The purpose of this article is not to offer any clear-cut instruction; rather, the aim is merely to provoke the reader into contemplating the various issues being discussed.
In the western world we often lament our lack of time. We often observe people who exist within our stratosphere that appear incredibly busy and we look at ourselves in self-depreciating disgust.
I have a few questions related to this image;
- Does effort and toil necessarily equate to productivity?
- Is an overwhelmingly demanding schedule the right approach for you?
I will start by offering an example from my own experience of the corporate world. There are colleagues who will put me to shame in their work ethic. Some take on an incredible amount of responsibility and are thus pulled from every sector of the working environment to offer their insights and guidance. Others are limited, or limit themselves to a small working area that they invest a heavy amount of time in.
Often we gravitate towards the former. The celebrity employee – always included in every email message, always in demand to attend any significant meeting and affecting everything and nothing at the same time. The demands on this person’s time, from every angle, can very easily lead to someone who can influence many factions infinitesimally but generally will struggle to achieve anything of significance.
Compare this to the worker who mines a solid hole through a stack of projects. His influence is limited to that particular area but that person’s achievement has the potential to echo throughout the business. An argument can be made that the former is required to tie the work of the latter and this is true. But only one can exist without the other and it is not the celebrity.
Similarly I look towards those brothers and sisters who appear fantastically productive in Islamic activity. They involve themselves in anything that seems productive for their ākhira and sacrifice attaining any form of a professional life in so-called ‘secular sciences’. Dedicating themselves to acquiring knowledge and supporting the dawah. These pantheons of society are examples to the rest of us as we aim to emulate them. For me, when I interact with such a person I find myself hating my pathetic limitations and weak drive. I vaguely ponder over the circumstances that will lead me to be as active.
I am reminded in this scenario of the “Professional Muslim.” This is a person who has the opportunity to be employed in a role that is directly related to the Hereafter. Is it indeed better to work to worship? For example, the employment in an Islamic organisation and the consequent ability to worship Allāh through your work creates the “perfect” scenario. I can see that for those with a thought to their Hereafter, this presents a potentially ideal situation and for those in that situation they are potentially at an advantage.
But, before we lament our loss at the lack of job opportunities in the Islamic Sector (does this even exist?) perhaps we should take a moment to think about that first question again. Does effort and toil lead directly to productivity? Productivity, in this case, being results in the Hereafter. I invite you to think about whether our īmān is capable of maintaining the correct sincerity or Ikhlās balance that we need for such employment. Are you able to demand the comfort of that higher pay rise for example? This is not to say that Islamic organisations should not pay you enough but do you, for example, already earn enough? Are you now carrying out your work because it is your job or because you want to please Allāh? These and other similar complications are perhaps more straight-forward in a job that is not directly associated with an Islamic Organisation. When you volunteer your time it is maybe easier to resolve your sincerity within your own mind when financial compensation is not involved. This is not to say that one is easier than the other. Rather, different people will thrive or struggle in different situations.
This vague example that involves “maybes” and “potentials” directly links to our pursuit of the correct work, life and death balance. There have been many articles written warning readers to strike the correct existential balance where we do not put work above our personal life and unintentionally sacrifice both in pursuit of one. As Muslims we should perhaps temper these studies with our knowledge of what is required of us to hit our over-arching target in this life: the pleasure of Allāh in pursuit of admittance to Jannah.
Is effectiveness perhaps what we should strive for? By effectiveness, I refer to continuity as opposed to achievement. I give you the example of ʿAbdullāh b. ʿUmar (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu). It is reported that he spent 14 years memorising Sūrah al-Baqarah. With that in mind, and with our knowledge that the person to lead the Salah is the person who has the most knowledge of the Qur’ān, if we were to hypothetically exist during his memorisation period, would our ḥufāth of today be comfortable leading the Salah ahead of Ibn ʿUmar? I would hazard a guess that they would not. So, is it the appearance of achievement that is our aim? Or is it the continuity of pursuit that we aim for? Allāh will not judge us on results. If so, then we, as a Muslim Ummah, will perish miserably on the last day. Allāh is Al-Ḥakīm. Thus, we will be judged on our efforts and sincerity not on our achievements. Perhaps to judge ourselves, private continuity of effort is the most telling sign. How consistently do we pray those two prostrations of night prayer without a soul being aware? How do we set up our learning and knowledge-seeking processes so that they will continue well into the future.
I give you the example of the Muslim youth scene. We are blessed with a variety of options for the knowledge seeker in the UK. Structured weekend learning programmes are available every week, online courses are also widely available, many of which are free. Alḥamdulillāh many of our youth whole-heartedly engage in these activities. But, what happens when our youth grow older? Time constraints are an inevitable aspect of growing older and, as such, we find we suddenly cannot fulfil our desire to engage in these activities. No longer can we travel around the country; no longer can we perhaps neglect our university studies for a short period of time to commit to organising an event. What then? Do we simply reduce our activities to accommodate our increased time constraints? Some may say that this is where the benefits and fruits of working in the Islamic sector can be seen. But my counter-argument is that the Islamic sector is nit weak. Knowledge and access to knowledge is a thriving “industry,” and I mean industry in a pure form. There are now countless institutes for learning and countless aid organisations. Our Ummah is most definitely in its ascendency, albeit it seems slowly. However, can a successful Ummah be built upon a population of scholars? The Prophet’s (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) Saḥāba were nothing less than scholars and they were the most successful of nations. The Saḥāba are more than 100,000, the ones recorded are numbered at around 5000, of those we only have detailed life stories of a handful. Guess which ones we have detailed life stories of? The best ones: the scholars. No doubt that these are the catalysts. But also no doubt that Allāh facilitated that the likes of ʿAbdul Raḥmān b. Awf would donate 2000 awqiyah of gold towards the war effort in Tabūk. As such, we have catalysts and we have facilitators, each as important as the other and neither of them mutually exclusive.
What is wrong in being successful in your professional ‘secular’ field? What is wrong with being able to open doors and give advice to your Muslim brothers? How amazing it is, when you see someone of responsibility and power in the corporate world, someone who is in demand all over the industry and professionally impeccable, practicing his religion to the best of his ability. What doors can this person open for the Ummah? Is it not significant for someone to open a business that turns into a conglomerate that provides a livelihood for Muslim brothers and sisters and pays a multi-billion pound zakāh every year? Imagine the ramifications, politically and economically, if there were several of these conglomerates that we could be proud of as Muslims? Imagine the impact on Dawah when many industries are questioned about ethics but this company has employees who will refuse to work for the company if they are not ethically compliant? Imagine the reward for the owner of such a business to create prayer facilities for all his employees where Salāh becomes the means by which profitability is sought.
This article opens a discussion more than any conclusive argument but, as was mentioned at the beginning of this article, the aim is to provoke thought. Where we expend our efforts and how we seek our wealth are questions that we all ponder from time to time on an individual basis but, perhaps, we should adopt a society-focused mentality wherein we look for what the Ummah needs and try to match our skill-set within that.
AbdulRahman El-Nounu is a Mechanical Engineer by profession having completed a MEng and is currently pursuing his doctorate (EngD) as a Manufacturing Research Engineer.
He is actively involved in arranging Islamic structured courses with international Dawah institutes and delivers basic study circles in his locality while attending regular Tafseer classes. AbdulRahman’s research and political activism focuses on international affairs and he is an author to Islam21c on current Middle-Eastern issues.