The Sacred Anti-Capitalist Ethic
The moment when a loose pile of wool, resembling a cloud or puff of dense smoke, is drawn slowly upwards from a single point and begins to form itself from a disparate unconnected mass into a structured matrix, and then into a smooth thread, is truly a profound miracle to witness. It inevitably prompts reflection on the miraculous creation of this fiber, made by God to warm sheep in the Winter and, after sheep are shorn in the Spring, to warm humanity for decades to come. It leads also to awe at the careful hands that guide and spin this miracle, hands which have labored in this craft for thousands of years, and hands which today too often belong to women laboring in oppressive and underpaid conditions being forced to sew soulless garments made of worthless plastic fabrics. These garments are then heavily marketed and sold at inflated prices to the western lower classes only to be thrown away within a year, often dumped on the bloated second-hand market in the Global South.
When we started this project, we told friends and community members we hoped to begin an “Islamic” clothing cooperative to which the response was always something akin to, “Oh so abayas and hijabs?” The reduction of “Islamic” in the modern consumptive world to a purely aesthetic, rather than ethical and spiritual, descriptor is a great tragedy. Resorting to secular terms like “ethical fashion” to describe what TŪNIQ does causes us great pain and shame, as we know it stems partially from the proliferation of clothing companies claiming to be Islamic while selling destructive products made in slavery and degradation.
The ethos we draw on is the idea of baraka, or blessing. We know that, in our tradition, the world cannot be reduced to its materialist forms. Rather, to each thing in creation, there is an underlying reality which encompasses the spiritual history and surrounding forces. When we intend evil, it creates a spiritual reality that reflects that. When clothes are made in oppression and injustice, there is no baraka in such pieces. By contrast, when holding a piece that, from start to finish was made with God-consciousness, one feels a sense of peace and love transcending the material reality of this world. TŪNIQ artisans work with hands for many hours over each piece, often times making dhikr of Allah as if each thread and stitch was a sibha bead. This process and intention are undoubtedly imbued into every fiber they work over.
Between the abhorrence of profit-seeking on one hand and the violence and extraction of modern capitalism on the other, the Islamic ethic of trade posits that commerce can be a force for building community relationships, distributing needs and benefits widely, and generating joy and fulfillment. Our anti-capitalist position is to choose to reclaim these human traditions, these ways of building relationships and sharing benefits and beauty with one another. God says in the Qur’an, “Oh you who have believed, do not consume one another's wealth unjustly but only [in lawful] business by mutual consent” (4:29).
It is not permitted to sell items at exorbitant prices, to hoard goods in order to raise prices, or to treat workers unfairly. It is not permitted to deceive, overly-praise, hide defects, or to sell that which causes harm – a category which includes, in our view, all mass-produced clothing and other products sold around the world today.
Not only does mass-production often lead to exploitation, it also creates work which is not accessible to many who may not be able to work in factories. When traditional crafts are supported, however, women who are caretakers, disabled people, and widows, for example, are able to earn an income by working just a few hours a day from home and by hand on their crafts. This distributes material benefit to many who might otherwise be left out. And it builds networks of support and community, as artisans visit one another and collaborate within the cooperative.
Unethical fashion is often framed as preying on lower income communities by offering them cheap goods at inflated prices which do not last and harm their health. This is true, of course, and yet our tradition also allows us to conceptualize these structures as perpetuating a further injustice against these communities: the spiritual harm that comes from the exclusive consumption of unblessed goods. Poor communities in the West almost exclusively interact with industrially produced products often made in violence and devoid of any baraka. This reality undoubtedly negatively impacts the hearts and lives of lower income people, while the use of truly beautiful objects in daily life remains a privilege of the bourgeoisie.
The ethic of a Muslim trader is to look at every act as interconnected; every choice as carrying a moral weight. We cannot simply make our supply chain ethical and then exploit hyper-consumerist culture when it is time to market our clothes. We cannot simply support our women artisans and then objectify women’s bodies to sell our clothes. All of these decisions are connected; and they have an impact both on the material reality of our cooperative and our world and on the internal reality of our minds and souls. The ethic of a Muslim trader is to model God-consciousness in every choice, every moment, every thread.