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)

Modern Workplace Challenges

workplaceAt times there arises a need to compromise and do things which might be against Islam. Such dilemmas are usually encountered by Muslims in their workplace. We act and try to make people happy because we don’t want to be labelled as ‘extremists’ or because we fear losing our job. On the other hand, we also fear Allah and want to please Him. Nowadays, many things are in direct conflict with Muslims in most of the non-Muslim society. Intricacies encountered in the workplace have become a growing concern for the Muslim Ummah around the globe because of issues ranging from prayer, fasting, attire, food, socializing, handshakes, and much more.

When encountered with such dilemmas, the very first and foremost thing that one needs to do is, stay firm and strong on Deen and not compromise on clear cut matters. Why be shy of people when we should be wary of our Lord? One should only fear Almighty Allah (swt) and have the courage to take the stand and convey one’s opinion and choices without any hesitation.

As mentioned in the Quran: Do people think that they will be left alone because they say: “We believe,” and will not be tested. And We indeed tested those who were before them. And Allah will certainly make (it) known (the truth of) those who are true, and will certainly make (it) known (the falsehood of) those who are liars, (although Allah knows all that before putting them to test). (Al-Ankabut 29:2-3)

Prayer – Salah

To combat the challenges like prayer, communication, fasting, harassment, bullying; the first requirement is firmness in religion. One manifest issue for Muslim employees is prayer. Adherence to the five times daily prayer is a critical part of faith. A neutral space should be allocated for the Muslims, so that they can offer their obligation without hesitation. But in many places this issue is not addressed and no place is designated for prayer, except in rare workplaces where the company has allocated a resting area or meditation room.

Muslims have to find creative ways to fulfil what Allah (swt) has commanded. Islam is a religion of ease and does not want to cause difficulties for its believers.

Prayer is the fundamental tool for a believer to connect with Allah (swt) as it is stated in Quran; “Recite (O Muhammad [sa]) what has been revealed to you of the Book (the Qur’an), and perform As-Salat (Iqamat-as-Salat). Verily, As-Salat (the prayer) prevents from Al-Fahsha (i.e. great sins of every kind, unlawful sexual intercourse, etc.) and Al-Munkar (i.e. disbelief, polytheism, and every kind of evil wicked deed, etc.) and the remembering (praising, etc.) of (you by) Allah (in front of the angels) is greater indeed [than your remembering (praising, etc.) Allah in prayers, etc.]. And Allah knows what you do.” (Al-Ankabut 45).

When the Prophet Muhammad (sa), was asked which deed is the best, he said: “Performing the prayer at its due time.” (Muslim).

In most Western workplaces such as UK, places are not designated for Muslims to pray. A lady shared her experience in this regard. She said that due to the unavailability of any designated place she started praying in the public area, but because this would jeopardize her physical safety she began to make up prayers at home. Then she realized that offering deferred prayers at home was also not a good option. She then started praying at her desk while sitting on her chair. Muslims have to find creative ways to fulfil what Allah (swt) has commanded. Islam is a religion of ease and does not want to cause difficulties for its believers.

Maintaining a Halal diet is another major concern. To avoid any risk one should bring food from home or select food that is vegetarian

The next challenge surrounding prayer is ablution. Ablution needs a separate place because performing Wudhu sometimes splashes water on the counter and creates a mess. But one should not fear and go ahead with making Wudhu, because it is an integral routine required before any prayer. Allah mentions:

“O you who believe! When you intend to offer the Prayer, wash your faces and your hands (forearms) up to the elbows, rub (by passing wet hands over) your heads, and (wash) your feet up to the ankles…” (Al-Ma’idah 5:6)

To avoid making a mess, keep a cloth with you to wipe the counter clean. Use water economically.

Food and Ramadan 

Another religious consideration surrounds the holy month of Ramadan. One is required to fast from sunrise to sunset. In the workplace, people are usually not aware of the ones who are fasting. If you have to turn down the invite to lunch or to some other occasion involving food, do so politely.

Maintaining a Halal diet is another major concern. To avoid any risk one should bring food from home or select food that is vegetarian or made by the people of the book, as the Quran says; “The food (slaughtered cattle, eatable animals, etc.) of the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians) is lawful to you and yours is lawful to them.” (Al-Ma’idah 5:5).However, one cannot confirm that the meal is Halal, so to be on the safest side one should bring food from home.

Muslim Identity and Behaviour 

Islam teaches us to maintain good relations and uphold a healthy and friendly environment. Muslims should also greet one another. Prophet Muhammad (sa) taught us to greet another Muslim with “Peace be upon you and the mercy of Allah or Assalamu Alaykum” and the response by a Muslim should be “Wa alaykum ussalam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu.” (Bukhari and Muslim)

The lure of gossip among employees and managers is a very normal act; they think it is a minor matter but it is very big in the sight of Allah (swt) and is highly detrimental to one’s faith.

But nowadays some Muslims do not think appropriate to greet Islamically in their professional realm. As per one interview, even if Muslims respond to Salam, they mumble it so that it is hardly recognizable as a greeting. We must be proud of being Muslims and acknowledge one another. Our Holy Prophet (sa) says: “Muslims should greet those people that they know as well as those people that they do not know.” (Bukhari and Muslim). Therefore, Muslims should be audacious and greet Muslims everywhere eagerly.

Backbiting, stealing or cheating and other unlawful or unacceptable behaviour has become a sort of norm nowadays. Committing such acts undermines one’s faith and makes him or her easily become indifferent and habitual to such attitude without even knowing the greatness of the sin. The lure of gossip among employees and managers is a very normal act; they think it is a minor matter but it is very big in the sight of Allah (swt) and is highly detrimental to one’s faith. Hence, in order to overcome this challenge one should change the conversation and divert peoples’ mind to some other useful and healthy topic.

The Quran says: “When you were propagating it with your tongues, and uttering with your mouths that whereof you had no knowledge, you counted it a little thing, while with Allah it was very great.” (An-Nur 24:15)

Interacting with the Opposite Gender

Interaction between opposite genders within the workplace can be another challenge. As a matter of fact, if men and women are working together, then potential temptation and attractiveness are natural phenomena among them. Hence, Allah (swt), the all-knower, prescribes women to cover their entire body (Awrah) except hand and face. A Muslim woman should cover her body by wearing Hijab and every believing woman should understand that it is a matter of religion and not a personal choice.

It is also stated that men and women should lower their gaze towards one another, women’s tone must be low, and the attire should not be appealing neither the saunter be attractive. If a male and female are talking, their conversation should be respectful. In short, an atmosphere of dignity with the fear of Allah (swt) should be maintained.

The Quran says: “Help you one another in Al-Birr and At-Taqwa (virtue, righteousness and piety); but do not help one another in sin and transgression. And fear Allah. Verily, Allah is Severe in punishment.” (Al-Ma’idah 5:2)

In order to combat any unlawful act, a Muslim should always be firm and confident in conveying the religious obligations. One such example is of a man who applied for a job in a large global media company. His interview was conducted on telephone by a lady. At the end of the conversation, she asked if there was anything that the interviewee wanted to ask. In order to avoid embarrassment at any later stages, the man conveyed honestly that being a strict Muslim he did not make any physical contact with women, that is, handshakes. His colleagues understood him and appreciated his outlook. Initially he was a bit embarrassed and afraid of delineating his thoughts but after being clear and upfront, he was respected. None of his peers were rude with him and ladies at work did not shake hands with him, but instead spoke in a courteous and polite manner.

In today’s world such challenges are being commonly faced by Muslims everywhere, but we must constantly be careful against the pressures to engage in the norms and activity that contradict the Muslim’s way of life. Today, it is very hard to maintain a balance between the Islamic principles and those of Western culture. We should always attempt to come closer to Allah (swt) and make preparations for the life hereafter.

The challenges present in the workplace are serious, but a sincere follower of Islam, who will be at his or her best in order to maintain being a true Muslim, will not encounter difficulty in overcoming these dilemmas.

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