The need for economic discipline


Makkah newspaper

THE royal decrees issued on Saturday Jan. 6 played a big role in spreading joy among citizens throughout the country as the decrees carried a number of financial glad tidings. They included the payment of an annual allowance to government employees and a cost of living allowance to civilian and military officers, retired civil servants and beneficiaries of social security schemes, and an increase student allowances for a year. The decrees also exempted health and education services and the first house of an individual from the value-added tax (VAT).

This royal bonanza comes a few days after the application of VAT and hike in the prices of electricity, gas, fuel and some foodstuffs. It highlights the Saudi leadership's concern toward citizens and its desire to alleviate their economic difficulties. The move was in tune with the ongoing economic reforms being introduced by the government under the leadership of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman and Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, deputy premier and minister of defense.

It should be noted that these benefits are offered by the government for a year. Perhaps it is a year of transition to austerity, which demands control of individual behavior and rationalization of the consumption patterns. Above all we need to have flexibility to change ourselves and adopt a new economic order.

We lived through economic booms that pushed us to extravagance and wastage in almost everything, starting from family matters, in terms of changing furniture and other luxuries every now and then, to food and drinks.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) has said: "The son of Adam does not fill any vessel worse than his stomach. It is sufficient for him to eat a few morsels to keep him alive. If he must fill it, then he should allot one-third of his stomach for food, one-third for water, and one-third for air."

We should know that as a result of ignoring this advice of the Prophet, we suffer from overweight, obesity, diabetes, stress, heart diseases and other ailments. The number of new diabetes cases reached more than 150,000 annually and about 30 percent of the Saudi population including children have been hit by this condition.

Excessive consumption of sweets, soft drinks and canned juices has played a big role in increasing the number of diabetics in the country. People spend huge amounts of money on treatment of obesity through surgical operations. Moreover, the government spends billions of riyals each year for treating lifestyle diseases at public hospitals.

We have not learned any lesson from the increasing numbers of diabetes cases. As a result, we have not changed our bad habits at concerts, ceremonies and even at funerals where we serve different types and colors of food, and even sweets prepared by women along with tea and coffee prior to dinner. Most junk food will find their place in the waste box as people find them difficult to digest.

The main issue is food and drink have become a matter to show off in front of others, even if the provision of different varieties of food is beyond the capacity of families. There are people among us who borrow money from banks and relatives to celebrate events, especially weddings.

As a result the families of groom or bride will remain indebted for years. The Holy Qur'an teaches us: "Eat and drink but do not engage in extravagance because He (Allah) does not love people who are extravagant."

We must free ourselves from the habits that we have acquired during the boom period and replace them with a more moderate and realistic approach. At funerals we should not burden the bereaved family by requiring them to prepare food for mourners. There is no need for open buffets and a variety of dishes at weddings. Let us remember that the most blessed marriage is the one that serves the least food.

The Prophet (pbuh) said: "The marriage which is most greatly blessed is the one which is the lightest in burden [expense]. However, if people are well catered for, without extravagance and pomp, there is no problem with that either."

We have to change our behavior and approach to cope with the economic developments nationally and globally. We should not wait for change to come down from the sky. On the other hand, we should take things positively and adopt rationalized consumption to overcome the present crisis.

We should stop going to beauty parlors that consume a large part of the family budget, and should not change our mobile phones whenever a new model appears in the market. We should also avoid unnecessary travels to foreign destinations as entertainment is now available in our country thanks to the Entertainment Authority and Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage. The new entertainment programs come as part of Vision 2030 to boost the national economy through non-oil revenue sources.

These programs will enable us to confront economic problems with total relaxation and peace of mind. In order to bring about this change we need only determination, will power and courage to implement the most important decisions in our lives. The Qur'an says: "Verily, Allah will not change the condition of a people as long as they do not change their state themselves."