in developing societies dreaming to achieve wealth growth. These disorders appear in various forms; like parasitic means of money-making by easiest, inappropriate and unproductive methods such as brokerage and speculation, or financial crimes, such as embezzlement and bribery, or illegal means such as drug and arms trafficking. Consequently, such society witnesses a distorted example of unproductive declining economy that has negative influence on social growth.
Third, individual position in consuming societies is directly proportional with the amount and the quality of what he owns. Throughout the history of human societies, the social statue of an individual was determined by his natural inherent position like noblemen and aristocratic families, or gained position, that an individual can acquire during his life path and as a reward for his effort and devotion in the scientific and practical fields, such as technocratic or non-profit organizations. In conclusion, society usually witnesses a social motion as individuals may ascend (or sometimes descend) the social ladder depending on the level of their success, productivity and effectiveness at social level. Although affluent societies categorize individual not for his/her social status but for his materialistic appearance shown by a package of expensive commodities and services, a unique lifestyle and special destinations for those affluent people. While the rest of the society is looking forward to achieve this materialistic glory and to be accepted as members in this magical affluent society even if they do not have enough money to accomplish this big dream.
Fourth, the value and ethics are sacrificed for the sake of pleasure and happiness, as the individual becomes an economic creature not recognized by his/her humanity and ethics, yet, recognized by the rates of his/her consumption, income and way of life. Consequently, all negative traits of those affluent, such as competitiveness, imitation, arrogance and vanity, spread all over society replacing numerous fundamental values required for leading a healthy society like compassion, fraternity and solidarity. In such distorted society, we can see some affluent persons participating in charitable activities, as a humanitarian moral attitude, just to show off their philanthropism.
Fifth, media plays a significant role in establishing the consumerist mentality among various social classes[iv] by promoting a society of enjoyment and pleasure through movies, TV shows and advertising campaigns that establish the concepts of delight and pleasure and standardize dreams and desires by spreading a limited vision about life revolving around materialism. For instance, an individual should work on enjoying fancy cars, luxurious houses and five-stars restaurants and others because, according to such advertisements, every person deserves such lifestyle. After the implantation of its roots, the individual follows this materialistic model towards happiness leading him/her to unlimited consumption wheel, as he/she becomes obsessed by possessing trivial items placing them in the core of his/her interests. Then, the pace of his/her feelings towards these belongings change over time placing other new items; a phenomenon which Frankfurt School called “Growing Emptiness” of consumption, a term developed by Georges Ritzer under the name of “Globalization of Nothing”[v].
Advertisement campaigns succeeded in imposing collective consumption patterns in favor of the capitalist associations. It is a process for controlling and standardization of mentalities and behaviors in a whole society regardless of the difference in wealth and social class; allowing the continuation of capitalist consumerism wheel. Thus, “Brands” and “trademarks” have become a ruler index of the level and social status of an individual.[vi]
Sixth: Materialistic affluent societies witness the emerge of a huge class seeking for purchasing non-essential goods although they are unaffordable for them. Here the economic system, in order to attract more classes towards consumerism for the benefit of production companies, offers an installment sale system that covers the price installment of villas, cars and others. In order to fulfill these commitments, individuals of these classes live with anxiety and fear, working day and night to earn the amount of money needed to pay installments and its interests!
Seventh: Negative impacts, arising from the eagerness towards more wellbeing and consumption, differ according to the progress level and achieved development in each society. In fact, pleasure and enjoyment have destructive impacts on both individual and society, especially developing societies or those who are suffering from financial and social problems. In developed societies, affluent class is restricted by a legal system aims to avoid the adverse impacts of such wellbeing on the social stability. In addition, economic progress of strong balanced agricultural, industrial and service sectors protects the economic structure against the parasite unproductive businesses which appear only on the margin of this balanced economic structure.
On the other hand, the developing societies suffer from economic structural defect such as the increase in some unproductive service sectors like brokerage and speculation and trading fruitless commodities as well as minor inactive industries which do not follow the health required instructions; leading to very adverse impacts on public social health. Yet, the speedy high profit of such products attracts capital rather than necessary productive agricultural and industrial sectors.
Eighth: Those parasitic classes ascend the social ladder due to speedy money-making, transferring with them weird cultural norms which badly affect the strength of social value structure. While the middle class, which participates mainly in the economic progress and serve as a guardian for cultural values of the society, declines[vii].
In addition, the consumerist societies witness a rapid increase in the number of their wealthy members due to the tough competition to achieve the dream of getting rich fast. Moreover, the number of members of poor lower class, who have poor qualifications to raise their incomes, increases also, so they fail to catch up the consumption competition. Therefore, the gap between both classes expands leading to a clear disturbance threatening the social stability.
The spread of such materialistic consumption in Islamic world leads to the so-called phenomenon “L’Islam de marché” (Market Islam). This expression unites the commitment to Islamic religion with the philosophical principles of the market as a lifestyle. This phenomenon leads to a structural contradiction in those societies which generates new religious pattern [viii]. While the Islamic world is trying to emphasize his special integral vision and distinct Islamic identity, this new Islamic pattern openly participates in the current consumerism.
This issue can be observed by discussing two dilemmas
The dilemma of market values sneaking into Islamic societies:
Many Islamic societies get trapped into materialistic consumption vision, as market values quietly sneaked into its ethical structure during the last decades. Thus, the innate inclination towards material and consumption has been enforced at the expense of moral, spiritual and humanitarian factors. So, happiness became directly depending highest rates of consumption and wellbeing without any concern about the negative results of this kind of happiness and its fundamental contradiction with social justice and moderation values forming the fundamental roots of the Islamic vision.
Globalization mainly relies on the existence of an economic person eager only for profit and materialistic consumption. However, this totally contradicts with the concept of the true “Islamic economic man” who is distinguished by an established ethical and moral system. This moral economic man is also seeking for wealth and consumption, but by being physically and psychologically committed to the social responsibility[ix] regarding the moral commitments such as moderation, solidarity and fraternity.
We can found in Muslim societies in our days unlimited models of market value penetration and affluent consumption eagerness. For instance, Hijab (female Muslim veil) is a one of those models. After reflecting humbleness, simplicity and modesty as well as significantly hiding all classes differences among women, hijab philosophy turns to follow consumerism vision; we found wealthy women wearing brands from global fashion houses which responded to this special demand to earn profit from the worldwide markets in the Islamic countries. This kind of Hijab greatly reflects the meaning of affluent consumerism and deprives Hijab from its moral and philosophical aspect leading women to discrimination based on purchasing power and wealth level.[x]
The dilemma of softness in the firm concepts governing Islamic model:
Islamic model adopts firm concepts which are the pillars of the social Islamic vision. Dealing with the western consumerism model and the high rates of globalizing Islamic societies led to an obvious failure in introducing the pure model of Islam which depends on Monotheism (Tawhid), Succession (istekhlaf), Civilization (3omran) and Purification (tazkiya). Consequently, these governing concepts face a state of softness; leading to loose definitions that don’t contradict concepts in the western vision.
Under this situation of softness and in order to achieve development and progress, Islamic societies have adopted an entirely new vision that differs from the Islamic one. This new vision is known as “American Human Development” which is based on Protestant values and represents the core of the current globalization experiment. It focuses on individual success and pursuit of wealth and secular achievement[xi]. Islamic societies, especially the wealthy ones, believe that there is no contradiction between those perspectives and the whole Islamic vision, although they have differences in many aspects regarding purpose and value. Regarding purpose, individual success prevails over social cohesion, leading to the appearance of affluent wealthy social class contradicting the structure nature of Muslim society which aims to reduce the gap between social classes. Regarding value, the values of effectiveness and success surpass the values of solidarity and fraternity.
Therefore, a refined model for Muslim individual success was built to achieve a distinct economic performance. In fact, this was the first step in penetrating Islamic societies in favor of modernism and globalization. Protestant values focused on secular actions considering work as a duty; benefiting both individual and society. According to Max weber -the first founder of this vision-, “Protestant Ethic” such as discipline, hard work and devotion is the milestone of materialistic success which reflects the divine blessing[xii]. This school of thought also emphasized that achieving self-interest and pursuit of wealth is not a sin but a virtue. These concepts led to a new bourgeoisie obsessed by wealth and entertainment.
From this point of view and may be without a real awareness of the philosophical dimensions of this model, Islamic societies witnessed stories of materialistic success where their heroes are proud to be Muslims. Thus, we will find in muslim societies the character of the successful devout who is economically effective. This religious model eliminates any moral condemnation of the concept of big wealth, allowing the spirit of affluent capitalism to sweep across society under the slogan of boosting the effectiveness of this nation in competition arenas.
So, we can find in Islamic society an apparent escalation of the successful Islamic model that defends flexible easy interactions with western concepts of wealth and money. Moreover, this model delivers a discourse (da3wa) highlighting ambition, social upgrading and praising success and effectiveness. This discourse promotes these ideas by stimulating the religious sentiment through the honorable biography of the Prophet, peace be upon him, and his companions. Here Islam becomes a tool in the process of cultural and economic globalization, by which the religious reference serves the values of globalization justifying its concepts from a religious point of view [xiii].
- Islamic Model:
This model is based on moral dogmatic vision unlike the sweeping materialistic consumerism vision. This vision aims to introduce a distinct perspective about life, a model of “good life”[xiv] as mentioned in the Holy Qura’n: “Whoever does righteousness, whether male or female, while he (or she) is a true believer (of Islamic Monotheism) verily, to him We will give him a good life(in this world with respect, contentment and lawful provision)….” (An-Nahl (The Bees), 97)[xv].
Islamic vision introduces the concept of a “good life” as a worthy goal for mankind. Good life has a combined vision for a person’s life which encourage man’s need for all materialistic necessities and benefits alongside spiritual and moral dimensions for an upright life.
Through a comprehensive reading of Qura’nic verses, we notice two types of lives: worldly life and good life.
First, “worldly life” is defined in the Qura’nic verses in the light of direct materialistic meaning: “Know that the life of this world is only play and amusement, pomp and mutual boasting among you and rivalry in respect of wealth and children…” (Al-Hadid (Iron), 20)[xvi]. Allah-The Almighty says: “Beautified for men is the love of things they covet; women, children, much of gold and silver (wealth), branded beautiful horses, cattle and well-tilled land. This is the pleasure of the present world’s life; but Allah has the excellent return (paradise with flowing river) with Him.” (Al I’mran (The Family of Imran), 14)[xvii]. Actually, this materialistic view of the concept of worldly life is accompanied by a warning: “Mankind! Verily, the promise of Allah is true. So let not this present life deceive you…” (Fatir (The Originator of Creation or The Angels), 5)[xviii]. “….And the life of this world is only a deceiving enjoyment.” (Al-Hadid (Iron), 20). As the materialistic aspect of this worldly life should not be the sole objective of mankind, because it is just temporary; achieving neither real welfare nor psychological excellence. Furthermore, it just tempts and deceives its enthusiasts; as a spell making them obsessed by its magic. In addition, it is worthless prefer the plentiful diverse worldly enjoyment to lasting bountiful enjoyment of the hereafter as mentioned: “…Say: Short is the enjoyment of this world…” (An-Nisa (The Women),77)[xix]. Thus, wealth, welfare, enjoyment, apart from the spiritual aspect, being just materialistic goals that may be accompanied by stressful life, anxiety about money-making, despair and psychological instability, feeling of loneliness and conspiracy belief, form a lifestyle leading to a society based on conflict, hollow souls and corrupt competition.
On the other hand, Islamic vision introduces the image of “good life” as being life in which a person could feel satisfied with both the materialistic aspect and psychological safety as mentioned: “So let them worship (Allah) the Lord of this House (the Ka’bah in Makkah), (He) Who has fed them against hunger, and has made them safe from fear.” (Quraish,3-4).“And Allah puts forward the example of a township (Makkah) that dwelt secure and well content: its provision coming to it in abundance form every place, but it (its people) denied the Favours of Allah (with ungratefulness). So Allah made it taste the extreme of hunger (famine) and fear, because of that (evil, i.e. denying Prophet Muhammad-peace be upon him-) which they (its people) used to do.” (An-Nahl (The Bees), 112).[xx] In fact, (social) security, (psychological) tranquility and (materialistic) blessing are three pillars of a pleasant life. Materialistic blessing only does not help in attaining the purpose of this life, because fear and psychological disturbance have destructive impacts on the life quality of a person. Furthermore, a person, enjoying this good life, feels safe in his society and lives inside a network of compassionate relationships which lead to a powerful solid society away from conflict. This person enjoys a heart full of content, living his life in a state of inner harmony and balance due to his satisfaction towards the abundance of his materialistic and spiritual necessities. Then, he is finally a person who enjoys Allah’s blessings without excessive or asceticism.
The equation of good life definition:
Social security + Psychological tranquility + plentiful commodities = Good life
Good life can be achieved by believing in Allah the Almighty and performing good deeds following Allah’s ruling. This life leads to a psychological relief, satisfaction and effectiveness that help in attaining the materialistic civilization and reformation on earth as well as enjoying good blessings without asceticism or excessive.
In conclusion: we can lead a good life by two means. First, it is righteous deed that fulfills the goal of civilization and purification alongside being devoted to Allah the Almighty; following His ruling. As every physical, practical, social or devotional action aiming to establish strong society, for the sake of Allah-the Almighty, is considered as a good deed.
The second mean is Faith, that builds up an inner belief for Allah the Almighty. This faith helps reaching a balance between both materialistic and spiritual aspects; seeking worldly life and the Hereafter altogether as mentioned: “So whoever hopes for the Meeting with his Lord, let him work righteous and associate none as a partner in the worship of his Lord.” (Al-Kahf (The Cave), 110)[xxi].
Thus, the equation of leading a good life is:
Faith + righteous deed = Good life
We have to notice here that the feelings of discontent with the blessings of Allah the Almighty (not disbelieving Him) is a wrong attitude that we have to realize its danger; negative behaviors like arrogance, vanity and injustice lead to negative physical and psychological impacts on man such as facing low income (using the state of “hunger” as the most difficult cases of physical poverty), or stress (using the state of “fear” as the highest level of psychological disorder).
So we can say that the notion of a “good life” is the balance between materialistic and spiritual aspects; maximizing the value of work, discipline and devotion for not only a profit in this real world but the Hereafter as mentioned: “whoever desires honour (power and glory), then to Allah belong all honour, power and glory [and one can get only by obeying and worshipping Allah (alone)]. To Him ascend all the goodly words and the righteous deeds exalt…” (The Originator of Creation or The Angels), 10).
The concept of a “good life” as a lifestyle has special implications because it is not a one- dimensioned concept but a complex one; having both a dogmatic spiritual aspect from one side and a materialistic one on the other side. Those two aspects are not separate from each other, as they are like “Communicating Vessels” by which the spiritual aspect affects the consumerist materialistic one by following moderation and values of compassion and solidarity and adding to its soul the notion of reality and civilization. This concept implicates “Balance” that prevents preferring one side to the other; neither abandoning life for a pure spiritual life nor indulging in materialism and the pursuit of wealth towards a mere materialistic life. Finally, moderation and integrity between spiritual and materialistic aspects is the way towards achieving a “good life.”
Translated by: Rehab Jamal Bakri**
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* Director of the Khotwa Center for Documentation and Studies, and Secretary edit of the contemporary Muslim magazine.
[i] For example: conferences, recommendations and follow-ups under the supervision of United Nations (UN) encourage the ratification of special legislations for Woman and children totally contradict legislations of many countries across the globe.
[ii] El-Messiri , Abdel Wahab (2002). Vol.2. Ibid.P.133.
[iii] Guy Debord (1994). The Society of the Spectacle: Contemporary Individual in the Society of the Spectacle “مجتمع الفرجة: الإنسان المعاصر في مجتمع الاستعراض”. Cairo: Sharqiyat Publishing House.
[iv] El-Messiri , Abdel Wahab (2002). Vol.2. Ibid.P.133.
[v] El-Ojeili, Chamsy & Hayden, Patrick (2016). Ibid. P.308.
[vi] Abdel Rahman,Taha (2017). Religion of Modesty “دين الحياء”. Part.2; The moral challenges of the media and communication revolution “التحديات الأخلاقية لثورة الإعلام والاتصال”. Ed.1. Beirut: Arab Foundation for Thought and Creativity. P. 2015.
[vii] Middle class, as defined by Max Weber, is the class which comes at the middle of the social hierarchy and it stands as the key of security for any society. The expansion of such class leads to a high level of moderation and social security.
[viii] Haenni, Patrick (2015) “L’Islam de marché “إسلام السوق”. Translated into Arabic by: Omarya Sultani. Introduction by: Heba Ra’ouf. Ed.1. Cairo: Madarat for Publishing and Research. P.26.
[ix] Halaq, Wael (2014). Ibid. P.289.
[x] Heba Ra’ouf Ezzat wrote an introduction entitled: (From Power of Tyranny till Power of Consumerism)””من طبائع الاستبداد إلى طبائع الاستهلاك on Patrick’s translated Book “إسلام السوق”. P.14. : Madarat for Publishing and Research. Jan 2015.
[xi] Haenni, Patrick (2015) “L’Islam de marché “إسلام السوق”. Ibid. Introduction by Dr. Heba Ra’ouf.
[xii] Max Weber (2002). The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Penguin Books.
[xiii] Haenni, Patrick (2015). Ibid. P.202.
[xiv] Al-Qaradawi, Yusuf (2008). The Role of Values and Ethics in the Islamic Economy ” دور القيم والأخلاق في الاقتصاد الإسلامي”. Ed.3. Cairo: Wahbah Bookstore. P.65.
[xv] King Fahd Glorious Qura’n
[xvi] King Fahd Glorious Qura’n
[xvii] King Fahd Glorious Qura’n
[xviii] King Fahd Glorious Qura’n
[xix] King Fahd Glorious Qura’n
[xx] King Fahd Glorious Qura’n)
[xxi] King Fahd Glorious Qura’n
** Egyptian Researcher and Translator.