بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
By J. Samia Mair
I can remember when gas was way under a dollar a gallon, when G-rated movies were actually appropriate for kids, and when holiday shopping started…well, just before the holidays. Let’s focus on the last one—shopping—because, after all, ‘tis the season to be jolly’. And yes, I am writing this as a Muslim because when you live in the United States (or likely most other western nations), there is no escape from the holiday-season hyperconsumerism. And who are we kidding? Everyone likes a good sale, and I know many Muslims who partake in the Black Friday mayhem. Islamic stores even advertise “Black Friday sales”. Christmas carols are as ubiquitous as air, only slightly more noticeable. Like Pavlov’s bell, a few lyrics of “Holly Jolly Christmas” and out come the credit cards. And as a convert, I catch myself singing the songs of my childhood. I guess ‘old habits die hard’ as the saying goes. But what’s wrong with wanting to buy a few gifts for loved ones? Nothing, theoretically. In fact, it’s part of our deen.
There are numerous hadiths about giving gifts to both Muslims and non-Muslims, and the proper etiquette in giving and receiving—all of which is beyond the scope of this present blog. Suffice it to say, gifting can bring many blessings to the giver as well as to the recipient, including increasing love for one another. In Imam Bukhari’s Al-Adab Al-Mufrad, it is mentioned in the chapter “Accepting Gifts” (Chap. 269):
Abu Hurayrah narrated that the Prophet (sa) said: “Exchange gifts and you will love each other.” (594)
Anas would often say, “My sons, exchange gifts! It will bring about love between you.” (595)
So, let’s start at the point after we have decided to buy someone a gift. The next question of course is, “What to buy?” For your female friends and relatives, the standard hijab, clothing, jewellery, henna, kohl, etc., are likely to go over well. And it is so easy to shop for all of these now.
The time of low gas prices, real kid movies, and the like was also a time without cell phones, automated money machines and the Internet. Shopping required a little more work—footwork to be exact. You actually had to physically travel to a store—horror! Finding just the right gifts to buy might have taken days or even weeks, and was usually an utterly exhausting experience.
Shopping for the same gifts on the web might take less than an hour now—and you don’t have to worry about being crushed in a consumer-deal-seeking-crazed stampede. According to one projection, online retail sales in 2017 are expected to be $385 billion–this shows how popular and powerful online shopping has become!
Why not try something different the next time you give a gift? Why not give the gift of knowledge? A gift that will not fade, will not tear, will not get lost, insha’Allah, a gift that can help someone come closer to Allah, a gift that can be carried to the grave, and a gift on the path to Jannah. Of course, it is not really knowledge itself that you are giving. You are giving the means to that knowledge—whether a book, a CD set, tuition for a class, payment for a spiritual retreat, etc.
With so many choices, it is important to choose the right gift of knowledge for the right recipient. So, for example, if someone doesn’t like to study fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) beyond what is obligatory to know, a book on fiqh is not a good choice. Similarly, if someone cannot commit to a class that meets weekly, signing them up for an online class isn’t a good idea either. But if someone is getting married, a book on marriage rights and responsibilities would be helpful. You want to be sure, though, that you get a book from a scholar or publisher that the intended recipient trusts, unless of course you want to introduce him/her to new teachings that you think they will like. If you are really not sure what gift of knowledge to give, you can always purchase a gift certificate for a particular bookstore. Gifts of Islamic knowledge can be given to non-Muslims as well: specifically those who may be interested in learning more about Islam. If you are a convert, Islamic-themed books might help non-Muslim relatives or friends understand the religion more, helping to dispel any fears or misgivings they may have about your conversion.
“Let’s talk turkey”* (pun intended). This is not our holiday season. We have the two Eids which now take place in early fall and summer, far removed from the secular consumerism that defines this time of year in many Western countries. We do not have to fight the unruly crowds, the long lines, the pushing and shoving, the ill-tempered holiday shoppers, and disgruntled employees. But if you find yourself unwillingly immersed in a world of green and red, with Santa Clauses, elves, and snowmen at every turn, with seasonal songs ringing in your ears, remind yourself of Islam’s beautiful tradition of gift giving, and remember that giving gifts should not be limited to special occasions like Eids or weddings, either. Every day Allah gifts us with opportunities to do good, to make others happy, and to bring ourselves and those we care about closer to Him. The next time you want to give, consider giving the gift of knowledge.
* The expression “Let’s talk turkey” means, “Let’s have a serious conversation.”
J. Samia Mair is the author of five children’s books, the most recent Zak and His Good Intentions (2014). She is a Staff Writer for SISTERS Magazine and Discover, the Magazine for Curious Muslim Kids and has published in magazines, books, anthologies, scientific journals and elsewhere.
© IIPH 2014