One of the most inhuman outcomes of a modern welfare state is that it makes the conditions for full employment almost impossible. Depending on the economic situation, a sector of society resign to sit at home if they are prone to indolence or go from one job interview to another without being offered any meaningful employment. In the meantime, the unemployed or underemployed sector receives benefits without being able to fully contribute to society. Deprived of gainful employment, this sector gradually loses dynamism and hopefulness that other sectors in society possess.
In an ideal Islamic society, the state is expected to do its share in creating job opportunities while the individual is expected to seek employment or be involved in a business undertaking to support himself or herself and those who depend on him or her, such as their children and the elderly. A narration from the Prophet Muhammad(s) states that ‘earning a halal living is incumbent upon every Muslim male or female’ (Jaami‘-ul-Akbar, Hadith 1079). Another narration also attributed to the Prophet declares that ‘God likes a believer who is busy with a profession.’
What is a halal livelihood?
A devout Muslim is guided in his daily life by the teachings of the Holy Qur’an and the example of the Prophet Muhammad(s) and his blessed Household who represent the depository of the authentic prophetic teachings. This body of knowledge contains diverse and methodical instructions on every aspect of our mundane life.
One set of teachings is specifically devoted to earning a ‘halal livelihood’ or what is referred to as rizq-ul-halal and the instructions in this area are so abundant that they require a whole book to do justice to them. It is reported that once the Prophet kissed the calloused hands of one of his companions who was working the land, and said: ‘This hand will be immune from Hellfire’.
The Hereafter in Islam is not a separate entity from our transient existence here on this planet. Both now and the Hereafter are on a continuum.
But should a person be involved only in farming to earn a halal livelihood? Obviously not. There are innumerable professions that can be considered halal. But there are some professions that believers are supposed to avoid such as money lending with a usurious rate of return and any profession that goes against the very grains of Islamic teachings such as sale of alcohol. But even when the business itself is a halal business, the unethical actions of the employee or employer can lead to a livelihood which is not halal. For instance, if the employer tried to extract more hours out of the employee above and beyond what is required by their employment contract, then that employer or owner of business is not earning a halal livelihood. Conversely if an employee avoids putting in the right amount of hours and minutes, based on the contract that he or she has signed with his employer, his or her livelihood will not be halal. Any businesses that fail to act as stewards of nature and squander God-given resources cannot have a halal outcome.
Connection between this life and the Hereafter
The Hereafter in Islam is not a separate entity from our transient existence here on this planet. Both now and the Hereafter are on a continuum. As the Qur’an says: ‘And those who were blind in this world will be blind in the Hereafter, and most astray from the Path.’ (17:72) Those who are seeking the pleasure of God cannot retire from the community in this life and just engage in the worship of the Almighty in mosques, tekkiyyas and khanqahs (places used for spiritual retreat). A true believer must be fully engaged with his community. The true believers are characterised in Islam as ‘the recluses by night and lions of the day’ (zuhhaad-ul-layl wa usud-al-nahaar). The description of the believer as ‘a lion’, or ‘a lioness’ in the case of Muslimahs (female Muslims), by day means that the true believers are not only engaged in the affairs of this world, but also occupy the frontline, or the leadership ranks, in daily worldly activities.
According to Imam Baqir(a) those who are not striving in this life, cannot even
be trusted to work hard towards their own salvation in the Hereafter. In a remarkable narration from him we read: ‘I am angered by a man who is lazy in his worldly affairs. Whoever is lazy in his worldly affairs is [even] lazier for his affairs of the Hereafter.’ (Wasaa’il-al-Shi‘a, volume 12, p. 37).
Leading by Example
The Prophet and the Holy Household (Ahl-ul-Bayt) not only talked the talk, but they also walked the walk. It is quite well known among all Muslim sects that Imam Ali(a) worked diligently on the farms and orchards during his blessed life. For Imam Ali(a) there was no excuse for anyone to be poor if he had: a) land and b) water. Here is the narration attributed to him which reads: ‘Whoever has water and land and still is living in poverty, God keeps him away from his Mercy.’ From the descendants of Imam Ali(a) it appears that also Imam Baqir(a) and his son Imam Ja’far Sadiq(a) had a keen interest in agriculture and worked on the land to earn their livelihoods. Abu ‘Amr al-Shaybani narrates: ‘I saw Aba Abdillah [Imam Sadiq] with a shovel in his hand, and wearing a thick cloth. He was working in his orchard and sweat was running down his back. I told him: “May be I sacrificed for you, allow me to do work instead of you”. He said: “I love it when a man is toiling under the heat of the sun to earn the livelihood of his family.” ’ (Al-Kaafi, Vol. 5, p. 77) Muhammad al-Taymi or al-Munkadir (died 747), one of the prominent taabi’i (the followers of the companions of Prophet Muhammad (s)), was famed as an ascetic, and one who transmitted a number of prophetic traditions. He narrates that one hot summer day he went to one of the farms outside of Madina. There he saw Imam Baqir(a) working on the farm along with two of his servants. Munkadir says: ‘I told myself that a nobleman from the Quraysh is engaged in a worldly affair on such a hot day. By God, I have to go to him and give him a piece of advice. I approached him and greeted him. He greeted me back while he was breathless and sweating. I told him: “May God organise your affairs. Why should a great man like you be engaged in worldly affairs? Truly if death finds you in such a state, what will you do?” ’
According to Munkadir, Imam Baqir(a) replied: ‘By God, if death comes to me in this state, it has come to me while I have been in submission to God. My efforts now are an act of submission to God because it is through such works that I do not ask you and other people for assistance. I [only] fear that death might find me at a time when I might be engaged in sin.’ After this exchange, Munkadir turned to Imam Baqir(a) and said: ‘May God bless you. I wanted to give you a piece of advice. But now I am guided by you.’
Islam has clear cut instructions on what is expected from us while living on this earth. Moving beyond and above these diverts us from our path to return to Him.