Work Ethics in Islam

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As our understanding of modern-day work place and social behavior evolves, managers are challenged on a daily basis to ensure certain levels of work ethics amongst employees in the workplace, whilst maintaining morale and the feeling of job satisfaction. What was once thought to be a matter-of-fact task that anyone could perform is increasingly being understood as something much more complicated, requiring expertise, insight, planning, and a lot of trial and error.

The lack of understanding of organizational behavior and management failure in many Muslim nations of the developing world has been attributed by numerous researchers to Islam’s perception of work and ethics related to such organizational settings. However, being not just a religion but a complete way of life, Islam sets forth what one may describe as a thorough description of work ethics for its followers that have given positive results when applied to the 21st century organization.

It is imperative that one first examines the concept of work itself through the teachings of Islam. The Qur’an considers idleness, or squandering of time in pursuit of unproductive work, as the manifestation of lack of faith and of unbelief. Man is called upon to make best of the time provided in pursuit of work by declaring that God has made the day as means of seeking sustenance.

From the beginning, Islam has viewed commercial activity not only as divine but also a necessary aspect of human life, a source of social gratification and psychological pleasure. Work is considered necessary to establish an equilibrium between one’s individuality and social life. The Qur’an instructs Muslims to persistently work whenever and wherever possible: “Disperse through the land and seek of the bounty of God” (62:10), and “God has permitted trade and forbidden usury.” (2:275)

A person who seeks God’s bounty through hard work is most highly praised. As mentioned above, not only is it given importance in light of a believer’s individual needs, but also as an integral function for the betterment of society. Islam extends to the individual the right to choose the type of work (s)he desires, but at the same while, encourages one to consider the needs of the society.

Therefore, work becomes not only a right in Islam, but a duty and obligation, benefits of which come in the form of increased sustenance for the individual and a healthier prosperous society. The earning of a living through lawful means is endorsed as a means for the achievement of man’s ultimate objective and not an end in itself.

Moving further along to workplace practices, Islam has always emphasized equal treatment of all individuals, at the workplace or otherwise, considering them as our brothers in faith or equals in humanity. By applying this concept to our organizational settings, we can ensure that no individual is wronged by another and that exploitation in the name of competition between employees does not happen. As the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his progeny) said, “Beware of injustice for injustice will be equivalent to darkness on the Day of Judgment.”

Special attention is also paid to the relationship between the employer and the employee. Islamic teachings specify norms and conditions for the mutual treatment of both in order to establish justice within the organizational environment. Students of human resource management learn about psychological contracts that employers and employees form and renegotiate over the years. Islam, on the other hand, creates the very foundation of that contract, peripherals of which may only be negotiated.

The Prophet outlines a just wage as being the right of an employee while discouraging his exploitation at the hands of the employer: “Three persons who will certainly face Allah’s displeasure on the day of Judgment are: the one who dies without fulfilling his commitment to God, the one who sells a free person and enjoys the price, and the one who engages a laborer, receives due work from him but does not pay him his wage.”

On the other hand, with rights being awarded to the employee, he is now obligated to provide his employer with his 100 percent best at the workplace, not only with regards to his job description, but also pertaining to organizational conduct and interactions. This includes aspects such as conflict resolution and management, organizational cohesion, cooperation, loyalty, etc.

Islam has produced a number of working examples from which to learn. Prophet Mohammed impressed Khadija bint Khwaylad (peace be upon her) by his integrity and honesty in dealing with her business affairs to such an extent that she sent him a marriage proposal.

Describing work as an obligation not just for individual validation but also for social progression adds a whole new dimension to work ethics. Where managers struggle with keeping up morale amongst employees, an understanding of Islamic teachings by an individual will automatically bring about the satisfaction and gratification needed for the achievement of organizational objectives. Islamic work ethics give more emphasis on social aspect at workplaces, stressing on positive values such as preserving human respectability, prioritizing work commitment, and diligence. Islamic work ethics also involve cooperation and discussion when facing any obstruction and problem. Determination at work is perceived as a virtue and those who work seriously are believed to be more successful in this life and the hereafter.

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