Academic journal article Islamic Sciences

Consuming Islam: Branding 'Wholesome' as Lifestyle Fetish

Academic journal article Islamic Sciences

Consuming Islam: Branding 'Wholesome' as Lifestyle Fetish

Article excerpt

Allah has bought from the believers their persons and their wealth in exchange for the Paradise Garden they shall possess. (Q 9: 111)

A stark contrast marks much of the Muslim world today: across North Africa and the greater Middle East authoritarian abuse and sectarian rivalry fuel insecurity, violence and bloodshed; while in a number of emergent economies increasing affluence nourishes the roots of market society. Growing Muslim middle-classes are embracing consumerist attitudes and appetites by blending these with key aspects of their own Islamic practice and identity. This is one of the great unfolding realities of contemporary Muslim societies. It is especially true for the major emergent economies of the Arab Gulf, Turkey, Indonesia, Malaysia--and of course India and China. Shopping is a highly appreciated activity promoting middle-class consumerism, while also servicing the self-interest of the political and wheeler-dealer business classes. (1) Exploiting 'Islam' for personal and corporate profit is now avidly discussed by prominent governmental, business, educational, and professional leaders at large international gatherings. Understanding what the rise of the middleclass implies for emergent modes of modernity in Muslim majority nations is vital for apprehending the dominant forces shaping contemporary Muslim societies.

God's Messenger Muhammad--upon him blessings and peace--stated concerning his fellow Messengers sent to guide humans: "We, the company of Prophets, always turn a profit." (2) By this, the Prophet appears to indicate invaluable immaterial returns on spiritual guidance and striving--the interior fruits of 'knowledge-practice-understanding' which sincere faith and conviction yields within the human soul. Times have changed and the heavens ushered in our post-Enlightenment scientific technological era, the age of late-modernity, is ruled by positivist assumptions which essentially give no credence to immaterial reality (the spiritual or transcendent realm), and which privilege material gain above all else. This is an age when the global Halal industry works hand-in-hand with governments to manage the extremely valuable consumer market, and when the potential for profit is so great that spiritual striving and genuine knowledge-practice are easily converted into strictly material gain derived from excitation of appetites. Naturally this requires planners and managers of commerce to cleverly mingle irrepressible human impulses for physical satisfaction with deeply embedded psychic and imaginal needs and rewards. The ethical and spiritual may thus become inverted for financial profit by corporate elites. Is not this the era of the "stomach and the genitalia"--of stimulating base appetites and manufacturing needless desires within the 'biological and social animal' termed 'human'? We may invoke here the famous warning of the blessed Prophet, upon him blessings and peace: "What I fear most for my Community is obsessive pre-occupation with the two interior-cavities: the stomach and the genitals." (3)

Psychic Roots of Innate Appetite

Our concern here is the rationale for selling a Shari'ah conscious or Halal Lifestyle by means of packaging the 'wholesome' (tayyib) and the lawful (or Shari'ah-compliant) in ways which entertain, satisfy--yet always never quite enough, and which operate by stimulating our appetitive soul-faculty. We also seek to divert attention into a more self-reflective mode, to question assumptions and think the un-thought. In Islamic normative ethics (4) the inborn human appetitive faculty is named shahwah, 'appetitive-desire' or craving. It was always recognized as a neutral faculty or soul-energy--not good or bad in itself yet capable of being either used or abused in beneficial or harmful ways. Shahwah is necessary and wholesome for ensuring our organism's individual and communal wellbeing, for without it humans would not be impelled to eat and drink, to instinctively seek out the pleasant and comfortable, or to experience sexual desire required for procreation and lawful satisfaction of bodily needs. …

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