The synergy between Minimalism and Islam
by Samia Ahmed
“Simplifying Life: The Minimalist Path in Islam”
A deceased wise relative once said, “Only buy what you need and then visit a shop, do not got go to the shops and create a need.”
The synergy between Minimalism and Islam is a profound one, offering a path to simplicity and contentment in a world often characterised by excess and clutter. We live in a world which offers more, yet we have less clarity. Minimalism encourages individuals to shed the unnecessary physical and mental burdens from their lives, creating room for what truly matters. For believers it’s an act of worship if done with the right intention and with a view to please Allah Almighty, aligning to being moderate in spending and consumption.
For me, the journey toward minimalism began with the realisation that excess stuff in my life was causing overwhelming stress and anxiety. The constant cycle of managing possessions, from clothes to household items, was consuming too much time and energy. The solution was clear: I needed to let go of what I didn’t truly need, embracing a simpler, streamlined lifestyle. In doing so, I discovered that less stuff meant less management, leading to more free time, space, and mental clarity.
As I explored various minimalism philosophies on platforms like YouTube, I noticed a striking parallel between Islam and minimalism. Islam, often referred to as the middle path, naturally aligns with minimalism’s core principle of simplicity. While minimalism isn’t a religious doctrine, it can be practiced by Muslims with the intention of harmonising their lifestyle with Islamic values.
Clutter and the brain
“Research shows that there is a connection between our physical environments that significantly influence our cognition, emotions, and subsequent behaviours… Our brains like order, and constant visual reminders of disorganisation drain our cognitive resources, reducing our ability to focus.” And apparently when we have a lot of visual distraction around us then this cognitive overload can affect our working memory. And further research has shown that the stress hormone cortisol was higher in mothers whose homes were cluttered. And also, it more likely to give us sleep problems if our bedrooms are cluttered.
Minimalism in the Context of Islam
Islam is a religion that places great importance on moderation, gratitude, and detachment from materialism. The teachings of Islam encourage believers to strike a balance between the worldly and spiritual aspects of life. In many ways, the principles of minimalism align with these Islamic values. Here are some key points of intersection:
- Simplicity: Minimalism simplifies life, allowing you to easily evaluate what you own and cherish. It encourages the removal of unnecessary clutter, enabling a focus on what genuinely matters. Minimalism doesn’t advocate cheapness; rather, it promotes the retention of items that hold value and purpose, regardless of their cost.
- Gratitude: Both minimalism and Islam emphasise gratitude for what one possesses, discouraging constant pursuit of more. In Islam, this aligns with the concepts of shukr (gratitude) and qana’ah (contentment).
Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Look to those below you and do not look to those above you, for it is better for you to not belittle the blessings of Allah.” (Sahih al-Bukhari)
“And take provisions, but indeed, the best provision is Taqwa (piety, righteousness). So fear Me, Oh you of understanding.” (2:197)
- Prioritising Relationships: Minimalism encourages meaningful relationships, while Islam highly values strong social bonds and community involvement. It enables individuals to allocate more time and energy to engage actively in their communities and support those in need.
- Simplicity and Clarity: Minimalism promotes simplicity, leading to mental clarity and heightened focus. Islamic worship, such as Salat (prayer), underscores simplicity and sincerity.
- Reducing Waste: Both minimalism and Islam encourage responsible stewardship of resources, minimising waste, and environmental impact.
While these Quranic verses do not explicitly mention minimalism, they promote principles of mindfulness, contentment, moderation, and detachment from excessive materialism, which are central to the minimalist lifestyle. Believers can draw inspiration from these verses to cultivate a more intentional and balanced approach to their possessions and way of life.
“O children of Adam, take your adornment at every masjid, and eat and drink, but be not excessive. Indeed, He likes not those who commit excess.” (7:31)
Detachment from Materialism:
“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.” (18:7)
To practically embrace minimalism within an Islamic context:
Begin by decluttering your physical space, gradually letting go of items that no longer serve a purpose. This aligns with Islamic principles of sadaqah (charity) and helping those in need.
Decluttering: Commence the decluttering process by systematically clearing your physical space of items that no longer serve a purpose. In line with Islamic values, donating to charity (sadaqah) and assisting those in need are highly commendable actions. Recognise that parting with possessions, especially those with sentimental value, can be challenging, which is completely understandable. However, as you begin to experience the inner peace and sense of liberation that comes with letting go, it will inspire you to continue releasing more and more, until you are left with only what you genuinely require, as opposed to what you’ve convinced yourself you need. I recommend taking a gradual and unhurried approach. Tackle small sections of your space at a time, as you’ll witness rapid results that will motivate you to continue the decluttering journey throughout your home. However, some things we need to be ruthless with and the inner voice of ‘just in case’ is often a trap to hold onto to unused and unnecessary items. If we can’t picture what’s in each drawer, cupboard, box or shelf then we have clutter occupying our spaces and that in turn is overwhelming us.
Utilise three boxes to aid in the process: one for items to keep, one for those to discard, and one for potential donations. It’s important to adhere to the golden rule: eliminate any duplicates, as this will automatically streamline and declutter your living space. Additionally, consider storing items out of sight only if you genuinely anticipate needing them in the future.
Simplify Your Wardrobe
Opt for a modest and practical wardrobe that adheres to Islamic dress code guidelines, ensuring you have what you need without accumulating excess. The feeling of waking up and effortlessly selecting an outfit without the struggle of matching and deciding is truly refreshing. Maintain a collection of clothing that you genuinely love and that complements your style. Dispose of the rest and relish the extra space in your wardrobe. Often, it’s not a matter of inadequate space but rather an abundance of unnecessary items. The liberating experience of letting go of clothes, even if they are costly, when you no longer use them can benefit others and bring you a sense of contentment. While various philosophies, such as the one-year rule, suggest discarding items not worn for a year, choose a method that suits you. Remember that moderation is key, as aggressive minimalism does not align with the balanced approach encouraged by Islam.
Prioritise Acts of Worship: Dedicate time daily to prayers, Quran recitation, and acts of worship to simplify your daily routine and strengthen your spiritual connection.
Limit Media Consumption: Reduce time spent on social media and entertainment, redirecting it toward self-reflection and spiritual growth. This doesn’t imply that you can’t enjoy social media but consider whether it’s necessary to spend hours on end engrossed in it.
Reduce Food Waste: Be mindful of food consumption, avoiding extravagance and food wastage. Practice mindfulness in your food consumption habits and refrain from wasting food, in line with the Islamic principle of avoiding extravagance. Overstocked pantries, fridges, and freezers often result in food going to waste. It’s a satisfying feeling to open your fridge and have a clear view of its contents, reducing waste and aligning with Islamic values.
Teach Children Simplicity: Instil minimalism values in your children by demonstrating simple and mindful living. Limit excessive toys and possessions to help them appreciate what they have. Children are keen observers of our behaviour, and they learn from how we lead our lives with simplicity and contentment. They don’t require an abundance of toys and books in their surroundings; in fact, an excessive amount can overwhelm them. Instead, we can implement a rotation system, where we introduce a limited selection of toys and books at a time. This approach helps children develop a deeper appreciation for and value the items they have. By doing so, we can ensure that we’re not inundating them with material possessions, allowing them to better understand the importance of appreciating and valuing what they already possess. We have a one in one out rule so that clutter and toys do not build up.
Is Zuhd synonymous with minimalism?
Zuhd, often translated as asceticism or detachment from worldly possessions and desires, is a concept emphasised in various Hadiths (sayings and actions of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him). Here are a few Hadiths that highlight the importance of zuhd:
Abu Huraira (may Allah be pleased with him) reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Be in this world as though you were a stranger or a traveller along a path.” (Sahih al-Bukhari)
Some minimalists adopt a capsule wardrobe with a select number of possessions, while others follow a 33-possession rule, traveling with these items and buying no more.
Capsule Wardrobe: A capsule wardrobe is a deliberate selection of a limited number of versatile, high-quality clothing items that can be mixed and matched to create various outfits. The goal is to have a compact wardrobe consisting of essential and timeless pieces that can serve various purposes. This approach not only streamlines the process of getting dressed but also reduces the need for excessive clothing items. This seems in line with Islamic principles as you end up buying less in the long run, waste less and also look groomed showing the blessings of Allah in a modest form.
The 33-Item Rule: Some minimalists take their commitment to simplicity even further by adhering to the 33-item rule. Under this rule, an individual limits their possessions to just 33 clothing items, including clothing, shoes, and accessories. This rule encourages individuals to be highly selective about the items they include in their wardrobe and promotes the idea that less is indeed more. I am not sure we need to out a strict 33 number to the concept but the idea is that you can live with less and your needs will be met.
Ibn Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) reported: The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “What relationship do I have with this world? I am in this world like a rider who halts in the shade of a tree for a short time and, after taking some rest, resumes his journey leaving the tree behind.” (Musnad Ahmad)
This Hadith underscores the analogy of life as a temporary stop and the importance of not becoming overly attached to worldly possessions and pursuits. It highlights the impermanence of worldly possessions and the transient nature of life. It likens our existence in this world to that of a traveller who briefly rests under a tree’s shade before resuming the journey, leaving the tree behind.
In the context of minimalism, this Hadith encourages believers to detach themselves from materialism and avoid becoming excessively attached to worldly possessions. It prompts individuals to focus on life’s essentials, eliminate excess, and question the necessity of accumulating excessive possessions. By doing so, minimalists create space for meaningful experiences, relationships, and spiritual reflection, akin to the rider’s short rest under the tree before continuing their journey.
In essence, this Hadith calls for a balanced and mindful approach to life, urging individuals to use their resources wisely and recognize the transient nature of the world. It aligns with the principles of minimalism, advocating for a simplified lifestyle that emphasizes the pursuit of what truly matters in both this life and the hereafter.
Abu Qatadah (may Allah be pleased with him) reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Verily, you will never leave anything for the sake of Allah Almighty except that Allah will replace it with something better.” (Musnad Ahmad)
This Hadith encourages Muslims to make sacrifices for the sake of Allah and trust in His divine wisdom to provide something better in return. That return might be spiritual elevation or better health or something more meaningful and of benefit then of material gain.
Abdullah bin Amr (may Allah be pleased with him) reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “The world is cursed, and everything in it is cursed, except for the remembrance of Allah and what is conducive to that, or a scholar or a student.” (Jami` at-Tirmidhi)
In the context of minimalism, this Hadith of Abdullah bin Amr underscores the transient and fleeting nature of worldly possessions and pursuits. It characterises the world as cursed, highlighting the potential negative consequences of becoming excessively attached to materialism and the pursuit of worldly gains. From a minimalist perspective, this Hadith aligns with the idea of detaching oneself from the excesses of consumerism and valuing simplicity. It encourages believers to focus on the remembrance of Allah and pursuits that enhance their spirituality, wisdom, and knowledge. By embracing minimalism, individuals can heed the Hadith’s message by letting go of the worldly distractions and possessions that do not contribute to their spiritual growth or well-being, ultimately leading to a more intentional and fulfilling way of life. You can feel the peace when you declutter and let go and also it removes unnecessary stress and anxiety.
Summary of hadiths
These Hadiths illustrate the concept of zuhd in Islam, emphasising the need for Muslims to maintain a sense of detachment from the material aspects of this world and focus on the hereafter and the remembrance of Allah. Zuhd is not about rejecting worldly life but about recognising its transient nature and not becoming excessively attached to it. It seeks a balance between the material and spiritual aspects of existence. This connection to zuhd is closely related to minimalism, as minimalists let go of worldly attachments through decluttering, keeping only what they truly need. Even the items they retain should not occupy their hearts to the point where they detract from the ultimate goal of the hereafter.
The connection between minimalism and Islam provides a pathway to equilibrium and fulfilment, aligning seamlessly with Islamic principles of moderation, gratitude, and detachment from materialism. By incorporating minimalism into an Islamic context, individuals can lead lives imbued with purpose and in consonance with the teachings of Islam and minimalist values. It’s essential to recognise that letting go of superfluous possessions and distractions can yield transformative results, fostering a more meaningful and contented existence. If you’ve never considered this approach or have unwittingly grappled with elevated stress levels, it may prove to be an effective strategy. Importantly, this practice is entirely consistent with Islamic principles, drawing you nearer to the pleasure of Allah Almighty. As you declutter, remember to purify your intentions for the sake of Allah and seek His forgiveness for any previous wasteful expenditures and excessive consumption. May Allah assist us in adhering to actions that are pleasing to Him and divert us from those that lead to our detriment. Additionally, it’s crucial to recognise that this is an ongoing journey; should you experience setbacks, simply begin anew with a clean slate.
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