75. Working

Allah, the Wise, has said:

وَ أَنْ لَيْسَ لِلْإِنْسانِ إِلاَّ ما سَعى‏

“And that man shall have nothing but what he strives for”1

The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his holy progeny) said:

الْمُؤْمِنَ إِذَا لَمْ يَكُنْ لَهُ حِرْفَةٌ يَعِيشُ بِدِينِهِ

“If a Mu'min does not possess a profession, he shall endeavour to earn his livelihood by using his religion (which is immensely reprehensible)2

Short Explanation

The best food for oneself and one’s family is that which has been procured by one’s own effort, legitimately.

Lawful food is a consequence of lawful work and earnings, and one who works in this manner and strives for the sake of himself and his family is akin to a soldier striving in the way of God.

Those who have habituated themselves to laziness and lethargy, face great difficulties with respect to their livelihoods such that they are unable to procure earnings sufficient to fulfill even their basic necessities. They thus, pollute themselves by engaging in illegal and unlawful professions.

One who is incapable in earning his basic needs of this world, would also be impotent in earning for his hereafter.

1) The Endowment Letter

During his caliphate Amirul Mu'mineen (peace be upon him) once said: All throughout Iraq my subjects are in ease and comfort – they drink sweet water and eat bread made of wheat.

The Imam (peace be upon him) had freed one of his slaves, by the name of Abu Naizar, upon the condition that he should work for him (peace be upon him) in his plantation for five years. Later on, the Imam (peace be upon him) granted him the task of supervising his fields and springs, one of which came to be popularly known as ‘river of Abu Naizar’.

He relates:

One day the Imam (peace be upon him) came to inspect his field and dismounting from his horse inquired: Do you have some food with you?

I replied: Yes, although I fear it does not match up to your standards – I have gourd with some fat oil.

The Imam (peace be upon him) said: Bring it.

When I had brought the food, he washed his hands and then proceeded to eat it. After he had finished, he washed his hands again, drank some water and then said: Bring me the pickaxe.

When I brought it, he took it from me, entered into a dry well and began to dig so hard that he was eventually overcome with exhaustion and fatigue.

To do away his exhaustion he came out of the well; perspiration dripping from his holy forehead which he would clear by means of his fingers.

A little later he once again entered the well, raising a din as he worked hard in it. While he (peace be upon him) was digging, all of a sudden, a fountain of water gushed out like the neck of a camel. The Imam (peace be upon him) immediately emerged from within the well and still perspiring, kept saying: This is charity! This is charity. Bring me some ink and paper.

I hurriedly brought some ink and paper for the Imam (peace be upon him), who wrote the following bequest: This is an endowment from the servant of God, Amirul Mu'mineen (peace be upon him) given to the needy ones of Medinah as charity – a charity that cannot be sold, gifted or transferred till for so long as God is the owner of the heavens and the earth, except if Hasan and Husain (peace be upon them) fall in need of it for then this well would become their property.3

2) U'mar Ibn Muslim

One day Imam Sadiq (peace be upon him) inquired about one of his companions by the name of U'mar Ibn Muslim, whereupon a person informed him: He has confined himself to acts of worship and has totally abandoned his trade.

Hearing this, the Imam (peace be upon him) said: Woe unto him! Does he not know that the prayers of one, who abandons his work and profession are not answered?

Continuing, the Imam (peace be upon him) related:

When the second and third verses of the chapter al-Talaaq were revealed, stating: “And whoever is careful of (his duty to) Allah, He will make for him an outlet, And give him sustenance from whence he thinks not; and whoever trusts in Allah, He is sufficient for him”4, some of the companions of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his holy progeny) enclosed themselves in their houses, abandoned their work and confined themselves in acts of worship, saying: God is sufficient for us to provide us sustenance.

When the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his holy progeny) was informed of this, he asked them: What has caused you to adopt this attitude?

They replied: According to the second and third verses of the chapter al-Talaaq, God has taken upon Himself to provide us our sustenance and hence we have restricted our activities to acts of His worship!

The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his holy progeny) rebuked them saying: The prayers of one, who abandons his work and busies himself in worship, are not answered. It is incumbent upon you to work and earn your sustenance.5

3) To Work is Better than Consuming Charity

Once the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his holy progeny) was informed that a person from Madinah had become afflicted with abject poverty. He (peace be upon him and his holy progeny) said: Bring him to me!

When some people brought the person before him, he (peace be upon him and his holy progeny) said to him: Bring whatever you possess in your house; do not regard anything as insignificant.

The person went home and returned with a bowl and sackcloth. The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his holy progeny) placed them for auction, and they were eventually purchased by a person for two dirhams.

Handing over the money to the poor Muslim, the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his holy progeny) advised: Utilize one dirham to buy some food for your family and use the other dirham to purchase an axe for yourself.

The man did as instructed; purchasing an axe he approached the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his holy progeny), who then said to him: Go into the desert and collect firewood; collect every piece of wood that you find and do not consider anything to be trivial and insignificant, and then proceed to sell them.

He went away and begun to act as per the instructions of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his holy progeny). Fifteen days later his financial state had improved; he came to the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his holy progeny) who said to him: It is better for you that you work and earn your wage rather than take charity and enter the plains of Qiyaamah on the Day of Judgment with the ugly sign of charity manifesting upon your face.6

4) Putting the Soul to Labour

Fadhl Ibn Abi Qarrah relates:

Once when we approached Imam Sadiq (peace be upon him), we found him hard at work in his field. Observing this, we said to him (peace be upon him): May we be made your ransom! Either permit us to do the work or let your servants do it.

The Imam (peace be upon him) said: No. Let me work. I desire that I meet God after having exerted myself and worked by my own hands in seeking lawful sustenance.

He (peace be upon him) then added: Even Ali (peace be upon him) used to inconvenience himself for the purpose of procuring lawful income.7

5) Ya’qub Ibn Laith Saffaar

All the rulers of the Saffaar dynasty had been Shiites and their rule had extended for a period of fifty six years. They were seven in number, the first of them being Ya'qub Ibn Laith Saffaar (d. 265 A.H.).

Ya'qub originally was a coppersmith by profession and it is for this reason that he came to be known as Saffaar. Slowly, he set about gathering an army for himself and began killing the anti-religious Khawaarij. His activities witnessed an upturn till he eventually occupied Khorasan, Seestaan and several other cities.

It has been recorded that he was an extremely gifted administrator such that few have been known to possess the management and systematization skills that he possessed. The obedience of his soldiers to his orders was unparalled.

When Ya'qub would order his army to proceed for battle, the soldiers would ready themselves in such a manner that they would collect their mounts while they were grazing, mount them and set out towards their target.

It was observed that once, a person’s horse was chewing some hay; the person pulled it out of the animal’s mouth in order that there be no delay, even in the measure of chewing of the grass by the animal, in obeying the orders of the Ya’qub. Addressing the horse, he said: King Ya'qub has prohibited the animals from eating their food!

Another person was observed to be naked under his battle-dress. When questioned, he replied: I was engaged in performing the ablution of janaabat when the king’s announcer announced: “Get ready for battle”. Not wanting to delay myself in complying with the king’s order, I did not wear my clothes and satisfied myself with wearing only the battle-dress!8

  • 1. Holy Qur'an, ch. Al-Najm (53), vs. 39.
  • 2. Bihaar al-Anwaar, vol. 103, pg. 9.
  • 3. Islam Wa Kaar Wa Kushish, pg. 24.
  • 4. َ مَنْ يَتَّقِ اللَّهَ يَجْعَلْ لَهُ مَخْرَجاً وَ يَرْزُقْهُ مِنْ حَيْثُ لا يَحْتَسِبُ وَ مَنْ يَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى اللَّهِ فَهُوَ حَسْبُهُ‏
  • 5. Daastaan-ha Wa Pand-ha, vol. 9, pg. 73.
  • 6. Hikaayat-ha-e-Shanidani, vol. 3, pg. 57; Bihaar al-Anwaar, vol. 103, pg. 10.
  • 7. Shanidani-ha-e-Taareekh, pg. 47; Mahajjah al-Baidhaa, vol. 3, pg. 147.
  • 8. Tatimmah al-Muntaha, pg. 262.