By SYED AZIZUR RAHMAN
ONE of the characteristics of the teachings of Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) and the commandments of Islamic Shariah is that they are compatible with the conditions and requirements of all ages. The events and annals from the time of the advent of Islam bear testimony to this fact. The world has witnessed catastrophic events through the vicissitude of time and life, but the teachings of Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) are still fresh, vibrant, and relevant. The antagonists have always adamantly refused to recognize the Prophet (pbuh) even though they witnessed his miracles. They were not to be guided to the right path. Their obstinacy always stood in their way to the truth. The Qur’an says, concerning them, Allah has sealed their hearts and ears. Their eyes have been blinded. A painful torment is in wait for them.
Those who were guided to the truth saw its blessings, the significance of the Islamic teachings, and its being relevant to all times, which testifies that this system is not manmade but is divinely revealed. The comprehensiveness of its traits convinces everyone to acknowledge that it has not been framed by human intellect. The code legislated by human expertise is invariably in need of modification, review, and revision, but Islamic code suffers no such drawback.
In today’s world, when finance has assumed extreme significance and the world has been transformed into a global village, the issue of human rights also assumed a new significance. The larger part of world economy depends on these two segments of human society. Smooth relationship between the two augurs well for the world economy; confrontation between them would be disastrous to our finance and economy. It is imperative to keep both sides in view to avoid disturbance and ensure smooth functioning of the world economic system.
Whether it is the strong economy of the developed nations or the economic conditions of the underdeveloped or developing countries, the motivating force behind all these countries is the hard work of labourers. The sky-high buildings, wide and miles-long highways, large factories discharging thick smoke, and trade towers are the manifestation of the hard labour of the workers. These labourers work tirelessly from morning till evening, braving inclemency of weather, just to earn lawful livelihood for themselves and their families. No system or society can deny the importance of labourers. Particularly Islamic system acknowledges their significance in an ideal and sympathetic manner. It teaches everyone to work and not be a burden on society. People under Islamic moral system are brought up with an earnest desire to earn their livelihood through fair means.
Hazrat Umar, the second blessed Caliph of Islam said, “No one from among you should withdraw himself from hard earning and invoke Allah to provide livelihood to him. Mind it, Heaven is not going to rain money upon you.”
It is a fact that human history cannot produce an instance, other than Islam, where dignity of labour has been acknowledged in such a generous way. Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) gave a practical demonstration of the Islamic teachings to the world.
In this treatise, we will discuss the issues relating to labourers. Besides a description of their rights and obligations, the views of capitalism and communism concerning labourers will also be debated.
What is Right?
This term is in wide circulation of today’s terminology; different meanings are ascribed to it. It is necessary to determine its meanings in the light of Islamic teachings. Ml. Syed Sulaiman Nadvi writes, “The Qur’an says Allah has created all that is between the earth and heaven for you.”
Man has an attachment to everything that is beneficial to him. This demands that one should work to promote and protect what is in one’s interest. It should be used only for the purpose for which the Creator has created it. It should be spent and utilized as has been commanded by the Shariah. It should be protected from everything that will be injurious to its utility. This obligation is the right that one is required to perform.
This explanation shows that the obligations one has to discharge voluntarily as a Muslim are called “rights” in the Islamic terminology.
Definition of Obligation
The term stands for something mandatory. The Qur’an says that We have revealed these enjoins. One must abide by what has been made mandatory.
Faraiz means the limitations and confines Allah has made mandatory, those to be performed, and those one must avoid.
According to Ibn –e- Arafa, obligation means time-bound of something that is to be performed on the scheduled time.
Allama Raghib Asfahani says that fardh means to make something compulsory. The difference is that compulsory stands for happening and resolution, while fardh is something mandatory. The Qur’an says, “The one who has made Qur’an mandatory.”
It means that Allah has made it mandatory to abide by the commandment of the Scripture. Fardh also stands for Sunnah, or the precepts of Allah’s Messenger (pbuh), when it is said that he (pbuh) has made it an obligation to do something.
The Extent of Islamic Rights
No man of wisdom could deny the fact that the comprehensiveness and harmony of Islamic teachings are superior to any other system, ideology, or creed. When Islam offers its views concerning an issue, it keeps all its aspects in view. When it mentions the rights of parents, it invariably and simultaneously talks of the rights of the children as well. Where rights of husbands are described, it mentions the rights of women (wives) as well. When there is a mention of the rights of traders or employers, the rights of labourers and workers also are mentioned. If the rights and obligations of rulers/administrators have been explained, the rights of the subjects have also been mentioned. The rights of livestock (animals), minerals, and materials have been mentioned in detail so there remains no confusion. Every aspect is covered. Nothing remains incomplete or wanting. It was, therefore, declared:
“Today I have perfected your faith and have accomplished my favour upon you and chose Islam to be your religion.
In view of its comprehensiveness, encompassing all aspects, values, points, and the universality and harmony of the Islamic teachings, Islam claims that only its system deserves to be enforced across the world.
Superiority of Labour
The system of labour has been in existence on earth from ancient times. Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) and other messengers and prophets also entered into labour.
Adam is the father of mankind. The genesis of the human race was by him. He himself worked as a labourer –a farmer working his farm, and a manufacturer who was the first to start industry on earth.
Abu Bakr Bin Abu Musa Al Ashari writes:
“When Adam was expelled from Paradise, Allah gave him fruits from the heaven for his livelihood and taught him all means of labour. The fruits that we relish were brought from
Paradise. The difference is that the fruits of our time get rotten; the fruits of Paradise never rot.”
Ibn-e-Jarir has recorded from Ibn –e- Abbas that he said that the food Adam consumed after his descent to earth was from seeds of wheat that Jibriel brought for him. Adam said, “What is that?” He said, “This is what you had been forbidden to eat in Paradise.” Then he taught him how to grow grain from the seeds. Adam took up agriculture work. When it was the time of harvesting, he harvested it. Then he made flour out of the grain, and food was prepared for the consumption of the couple.
The Qur’an says Allah had warned Adam and Eve:
“Let Satan cause your expulsion from Paradise, and you will have to face difficulties.”
“For his and her clothes, Adam took wool from his sheep, spun it, and then he made his mantle and quilt for the both.”
2. Prophet Idris.
Idris was the first person anointed as Allah’s Messenger after Adam. He was the grandson of Adam and ancestor of Nuh. He was first to tailor and wear fitted clothing. Earlier men used animal skin for their dress. He also invented weapons, scale, and pen. He was the first to write and reckon.
3. Prophet Nuh.
Nuh was the first whom Allah taught how to make a boat. The Qur’an says Allah said to him,, “Manufacture a boat before Us and according to Our enjoins.
4. Prophet Ibrahim and Prophet Ismail.
Ibrahim and his son Ismail undertook construction work under divine orders and raised the walls of Kaabah. The Qur’an says:
“Remember the time when Ibrahim and Ismail were constructing Kaabah and were invoking, ‘Allah, O our Lord may it be accepted by you. You are all knowing and all hearing.’” (17).
It has been narrated from Ibne - Abbas that Ibrahim said to his son Ismail that Allah had commanded him to construct Baitullah for Him. Ismail said, “Father, do what you have been commanded by your Lord.” Ibrahim sought his help in the work, so they both started the construction. Ibrahim built the walls as Ismail lifted the stones to his father. They recited, “Our Lord, accept this service from us (bless it with your favour). You are All knowing, All Hearing.”
5. Prophet Musa (Moses).
The Qur’an tells us that Prophet Shoab had employed Musa as his domestic servant. The Qur’an says Shoab’s daughters brought Musa to their father in accordance with his desire. They found Musa to be a compassionate, noble, and gentle person. They requested their father to employee Musa because a strong and honest servant was a blessing. Shoab said he would like to marry one of his daughters to Musa provided that he stay and work for him for eight years. If he worked for two years more, it would be up to him. At another place, it has been revealed that Musa also worked as a shepherd like other prophets.
6. Prophet Daud.
Daud manufactured a coat of arms. He could easily fabricate iron as a blessing to him by his Lord Almighty Allah.
“We taught him fabrication of iron and dress coat of arms that is used in battles.”
At another place, the Qur’an says:
“We had made iron to be soft in his hands to make fine coat of arms by firmly joining its anklet. We commanded him to do righteous deeds.”
Qatada says that Prophet Daud was the first to make a coat of arms into a dress. Earlier, they were like iron sheets having no anklets or circles. Ibne –e- Shozah says that Daud would fabricate so many coats of arms in a day that be earned six thousand dirhams from their sale. In a tradition (Hadith), it has been said that earning by one’s hand is the best means of livelihood; Daud used to work with his hands to earn his livelihood.
7. Prophet Zakariah.
Zakariah worked as a carpenter and earned his livelihood through hard labour. In a Hadith reported by Muslim on the authority of Abu Hurairah, Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said that Zakariah worked as a carpenter.
8. Prophet Muhammad
Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) worked as a paid shepherd. He (pbuh) said that all the messengers had worked as shepherds. Musa and Daud had also worked as shepherds.
In a Hadith reported by Bukhari:
Abu Hurairah narrated that Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said all the Messengers had worked as a shepherds. His disciples asked, “What about you, O Allah’s Messenger?” He (pbuh) said, “Of course, I used to work as a shepherd for the Makkans on a meagre payment.”
Abu Saeed Khudri and Nasr Bin Hazn reported that some shepherds and camel herders were boasting of their positions. Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said that Musa had worked as a shepherd, and Daud also was a shepherd, although they were Allah’s messengers. “I am also Messenger of my Lord; I had also worked as a shepherd at Agjad for my family,” he said.
Besides this, he (pbuh) performed his domestic duties, like milking his goats, patching his dress, repairing his shoes, etc. At the time of the battle of the trench (Khandaq), he joined his disciples as a labourer, digging the trench. He (pbuh) also carried out repair work to his residential house.
Disciples of Allah’s Messenger (pbuh)
In view of the dignity and superiority of labour, the disciples of Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) used to undertake hard labour to earn their lawful livelihood. They had various professions.
1. Hazrat Khubab bin Aas was a blacksmith.
2. Abdullah Bin Masood worked as a shepherd.
3. Saad bin Al Waqqas manufactured arrows.
4. Zubair Bin Awwan was a tailor.
5. Bilal bin Rebat was a domestic servant.
6. Salman of Persia was a barber.
7. Amr bin Al Aas was a butcher.
8. Ali bin Abi Talib worked as a labourer.
9. Abu Bakr Siddiq was a cloth merchant.
Female disciples of Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) also undertook manual labour. The consorts of Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) also worked with their hands; they spun cotton and tanned hides. The daughter of Jehash was reported to be a skilled lady; she coloured skins and made various items from leather. She would give her earnings to charity.
Motivation for Hard Work and Labour
In the Ahadith quoted below, believers have been enjoined to earn their livelihood through lawful means and motivation to work as labourers.
Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said Allah likes skilled believers. Allah likes one who works hard, so that he does not need help from others. Allah does not like the one who acquires knowledge [only] to earn profit from it.
Allah loves a skilled believer (one who knows a craft). Miqdan bin Medi reported that Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said that no one consumes a better food than what he has earned from his personal labour (hard work).
In another Hadith, it is reported that he (pbuh) said that, having offered morning prayer, you should go to your work and not to your bed.
Abu Bardah reported that his disciples wanted him (pbuh) to tell them which earning was the best. Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said the earning that one earns from manual labour (working with his own hands and physical labour) is best.
One of his (pbuh) disciples shook hands with him. The Prophet (pbuh) noted that there were scars on the disciple’s hands. The disciple told him (pbuh) that he worked hard, crushing stones with his spade. The Prophet (pbuh) kissed the disciple’s hands.
It has been reported that Prophet Eisa (Jesus) enquired from a person what was his profession. He replied that he offered prayers only. Jesus asked who looks after him. He said his brother provides subsistence to him. Jesus said that his brother was a better servant of his Lord.
In a lengthy tradition (Hadith) narrated by Anas, it has been reported that Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) exhorted a person and also put him on practical labour:
“Anas reported that an Ansari (native of Madinah) came to Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) and asked for help. He (pbuh) asked if he had anything in his household. He told him that he had a blanket and a cup for drinking water. He asked him to bring both items to him (pbuh). After the man brought the items, Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) took them up into his hands and said, ‘Who will purchase these two items?’ One of his disciples offered one dirham for both. He (pbuh) again said, ‘Who will purchase them for more than one dirham?’ Another disciple offered two dirhams. He (pbuh) gave both items to the disciple. He (pbuh) gave the two dirhams to the Ansari, and said, ‘Get some food with one dirham, and purchase an axe with the other dirham.’ The person did so. The Prophet (pbuh) fixed the handle to the axe with his own hands. He (pbuh) handed over the axe to the Ansari and said, ‘Go to the forest, cut wood, and sell the wood in the market. Don’t come back here for two weeks.’ The person went away. He cut wood and sold it in the market. When he returned, he had ten dirhams with him. He purchased some cereals and clothes with these dirhams. Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said, ‘This is better for you. If you will go on begging, your face will have a scar on the Day of Judgment.’ He (pbuh) further said that begging was permissible only in three cases: when one is in extreme poverty and is starving, when one is deeply in debt and unable to repay it, and after one has committed murder and has no means to pay the blood money.”
A similar episode is reported about Hazrat Umar. Once he saw a person in the Masjid asking for help for him to perform jihad. He took the man by his hand and addressed the congregation, asking, “Who will take this man to work as a labourer at his farm?” One from among the congregation agreed to employee him. Hazrat Umar negotiated for his wages and handed over the man to him. After one week, Hazrat Umar enquired about the man and how he had been working. The employer told him that he was good labourer and had earned some money. Umar asked the employer to send the man to him. After some days, he came to him with a purse of money that he had earned. Umar took the purse in his hand and said, “Now if you wish, you may go to perform jihad or go back to your home with this money.”
Once, Hazrat Umar, motivating a person to work to earn money, exhorted people to help the needy in such a way that their need is fulfilled forever and that they are among those who help instead of begging for help. The hand that gives is superior to the hand that begs.
Labour and Wages
In Arabic/Urdu the word ‘Ijara’ stands for ‘contract’ or ‘monopoly,’ but in the terminology of jurisprudence, it conveys the sense of wages for a labour, skill, or taking something on rent.
The following are the probable types of standard wages. Wages may be determined on the basis of any of these types. In fact, determination of a standard is the foremost issue in respect of the rights of labourers.
1. Wages as per the need.
2. Wages based on skill and profit.
3. Wages on the basis of performance.
If Wages are fixed on the basis of any one of the above aspects, making it an absolute standard, and other aspects and requirements are ignored, it would lead to innumerable problems, as is evident from the conditions in the countries where decisions concerning wages were taken on the basis of one aspect and ignored all other aspects and requirements.
Islamic Philosophy of Wages
The Qur’an says, “Man gets that for which he strives.” It relates not only to the life, but also to the hereafter, but his formula is quite relevant to our worldly life. In the world hereafter, Man would be rewarded for his good deeds. Similarly, on earth also Man enjoys the outcome of his diligence and endeavours. The more hard work he undertakes, the more profit he will get.
At another place the Qur’an says, “Everyone would be rewarded according to his deeds.”
With reference to the episode of Musa, the Qur’an says, “The best servant is the one who is strong and honest.”
Here the capability of a labourer depends on his being strong and trustworthy (honest). It means that, in a business where physical labour is needed more than the intellectual caliber, better and positive results could only be achieved if the workers are physically strong to carry out their duties as well as they are honest and loyal to their obligations.
Concerning the employer, it is said in the episode of Musa, “I don’t intend to be harsh to you. Insha Allah, you will find more a fair dealing.”
The ultimate goal of an employer is to be saleh (honest in his dealings). He cannot be saleh until he has a desire not to burden his employees unfairly. One of the main traits of the Islamic economic system is that it has demolished the wall between capital and the employee; under the Islamic system, both are one. Islam has divided capital: profit, wages, and contract, and interest or usury is unlawful.
The basic difference between this Islamic philosophy and the capitalistic system is that, in the latter, the employer enjoys unlimited right to earn profit on the hypothesis that he has to face the risk of loss while workers earn their fixed wages and capital earns fixed interest. Thus, no one entails a loss. But the percept of Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) and Islamic commandments say that capital should bear the risk of loss. So, the capitalist will have to bear this loss because he is the employer as well as the capitalist.
On the basis of this fundamental difference, the capitalistic system is to be purified of the degeneration that makes a rich man richer and a poor man poorer.
Wages and Communism
Communist behaviour towards wages is quite strange. Communists claim to be the standard bearers of the labourers’ cause, but they are harsh to them. A labourer is no better than an animal to them. They just want to amass wealth. Ostensibly, they pay higher wages to their workers, but when the workers go to market to purchase their daily needs, the rates of the items, controlled by the government, are high, although the workers themselves are the manufacturers and producers of these items. In this way, the wages the government pays to its workers are recovered from them through the higher market rates. As Allama Shamsul Haq Afghani had commented, “The communists put their workers to hard labour like animals and in return give them fodder to eat.
Under the communist system, individual monopolies came to an end instead a bigger and single monopoly of the government emerged. Individual capitalism breathed its last, and the workers are now in the grip of a bigger and stronger capitalist (ie, government). As one writer has noted, “The result is that the key of providing subsistence is taken away from many individuals, and now a single and mightier sustainer holds the monopoly to feed the workers. No one in the country is equal to this authority. No one can challenge it. No objection can be raised against the rate of wages it has fixed; nowhere may one go in appeal against it.
Wages and Capitalism
Capitalistic system is also not free from repression against workers. A capitalist makes a pauper and starving worker to work for lowest wages. The starving worker fears he has no choice because he may starve while someone else accepts the offer. The capitalist exploits the workers in another way; he forces them to work overtime without any extra payment. They generally do fixes wages and if wages are fixed undue delay is resorted to in its payment. If a worker causes a damage or loss inadvertently, he is made to pay for the loss he caused to the property of his employer. Thus he loses his wages.
Islam rejects all sort of exploitation and stands for the rights of workers. Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) has issued detailed instructions in this respect.
Duties of Workers in Islam
Islam on the one hand motivates everyone to work for his livelihood and stands for the rights of labourers. It also reminds of duties and obligations to the workers. It guarantees the rights of the workers who abide by the norms. Stress has also been laid upon the duties and obligations of the workers.
No Profession is Inferior
The first and foremost point is that one must not regard any legal and moral profession as inferior. In such a case, he would not be fair to the profession and would not work with devotion. In fact, no lawful profession can be said to be inferior. Earning one’s livelihood through hard labour comes under prayer.
1. Lawful Earning
Even Allah’s messengers had taken up various professions and crafts to earn their livelihood. Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) would do all sorts of work with his own hands and never felt shy of it. When a trench was being dug as a defence strategy at the time of battle of trench, he also took up a spade and worked with his disciples. When there was a big stone that his companies had failed to crush, they would turn to him (pbuh) and he (pbuh) smashed the same. His consort Aisha says that he (pbuh) used to do his work himself, milking the goats, cleansing his clothes, and similar other personal work.
Anas his disciple narrated that he once saw that Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) was massaging his camels with oil. Another disciple says that he once saw him (pbuh) busy repairing his house.
The above narrations show that Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) had worked as tailor, cobbler, and labourer. How then dare one disparage or condemn a profession?
2. Regard for Employer
The workers are supposed to be faithful to their work and loyal to their employers. They should be honest and should safeguard the employers’ interests. Abu Huraira says that Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said “The best earning for a man is what he earns from his own hand and with loyalty.” In this Hadith, superiority of earning by one’s own hands has been highlighted. At the same time, to be loyal means that a worker should be loyal to his master and ensure that he or his business suffers no loss. Workers should be serious and honest in the performance of their duties.
Tamim Dari says that Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said that faith means to be loyal. “We submitted to whom, O Allah’s Messenger?” He said, “To Allah, to His Book, to His Messenger, common Muslims and their chiefs.”
3. Abiding by the Contract
A worker is supposed to abide by the terms and conditions of an agreement reached upon between worker and his employer. It is his obligation to fulfil all the conditions of the agreement in a full and fair manner. The Qur’an lays much emphasis upon keeping one’s promise, and one will be questioned on the day of reckoning about it. The Qur’an says, “Fulfil your covenants; you will be questioned on the day of resurrection concerning you promises.”
In view of the significance of being true to one’s promises, the Caesar of Syria (Rum), while enquiring about Allah’s Messenger (pbuh), asked Abu Sufiyan whether the Prophet (pbuh) kept his promises. Abu Sufiyan testified that he (pbuh) was always true to his words.
Even before his elevation as Allah’s Messenger, he (pbuh) had presented an unequalled instance of his being true to his word. He had agreed upon a contract with Abdullah bin Abu al Ama. Abdullah went away saying that he would return soon to finalize it, but he forgot. After three days when he returned, he saw that Mohammad (pbuh) had been waiting for him there. He (pbuh) only said to Abdullah that he had been waiting for him there for three days. This character of Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) is a role model for us.
While performing a duty, one must be honest and trustworthy. Honesty is the basic point in dealing with others and in mutual interaction.
Trustworthiness means to pay in full what one owes to anyone. If one fails to adhere to it, he damages his own image, as no one likes a man of a doubtful integrity. Consequently, his reputation suffers, and people distance themselves from him. The Qur’an, while stressing upon honesty, says about righteous Muslims that they are true to their trust and to their promises.
In view of its significance, Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) has declared honesty to be a part of the belief. Anas bin Malik reported that, in every summon, Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) would invariably declare that one who is not trustworthy, or true to his trust and to his promises, has no faith.
5. Avoid Breach of Trust
Khyanat stands for embezzlement, not to discharge one’s obligation in totality. A worker must not commit breach of trust. He should always be honest and trustworthy. The Qur’an, exhorting to be honest and trustworthy says, “O You the believers, don’t commit breach of trust with Allah and His Messenger nor commit embezzlement in your trust.”
Bukhari reported a Hadith on the authority of Abu Hurairah that Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said that a hypocrite is one who tells a lie when he talks, he does not keep his promise, and when entrusted, he commits breach of trust.
Dereliction of duty, leaving the place of work, and taking advantage of the absence of the supervisor equal a breach of trust.
The Qur’an says, “Woe to those who, when they take their right, they measure it in full, but when they are paying, they weigh it less.
As per the Islamic Jurists, these verses also cover those workers who receive full wages for their labour but fail to perform their full duty and indulge in other works without the permission of the employer.
6. Performance of Duty with Devotion.
A labourer is supposed to discharge his duties with devotion and full sense of duty. If the output falls due to his negligence/dereliction, he will be held responsible on the Day of Judgment, and he will he questioned. Mufti Mohammad Shafi writes:
“Declaring clarification of duty as a major sin, workers have also been warned that the work he has undertaken to discharge and perform he must do it with full honesty and devotion as having received remuneration for the work, it is now his personal work, other wise he will be accountable on the day of reckoning facing disgrace.”
The well known mystic Sheikh Allauddin Samnani writes with reference to agriculture:
“If someone has a land under cultivation and one can get one hundred tons of farm output from the farm, but his tardiness results in a loss of few tons of grain, he will be questioned on the Day of Judgment for this loss of farm production.”
Since people were deprived of their sustenance due to his tardy action, he has therefore committed breach of trust by causing loss of output.
Workers Rights and Communism
Islam charges labourers with certain obligations concerning their duties and performance. At the same time, it fully guarantees the rights of labourers. It gives clear guidance on every aspect that might be detrimental to the cause of workers; on the other hand, communism, which boasts of workers rights, has nothing in its system that safeguards their rights. The Chinese government issued a book relating to the regulations of the labourers working in the government industrial sector and factories during the fifties. Some of its salient points are:
1- Workers have no right to collective bargaining or to form an organization.
2- It is illegal to employee a person with a police record.
3- The wages for all professional work would be as per the approved standard of the government.
4- No worker can leave his place of work without the permission of his senior supervisor.
5- The times of work are vested in the factory management.
6- Every worker will be subject to search while reporting for duty and departing.
Workers Rights in Islam
It is a well known fact that Islam rejects discrimination on the basis of ethnicity or social division among people. It declares that no Arab enjoys supremacy on a non-Arab. Islam stands for equality among employees and their employers. Both are like brothers. Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) had laid specific emphasis on equality in a Hadith reported by Abu Zar Ghifari:
”Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said they are your brothers. Allah has placed them under your control as a trial. So it is incumbent upon the one whose brother works under his authority to feed from his own food, dress him like his own dress. He should not assign him hazardous works that overwhelm him (the worker). If such work has been given to him, he (employer) should help him.”
The evils that workers have to confront in a capital system have been reformed through this brief precept (Hadith) of Allah’s Messenger (pbuh). This Hadith teaches that the employer/contractor should treat the worker as his brother. He should maintain cordial relations with his subordinate workers as he has with his own family members. He should share his food with them and dress them like his own dress. A worker should be paid wages at such a rate that he is able to lead a prosperous life
2. Payment of Wages.
The most important issue for a worker is that wages are paid to him on time. Islam guarantees it. Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) has said, “Let a labourer get his wages before his sweat dries.”
At the same time, Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) warned that, concerning those who don’t pay the wages on time, Allah will argue on behalf of the affected workers on the day of reckoning.
He (pbuh) said that Allah says, “There are people of categories with whom I will argue on the Day of Judgment. Those with whom I will question and argue will have to face disgrace: one who promised in My name and then backed out; one who sold a free man and used the money; one who employed a labourer, took full assigned work, but did not pay full wages to him.”
Abu Saeed Khudri reported that Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) prohibited the employment of a worker without having negotiated his wages.
Abu Hurairah reported Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said that it is repression / exploitation when a rich man delays payment to his workers.
3. Negotiating Wages.
Islam allows a worker to negotiate his wages without any type of pressure or compulsion. In case an employer forces a worker to work for less wages, he has full right to refuse to work. This is why Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) has directed the employer to negotiate wages before a worker is put on a job. Abu Hurairah reported that Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said that an employer should inform the worker of his wages.
Prohibition of Fixing Wages Under Duress.
Sometimes one outwardly agrees to work on for unfair wages. He agrees due to his privation, financial constants, but at heart he is not happy. Taking advantage of his compulsion, an employer/contractor put him at work with unfair wages. This is nothing but blatant injustice and exploitation. Islam fiercely forbids it. In a Hadith Qudsi (a hadith reported on behalf of the Almighty), under the title of payment of wages, Allah will argue with an employer who did not pay full wages to his workers.
Shah Waliullah expresses his views on this point:
“If monetary benefit is got in a way that both the employee and the employer are not in agreement to it, like gambling or a deal forced on one of the party, like payment of interest --in such cases a person agrees to pay it due to his destitution, although it is a burden on his means and capacity, and his consent is not an actual one. All such transactions cannot be said to be based on mutual agreement, nor are they lawful means of income. All such transactions are unlawful and null and void under the social order.”
5. Prohibition of Forced Labour.
Forced labour is worse than slave labour under. A worker is forced to work under duress against his free will. Islam rejects forced labour and declares it to be unlawful (haram).
Ibn –e- Hajr Asqalani says that it is like purchasing a free person without paying the price. To force a free man to work under duress is like enslavement.
6. Not Burdening a Worker Beyond His Capacity.
Employers have been directed to look after the health of their workers and not to burden them beyond their physical capacity. A Hadith (previously quoted) reported by Abu Zar Ghifari states that it has been enjoined by Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) not to put an unbearable burden on a worker but to help him in the work.
Under the heading of philosophy of wages, only the employer who has the desire to save the worker from undue labour could be called a virtuous employer.
Ibn e Hazam writes in his Mohalla:
A master should put both (workers as well as his slaves) on a work that they are able to carry out as per their stamina. The work should not be injurious to their health.
7. Labourers’ Share in Output:
In a Hadith reported by Abu Hurairah, Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said, “Give the workers a share from the production. Labourers of Almighty should not remain deprived.”
In another Hadith, Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said, more candidly. “If someone’s servant cooks food for one’s master, braving heat and smoke, one should share one’s food with his servant. If there are more persons at the table, he should give at least some food to the servant.”
Another Hadith shows that he (pbuh) wants the owner to give some share from the production to the workers, besides their wages. Comments of the jurists are not available on this point, but an example may be that workers of a factory where items are produced should be given items from the output so that the workers are not deprived of what they have manufactured. Denying their share in the production is unfair on moral grounds. Maulana Manazir Ahsan Gilani has also supported this approach.
8. Workers cannot be Held Responsible for Loss
Under the capitalistic system, the employer pays less wages to the workers or cuts the wages on various pretexts. He holds workers responsible for losses. Islam rejects this approach.
Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) says, “Excuse your servant seventy times a day.”
Islam issues explicit directions in this regard, and jurists have explained all the relevant points. If a labourer has been employed for wages for a specified period, he will not have to pay for the losses unless it is proven that he deliberately caused the loss.
Ibn –e- Hazm writes in Mohalla:
“A worker, whether specific or joint or a craftsman, will not have to pay damages for a loss in production unless it is established that he deliberately caused the loss. In all such cases, a witness must he produced to prove him guilty, else the statement of the concerned worker under oath would be considered to be true.”
The rights and obligations of workers under Islamic economic system provide an opportunity to other prevailing economic systems to embark upon their journeys of development and progress. Having regard to the interest of the classes of the society, economists should try to comprehend the Islamic system and the precepts of Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) and study them to understand the true spirit of his (pbuh) sayings. They should adopt the Islamic system so that the world is able to enjoy the blessings of a divinely revealed economic system. The world has been groping in the dark. Let it come to light from the grip of this darkness.
May Allah bless us to discharge our obligations. Peace and blessings of Allah be on His Messenger, on his family members and on his disciples!
(Syed Azizur Rahman is the editor of Al-Seerah, an Urdu half yearly journal from Karachi, Pakistan)
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