Abdullah bin Masud (rtam) reported that the Messenger of Allah (sa) said: “To seek lawful livelihood is next to the first rank obligations of religion.”
Scholars of Hadeeth unanimously regard this Hadeeth as authentic. The Prophet (sa) has said that to work and toil, and earn lawful livelihood is second only to the basic obligations: the pillars of Islam.
Seeking a lawful livelihood is not alien to religion. We may try to earn a livelihood through business, agriculture, employment or labour. Thus, if anyone avoids this duty and remains idle, not trying to earn a livelihood, one commits a sin. The Shariah calls upon us to shun laziness and not depend upon others for our livelihood. Man is asked not to beg from anyone besides Allah (swt). The Prophet (sa) has shown us a way to save ourselves from that by endeavouring, according to our capacities, to earn a lawful livelihood. Allah (swt) has not only placed on us certain duties concerning Himself and religion, but He has also placed on us rights of our bodies and souls and of our families. These rights cannot be given to them without trying to gain a lawful livelihood.
Prophets Earned Lawful Livelihood
Allah (swt) required all prophets to earn a lawful livelihood. Every one of them worked to meet ends. There were among them labourers, carpenters and shepherds. The Prophet (sa) also tended sheep against remuneration, worked as a labourer and engaged in business. He travelled to Syria twice in connection with business on behalf of Khadeeja (rtaf). We find him occupied in every way of earning a lawful livelihood, so that they are all Sunnah. Thus, if in pursuing them, we form an intention of following the Sunnah, then our endeavour will become part of religion, whether it is labour, business or farming.
We Must Seek the Lawful
To seek livelihood is an obligation, if it is the lawful that we seek. If we do not pay attention to this condition, then our effort loses its merit and does not form part of religion. There is then no difference in the effort for livelihood by a Muslim and a disbeliever. Believers examine every part of their earnings and ensure that they receive according to the pleasure of Allah (swt). They leave anything that is against it.
All Labour is not Lawful
Some people have adopted unlawful means of earning. Shariah disallows such efforts. For instance, some people live on interest earnings. If they are reminded of the evil, they are quick to indicate that they labour over it and put time into it. They must know that only that earning is lawful and that labour or effort is proper, which are sanctioned by Allah (swt). If we put in strenuous efforts and labour in ways not shown by the Prophet (sa), then our earnings are unlawful.
Is the Occupation Lawful?
Hence, when we have a means of earning before us, we must first examine, whether it is lawful or unlawful. If the Shariah does not allow it, then we must forsake it, no matter how much wealth we see in it. We must take up only that occupation, which has the approval of Allah (swt), no matter how little it holds for us.
Blessings of Lawful Earnings
Allah (swt) has blessed lawful livelihood but not the unlawful; thus, a little of the lawful provides more benefit than much of the unlawful. The Prophet (sa) made this supplication after performing ablution: “O Allah! Forgive me my sins, and make my house spacious for me and bless me in my livelihood.”
Today, people do not appreciate the worth of blessings. They merely count money and think in monetary terms, without evaluating the normal return of their wealth in terms of comfort and peace. Blessings cannot be bought, and many rich people lack them. Blessings are found in lawful livelihood only. Therefore, we must pay attention to our earnings and ensure that we feed our family members only what is lawful and Shariah sanctioned.
Part of the Salary that is Unlawful
There are some sources of income, which are known to be unlawful: interest, bribery, etc. But there are some other sources, which we do not know as unlawful. For instance, hours of work are fixed and the employment is also proper and lawful. However, the employees are slack in observing these hours. The salary for the number of hours they are purposefully absent is their unlawful earning; similarly, the hours they waste at work are also unlawful.
Lack of Blessings
All of us experience a lot of anxiety today. The rich and the super-rich are uncomfortable and worried. Their expenses are mounting high, and their problems are multiplying. The reason is that we do not distinguish between lawful and unlawful. We keep ourselves away from the few prominently unlawful sources of income, but we disregard the various smaller ways, in which we earn unlawful money.
Cheating on Telephone and Electricity Bills
Some of us misuse official assets and privileges such as the office telephone to make unpaid calls. This is a way to deceive the employer, and our savings in this manner are unlawful. Similarly, the electric meter is tampered with and savings are made on consumption of electricity. Here again, the unlawful adulterates our lawful earnings. Usage of official stationery without permission, official contacts for personal gains and side businesses hurting our place of employment, leaking business secrets to competitors, and other similar ways of cheating deprive us of blessings.
We Must Think About it
In view of the above situation, before doing anything, we must ask ourselves, if what we hope to do is correct or not. If we spend our life, sifting the wrong from the right and refraining from unlawful earning, then we must be rest assured that though we may lag behind in supererogatory worship and remembrance of Allah (swt), we may go straight to Paradise, if Allah (swt) wills that. On the contrary, if we do not refrain from the unlawful and fail to distinguish between the lawful and the unlawful, then though we may get up in the middle of the night to pray and offer all kinds of optional prayers, these exercises will not protect us from chastisement against unlawful earnings. The damage this deliberate corruption does to the society is worse and until individuals forfeit it and repent sincerely to Allah (swt), their worship will be futile.
The Unlawful Devours the Lawful
Each one of us must take an account of our earnings and the work we do. We must make sure that there are no gaps, through which we get unlawful earnings. I have presented some examples of unlawful income but there are many ways in which one receives unlawful money, knowingly or unknowingly. Our elders have told us that when the unlawful becomes part of the lawful, then it destroys it. The blessings are lost and the man, whose wealth it is, loses peace and comfort; thus, it becomes necessary that we examine our deeds and incomes, and preserve ourselves from unlawful earnings.
May Allah (swt), through His mercy and favour, help us to understand this fact. And may He cause us to live accordingly. Ameen.
Adapted from “Discourses on Islamic Ways of Life” Volume 10. Transcribed for “Hiba” by Umm Ahmad.
The Right Beginning
Young men and women seeking marriage must ensure their future spouse’s stance on Halal earnings. Understand their propensity to spend and save. A slave of desires and materialistic world can drive you to comprise your Deen, especially when children and larger families come into picture. Observe how your future spouse reacts when the gifts or Hadya exchanged are less in frequency or monetary value. It can give one an insight into their fiance’s preferences for things and control over his or her Nafs. A content and caring partner is essential to help you build a home where, if the earning is lawful yet less, pressures are not exerted for impermissible sources of income.
Similarly, opt for places of employment or professions that facilitate Halal earnings. Self-employment and entrepreneurship is also an option with modern-day cyberspace and social media networks. This can reduce fixed costs, give you control over the nature of your business, provide opportunities to others for permissible employment, and grant you a corrupt-free environment to practice creative possibilities. It is not required to follow suit and become dissatisfied due to lack of control or decision-making power and fall prey to Haram business practices.