Economic System of Islam- Labor & Work Ethics

Summary of 8.2 “Property Rights”
The second program dealt with the right of property in Islam.’ Islam recognizes people’s right to own property as an instinctive natural tendency among all people.’ However, there are various levels of property ownership.’ There are properties that are owned by one individual, family, tribe, by a nation or society at large or jointly owned by the entire human race like oceans.’ Second, we discussed that the right to own in Islam is subject to legitmacy.’ Legitimacy pertains to aquiring the property, using the property and disposing of it.’ We gave specific examples as to what is regarded as legitimate in Islam such as obtaining property through one’s own efforts such as hunting and labor.’ We also covered the other side and what means are considered to be unlawful such as theft, extortion etc.’ When one owns their own property by legitimate means they have obligations on the property such as Zakah (charity with a minimum percentage that is paid every year).’ On the whole this is not only within the boundries of legal provisions but there are aditional ethical or moral teachings that pertain to the aquisition of property, not to hold property away from circulation and to allow society to benefit from the avaialble wealth.

8.3””” Labor and Work Ethics

Host: Can you give some explanation of the Islamic concept of work and who is a worker from the Islamic perspective?

Jamal Badawi:

This topic follows nicely from the previous one because one of the main sources of legitimate rights to property in Islam is through labor or work.’ In Islamic understanding labor can be defined as any effort physical and/or mental that is exerted by the person.’ This would include the conventional manual labor but also includes mental efforts, clerical, professional, managerial would fall under this definition of labor.’ In Islam one can add to this the work of people who are appointed or entrusted with duties in public offices.’ A ruler in Islam can also be called a worker which may sound strange.’ There was an incident that happened during the days of Muawiyah the fifth ruler after Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).’ One time he was sitting and a very pious and courageous Muslim by the name of Abu Muslim entered his court and said to him ‘AlSalamu Alika auha al ajeer’ ajeer in Arabic means worker.’ So he said Peace be upon you worker and the people around the ruler were offended said you don’t mean ajeer as in worker you mean ameer which means ruler.’ He said no Peace be upon you ajeer which means worker.’ Later Muawiyah said let him be, he knows what he is saying.’ Then the courageous man said to him ‘Listen, you are a worker and God has appointed you and if you do your duty as a ruler God will give you abundant reward and if you don’t do it right God will punish you.” This was the conception that any kind of work, manual or mental, or activity that is beneficial to the rest of the community was regarded as work.’ It follows from this definition that all human beings are equal and all of them are workers and nobody is exempt from exerting efforts except in rare cases (people with disabilities).’ In Islam there is no concept of Islam or one group being above, superior or inferior to others.’ If we compare it with the contemporary scene that in an ideal Islamic society that Islam teaches that there are no subdivisions.’ Everybody is a worker, maybe at different levels and doing different things but they are all the same.

Host:’ What is Islam’s attitude towards work?

Jamal Badawi:

Islam carries work ethics a step farther than just having decency and fair play to the point of it being equated with worship.’ In the program dealing with the Moral System of Islam we indicated that the concept of worship in Islam is not confined to certain rituals or prayers.’ In the true Islamic understanding every activity that is beneficial to one’s self, family, society or to humanity at large can be regarded as an act of worship provided there is good intention and as long as it is within the boundaries God established for us.’ Everything can be regarded as an act of worship including work.’ This means that when the person is taught basic work ethics work should be related as part of their duties towards God.’ God wanted humans to work.’ One verse in the Quran says ‘Say work.” This means tell them to work, exert in everything including worship, work, good deeds, moral behavior and economic activities.’ So work so that the messenger, people and God will see the fruits of this work.’ It follows that Islam discourages the attitude of idleness, laziness or trying to live on the charity of others (unless the person is disabled and has no means).’ An able person is not encouraged to live at the expense of others.

An incident took place during the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad that was narrated in Al Tirmidhi and Al Nasa’i about a man who came to the Prophet asking for charity.’ The Prophet looked at him and asked him if he had any property the man said no.’ Then he repeated again do you have any property, think, the man said ‘I have nothing; except a mat that my wife and I sit on and cover ourself with the other half.’ We also have a pot from which we drink.” The Prophet asked the man to bring these items.’ The man brought them and the Prophet asked the people around them who would like to buy them.’ So people bought them and he got tow durhams.’ The Prophet looked at the man and said take one of the durhams and buy food for your family and take the other durham and buy a metal axe.’ The man went bought food for his family and brought the metal axe to the Prophet.’ The Prophet brought a piece of wood and fixed it under the axe and told the man to go away for 15 days and to cut wood and sell it.’ The man came back after fifteen days and he was really wealthy compared to his previous state.’ He had ten dirhams.’ The Prophet asked him how he got it and he told him that he cut wood and God blessed his efforts.’ The Prophet told him that this was better for him than coming on the Day of Judgement with his face having the sign of begging!’ This is a very constructive lesson for someone to try their best even though they may be in bad shape to exert as much effort as possible in order to gain honorable employment.

The Prophet said in a more straight forward that it is better for one to take his robe go do the mountain cut wood and sell it than to beg people for money and wait to see if they are going to give or not.

Host:’ What is Islam’s view towards manual labor (which most people look down upon)?

Jamal Badawi:

With the previous question we saw how the Prophet responded to the idea of working and how he considered it to be very honorable.’ This question is important because it asks what Islam says rather than what Muslims do.’ Muslims like everybody else have their own faults and there may be some Muslims who are guilty of harboring an attitude towards manual labor which is not what is taught by Islam.’ If we refer to the primary sources of Islam, the Quran and Prophetic Tradition, we find that manual labor is not only’ acceptable but is respectable but adored.’ In the famous story about Prophet Noah when he was building the arc the Quran says he was making an arc.’ Here is a great Prophet, a messenger of God (one of the five greatest Prophets) and he is cutting wood and making an arc.’ In one saying of the Prophet narrated in Bukhari he says that a person would not eat better food than that which is earned from the work of his hand.’ In similar sayings it says he who starts his evening with his had tired from working he will spend his night with his sins and mistakes forgiven.’ One time the Prophet was asked what type of earning is best or most noble.’ He replied that the most noble earning was that which was earned by a man’s hand and that which comes from honest commercial sales.’ One time a companion of the Prophet came to shake hands with him and the Prophet noticed that his hand was really rough and blistered and he asked what happened to the man’s hands.’ The man replied that it was that way because of his effort to earn a living for himself and his children.’ The Prophet kissed that hand and said this is a hand which is loved by God and his Messenger.’ This attitude was not restricted to the lifetime of the Prophet but we find anytime when there are true Muslims, who are practicing, that the respect for labor is great.

After the Prophet, during the reign of the second Caliphate Omar, Omar passed by a group of people with their head down reciting prayers and he said who are those people.’ He was told that those people called themselves the Mutawakiloon (those who depend on God) and he said no they are not Mutawakiloon but Muta’akiiloon (those who are eating away at the property of others).’ He said should I tell you who the true Mutawakils are?’ They said yes and he said the true people who depend on God are those who plant the seed in the ground and then depend on God.’ What he was saying was that to depend on God one should not do nothing but try first, just like the farmer planed the seed.’ Yes one has to depend on God so the plant will grow but first one has to plant the seed, fertilize it and water it and then depend on God.’ Do something and depend on God.’ We all depend on God for our living.

Host:’ Some people argue that there are texts in the Quran and Prophetic sayings which appear to discourage certain kinds of work; how would you respond to this?

Jamal Badawi:

Usually when things are taken out of context and the frame of reference people will come up with this conclusion.’ For example some people refer to the Quran and how it refers the the life hereafter and how we will die and this life would be like nothing.’ There are also several prophetic sayings which say that our life on earth is like a traveler resting under a tree during a journey compared to eternal life.’ Again this does not mean we should not do anything to earn a living and to be comfortable while on earth.’ It simply means put your life in perspective and don’t forget the life hereafter.’ It doesn’t say that one should not enjoy life.’ There is one verse in the Quran that refers to putting everything aside at the time of the Jumua’ah prayer but that very same chapter also spreading on earth and seeking provisions.’ It doesn’t discourage commercial dealings but it says for one not to forget other activities.’ In some sayings of the Prophet he speaks about merchants and that they will all be condemned except those who are God conscious, God fearing and those who are truthful.’ It does not discourage commercial dealing but it rather discourages cheating and improper negotiations.

There is a saying as narrated in Ahmad which may give the indication that Prophet discouraged people from working in agriculture.’ But the context of this saying was that people who stick close to their land as an allegory of people who avoid traveling or avoid’ struggling or fight for the sake of God when the need arrises.’ So it doesn’t condemn agriculture or else how would people survive?’ This is talking about people who stay stationary without defending themselves or doing something for the benefit of others.’ The restrictions that Islam speaks of with respect to labor are within the context of Islam and doesn’t discourage activities or any sector of the economy.

Host:’ Are there certain types of work in Islam that are subject to restrictions?

Jamal Badawi:

Yes, and this emanates from the basic moral and ethical orientation of Islam.’ For example to work in the production and or distribution of alcoholic beverages, drugs (to get high) or intoxicants would be an unlawful type of work.’ A muslim should not work in a winery or beer making plant.’ It is not that work itself is forbidden but the output in itself is unlawful as far as Islam is concerned.’ There are also certain restrictions that are meant for the welfare of the public.’ This is what may be called health and safety regulations under Islamic Regulations.’ The ruler can impose restrictions about zoning, putting factories in certain areas, implementing safety protection for workers.’ All of these do not restrict labor itself but rather how people are used for this labor and should protect them and their welfare.

Host:’ Within permissible work, are there any restrictions in regards to the choice of professions?

Jamal Badawi:

Within the permissible professions there is no restrictions on what kind of profession the person engages in.’ The basic rule is that a person is free to choose his profession.’ Under Islamic Law it is incumbent on the ruler or government to make opportunities for people so that they may pursue the field of work that they think they would do well in.’ There is no aristocracy in Islamic Law that certain professions are limited to a specific group, race or class in society.’ This recognizes that God created humans differently, some have physical aptitude, manual aptitude, intellectual aptitude and all kind of skills that are needed to keep life going.’ In the Quran in (6:165) it says that God created people and made some of them above others in degrees, not in terms of status but in terms of abilities, so they can use each-other.’ It is not necessary that the more powerful or more educated use those who are less educated as some might mistakenly understand it.’ It simply means that each person uses the other to fulfill their needs.’ For example the medical doctor uses a builder to build his home the builder uses the doctor to provide him with medicine.’ There is n restrictions regarding having a particular status which is attached t o a particular profession.’ In fact in the history of Islam we find examples of people who belonged to the lowest social status (in terms of power and wealth) who came to positions of great prominence in Islamic History.’ One of these is Osama the son of Zaid who’s father was adopted (which at that time was considered to be a servant) who came to be the commander of a big army and some of his soldiers were among the most noble and powerful of the ‘aristocratic’ Koreishite Tribe.’ This simply reflects the ideology of how Islam equates people and makes a distinction between piety and productivity of the person and what he or she can contribute to the well being of the society at large.

Host:’ What basis is there in Islam regarding differentials in pay?

While Islam equates people regardless of their social status in their position before God it doesn’t mean that each person has to be paid the same as every one else.’ Differential in pay could be legitimate in difference in the quality, quantity and scarcity of production.’ Islam does not object to fair differential in compensation which is based on good reasons is to encourage people to benefit from their skills or ability.’ If everybody gets paid the same then people will only do the easier professions rather than ones that require harder work or longer training.

Host:’ What is Islam’s view on the protection of the rights of workers?

Jamal Badawi:

There are several rules.’ Any worker should have a contractual agreement wether it is written or oral.’ In the fifth chapter of the Quran we find that it says that is an obligation on the Muslim to fulfill the condition of contracts.’ Even in contracts, which are permissible in Islam, we find that Islam requires that one should not cheat the person he is hiring.’ In one saying of the Prophet narrated in Bukhari the said that among three people who the Prophet would speak against on the Day of Judgement is a person who hires a worker to do work for him, takes all the work and effort and then does not pay him his due right.’ In one saying of the Prophet he says you should give the person you hired to do work his payment before his sweat dries.’ What he means is that one should not unduly delay the pay.’ Of course if the agreement is that one would get paid every week, every two weeks or every month that is fine but the idea is not to drag out the due right of people.’ In addition to this we find sayings of the Prophet that protect the weaker segment of society, people who are prone to exploitation, women and children.’ In some saying of the Prophet he indicates that one heirs someone he should not over burden them with undue efforts without justification.’ Also, if one gives them work that is beyond their capacity one should give them a hand.

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