Islam sanctifies labour and honours workers and producers. It considers labour an honour, ‘jihad’, and a vivid picture of man’s entity and abilities. By work, man can carry out his constructive mission on earth. By work, he responds to the call of the Holy Qur’an to cultivate the earth and make it inhabitable.
“...He brought you forth from the earth and made you dwell on it...” (Holy Qur’an, 11:61)
On this basis, Islam exhorts man to work, avoiding laziness and dependence on others. It calls on him to do his best in order to earn his sustenance, lead a pure and honest life, and improve his conditions on earth.
The Prophet (S) and his trustees, themselves set the most glorious examples of working, in different areas of life. They did not make light of labour, nor did they despise the labourers.
On the contrary, they honored labour and the labourers, condemned ineptitude, dependence on others, and laziness. They knew that work, in Islam, is the exertion of efforts aimed at gratifying a certain, legitimate human need is a kind of worship. It is a manifestation of submission to Allah’s will and wisdom; Who orders us to live an honorable, clean life.
In order to implement its concept of a better, comfortable life, Islam makes it compulsory on every man to work, depending on his abilities to satisfy his needs.1
But if he fails to completely meet his own demands, the responsibility of doing this shift to his close relatives, like his parents or sons who should assist on him. But if these also fail to secure his needs, the responsibility falls on the Islamic society and state.
To make it clear to the dear reader that Islam pays special attention to work and production, we cite here a collection of texts. Man, we see, is urged to invest his wealth, construct and develop his civilization, and enjoy the lawful pleasures of life without forgetting to thank Allah for all His favors.
Allah, the Most High, says:
“But when the prayer is ended, disperse abroad in the land and seek of Allah’s grace...” (Holy Qur’an, 62:10)
“...so go about in the spacious sides thereof, and eat of His sustenance. And to Him is the rising (after death).” (Holy Qur’an, 67:15)
The Prophet of Allah (S) is reported to have said:
“Certain groups among my ‘ummah’ pray but their prayers will not be accepted: (they are) a man who invokes evil upon his parents; a man who curses an in debtor after the latter has made away with his money, when no written document was made away with his money, when no written document was made or witnesses called in; a man who invokes evil upon his wife whereas Allah, the Mighty and Exalted, has given him the right to divorce her; a man who sits in his house and says:
‘O Lord! Grand me my sustenance, without going out in search of his fortune. Allah, the Mighty and Exalted, says, in response: “My servant did I not point out to you the way to go, moving about the earth in quest of sustenance, gifted with sound senses and a healthy body?’
If you had done so, you could not be blamed, for you behaved according to my relatives. But when you fail to seek your share of sustenance, it is up to Me to give you your sustenance or withhold it, and I cannot find a way to excuse you.”2
The Messenger of Allah (S) is also reported to have said:
“Cursed be he who relies on other people for his living.”3
He is also quoted to have said:
“Worship consists of seventy parts, the best of which is seeking one’s livelihood by lawful means.” 4
Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) is quoted to have said:
“He is worthless who does not like to lawfully earn money, so as to be independent of people, able to pay back his debts, and to keep good relations with his relatives.”5
Imam Abul-Hassan Ali bin Musa al-Rida (‘a) said on the authority of his father:
“My father said to a son of his: Beware of laziness and ennui, for they derive you of your fortune in this life and the next”. 6
Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) said:
“He who strives to support his own family is like the one who fights for the sake of Allah.” 7
And, he is reported to have said:
“When the soul guaranteed with an honorable living it feels secure (quiet)."
These statements which put great emphasis on work, and view it on the same footing with ‘jihad’ and worship, are mere slogans and words written in the depths of books, or kept in the memories of people.
They are rather, religious and moral laws and principles grounded in a solid religious and moral laws and principles grounded in a solid religious base and on them every day economic life and Islam’s culture are established. In its light, Islam’s perception of work, wealth, money, land cultivation...is formed.
Eminent figures of Islam implemented these principles in their everyday life and labored with their hands. They tilled, cultivated and harvested their lands. They collected firewood and never despised and lawful work, even if it was simple and menial in the sight of some people.
They did not give the nature of the work much notice. Man’s value, they knew well, was measured by his own accomplishments. They understood lawful work as a source of living, a method of continuing and bettering life.
They became good examples for the Muslim ‘Ummah’, which Allah wanted to be a- productive, noble ‘Ummah’ that knew no laziness, dependency, or hopelessness. If these diseases befall any ‘Ummah’, it will certainly lose its position among other nations, and decline.
The following are some examples, taken from history, as good lessons for us, but, certainly, the best among these examples are those of the Prophet of Allah (S). He worked in trade and during his adulthood, he was a shepherd.
After being raised to Prophethood, he worked planting young date palms. Prophet Musa (Moses) (‘a), the Holy Qur’an narrates, was hired, for eight years by Shu’aib (‘a). Throughout that period, he worked for him.
"The Commander of the Faithful used to leave his house, carrying sacks of date-palm stones. ‘O Abul-Hassan!‘, someone asked him, ‘What are these?’. Date-palms, God willing; he would reply. He used to sow all the seeds without leaving a single me out.”8
A companion of Imam Ali bin Musa al-Ridha (‘a) is quoted to have said:
“I saw Abul-Hassan working on his land, the sweat running down to his feet. ‘May I be your ransom; said I to him, ‘Where are your men?’ The Imam replied, ‘The Prophet of Allah and the Commander of the Faithful (S), and my father and grandfathers (‘a), all worked with their own hands. This was the habit of the prophets, messengers, trustees and the faithfully pious people".9
Abdul-A’la, a disciple of Imam al-Sadiq is reported to have said:
"One sweltering day, I met Abu-Abdullah (Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq) in an alley in the city of Madinah and said: ‘May I be your ransom. With so lofty a position in the sight of Allah, the Mighty and Exalted, and your closeness to the Prophet of Allah (S), why are you tiring yourself out on such a hot day?’
‘O Abdul-A’la!’, said he: I have come out seeking my sustenance to spare myself from begging to you and other for help.”10
It is reported that Imam Ali (‘a) used to work, earn his living, and emancipate slaves. He emancipated one thousand slaves with the money he earned from his work.11
“I saw Abu-Abdullah (‘a), carrying a spade, with a thick on. He was working on a wall and sweat was rolling down his back. May I be your ransom, give the spade to me and I will spare you this task’, I said offering my help.
‘I would like for a man to work in search of his sustenance, suffering under the heat of the sun’, was his response.”12
- 1. That is why Islam prevents giving support (from the tax of ‘zakat’) to the able-bodied poor, unless they go after work but find none.
- 2. Al-Kulaini, Ibid, p.67.
- 3. Al-Kulaini, Ibid ,p.72.
- 4. Al-Kulaini, Ibid, p.72-78.
- 5. Al-Kulaini, Ibid, p.85
- 6. Al-Kulaini, Ibid, p.88.
- 7. Al-Kulaini, Ibid, p.89.
- 8. Al-Kulaini, Ibid, p.75.
- 9. Al-Kulaini, Ibid, p.75.
- 10. Al-Kulaini, Ibid, p.74.
- 11. Al-Kulaini, Ibid, p.74-76.
- 12. Al-Kulaini, Ibid. p.76.