On Living Not Materialistically

Presented in The Second International Conference on Islamic Psychology (ICONIPSY) 2015 with theme “Contribution of Islamic Psychology to The World Civilization”, in Yogyakarta, October 9-16, 2015.

May it be useful🙂



Aftina Nurul Husna

Universitas Gadjah Mada, Yogyakarta, Indonesia



Desire toward material thing and wealth is embedded inherently within human. As stated in the Quran Surah Ali ‘Imran 3: 14, “Beautified for people is the love of that which they desire – of women and sons, heaped-up sums of gold and silver, fine branded horses, and cattle and tilled land. That is the enjoyment of worldly life…” Those desires are the root of materialistic life orientation which is despised in Islam. Materialistic orientation affects psychological well-being, familial and social relation, and life performances in many aspects, and indirectly damages natural environment. Materialistic life orientation is a problem that demands us to look for a solution.

Psychologists have suggested about introducing people with healthier life values to combat materialism. It raised a question about what value a Muslim has and how (s)he actualizes those values in life. This research thus aims to explore anti-materialistic values manifested in Muslim’s life attitude. Materialism is defined as the importance ascribed to the ownership and acquisition of material goods in achieving major life goals or desired states of success, happiness, and life satisfaction, meanwhile anti-materialism is simply its opposite. Using grounded-theory method, interviews were conducted to three Muslim university students (aged 19-21 years old) in Yogyakarta.

The results showed that being not materialistic is about having balanced judgement about the importance of material things as useful, but also potentially harmful; setting moderate financial sufficiency as intermediary aspiration to achieve higher life goals like self-improvement (to accomplish economic independence and self-sufficiency) and familial and social welfare (to share benefits and help those who unfortunate); controlling desire to strive and possess material things based on rational consideration; and living up a modest lifestyle. For common Muslim, anti-materialism is more related to the Islamic concept of al-wasatiyyah (moderation) rather than zuhd (asceticism).

Keywords: Anti-materialism, al-wasatiyyah, life attitude, materialism, modesty




Materialism is “a preoccupation with, desire for, and emphasize on, material goods and money to the neglect of that matters … satisfaction or happiness people expect to gain from material goods. … an orientation emphasizing possessions and money for personal happiness and social progress”


— Garðarsdóttir, Janković, & Dittmar, 2008, pp. 74


It is fairly accurate to say that religion, especially Islam, was introduced to mankind to combat materialistic tendency within humans’ soul. As stated in the Quran, Surah Ali ‘Imran 3: 14, “Beautified for people is the love of that which they desire – of women and sons, heaped-up sums of gold and silver, fine branded horses, and cattle and tilled land. That is the enjoyment of worldly life…” Many verses in the Quran despise love toward wealth. The ancient story of Habil and Qabil (QS Al Ma’idah 5: 27-31) and story of Qarun (QS Al Qashash 28: 76-83) are the perfect teachings in regards to materialism. There are many more in the Quran, verses that teach about how to manage wealth and material possessions in right and proper manner.

However, it is well known in contemporary Muslim societies that materialism becomes a vast phenomenon. For example, in Indonesia, consumerism is increased significantly in month of Ramadhan (FKUB: Konsumerisme di Bulan Ramadhan…). Indonesia as the most populous Muslim country is regarded as the most corrupt.

In Arabs world, there are growing materialism and corruption (Field, 1995, p. 71). In wealthy country like United Arab Emirates, buying luxurious product becomes trend (Vel et al, 2011). In holy city of Makkah, luxuries surround the mosque (Mecca for the rich…). “The holy city is fast becoming a Las Vegas for pilgrims, thanks to the new £2.3bn megahotel that has four helipads, five floors for Saudi royalty – and 10,000 bedrooms” (City in the sky…)

Problem of materialism is not exclusively Muslim’s problem, but now becoming global concern. Many researches show how materialistic value penetrates various aspects of life, from individual to societal level. In individual level, materialism has several consequences on personal well-being and performance. Materialism is considered a threat for sustainability as it has relation with capitalism, consumerism, environment exploitation, and thus ecological damage. It is root for amorous, corruptive, and criminal behaviors, and tendency toward materialism may indicate a broken society, as cited from Myers (2008, pp. 583-584) who reflected what happened in United States of America:


“… we have big houses and broken homes, high incomes and low morale, more comfortable cars and more road rages. We excel at making a living but often fail at making a life. We celebrate our prosperity but yearn for purpose. We cherish our freedoms but long for connection. In an age of plenty, we feel spiritual hunger.”


The same apprehension also expressed by a philosopher and psychoanalyst Erich Fromm. In his book, Man for Himself (Fromm, 1947), he noted several negative tendency of modern society to be so absorbed on selfishness and self-love (narcism). Even though they were taught to love and be compassionate to fellow human being, in practice, they prioritize themselves more. When people are less loving to others, they are more reluctant for giving and sharing. It sparks an egoism which drives people to concern more to individual benefits and do anything necessary to maximize gain.

Religion has all the receipt to protect human from being materialistic. However, reality of ubiquitous materialism shows that only preaching people about what should and what should not is not enough to keep them away from materialism and go approaching the opposite. Human’s heart has natural inclination towards material things and it demands to be understood well. Being not-materialistic is all religion wants, but everyone knows that that way of life is difficult to go through although it is possible (see QS Al Balad 90).

Based on that problem, this research was conducted. The aim is first to understand common people experience of trying (or struggling) to be not-materialistic and then to construct what is anti-materialism and how its dynamics. This psychological research is intended to give some informational help for Islamic teachers, preachers, scholars, and also families in regards to their effort of support not-materialistic life style in Muslim societies.




Participants were three university students in Faculty of Psychology, Universitas Gadjah Mada, Yogyakarta. They were recruited through two stages screening using questionnaires. The first questionnaire, contained Materialistic Value Scale/ MVS (Richins & Dawson, 1992) and Aspiration Index (Kasser, 2002; Kasser & Ryan, 1993), was given to 150 students to identify general picture of students’ life value and aspirations. The second, given to 50 selected students, was self-built questionnaire which aimed to dig their opinion and tendency toward anti-materialism. Among those, 15 students willingly joined the research and three of them were then interviewed. They were all woman, Muslim, with age ranged from 19-21.


            Data Collection and Analysis

After delivering informed consent to the participants, several in-depth interviews were conducted. The topics being asked concerned with some issues raised from their answers in the questionnaire, like their personal definition about what is materialistic and what is not, and how they constructed those definition through which the role of family, neighborhood, school life, peers, religion, and unique life event were revealed. The interviews were all recorded and transcribed before further analysis. The data analysis used procedure of grounded theory method (Charmaz, 2006):

  1. Open Coding. Initially, overall transcriptions were read and coded line-by-line. Researcher tried to understand the content of what was said by participants, actively compared the data from one section to another, and identified meaning units which could be words, phrases, sentences, or events.
  2. Focused Coding. Researcher then focused the codes based on which code is the most significant and able to provide analytical sense for categorizing the data. This category contained ideas, events or process that summarized several themes and pattern together in some codes.
  3. Axial Coding. Researcher sorted, synthesized, and organized all the categories into a new way that enabled specification of properties and dimensions of categories. Those categories then were connected to its subcategories to show their relationships. This stage aimed to describe the experience being studied thoroughly.
  4. Theoretical Coding. This is the final step of analysis data process. Researcher carefully examined the categories to identify the core category that has main explanation power. The aim of this stage is to organize and integrate all categories into a conceptually meaningful way with help of visualization.






            Experience of being not-materialistic

This study about anti-materialistic life attitude was conducted with realization about the life of common people. The participants were all female university students, not having occupation yet, still economically dependent to their parents, and thus experienced some financial limitation, and even difficulties. This situation had direct impact to their lifestyle because it became significant inhibitor to consumerism and high lifestyle. They were shaped by external condition to live modestly. However, that factor was not the only reason for why they avoided materialism and grasped anti-materialistic way of life.

Being materialistic is somewhat natural, but being anti-materialistic is learned. Examining their life from time to time, they tended to be more materialistic in teen age. For example, participant 1 was influenced by her imagination of being beautiful and rich like artis sinetron in television. As she was getting older and more mature in thinking, she began to see the disadvantages. Thus, she decided to be realistic and accepted her life as it is. Furthermore, with good religious understanding, she believed that being not materialistic as more valuable.

Another example comes from participant 3. She learnt about being not materialistic from an adverse life event. Formerly she was from a rich but distant family. Her father was so absorbed in business and ignored religion. He then experienced bankruptcy and that event become the turning point for the entire member of family as they learnt the lessons. They now became more religious and careful in managing their wealth according to Islamic teaching.

Before the value of anti-materialism were understood and accepted by each participant, being anti-materialistic was a rather difficult. When they were younger, constraining desire to possess or to purchase goods needed much effort. Their parents consistently habituated a non-consumeristic lifestyle, emphasized thinking before buying to differentiate between needs and desires, and taught sharing behavior (e.g. giving alms, paying zakat). On top of those, the most important thing is that parents became the reliable model for them. Now they were more mature, they were already accustomed to it.

As university student, participants now lived far from their families and interacted with more friends from diverse background and with different lifestyle. New kind of triggers to materialism came from friends and the city of Yogyakarta itself which has many malls, shopping centers, restaurants, and interesting places for people from other provinces. With friends they began to have new hobbies like strolling around, having fun, eating out, travelling, etc. which costed much money. There were times they went astray, but all of them always came back to their own style because those activities clashed with their life value, gave more disadvantages (e.g. burdening their finances), and did not suit to their true selves.

They protected themselves by being selective in making friend. They preferred people with relatively same lifestyle in modesty and life view. For example, participant 1 joined religious organization in her campus and participant 2 actively involved in social organization in her village. They built courage to say no to invitation for having fun. They focused to their purposes coming to Yogyakarta, namely to study. Those kept them from being distracted from their way of life.

Another trigger came from within. They admitted that it was natural for them to want and desire things like beautiful appearance, expensive clothes, shoes and bags, and delicious meals. But, they easily stopped those desires and not actualized them. Those desires did not disturb them much since they realized that those were not important and also bad. Following it brought out regret and guilty instead of fun and enjoyment. The main thing that helped them controlling themselves was the feeling towards their parents who worked hard for their lives. They hate of burdening their parents and wanting to relieve their burden instead.

They all wanted to be financially capable in the future; to be rich enough to support their own life and others. They directed that aspiration to help other people. For them, to serve other people who were less fortunate was the main function of their wealth. Money was a means to be useful person and by being useful to other people, they would be happy and feel successful.


            Four aspect of anti-materialistic life attitude

Anti-materialism doesn’t mean that a person should hate material things, money, and wealth. Being materialistic or not-materialistic is not a matter of having or not having things, but to what and how those possessions being used. Materialistic people tend to be egoistic in their aim of collecting and their way of using material possessions, so they are typically characterized as stingy, greedy of money (mata duitan), heartless, and profit-oriented in actions. In opposition, not-materialistic people are characterized as kind-hearted, generous, more social (e.g. concern to others’ misfortune or need), and even dare to sacrifice themselves for the sake of others. Another character is that they are more willing to obey religion or social norms that require them to share and give high meaning to those acts.

This research identified, at least, four aspect of anti-materialism: 1) having balanced judgement about the significance of material as useful, but also potentially harmful, 2) setting moderate financial sufficiency as intermediary aspiration to achieve bigger life goals like self-improvement and familial and social welfare, 3) controlling desire to strive and possess material things in accordance with rational consideration, and 4) living up a modest life style.


  1. Balanced Importance Judgement

Materialistic people tend to value material as the most important thing in their life. Not-materialistic one thinks material as also important, but in more appropriate way. They do not deny that material things serve important function to support life, to fulfill basic needs, and to help other people, but its value is not more than that. They can see the dark side of material things, especially if it is possessed abundantly, so they are somewhat scared and reluctant to be very wealthy. They necessarily need money and wealth, but not want it too much, because they know the positive and negative side of them.


Participant 1 said that she was scared to responsibility for having much money and goods in akhirat. And learnt from other people experience, she is afraid of being frustration taking care of abundant wealth.

“… ketika aku memang mampu kayak secara finansial, aku bisa membantu banyak orang. Tapi aku juga takut nanti pertanggungjawabannya kalau aku punya banyak… Kan di agama diajarin gitu mbak, kalau nanti mungkin kita lebih baik hidup sederhana dan nggak berlebih-lebihan.” (Participant 1)

(“… When I am capable financially, I can help many people. But, I also am afraid of its responsibility if I have much… Religion taught me that, if possible, it is better to live modestly and in moderation way.”)


Participant 2 took experience of society as her reason to refuse to be rich. She thought about the danger of wealth. It can plunge people into misery since it tends to distract people to do bad things.

“Jadi kaya itu kadang ada sisi takutnya juga sih kalau buat aku. Misalnya kayak gitu. Punya suami yang kaya, kayak gitu, takutnya malah nanti dia terjerumus yang nggak-nggak. Yang negatif-negatif…” (Participant 2)

(“For me, being rich is somewhat scary. For example, having rich husband … I am afraid he would fall to negative things…”)


Participant 3 experienced her-self the dark side of wealth in which money, no financial difficulties, and richness of her family in the past distracted her father from religion and family. Now they were in less financially capable, but closer and happier as a family.


  1. Moderate Financial Aspiration

Materialistic people tend to set financial aspect as they final and biggest aspiration in their life and it is for their own personal satisfaction or need fulfillment. They treat the other things, like person and even religion, as a means to reach that goal. In contrary, not-materialistic one thinks financial success as also important but in a moderate way and views money as tool to reach higher goal. Their higher goal may diverse, but in this research, there found two goals:



For participants, financial success is an indication of positive self-growth from formerly being dependent to parents to becoming more mature and independent one. This financial aspiration is important for their self-concept because they view this financial capability is what is good and desired by their religion, their society, and their own self. They want to change them-selves from being dependent and always needing help or support from other people to being independent and capable so they can be self-sufficient and more beneficial as being able to give help and support to less capable people.

Participant 1 said that by having financially capable, she felt herself would be more helpful to other people, besides she would be self-sufficient and not burdening others.

“Kalau misalnya aku hidup dengan banyak penghasilan, aku ngerasa bakal bisa lebih banyak membantu saja, kayak gitu. Pertama aku nggak merepotkan orang, terus yang kedua aku bisa memberi manfaat ke orang.”

(“If I live with much income, I feel that I will be more able to help. First, I won’t burden other people, and second, I am able to give benefit to other people.”)


Familial and Social Welfare

All participants have social motive on their intention of being financially success. They want to give to other people, to share benefit, to relieve their burden, and finally to make them happy. This motive does not come from a vacuum, but from realization and feeling gratitude of ever being helped and supported by other people to live so far. They perceived family and society has meritoriously treated them with much kindness. Reciprocally for them, being helpful is the highest source happiness.


Participant 1 told about her sadness of being far from her parents. As daughter, she had moral responsibility to help her parents, but she could not because of distance. She wanted to reply their kindness, so she determined to be financially capable as the only possible means to help relieving their burden and make them happy.

“Jadi kan merasa sudah jauh, nggak bisa bantu mereka dari dekat. … Aku kan nggak bisa hadir setiap waktu, jadi aku harus berpikir. Ya setidaknya aku juga bisa membahagiakan mereka dengan cara yang lain. Makanya, aku mau membalas jasanya.”

(“I am now already far (from family), so I can’t help them from near. … I can’t be there every time, so I have to think. At least, I also am able to make them happy with other way. So, I want to reply their kindness.”)

“Jadi menurutku ya salah satu cara agar bisa bermanfaat ya kayak gitu. … Soalnya kan yang jadi beban atau tanggungan hidupku kan juga ada keluargaku gitu lo mbak. Kalau misalnya aku menempuh cara lain, nanti yang misalnya membantu keluargaku itu siapa? Aku juga punya tanggungan, punya rasa tanggungan sama keluarga.”

(“I think, one of the ways to be useful is like that (being financially success). … I have responsibility to take care of my family. If I use other way, who will help my family? I have responsibility, sense of responsible, to family.”)


Participant 2 said that she wanted to help people in her village which was still living in poverty. She personally felt indebted living in that village because villagers gave her much kindness that helped her to develop herself.

“… sebenarnya kayak hutang budi sama orang-orang di situ (di desa). Baik… Ya mereka selama aku di situ… Banyak belajar sosialisasi di situ. Nilai-nilai kesederhanaan itu paling… Terus kerja sama, terus dibantuin sana-sini. Pokoknya ramah…”

(“… actually I feel like indebted to people there (in the village). (They are) kind as long as I live there. I learn how to socialize there. Modesty value is the most (influential), and then cooperation, being helped. (They are) hospitable…”)


For participant 3, being helpful and useful to other people was the source of happiness. In the future, she wanted to be financially capable, so she could send street children to school.

“…bermanfaat bagi orang lain tu sesuatu yang apa ya istilahnya tu buat aku sendiri tuh kayak suatu kepuasan gitu lho aku bisa istilahnya tu membantu orang lain atau apa ya, intinya ya bermanfaat buat orang lain.”

(“Being useful to other, for me, is giving a certain satisfaction. I am able to help others or being useful to others.”)

“… kan banyak tu saat ini yang anak-anak jalanan yang mereka butuh sekolah, yang mereka nggak bisa sekolah cuma karena alasan nggak ada biaya. Nah aku tu pengen … bantu mereka biar bisa sekolah lagi.”

(… nowdays there are many street children who need to go to school. They cannot school just because they have no money. I want to help them so they can school.”)


  1. Controlling Desire

This is a behavioral active aspect of being anti-materialistic. While materialistic people tend to indulge and gratify their desire toward material things or worldly pleasure derived from those, anti-materialistic tend to resist it.

Participants realized that they had several things they desired. As woman, it was very natural wanting to be beautiful and have attractive appearance, and as human, it was very natural to tend towards pleasure, such as having delicious (but expensive) meal, (wasteful) strolling out with friends, and purchasing branded products. But, they controlled it since it brought more disadvantages and problems.

As they were still dependent economically to their parents, they were financially restrained. They had some reality boundary they could not trespass or they would burden a whole family. They did managing their budget carefully and prioritizing needs over desires. They had several strategies to let go their desire like not paying attention to stimulus, challenging their own selves by questioning the importance of desired goods, being patient, and assertively refusing invitation to shopping or having fun.


Participant 1 said how her financial management was related to control of her desire. She realistically set what she wanted as not surpassing her limited financial ability. When she couldn’t have the things she desired, she didn’t feel disturbed of that.

“…kalau misalnya aku mengubah gaya hidupku, menjadi lebih mengikuti semua keinginanku, ya berarti nggak bakalan cukup.”

(“… if I change my lifestyle to be more gratifying my desire, yeah (my money) won’t be enough (to fulfill those things).”)

“Soalnya kan kadang kita membayangkan sesuatu itu berdasarkan pendapatan kita. Kalau aku sekarang kan pendapatannya segitu, dari orangtua. Ya aku sanggupnya apa, ya sampai di sana, kalau nggak ya biasa-biasa saja.”

(“Sometimes we desire something in accordance with our income. Right now my income is from my parents. I act as far as what I am actually able. If I am not able, I will live as usual.”)


Participant 2 said that people should not desire luxuries. The most important thing was fulfilling basic needs first, and then other desire.

“Kita pingin barang yang mewah, jangan kayak gitu… Pokoknya kebutuhan pokoknya itu tercukupi dulu deh baru yang lain-lainnya, keinginan lainnya mengikuti, kalau kita mampu buat memenuhi keinginan yang lainnya itu.”

(“We want luxuries, don’t be like that… The point is basic needs should be fulfilled first. Other wishes follow if we are able to fulfill them.”)


Participant 3 told about how she tried to control her desire toward nice products. She remembered her true intention for having and what she actually still had and could be utilized. She firmly asked to herself whether she needed it or not and when she realized she didn’t need it, she just ignore what she desired.

“Sebenernya punya (keinginan). … Ya menurutku yang namanya cewek sih ya, misalkan liat ih ada tas, ih ada ini, ih ada baju gini. Tapi kembali lagi niatnya, oh ya kan di rumah masih ada baju, terus kira-kira baju ini juga masih bisa dipak. …. Maksudnya, oh ya udah sih masih belum butuh, oh ya udah besok lagi.”

(“Actually I have (desire). … In my opinion, (it is natural of) being girls, seeing bag, (excitingly shout) wow nice bag, wow nice clothes. But, back to former intentions, oh yes in home I still have clothes and those clothes still can be worn. … I mean, okay, I don’t need it yet, just another time.”)


  1. Modest Living

Modest living is the paramount of being anti-materialistic as it becomes evidence whether a person is truly materialistic or not. Being modest means focus on needs, having/using enough or sufficient (not in excess or shortage), optimizing utilization and enjoyment of what is at hands, and being not overboard.

For not-materialistic person, living modestly is a life choice whatever its life circumstances based on realization of the value and meaning of being modest. They live simply in moderation in the matters of various things, such as physical appearance (e.g. humble in clothing, make up, and accessories), meal (e.g. having enough with the cheap one), recreation (e.g. choosing what is attainable in surrounding, having fun occasionally), consumption (e.g. not minding using old goods or secondhand, buying what is really needed, not striving for trends, being rationally economical, saving money for future needs), comfort (e.g. being adaptable in experiencing discomfort, such as walking to reach some place), and social life (e.g. willingly working for other people).


Participant 1 said:

“Itu yang menerima apa adanya mungkin ya, atas apa yang didapatkan. Sama juga nggak berlebihan dalam penggunaan sesuatu. Tidak muluk-muluk … Dia punya uang, tapi dia hidupnya sederhana aja. Nggak terlalu… Punya mobil tiga, punya rumah, punya vila di mana-mana. Punya barang-barang semuanya yang kayak bermerek. Tidak berlebihan.”

(“(Modest person) is a person who accept things as it is, not excessive in using things. Not grandiose… (S)he has money, but (s)he lives in modest way. (S)he doesn’t have three cars, houses, villas in everywhere, branded products. (S)he is not being too much (in having).”)

“Sederhana itu menurutku nggak berlebih-lebihan banget, tapi nggak kurang-kurang juga. Cukup.”

(“Being modest means not being excessive, but also not too lacking. Sufficient.”)


Participant 2 said:

“… kalau ayahku itu benar-benar yang sederhana lah. Kadang kalau nggak penting banget itu jarang beli. … kalau lagi punya uang banyak, … kadang juga ada godaan pingin beli ini, pingin beli itu. Tapi jarang juga. Kadang juga malah ditawari sama ibuku, misalnya, kamu pingin beli tas po? Kamu pingin beli jaket po? Tapi kadang, ah, ntar ah. Males, masih bisa dipakai.”

(“… my father is indeed a modest person. If things are not really important, he doesn’t buy it. … if I have much money … sometimes I feel desire to buy this and that. But it seldom happens. Sometimes, I was offered by my mother, like, don’t you want to buy bag, or jacket? But, (I answered), ah, just later. I am not interested on it. The old one is still can be worn.”)


Participant 3 said:

“… menurutku sih yang sederhana tu kayak, ya okelah mungkin memang masih ada kebutuhan tambahan tapi istilahnya dia tu nggak terlalu apa ya.. menjadikan kebutuhan tambahan itu tu, sama halnya dengan kebutuhan pokok, kebutuhan dasar. … misalnya ada kebutuhan tambahan, ya kita penuhi tapi yang sewajarnya. Nggak sampe yang berlebih-lebihan, … mungkin terlalu memakan biaya yang banyak”

(“… in my opinion, being modest is like, okay, (s)he may really still has some additional needs, but (s)he doesn’t treat those additional as equal as basic needs. … for example, we do have additional needs, we fulfill it, but in proper way. Not exaggerate it, … (not) too much spend money on it.”)


            Dynamics of anti-materialism



Fig. 1. Dynamics of four aspects of anti-materialism


Religion (Islam) and certain life experiences have significant influence on anti-materialism, especially in shaping meaning about the value of material things. Religious teachings like harta itu milik Tuhan (all material things and wealth belong to God), hanya titipan (only entrusted entity), dapat diambil kembali (somehow may be taken back by the Owner), harus dipertanggungjawabkan di akhirat (demand responsibility in the Hereafter), ujian dari Tuhan (serve as test from God), and sarana untuk ibadah (a means for worshipping God) make people afraid to desire much, even though they also realize that those things are needed. They don’t perceive their wealth as their properties and believe that it is entrusted by God to be used correctly, namely as means to worship God, to serve other people, and to fulfill their personal life needs.

Meaning of material possessions, money and wealth affects financial aspiration and lifestyle. There are two bases for wanting moderation in financial aspiration and lifestyle. First, religious value; it is believed that being in moderation is better than two extremes, namely too much having or lacking. Second, real life experience; it serves as reinforcement. By vicarious learning from rich or poor people misfortune because of too much having or lack of money, they learn that sufficiently having enough is the best way. By experiencing her/himself the difficulties resulted from excessive buying and financial mismanagement, they learn to control desires and live in optimum way for their need in present and future time, for their own need and others too. They allocate their money based on that division. Even though its proportion may vary, for today need, they spend, for future need, they save, and for others’ need, they share.

Because they perceive that that kind of living is the least providing loss and disadvantages for their personal, social, and spiritual life, they believe to their value more. It becomes the standard of what is right and wrong. If they are able to live accordingly, they feel pleased and satisfied, meanwhile if they are failed to do what it should, they feel guilty, regret, and sad. Those feelings thus become a kind of protective factor for anti-materialism. They live up anti-materialism to avoid negative feeling and consequences and to gain happiness and positive consequences for themselves and others.




Anti-materialism is not an exact opposition to materialism like formerly assumed. It is an attitude of ascribing proper importance and value to material things (e.g. money and wealth) in relation to other things (like self-growth, social relation, and spirituality), as not surpassing its basic and original function as a means to achieve higher and virtuous life goals.

Anti-materialism has four keys components. First is balanced importance judgement, refers to having a fair judgement about the importance of material things that embraces both positive and negative aspects, as useful but also potentially harmful to life. Second is moderate financial sufficiency, refers to setting moderate financial sufficiency (instead of financial abundancy) as intermediary aspiration to achieve higher personal and social life goals. Third is controlling desire, refers to active behavior of restraining, resisting, and managing desire to strive and possess material thing based on rational consideration. Finally, living in modest life style, means focusing on need fulfillment rather that desire gratifying, having, using, and spending in moderate way, and optimizing utilization of what is at hands.

From psychological perspective, those findings shed light on vagueness of what is considered as not-materialistic based on existing theories. Richins and Dawson (1992), focused on materialistic value, viewed materialistic person as the one who believes that material acquisition and possession is the highest goal of life, parameter of success, and key of happiness. Kasser (2002), focused on aspiration, viewed materialistic people as the one who desires financial success more than self-acceptance, affiliation, and community contribution.

Those theories both missed in the complexity of materialism as life experience. Materialism has deep root in meaning given to material things and is actualized in real life as a kind of lifestyle. Being not-materialistic is not thus merely putting “not” in front of every aspect of materialism, like not aspiring financial success, not wanting to be rich, not believing in the importance of material things, etc. Or, based on materialism assessment, being not-materialistic does not mean having the lowest score of materialistic orientation or aspiration scale. Opposing materialism does not mean falling into another extreme pole, but to stand up in a position named moderation.

Fair judgement on the importance of material things shows moderation in liking and disliking material things. Material is indeed useful and deserved to be possessed, but considering some of its disadvantages, a person will hold themselves from liking and wanting it too much. Controlling desire to possess shows an action of moderating desire since it protects self from falling into gaining everything desired extreme pole. Moderate financial sufficient which is oriented toward personal growth and social welfare shows moderation too in term of fulfilling one’s own and others needs in fair way. There is no question about modest lifestyle.

It is important to see these findings from Islamic perspective. It also deviated from another former assumption that being anti-materialistic is related to concept of asceticism or zuhd, which is defined as leaving worldly pleasure and resisting physical tendencies while serving God, for the sake of happiness in eternal world (Gulen, 2013). For common Muslim, being not-materialistic more closely related to the concept of moderation or al-wasatiyyah or The Middle Path. Being anti-materialistic as found in this research means implementing of al-wasatiyyah concept in everyday life.

Al-wasatiyyah is an Arabic term originating from the word wasat. In Quran, this term was taken and elaborated from the word ummatan wasatan meaning the moderate people. “And in the same way We made you a moderate Ummah (community), so that you should be witnesses over the people, and the Messenger a witness to you” (QS Al Baqarah 2: 143). Al-wasatiyyah covers several meanings, such as middle, average, moderation, justice, balance between two extremes, reasonable, and the best way. Several scholars had interpreted that verses. For example, Sayyid Qutb said, “It means good, humble, moderate, not being extreme at either end in relation to earthly and after-life matters,” while Hijazi said, “It means fair and the best. Fair here means not to be extreme in matters pertaining to religion or daily affairs.” Al wasatiyyah is considered as important moral value in Muslim society and main character of a Muslim (Hanapi, 2014; Husin, 2013; Ibrahim, n.d.).

This research has several limitations. It is still far for more complete conceptualization of anti-materialism as psychological construct, primarily for Muslim community, under the light of al-wasatiyyah value. Future research is needed, especially to validate the findings with more Muslim subjects from various back ground. However, these findings give inspiration for better education to solve the problem of contemporary Muslim lifestyle. For common people, it might be more welcomed and accepted to introduce, educate, and habituate the value of moderation rather than asceticism.


Conclusions and Future Implications


This researched aimed to understand the experience and explore the concept of anti-materialism with subject Muslim university students. The main findings are the concept of anti-materialism is not in tone with existing psychological theory of materialism. Being anti-materialistic is not not-materialistic according to the psychological theoretical conceptualization of materialism and far also from the concept of zuhd which means leaving the worldly things and leave in as simple as possible way. It is more closely related to the concept of moderation. It is an attitude of ascribing proper importance and value to material things (e.g. money and wealth) in relation to other things (like self-growth, social relation, and spirituality), as not surpassing its basic and original function as a means to achieve higher and virtuous life goals.

The concept of anti-materialism as modest way of living is far from being adequately transformed into practice. However, it is expected that in the future it can give inspiration for school education, especially in character education. The findings also highlighted the importance of family in shaping lifestyle. Several aspects of parenting become significant factors for anti-materialism, like religious education in home, modest lifestyle in family, and exemplary of parents. Future research would be necessary conducted in educational and family setting.




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