Today is the sacred festival of one of the world’s fastest and most aggressively spread new religions.
This religion has its holy places, its towering shopping cathedrals lit with decorations and promises of salvation. This religion has its rituals, its recurring pilgrimages, its devout followers engaged literally in qiyām al-layl as they queue throughout the long hours of the night while the “heedless” are asleep.
This religion has its underlying ideology, political philosophy and supernatural organising principles; unseen forces that its priesthood refer to as “The Invisible Hand” of the all-encompassing Market doctrines.
Perhaps the most successful feat of this new religion is that it has gone under the radar, with its underlying ideologies enjoying the mask of invisibility whilst an increasing proportion of the world’s children are indoctrinated with its baseless, speculative beliefs masquerading as universal truths.
I would love to say that during that time Muslims fulfilled their duty to lead humanity and champion prophetic guidance on the matter, offering humanity once again the formula for centuries of sustained success in this world and more importantly the next. However the truth is that many Muslims are not shielded from the tentacles of this new religion and its influences, ranging from subtle to extraordinarily violent.
This new religion has been described with various, overlapping names and features, including neoliberalism, materialism, consumerism, capitalism, and more, each giving its own unique perspective to the modern malaise, which is in its essence an unhealthy attachment to the material, fleeting gratifications of this dunyā placed here to test us.
“Indeed, We have made that which is on the earth adornment for it that We may test them [as to] which of them is best in deed.
And indeed, We will make that which is upon it [into] a barren ground.”
We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have
This new religion has successfully transformed us from a needs-based society to a wants-based society. Gone are the days where we would ask ourselves (or perhaps our parents would ask us), “Do you need this?” Now this seems to be an irrelevance. What we concern ourselves now with is: “Do you want this? Because that is what matters now. The fleeting desires that were once subject to great regulation and subjugation by every wisdom tradition the world has produced, now reign supreme, over-feeding the once distrusted ego to now become a worshipped deity, even to the point of defining new categories for human beings to be forced into.
“Have you seen the one who takes as his god his own desire? Then would you be responsible for him? Or do you think that most of them hear or reason? They are not except like livestock. Rather, they are [even] more astray in [their] way.” 
This new religion has also successfully changed how many of us assign value to each other. A person is rarely weighed by how well they serve their fellow creatures, or other virtues such as sacrifice, patience, perseverance, mercy, humility; rather a person is judged by how faithfully they serve the hyper production-consumption cycle. How economically active are they? What defines you is what you ARE; what you do for a living. How better is this proven than the fact that we look down upon a woman who makes it her life’s project to nurture her own children’s spiritual, emotional, intellectual and physical purification and growth, as somehow not using her potential; someone “economically inactive”. On the other hand, if she “works” to look after someone else’s children (let alone fattening the bottom line of some earth-polluting corporation), then that is another story. That is a “liberated”, “empowered” woman.
This religion has created an epidemic of mental health illnesses, with 1 in 4 young women—no doubt already exhausted from being objectified for profit for decades—suffering a mental health problem. That very same demographic happens to be disproportionately disposed to, when anxious or depressed, turning to social media; whose entire business model is doing whatever it takes to increase “time spent on site” for selling advertising against.
This new religion has also been credited with the epidemic in loneliness we seem to be leading in. Being indoctrinated from school age to view our fellow human beings as competitors for scarce resources (the defining characteristic of human relations, according to neoliberalism’s ʿaqīda) has turned us against each other, atomising an ultrasocial, communitarian species, winning us in particular the accolade of “loneliness capital of Europe” in what is definitely one of the most depressing competitions in the world. We should not forget Hannah Arendt’s warning that atomisation of the people is a key ingredient for imperial domination and totalitarianism. All of this is not even to mention this new religion’s holy wars and imperialism that continue to ravage much of the world today, as its penitent renegades have warned us.
The preventions and cures that divine guidance give us are multiple and for different echelons. Like any meaningful change it requires both macro level systemic struggles and micro level individual struggles. As for breaking out of the perpetual subjugation of the cycles of hyper consumption at the heart of this religion, then one of our greatest weapons as individuals is shukr.
Approaching the world, each other, our resources, our possessions, our wealth—and Black Friday—through the lens of gratitude and thankfulness, allows us to break free of the spell.
“And He gave you from all you asked of Him. And if you should count the favours of Allāh, you could not enumerate them. Indeed, mankind is [generally] most unjust and ungrateful.”
Being grateful to Allāh gives us the inner contentment that anyone chasing the material is seeking. As the early Muslims would say, “Contentment is a treasure that never depletes,” and “Had the princes known what was in our hearts they would raise their swords against us for it”.
Why is it that many people staying in 5 star hotels, driving luxury cars and eating expensive meals are not happy? They are doing everything that this new religion is telling them should bring them success, but they complain, they focus on negative aspects of those luxuries, or they stay in a state of fear of damaging or losing them. Why is it that another person may enjoy—even materially considering the release of hormones and other neurotransmitters associated with pleasure—a simple piece of bread to a greater extent than the person at the Michelin star restaurant?
The secret is shukr.
It is not harām to buy nice or even expensive things. “Indeed Allāh is beautiful and loves beauty.” But where do those things fit in our hearts? Do they dominate our attention? Do we spend hours on end researching the latest trends and gadgets to the extent that they distract us even during our personal conversations with Allāh? Or do we, deep down, want to fill in a gap, a void that was left behind because we were not truly grateful of the last blessing that we had?
“And [remember] when your Lord proclaimed, ‘If you are grateful, I will surely increase you [in favour]; but if you deny, indeed, My punishment is severe.’”
Some scholars explained that the “increase” Allāh mentioned in the āyah above is in the sense of the blessing and enjoyment of that particular favour. It could be that those who fail to find contentment and pleasure in an expensive meal fell short in their shukr for the favours upon them; whilst the one who enjoyed a simple meal was given the ability to enjoy that favour due to their shukr. In fact, even the ability to enjoy a favour is a separate favour itself!
All it takes is a change of perspective from within us, to look at our year-old smartphones with a grateful gaze, to appreciate them instead of automatically look for the latest model. All it takes is to stay hungry for a few hours to appreciate the deliciousness of a simple piece of bread dipped in humous or olive oil. Let us remember this when we are bombarded by the flashing images all around us, telling us to spend money we don’t have on things we probably don’t need.
This weekend, when you are about to buy something, think to yourself: do I need this or do I want this? It is of course permissible to buy things you want, but think twice and reflect on why you think you need it. Think about the pleasure that would come to you (on a Day you would need it more) if you spent the same amount of money on one of the many brothers and sisters in great need this weekend. And whatever you do, whatever you buy, and whatever you choose not to buy, remember to be grateful and show shukr to Allāh by your tongue and by your limbs, by using those favours for to draw closer to Allāh.
 Al-Qur’ān 18:7-8
 Al-Qur’ān 25:43-44
 Al-Qur’ān 14:34
 Al-Qur’ān 14:7
Salman studied Biochemistry at Imperial College London followed by a PhD in Chemical Biology, carrying out research into photosynthesis. During his years at university he became involved in Islamic society da’wah and activism, and general Muslim community projects. He is the Chief Editor and a regular contributor at Islam21c, and also has a blog on the Huffington Post.