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Shoppers or Sheep – Consumerist Mayhem Hits South Africa

May 20, 2016

By Ebrahim Moosa

It is related that Sayyidina Abu Hurairah RA one day passed by the marketplace of Madinah, and stood there announcing to the owners of the shops, “O people of the marketplace, how feeble are you?”

They replied, “What are you referring to, O Abu Hurairah?” He said, “The inheritance of the Messenger of Allah, peace be on him, is being distributed and you remain here! Won’t you go and take your portion?”

The traders enquired as to where it was being distributed.

“In the Masjid,” he replied.

Hearing this, the people of the marketplace raced out all together towards the Masjid to receive their share and Sayyidina Abu Hurairah remained there waiting for their return. They came back looking disappointed.

When they saw him, they said: “O Abu Hurayrah, we went to the Masjid and entered and we did not see anything being distributed.”

“Didn’t you see anyone in the Masjid?” he asked.

They recounted that they saw a group engaged in Prayer (Salah) and another busy in the recitation of the Qur’an and another group studying what is lawful (Halaal) and not lawful (Haraam).

Then Sayyidina Abu Hurayrah said to them, “Woe unto you, for that is the inheritance of the Prophet Muhammad Sallallahu Alayhi Wa Sallam.”

Considering the reaction of Sayyidina Abu Hurayrah RA in the preceding anecdote, I’d be curious to imagine just what would have passed through the mind of this great companion were he to be confronted by the spectacle of hordes of humanity plunging headlong into newly inaugurated marketplaces, as witnessed recently in our country.

Materialist Milestones

The inauguration of Makro Carnival in Brakpan, on April 21, drew first blood, when thousands of enthusiastic shoppers stood in a queue that snaked for kilometres in the roasting sun – their eagerness to be part of the in-store extravaganza effectively paralyzing them to another frenzy happening just beside them: carjackers having a field day with their vehicles, right in the immediate surroundings of the store.

Mall of AfricaA week later, the immensely more grandiose Mall of Africa opens its doors. A very prominent outdoor countdown and the scale of the project enhances public interest, catalysing a spectacular spill-over.

“Traffic has been severely backed up on the N1 and N3 North approaching the Allandale off-ramp for most of the day,” stated reports from the day.

“Motorists were stuck in traffic for over an hour from Linksfield Road on the N3 and from Malibongwe Drive on the N1 due to the mall opening.

“Nearly 97,000 people have already visited the centre today”.

“It’s called the Mall of Africa, and yesterday it seemed as if all the people on the continent had descended on it,” quipped the tabloid, Daily Sun.

“The grand opening of southern Africa’s biggest mall was nothing short of chaos!

“The 6 800 parking bays proved to be totally inadequate…Silas Ntuli, from Diepsloot, said he had never see such a large number of people in a mall.”

“We’ve been in traffic forever! For the love of new things and great deals,” tweeted @irenexplores.

And if you’re reading this, still with a lingering sense of sympathy for those who took the plunge in pursuit of some ‘really good deals’ on their needs, another store grand-opening squeezed in between these two mega-spectacles unfortunately seems to blow that hypothesis aside.

“I mean, I can almost understand queuing for over 24 hours to buy a heavily-discounted Macbook Air. But missing a night’s sleep to stand outside a new Starbucks for a distinctly over-sweet “Iced Sparking Mint Espresso” – just to be the first to have one on South African soil – seems like a poor use of one’s time,” bemoaned netizen Rolling Alpha on his blog.

“Entrepreneur Peter Maree woke up at 4.30am to make his way to Rosebank just for the launch of the store and try a cup of coffee,” mentions a report from Reuters. “Maree said that he likes the brand and became familiar with it when he worked in the US and was interested in the company.”

“I want to feel the vibe …it’s an iconic brand and now we get it in SA‚” said Maree‚ who added that he also wanted to take a few selfies at the store.

The snaking queues that greeted the opening of Starbucks in South Africa in April were carbon copies of the receptions afforded to Krispy Kreme when it started frying in Johannesburg in 2015, as well as when ‘Black Friday’ made its local debut, also late last year.

And their echoes have already been heard elsewhere.

Reports from 2014, of a ‘Black Friday’ frenzy in the UK recount how many shoppers were determined to bag a bargain, regardless of what it was.

“Louise Haggerty, a hairdresser and waitress, shopping at 1am at a Sainsbury’s in north-east London, said: “I got a Dyson but I don’t even know if I want it. I just picked it up.” The 56-year-old said she had wanted a new flatscreen TV, “but so many people pushed in the queue, we didn’t have a chance. People were behaving like animals, it was horrible.”

“Ian Hopkins, Greater Manchester deputy chief constable, said the scenes at some Tesco stores were “akin to mini-riot”, with people trampling on each other. The fallout included three arrests and a shopper with a broken wrist. A security guard was also punched. Hopkins said, “People need to take a long, hard look at themselves and ask, what on Earth was I doing?””

Trialled in the USA, tested on the world…

Engineered to buy

What many of us fail to consider, is that these ‘clinical trials’ conducted on us ‘sheeple’, have involved marketers taking a deep, hard look at the human psyche, and subsequently manipulating it for maximum effect.

You can manipulate consumers into wanting, and therefore buying, your products. It’s a game,” says Lucy Hughes, co-creator of “The Nag Factor”.

How much money people spend is often influenced by psychology, and the alternatives under consideration.

The allure of a bargain speaks to human nature, writes Stephanie Pappas on LiveScience.

The limited-time-only nature of big sales and grand openings triggers an innate fear of scarcity that drives people to buy, buy, buy.

As long as these tactics aren’t overused, marketing experts say, they can be very effective in luring shoppers to the cash register with cartfuls of goodies.

“People truly want to get a good deal, and so they might be less rational… when they can look in the environment and find different cues that make them think they’re getting a good deal,” Kenneth Manning, a professor of marketing at Colorado State University, told LiveScience.

“The decision-making can be somewhat emotional.”

Creating a sense of urgency is another trick retailers use to get people into the mood to spend. Other enticements include giveaways, free gift-wrapping and similar services. Retailers also strive to set a certain mood, says Lisa Cavanaugh, a consumer psychologist at the University of Southern California who researches holiday shopping.

It is this sense of manufactured urgency, Gad Saad, a professor of marketing at Concordia University in Montreal believes, that plays on innate human mechanisms like the desire to hoard resources.

“You can immediately respond to this stimulus, so people hoard, they buy a lot of stuff,” Saad told LiveScience.

Seen through this lens, I would argue that the driven pandemonium we’ve witnessed at our shopping citadels of late is less a joke or a source of agitation, than a symptom of a spiritual illness that has engulfed our society.

Spiritual Diagnosis

Allah SWT informs us that it is the rivalry in worldly increase that diverts us (Surah Takathur, Verse 1).

The Messenger of Allah Sallallahu Alayhi Wa Sallam also said, “Nothing will fill the mouth of the son of Adam except the soil of his own grave. If he had one mountain of gold, he would only desire a second”.

Interestingly, while many of us would clamour to be the first in line to zap up glistening bargains, some narrations in fact highlight how abhorrent it is considered to be the first to show up at a marketplace.

Maytham narrates that it reached him from the Companions of the Messenger of Allaah صلى الله عليه وسلم who said that “an angel goes out, holding his flag with the first person to go to the masjid and stays (holding his flag) with him until he returns and then enters his home with it. And Shaytan goes out, holding his flag, with the first person to go to the market and stays (holding his flag) with him until he returns and puts it in his home.” (Ibn Abi ‘Aasim and Abu Nu’aym in [‘Ma’rifatus-Sahabah’]

Sayyidina Salman al-Farsi RA also said: “The market is a breeding ground (ovary) of Shaytan; if you can, do not be the first to enter it, and do not be the last to come out of it.” [al-Musannaf Ibn Abi Shaybah]

It is well known that the Messenger of Allah Sallallahu Alayhi Wa Sallam indicated to the Masaajid being “the most beloved places on Earth to Allah”, and the markets to being “the most despised” [Sahih Muslim]

This is not to imply a prohibition of entering places of shopping or a dislike for buying or selling.

Instead, gravitating towards the market is frowned upon because of deception and manipulation that goes on there, as well as the many distractions it has on offer, whereby people forget the remembrance of their Creator and indulge in disliked or forbidden acts such as wasting time, indulging in loose talk, extravagant spending and looking at or listening to prohibited things.

According to Heidemarie Schwermer – a German teacher, psychotherapist, and author who set up her own skills-and-possession exchange shop and lived without money for 15 years – consumerism is about “an attempt to fill an empty space inside. And that emptiness, and the fear of loss, is manipulated by the media or big companies.”

Getting things like a new car or 60-inch flat-screen are goals many of us work toward. “Unfortunately, as reported by Time Magazine in 2014, “these pursuits have the opposite effect we intend: Instead of making us happier, getting more stuff drags us down.

“In a new paper published in the journal Motivation and Emotion, Knox College psychology professor Tim Kasser shows, through a series of experiments spanning from six months to 12 years, that when people become more materialistic, their emotional well-being takes a dive.”

The believer, however, is created to find happiness in genuine worship, and building up a metaphysical relationship with the next world.

“Islam connects the definition and understanding of happiness with what is permanent and real,” writes Sheikh Hamza Yusuf.

“True happiness is happiness derived from one’s relationship with God and happiness in the Hereafter. This includes living a life that prepares one for this destiny. If one is happy in the next world, this is the greatest possible achievement, regardless of one’s material accomplishments in this life. Devotion to Allah includes the enjoyment of Allah SWT’s blessings, such as family, friends, and recreation”.

Sayyidina Abu Hurayrah RA recounts how he used to “stick to Allah’s Apostle [Sallallahu Alayhi Wa Sallam]” contented with just what will fill his stomach, while the “ Muhajirin used to be busy trading in the markets, and the Ansar used to be busy looking after their properties”.

The consequence of his considered choice: Narrating some 5,374 Ahadith, and becoming a celebrated repository of Prophetic knowledge.

“Each of your breaths is a priceless jewel, since each of them is irreplaceable and, once gone, can never be retrieved,” says Imam al Ghazali.

“Do not be like the deceived fools who are joyous because each day their wealth increases while their life shortens. What good is an increase in wealth when life grows ever shorter?

“Therefore be joyous only for an increase in knowledge or in good works, for they are your two companions who will accompany you in your grave when your family, wealth, children and friends stay behind.”

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