Saturday 3 May 2008

Islam, Frugal Living and Wastefulness.

As a child I grew up with the stories of my mother from her village in the Punjab, some terrible, some hilarious, all a window onto another life and world. One of the stories that stood out was about the time her village found itself in circumstances so difficult that people would dig up anthills to pick out grains of wheat and would check the whole village for a lit fire before considering lighting a match. Some of these stories are old, handed down from the time plague and drought tore through the Punjab in the nineteenth century, others are from the time my mother was a child, witnessing hardship in the lives of ordinary people around her. I still get the lecture every year from both mum and mother-in-law about how they used to get new clothes on little Eid, then wear them again on big Eid and make them last the rest of the year (I did stopped rolling my eyes when I was about 20).

It brings to one of my passions though – frugal living. You might feel that frugal living is about being tight, but for me it is about respecting the world that Allah has entrusted to us, not being wasteful or extravagant and also about unleashing the creativity within us.

A good way of summarising green living is via the three R’s of being environmentally friendly: Reduce, Re-use and Recycle. I agree with reduce - use less, that would seem like a no-brainer, but which of us isn’t surrounded by the clutter of things we don’t really need? It does seem that we are being overwhelmed by consumerism and its siren-call of “buy this and everything will be okay”. A strange sort of affairs whereby we are convinced that material possessions will fill the void left by insecurity and a feeling of worthlessness (“I am a nobody, but the latest £800 bag will change that and make others like so that I can like myself”). This quote from Will Rogers sums it up for me: “Too many people spend money they haven't earned, to buy things they don't want, to impress people they don't like"

I like the idea that we should only buy more when we are ready to get rid of something we already have. I also think of a sweet old Bengali lady I met at a friend’s house who lived with her son and said that all she owned was her mattress and two changes of clothes in her rented house – this was her choice at how she wanted to live and it freed her. I have long promised myself that I will try to divest myself of all that I own before I die if I can through gifts and charity. What did our beloved Prophet (PBUH) have when he left us?

Then there is reuse; moving away from being a throw-away society towards one that is more thoughtful about how it engages with the material world. We have moved from using items crafted with skill and love and made from natural materials to cheap mass-produced goods. Its harder to throw away one good quality classic wool coat than it is to wear a £15 coat from Primark for a month then relegate to the back of your cupboard till its time to go to the charity shop/boot sale/bin. The same goes for furniture, ornaments and the tools of our kitchen and everyday life. How much more pleasure, staying power and tastefulness is there in a clay cooking pot than a big aluminium pan? Or a hand-carved piece of solid wood furniture as opposed to MDF stuff that falls apart?

So what can we do?
- How about taking shopper bags to the supermarket instead of using new plastic bags
- Selling things you don’t need any more (ebay, gumtree, boot sale, yard sale)
- Giving things away as gifts and charity and earning hassanah in the process.
- Finding new uses for things (the jewellery boxes below were perfume gift boxes).

The last is my favourite and a great opportunity to really unleash you creativity – glass jar votives from baby food jars? Shoe-box dolls houses? Handmade cards from old pictures, postcards and broken jewellery? New jewellery from old jewellery? After all “lack of money is no obstacle, lack of an idea is an obstacle” (Ken Hakuta).

Finally there is recycle. Much lauded and encouraged, this should really only be a last resort. You can recycle paper, card, plastic bottles, glass, cans, textiles and tools via your local council or recycling centre and use a compost bin, wormery or heap to recycle garden and kitchen waste, although many councils now also pick up “green” waste too.

The Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences

The London Islamic Network for the Environment

Islam’s Green: Going Green

Frugal Living in the UK

“Children of Adam, take your adornment at every place of prayer. Eat and drink, and do not waste. He does not love the wasteful.” ~ Al-Quran 7:31

"It is He who has appointed you guardians in the earth" Al-Qur'an 6:165

“And render to kindred their due right, as (also) to those in want, and to the wayfarer; but squander not (your wealth) in the manner of a spendthrift. Verily, spendthrifts are brothers of the Evil One (Satan); and the Evil One is to his Lord ever ungrateful.” ~ Al-Quran 17:26-27


  1. As Salam Alaykum sister. Your thoughts on frugal living are very timely and urgent. I hope I can implement the advice you have given especially when I have an attack of retail therapy coming on to me.

  2. First part of this article has given a small introduction to both conventional economics and Islamic economics. Then it provides a picture of poverty of current world and Islamic perspective of poverty.guarantor

  3. My mum always used to say, "Waste not, want not", and I think with the way the economy is going at the moment, this is as true today as it was in the past. frugal living