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Books Section > The Living Thoughts of the Prophet Muhammad by Maulana Muhammad Ali > Chapter 10: Work and Labour


Chapter 10:
Work and Labour:

One of the greatest services which the Prophet rendered to humanity was to give an impetus to work and to dignify labour. The principle was laid down at the very start in the most unequivocal terms that no one who does not work should hope to reap any fruit and that the worker should have his full reward:

That man shall have nothing but what he strives for; And that his striving shall soon be seen; Then shall he be rewarded for it with the fullest reward. (53:39-41)

So whoever does good works and he is a believer, there shall be no denying of his effort, and We write it down for him. (21:94)

As the work is, so is the fruit:

Your striving is surely directed to various ends. Then as for him who gives to others and is dutiful, and accepts the best (principles); Surely We will facilitate for him the easy end. And as for him who withholds from others and considers himself free from need, And rejects the best (principles), We will facilitate for him the difficult end. And his wealth will not avail him when he perishes. (92:4-11)

Faces on that day shall be happy, Well-pleased because of their striving. (88:8,9)

This is a reward for you and your striving shall be recompensed. (76:22)

And all have degrees according to what they do. And thy Lord is not heedless of what they do. (6:132)

It was not only his followers whom the Prophet told to work and to hope for nothing but the fruit of their work; he repeatedly drew the attention of his opponents to the same principle:

O my people! Work according to your ability, I too am working. (6:135; 11:93, 121; 39:39)

Equal stress is laid throughout the Holy Quran on faith and work; "those who believe and do good" is the ever-recurring description of the faithful. In fact, faith without work is expressly stated to be of no use:

On the day when some of the signs of thy Lord come, its faith shall not profit a soul which did not believe before, or earn good through its faith. (6:158)

The Prophet himself was an indefatigable worker. While he passed half the night, and even two-thirds of it, praying to God, he was doing every kind of work in the day-time. No work was too low for him. He would milk his own goats, he would dust his house; he would tie his camel and look after it personally. He would assist his wife in her household duties. In person he would do shopping, not only for his own household but also for his neighbours and friends. He worked like a labourer in the construction of the mosque. Again, when a ditch was being dug round Medina to fortify it against a heavy attack, he was seen at work among the rank and file. He never despised any work, however humble, notwithstanding the dignity of his position as Prophet, as generalissimo and as king. He thus demonstrated through his personal example that every kind of work dignified man, and that a man's calling, whether high or low, did not constitute the criterion of his status. A roadside labourer, a hewer of wood and a drawer of water were as respectable members of the social order founded by the Prophet as a big merchant or a high dignitary.

Here are some of his sayings:

No one eats better food than that which he eats out of the work of his own hand. (Bukhari, 34:15)

Allah did not raise a prophet but he pastured goats.

And in answer to a question whether he did it, he replied:

Yes! I used to pasture them for the people of Mecca for some carats. (Ibid., 37:2)

He made it clear that every work was honourable in comparison with asking for charity:

If one of you should take his rope and bring a bundle of firewood on his back and then sell it, with which Allah should save his honour, it is better for him than that he should beg of people, whether they give him or do not give him. (Ibid., 24:50)

The most honourable of his Companions did not disdain the work of a porter. Abu Masud said:

When the Messenger of Allah commanded us to give in charity, one of us went to the market and carried a load for which he got a small measure of grain, and some of them are millionaires today. (Ibid., 24:10)

The humblest work carried with it a dignity; those who followed the profession of a butcher or a seller of meat, a goldsmith, a blacksmith, a tailor, a weaver or a carpenter were looked upon as honourable members of society. (Ibid., 34:21, 28-32)

The relations between a labourer and his employer were those of two contracting parties on terms of equality. The Prophet laid down a general law relating to contracts:

Muslims shall be bound by the conditions which they make. (Bukhari, 37:14) 

The master and the servant were considered two contracting parties, and the master was as much bound by the terms of the agreement as the servant. This was made plain by the Prophet:

Allah says, There are three persons whose adversary in dispute I shall be on the day of Resurrection: a person who makes a promise in My name then acts unfaithfully, and a person who sells a free person then devours his price, and a person who employs a servant and receives fully the labour due from him then he does not pay his remuneration. (Bukhari, 34:106)

No service carried with it any indignity, so much so that it was recommended that the servant may eat on the same table with his master. (Ibid., 49:18)

If the remuneration of a labourer was left unpaid, its investment in some profitable business was recommended, the servant being entitled to the profits. In a long Hadith it is related that three men were overtaken with a severe affliction, from which God delivered them because of some good which each had done. One of these was an employer who invested a servant's unpaid remuneration in a profitable business:

And the third man said, I employed labourers and I paid them their remuneration with the exception of one man -- he left his due and went away. So I invested his remuneration in a profitable business until it became abundant wealth. (Ibid., 37:12)

The Hadith goes on to say that when after a long time the labourer came back for the remuneration, the employer made it over to him along with all the profit which it had brought.

The employees of the State, its collectors and executive officers and its judges, were all included in the category of servants. They were entitled to a remuneration but they could not accept any gift from the public. Even those who taught the Quran were entitled to remuneration:

The most worthy of things for which you take a remuneration is the Book of Allah. (Bukhari, 37:16)

'Umar was once appointed a collector by the Prophet, and when he was offered a remuneration he said that he did not stand in need of it. The Prophet, however, told him to accept it and then give it away in charity if he liked (Ibid., 94:17) The principle was thus laid down that every employee, every servant, every labourer was entitled to a remuneration.

Trading was one of the most honourable professions and the Prophet laid special stress on it: 

The truthful, honest merchant is with the prophets and the truthful ones and the martyrs. (Tirmidhi, 12:4)

People were taught to be generous in their dealings with one another:

May Allah have mercy on the man who is generous when he buys and when he sells and when he demands his due. (Bukhari, 34:16)

The man who "used to give respite to the one in easy circumstances and forgive one who was in straitened circumstances" was forgiven because of this good deed. (Ibid., 34:17)

Honesty was to be the basic principle in all dealings:

If they both speak the truth and make manifest (the defect, if any, in the transaction), their transactions shall be blessed, and if they conceal (the defect) and tell lies, the blessing of their transaction shall be obliterated. (Ibid., 34:19)

The taking of oaths was forbidden:

The taking of oaths makes the commodities sell but it obliterates the blessing therein. (Ibid., 34:26)

Speculation, in cereals especially, was strictly prohibited: 

Whoever buys cereals, he shall not sell them until he obtains their possession. (Bukhari, 34:54)

Trade was to be carried on for the benefit of the public, and the withholding of stocks was forbidden:

Whoever withholds cereals that they may become scarce and dear is a sinner. (Mishkat, 12:8)

The cultivation of land and planting of trees was encouraged:

There is no Muslim who plants a tree or cultivates land, then there eat of it birds or a man or an animal but it is a charity for him. (Bukhari, 41:1)

Whoever cultivates land which is not the property of anyone, has a better title to it. (Ibid., 41:15)

Those who had vast tracts of land, which they could not manage to cultivate for themselves, were advised to allow others to cultivate them free of charge:

If one of you gives it (i.e., cultivable land) as a gift to his brother, it is better for him than that he takes for it a fixed payment. (Mishkat, 12:13)

But it was allowed that the owner of the land should give it to others to cultivate for a share of the produce or for a fixed sum (Bukhari, 41:8,11,19) The ownership of land by individuals was thus recognised, as also their right to buy or sell it or to have it cultivated for them by others. A warning was at the same time given that a people who give themselves up entirely to agriculture, neglecting other lines of their development, could not rise to a position of great glory. It is related that the Prophet said when he saw a plough and some other agricultural implements:

This does not enter the house of a people but it brings ingloriousness with it. (Ibid., 41:2)

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Books Section > The Living Thoughts of the Prophet Muhammad by Maulana Muhammad Ali > Chapter 10: Work and Labour

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