Reinforcing Spirituality in the Workplace

Workplace spirituality

I did not realize that relationships at the workplace could be so gratifying in terms of Ibadah, until I sat down with my father to delve into his experiences about human resource management. His answers left me inquisitive, and I set out to search for the ideal virtues of a Muslim employer and employee.

Motivation, communication, cooperation, conflict management, wage compensations, promotion, job description, rotation and enrichment are the key components outlined in an employment agreement. To fortify the faithfulness in daily roles played by a manager, a supervisor and a subordinate, I rummaged through the admirable work of Imam Ghazali to the rejuvenating lectures of Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan.

To begin with, Ayah 57 from Surah Yusuf is of utmost significance for both the manager and the worker.

Allah (swt) says: “And verily, the reward of the Hereafter is better for those who believe and used to fear Allah and keep their duty to Him (by abstaining from all kinds of sins and evil deeds and by performing all kinds of righteous good deeds).” (Yusuf 12:57)

Thus, a mandatory virtue for both parties is to never lose sight of the perpetual mission of life. The subordinate should trust Allah (swt) as the Ultimate Provider for hard work and service, and the supervisor should learn from leadership qualities exhibited by Prophet Muhammad (sa), the four caliphs, Prophet Yusuf (as) and all the beloved messengers of Allah (swt).

Consequently, the Muslim manager ought to devise the employment agreement around the five prayers (Salah), negotiating time management, submission deadlines, rest pauses and work shifts.

Another principle characteristic is built upon Ukhuwat or Islamic brotherhood. Both should know the fruits that lie beyond this temporary life of a heart-warming brotherhood.

An important lesson taught by this Ayah is that when Satan intrudes the mind of the employee in the absence of the supervisor, he should remember that Allah (swt) is All-Seeing; He knows the conflicts created by the Nafs. Such a self-reminding habit ensures that one understands the importance of honesty and sincerity to his leader.

This verse steers to an aspect, which is also mentioned in Ihya Uloom Ad-Deen (“The Revival of Religious Learnings”) under “Seven Things That Make the Religion of a Businessman Perfect”, meaning the worker and the manager should both remember that they are setting up accounts with everyone they deal with. Allah (swt) will have the debit/credit records on the Final Day.

According to Abu Hurairah (rtam), Allah’s Messenger (sa) said: “Allah (swt) said: ‘I will be an opponent to three types of people on the day of Resurrection: one – who makes a covenant in My name, but proves to be treacherous; second – who sells a free person and eats his price, and third – who employs a labourer and takes full work from him but does not pay for his labour.” (Bukhari)

This Hadeeth shows the intensity of love that Allah (swt) has for the hardworking person. The employees offer their services in return of remuneration and benefits. Also, the religious-mandated practice of abiding by the agreement has been emphasized. A Muslim naturally tends to get psychologically attached to his Muslim brother. Reviewing the Prophet’s (sa) management skills, we see how Allah (swt) wanted him to boost the morale of the companions (Sahabah) at all times and listen to their concerns. Our Messenger’s (sa) life reveals his highest regard for employees’ services; their covenant was uncomplicated but magnificent in the context that the volunteers were the most important asset in the mission.

Isn’t it miraculous how our Creator, the most Magnificent and the most Merciful, has paved way for our self-evaluation in every field of life? Alhumdulillah! Allah (swt) says: “O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even though it be against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, be he rich or poor, Allah is a Better Protector to both (than you). So follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest you may avoid justice, and if you distort your witness or refuse to give it, verily, Allah is Ever Well-Acquainted with what you do.” (An-Nisa 4:135)

The know-how of justice, self-acceptance, embracing of criticism, being truthful and avoiding discrimination lies in this verse. The righteous employee should keep an eye on any acts of discrimination around him; this divine code of life also defines discrimination in terms of favouring the rich staff over the poor. The intention (Niyah) of the employer of any organization should be to facilitate his employees and make them intellectual and highly productive Muslims, securing an abode in the loftiest compartments of Jannah.

At our workplace, we should remember the value of a smile, which is also a form of Sadaqah or an act of charity. Such cheerful habits make us beloved in the eyes of Allah (swt).

Purification of the soul can also be conquered at work, which brings us to yet another attribute of an employer – the ability to pre-plan training programmes. Integrating Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan’s lecture ‘People of Substance’ into the employment bond, positive and negative reinforcement done in accordance with Shariah will yield awe-inspiring results.

For example, in a Lahore based firm, the supervisor sends his employees to a holistic nutritionist on performance-based work; she devises plans based on Prophetic medicine and quantum health sciences, which bring them closer to Allah’s (swt) creation, their body systems and the lifestyle of the Prophet (sa). Another effective bequest to be given for employee’s recognition could be a book on Prophet Muhammad’s (sa) Seerah. Regarding training programmes, employees deserve a chance for rejuvenation of faith; thus, they can be registered for workshops, Quran and Hadeeth boot camp courses and conferences.

I believe that becoming a beloved of Allah (swt) requires mastering the art of forgiving. It is perhaps the most fulfilling attribute to apply at the workplace; the employer should forgive the errors of employees as frequently as he can, looking ahead to the riches of the hereafter. On the other hand, the employee should forgive the judgements made about them and accept demotions as a form of test from Allah (swt).

Allah (swt) says: “For such, the reward is Forgiveness from their Lord, and Gardens with rivers flowing underneath (Paradise), wherein they shall abide forever. How excellent is this reward for the doers (who do righteous deeds according to Allah’s Orders).” (Ale-Imran 3:136)

Dignity of Islam: The Labour Day!

Vol 7 - Issue 1 Dignity of Islam

The holiday of May Day (1st of May) is a creation of an international labour movement. It pays tribute to social and economic achievements of workers and the strength, prosperity and well-being that the country has earned in lieu of its workers’ diligent contribution.

This idea spread with the growth of many labour organizations. Today, it is celebrated in many industrial centres of the world, including Pakistan. However, a vital question perturbs one’s mind. Apart from the clichéd speeches, parades and distribution of a couple of cheques among some poor workers, what is the overall achievement of this holiday that claims to commemorate a high standard of living and economic and political democracy of the labour class?

On May Day, I witness the daily wagers on the road, still striving hard to take home bread for the night’s meal, maids mopping floors and getting a piece of the Begum Sahiba’s (lady of the house) mind if they dare ask for a holiday. Some white collar employees discreetly turn up at the office for some important assignment their boss has decided to hand over to them on the eve of April 30th.

Justice is generally done to those who otherwise enjoy a higher place in the management hierarchy. They probably don’t even care whether or not they are granted a holiday, because they can manage a getaway every now and then, even in the form of an international conference, meeting, etc.

At the advent of Islam, dignity of labour was one of its winning cards, when slaves, such as Bilal (rta), earned the same honour as the elites of Madinah, such as the hypocrite Abdullah Ibn Ubay. Islam did not establish holidays. It carved out a way of life that demanded respect for the rights of workers. Allah (swt) did not give Muslims a choice to act otherwise. He (swt) made it mandatory to serve those who served us, regardless of race and religion, cast and creed.

Though one might look down upon the institution of slavery, ironically, slaves in the Prophet’s (sa) time enjoyed far more dignity and rights than most of our servants or workers today. Islam did not permit anyone to take a free man into captivity and to turn him into a slave. Only prisoners of war were taken as slaves. Their captivity was such that they were neither locked up nor shackled. They were allowed freedom of movement within certain parameters as well as permitted to assimilate in the society.

The rights prescribed for slaves hold applicable for all those who are employed by us today. Let us look at some of the remarkable standards of humanity set by the early Muslims.

It was a regular practice of many of the companions of the Prophet (sa) to manumit slaves as per the Quranic injunction: “But he has not attempted to pass on the path that is steep (i.e., the path which will lead to goodness and success). And what will make you know the path that is steep? (It is) freeing a neck (slave).” (Al-Balad 90:11-13)

Most prominent among them were Abu Bakr (rta), Usman Ghani (rta), Abdur Rahman Ibn Awf (rta) and Abdullah Ibn Umar (rta) – they purchased and manumitted slaves who were being persecuted for their conversion to Islam. It is stated that some of the Prophet’s (sa) companions released 8000 slaves a day.

Abu Hurairah (rta) has narrated that Allah’s Apostle (sa) said: “Whoever frees a Muslim slave, Allah will save all the parts of his body from the hellfire, as he has freed the body parts of the slave.” (Bukhari)

Today, freeing of slaves equates to liberating workers from the burden of debts, or as accepting to be their guarantors for securing interest-free loans, facilitating the release of prisoners, etc.

Narrated by Anas Ibn Malik (rta): “I served the Prophet (sa) for ten years, and he never said to me ‘uff” [a minor harsh word denoting impatience] and never blamed me by saying: ‘Why did you do this or why didn’t you do so?’” (Bukhari)

Abu Masud Al-Ansari (rta) has narrated: “Once, I was beating a slave of mine, when I heard a voice from behind saying: ‘You should know, O Abu Masud, Allah is more capable upon you than you on him.’ I looked and saw he was the Messenger of Allah (sa). I replied: ‘O Messenger of Allah (sa), he is free for the sake of Allah.’ Then, the Prophet (sa) said: ‘If you had not done that, fire would have scorched you.’” (Muslim)

Ibn Umar (rta) reported: “I heard the Messenger of Allah (sa) saying: ‘When your servant brings food for you and you do not seat him with you, you should at least give him a morsel or two out of it, because he has prepared it himself.’” (Bukhari)

Abu Musa Al-Ashari (rta) has narrated that the Prophet (sa) said: “He, who has a slave girl and teaches her good manners, educates her, then manumits and marries her, will get a double reward, and any slave, who observes Allah’s rights and his master’s rights, will get a double reward.” (Bukhari)

The Prophet (sa) ordered that the slaves be treated well, clothed well and fed well. He also insisted that they be taught. As a result, many became Fuqaha and transmitters of Hadeeths, Imams and commanders in the Muslim army. Prominent among these are Salman Al-Farsi (rta), Zaid Ibn Harithah (rta), Usamah Ibn Zaid (rta) and Bilal Ibn Rabah (rta).

When the Amir-ul-Mumineen Umar Ibn Al-Khattab (rta) set off for the historical journey to Jerusalem at the time of its conquest, he left with meager provision which he shared with his slave, who accompanied him.

Umar (rta) took turns with his slave riding the camel, so much so that when they entered the city, it was the slave’s turn on the camels’ back, and Umar (rta) was holding its halter.

Nowhere in the annals of history do we get a better example of human dignity and equality than in Islam. What we need is to follow the Quran and the Sunnah strictly. No holiday can establish the dignity and rights of labourers in any society. Only we can!

Just ask yourself, if you would want to have a boss or employer like yourself?

Some extremely despicable practices with regard to our servants and workers in society must be consciously undone. They include: maligning them, back-biting about them, constantly taunting them, finding minute excuses to scold them, accusing them of lying, especially if they don’t turn up for work, instantly suspecting them of theft as soon as some object goes missing, serving them in utensils kept separately, passing our faded rags to clothe them, feeding them tasteless leftovers and saving the grand gourmet for the rest of the house, incessantly reminding them of worthless favours, beating them and in some cases even torturing and abusing them.

We should all be mindful that the Creator (swt) is watching us, and He (swt) never appreciates injustices done to His creations!