Origins of the Muslim work ethic

The Muslim is meant to play a leadership role in society, but to do this effectively he must be someone who people can trust and rely on.

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"Give the hired hand his wages before his sweat dries." - The Prophet Mohammed In a "sacred narration" God says: "I will be the opponent of three persons on the Day of Judgment." We learn that the third of these unfortunate souls is "a man who employed another who delivered in full but then was unpaid." In the Chapter of The Women in the Quran we are told that: "Indeed Allah commands you to deliver the trusts to whom they are due."

How a person can go to bed at night while the Quran on the shelf in his house is cursing him as he sleeps does mystify me. The historian Ibn Asakir narrates in his History of Damascus that the Prophet said: "Whoever goes to bed at night exhausted from the work of his own hand, sleeps having been forgiven by God." Still in another narration he tells us that the most wholesome income is one earned by the effort of one's own hand.

But it is in the verse of the chapter of Yusuf that we learn the two primary conditions for occupying a position of workplace responsibility. In this verse the Prophet Joseph turns to the Aziz of Egypt saying: "Put me in charge of the grain stores of the country - for indeed I am responsible and endowed with expert knowledge." The word for responsible - hafiz - also implies trustworthiness and reliability.

A position of authority is first and foremost a trust - amanah. It is a responsibility to maintain the goals and purposes for which the project or enterprise was undertaken. It is a trust to protect the resources and well-being of all those involved. Those who are "structurally" below you have effectively placed their well-being in the good faith with which you approached the contract between you and them.

They have entrusted their livelihood in the honesty with which you will balance between the aims of the enterprise and their best interests. The Muslim is meant to play a leadership role in society, but to do this effectively he must be someone who people can trust and rely on. Someone they can trust and rely on for their own well-being and for securing the best interests and good health of society. An early Arab poet said: "I don't live on the hilltops out of fear but so when people need help, they know where to come."

The second condition mentioned in the verse is to be endowed with expert knowledge. One must have the qualifications and aptitude for the job. People should not be seeking or accepting positions that they are unqualified for. If he or she wants a position they should get training for it. At the same time, no one can know everything. One should avail themselves of expert advice and consultation. There is no excuse not to be intimately familiar with the international standards and best practices of the field with which one is engaged.

All of this is implied by the verse mentioned above. These two principles, responsibility and expertise, comprise the foundation of the Muslim work ethic. Upon this foundation stand its four pillars: purpose, positivity, precision, and poignancy. Perhaps these could be the subject of another essay for another day. Jihad Hashim Brown is director of research at the Tabah Foundation. He delivers the Friday sermon at the Maryam bint Sultan Mosque in Abu Dhabi