This paper focuses on the importance Islam places on seeking one’s own sustenance.
Highlighted within this paper are narrations concerning the livelihood of the Prophets and Caliphs, who trained in particular crafts and ate from the toils of their own labour. Also emphasised is the historical attitude towards relying on the state for an income: examples are cited where Prophets and Caliphs in public service posts disliked the taking of income from public funds and preferred instead to rely on independent earning.
The main aim of the paper is to guide our attention towards the key principles of working hard for oneself and that relying on state help should be an exception rather than a norm. The paper concludes by addressing the issue of the current financial situation in Britain where accepting employment leaves individuals worse off financially than if they were to accept state benefits.
الجواب حامدًا و مصليًا و منه الصدق و الصواب
Islam encourages its followers to actively seek their sustenance. In Surah al-Nabathe
earning of livelihood is mentioned in the context of divine favours:
وَجَعَلْنَا النَّهَارَ مَعَاشًا (11) [النبأ]
And we have created the day for earning livelihood. [78:11]
And in Surah al-Araf earning livelihood is deemed a blessing upon which gratitude is due:
وَلَقَدْ مَكَّنَّاكُمْ فِي الْأَرْضِ وَجَعَلْنَا لَكُمْ فِيهَا مَعَايِشَ قَلِيلًا مَا تَشْكُرُونَ (10) [الأعراف]
And we have placed you with authority on earth and have provided for you therein means of livelihood, small are the thanks that you give. [7:10]
And in Surah al-Jumuah sustenance is described as the ‘bounty of Allah’ which we are
directed to seek:
… فَانْتَشِرُوا فِي الأرْضِ وَابْتَغُوا مِنْ فَضْلِ اللهِ … (10) [الجمعة]
… so disperse through the land and seek of the bounty of Allāh …
Imam Bukhari has recorded a series of narrations in relation to the excellence of earning
livelihood which leave no doubt as to what is expected of an individual.
حَدَّثَنَا إِسْمَاعِيلُ بْنُ عَبْدِ اللهِ قَالَ: حَدَّثَنِى ابْنُ وَهْبٍ عَنْ يُونُسَ عَنِ ابْنِ شِهَابٍ قَالَ: حَدَّثَنِى عُرْوَةُ بْنُ الزُّبَيْرِ أَنَّ عَائِشَةَ – رضى الله عنها – قَالَتْ: لَمَّا اسْتُخْلِفَ أَبُو بَكْرٍ الصِّدِّيقُ قَالَ: لَقَدْ عَلِمَ قَوْمِى أَنَّ حِرْفَتِى لَمْ تَكُنْ تَعْجِزُ عَنْ مَئُونَةِ أَهْلِى ، وَشُغِلْتُ بِأَمْرِ الْمُسْلِمِينَ ، فَسَيَأْكُلُ آلُ أَبِى بَكْرٍ مِنْ هَذَا الْمَالِ وَيَحْتَرِفُ لِلْمُسْلِمِينَ فِيهِ . [رواه البخارى فى باب كسب الرجل وعمله بيده]
ʿUrwah b. Zubair reports that ʿĀisha, may Allāh be please with her, said: When Abū Bakr al-Ṣiddīq was made Caliph, he said, “My people know that my profession was not incapable of providing substance to my family. And as I have been taken up in serving the Muslims, the family of Abū Bakr shall eat from this wealth [public treasury], and shall earn for the Muslims therein.”
Imam Bukhari has recorded the following narration:
حَدَّثَنِى مُحَمَّدٌ حَدَّثَنَا عَبْدُ اللهِ بْنُ يَزِيدَ حَدَّثَنَا سَعِيدٌ قَالَ: حَدَّثَنِى أَبُو الأَسْوَدِ عَنْ عُرْوَةَ قَالَ: قَالَتْ عَائِشَةُ – رضى الله عنها – : كَانَ أَصْحَابُ رَسُولِ اللهِ e عُمَّالَ أَنْفُسِهِمْ ، وَكَانَ يَكُونُ لَهُمْ أَرْوَاحٌ فَقِيلَ لَهُمْ: لَوِ اغْتَسَلْتُمْ. [رواه البخارى فى باب كسب الرجل وعمله بيده]
ʿUrwah [b. Zubair] reports that ʿĀisha, may Allah be pleased with her, said: The companions of Allāh’s Apostle, may Allāh send salutations and peace upon him, used to practise manual labour, so their sweat used to smell, and so they were advised: would you take a bath.
Relying on the State
In fact, Rasulullah has described the fruit of one’s toils as the best meal an individual can
hope to eat and, in support of this, has mentioned the example of Prophet Dawud , who,
despite also being the head of state, used to eat only from the earnings of his manual labour.
Imam Bukhari has recorded the following two Hadiths in this regard:
حَدَّثَنَا إِبْرَاهِيمُ بْنُ مُوسَى أَخْبَرَنَا عِيسَى عَنْ ثَوْرٍ عَنْ خَالِدِ بْنِ مَعْدَانَ عَنِ الْمِقْدَامِ – رضى الله عنه – عَنْ رَسُولِ اللهِ e قَالَ: « مَا أَكَلَ أَحَدٌ طَعَامًا قَطُّ خَيْرًا مِنْ أَنْ يَأْكُلَ مِنْ عَمَلِ يَدِهِ ، وَإِنَّ نَبِىَّ اللهِ دَاوُدَ – عَلَيْهِ السَّلاَمُ – كَانَ يَأْكُلُ مِنْ عَمَلِ يَدِهِ » . [رواه البخارى فى باب كسب الرجل وعمله بيده]
Al-Miqdām [b. Maʿdī Karib], may Allāh be pleased with him, reports from the Apostle of Allāh, may Allāh send salutations and peace upon him, he said: “Nobody has ever eaten a better meal than that which one has eaten from the work of his own hand. The Prophet of Allāh, Dāwūd, upon him be peace, used to eat from the earnings of his manual labour.”
حَدَّثَنَا يَحْيَى بْنُ مُوسَى حَدَّثَنَا عَبْدُ الرَّزَّاقِ أَخْبَرَنَا مَعْمَرٌ عَنْ هَمَّامِ بْنِ مُنَبِّهٍ حَدَّثَنَا أَبُو هُرَيْرَةَ عَنْ رَسُولِ اللهِ – صلى الله عليه وسلم – « أَنَّ دَاوُدَ – عَلَيْهِ السَّلاَمُ – كَانَ لاَ يَأْكُلُ إِلاَّ مِنْ عَمَلِ يَدِهِ » . [رواه البخارى فى باب كسب الرجل وعمله بيده]
Abū Hurairah reports from the Apostle of Allāh, may Allāh send salutations and peace upon him, that Dāwūd, upon him be peace, used not to eat except from the earnings of his manual labour.”
Mulla Ali al-Qari states in al-Mirqat [6:32] that it is narrated in relation to Dawud that he
used to wander anonymously amongst his subjects asking for their views about their leader
Dawud . On one occasion Allah sent an angel in human form and when Dawud
sought his opinion he replied: Dawud is a good man except that he eats from the public
treasury. Dawud prayed to Allah to end his reliance on the public treasury and so
Allah taught him the trade of making armour. This is further indication that, even when
rightfully earned, relying on the state is not what one should aspire to. If this means that one
has to take a job that entails manual labour one should not consider it to be beneath one’s
status. Imam Bukhari narrates:
حَدَّثَنَا يَحْيَى بْنُ بُكَيْرٍ حَدَّثَنَا اللَّيْثُ عَنْ عُقَيْلٍ عَنِ ابْنِ شِهَابٍ عَنْ أَبِى عُبَيْدٍ مَوْلَى عَبْدِ الرَّحْمَنِ بْنِ عَوْفٍ أَنَّهُ سَمِعَ أَبَا هُرَيْرَةَ – رضى الله عنه – يَقُولُ: قَالَ رَسُولُ اللهِ – صلى الله عليه وسلم – : « لأَنْ يَحْتَطِبَ أَحَدُكُمْ حُزْمَةً عَلَى ظَهْرِهِ خَيْرٌ مِنْ أَنْ يَسْأَلَ أَحَدًا ، فَيُعْطِيَهُ أَوْ يَمْنَعَهُ » .[رواه البخارى فى باب كسب الرجل وعمله بيده]
ʿAbdurraḥmān b. ‘Awf reports that he heard Abū Hurairah, may Allāh be pleased with him, saying: The Apostle of Allāh, may Allāh send salutations and peace upon him, said: “One would rather cut and carry a bundle of wood on his back than ask somebody who may give it to him or refuse to give it to him.”
Thus, it is clear that Islam encourages hard work, enterprise and self sufficiency. Even when
one is rightfully eligible to receive from the public treasury it is more superior to earn one’s
own income. Even if the job entails manual labour and is not well remunerated, provided one
is not being taken advantage of, one should not be averse to taking up the job. However, in
the current context of the UK, if by taking employment one is paradoxically worse off than
when claiming benefits this will diminish the superiority of self sufficiency.
And Allah Knows Best
Mufti Muhammed Zubair Butt
Chair, Al Qalam Shariah Panel
First Answered: 2nd Safar 1432 || 7th January 2011
Revised Upload: 9th Rabbi ul Awwal 1435 || 10th January 2013