Scrolling through the social media posts, videos, and images of a popular celebrity influencer, the young Muslim receives news of yet another one of their successful business collaborations.
Whether it is another baby on the way, moving to a more spacious house, a new book that they have just authored, or a foreign vacation on an exotic island that they are jetting off to… the colorful images leave a lasting impact on the minds of their ‘followers’.
Every day, our online newsfeeds show us tantalizing images of smiling, happy faces: successful people shaking hands over multimillion-dollar business deals, or giving a talk to a packed auditorium; disembarking from luxurious private jets wearing picture-perfect designer couture; or poised statuesquely atop mountains with spectacular aerial drone shots of the natural scenic landscape behind them. Posing with their families (and even pets!) on a sandy beach, suite balcony, infinity pool deck, or a cruise ship; diving underwater and swimming alongside rare sea creatures; or sharing tantalizing closeup shots of the last meal that they had at a fancy restaurant…
Nowadays — as far as the definition of material success goes, the sky is the limit! It seems as if anyone with a camera has begun to gain a massive online following.
As for those who do not have such “amazing” lives in comparison, well, they end up feeling worse and worse about themselves as time goes on.
How Technology and Globalization is Fueling Materialism
It is very difficult for any individual nowadays, to stay unaffected by the global trend of increasing materialism. Be it a 12-year-old or an 80-year-old, life has changed so much because of technology 24/7 and Internet connectivity, that few can escape the incessant deluge of fresh content, hour by hour, day after the day.
Either you have to keep up, or be left out. Everything, related to anything in life, now comes with a brand label and a prestige factor, not to mention, a mind-boggling variety of available products that leaves us thoroughly spoilt for choice.
The average tech-savvy 12-year-old today wants to watch the latest video of their favorite YouTuber as soon as it is uploaded, and be the first to comment on it.
The 35-year-old professional wants to see, in real time, how many views and ‘Likes’ their latest online post has received.
Similarly, the 65-year-old grandmother wants to be the first one to see and comment on the latest Instagram/WhatsApp/Snapchat photos of her grandchildren.
Consequently, all of them remain glued to their phones throughout the day.
Curbing the Desire to Compete is Difficult
Up until 500 years ago, mankind dwelled mostly in physically fortified communities (kingdoms and monarchies) that were difficult to access without months of strenuous travel.
Limitations of travel and communication led to uniqueness and exclusivity of culture, language, lineage and race around the world.
All that has now changed due to technology and the Internet. Now, races, cultures, languages, and social mores are all converging, as global travel and communication increase manifold.
The problem starts when the information overload gets too much, and we end up always wanting more and more of what we see others possess.
It is true, the simple things in life do not make us happy anymore, because we want something more ever too quickly. Whether we live in villages or cities, this truth is universal.
The dichotomy is that professional, hardworking, and hard-partying urbanites often desire to escape to quiet rural retreats to de-stress, and dream of settling down and starting families; whereas those who are already living such quiet rural lives in villages and on farms with families, dream of jetting off to the big cities to make “something” out of themselves!
We all seem to want what we see others have.
Social Prestige Vs. True Happiness of the Soul
Authentic, placatory contentment of the soul is fleeting today, despite an abundance of material resources. Anyone with even some wisdom can easily see the negatives of this global and all-ages-encompassing trend of “keeping up with the Joneses”.
As Muslims, we should try to emulate and mirror the actions, lifestyle, habits, and thoughts of our Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), who personally adopted and endorsed a simple, humble lifestyle and persona.
We should strive against the desires of our base self (nafs) to fight off Satanic insinuations such as greed, envy, suspicion, and the curiosity for non-beneficial worldly knowledge — such as who is wearing, buying, using, and doing what.
How to Curb the Desire to Show Off?
It takes high ranks of faith in Islam, based upon authentic knowledge of, and reflective daily connection with, the Quran — to stop ourselves from wishfully gazing at the blessings that we see others possess. We have to be strong in fighting off feelings of avarice, envy, and competitiveness. In lieu of this, we should engage in the following steps:
– Be it any social gathering, large or small, we should avoid engaging in discussions about what material blessings we or others possess, and their monetary worth.
– We should force ourselves not to show off our blessings on social media.
– We should scrupulously avoid following social media accounts of misguided celebrities, especially those in the entertainment industry.
– We should avoid asking someone how much they paid for their latest acquisition.
– We should continually make dua to Allah, to grant us a content and grateful heart that stays pleased with what He has decreed for us in life.
Conclusion: Be Patient in Adhering to the Sunnah
Ka’b ibn Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said:
Two hungry wolves sent in the midst of a flock of sheep are no more destructive to them than a man’s greed for wealth and fame is to his Deen. (At-Tirmidhi)
I think the Prophet’s words are the best warning that we can heed in the current era of materialistic egoism.