On Dignity of Labour and a Clean Livelihood

Through His Apostles, especially the last of them, the Prophet Mohammad, the Almighty has enunciated the principles and methods of monetary dealings as well which, apparently, are related, purely, to worldly existence. These laws are fully consistent with the nobility of the human race, and, also, hold out the assurance of felicity in both the worlds. What is more, as a consequence of it, the management of these affairs and interests, in conformity with Divine guidance and the laws of the Shariat, has ceased merely to be a worldly matter and got elevated to Faith itself, and, in a sense, to worship. There is, now, upon it, the promise of Divine recompense and elevation in ranks in the Hereafter in the same way as on deeds of worship, such as, Prayer, fasting, Zikr, Tilawat and Jihad, arid on the cultivation of moral virtues, and preaching and propagation of Faith. The guidance, rules and regulations that have reached us through the holy Prophet concerning this department of life, Muamalaat, as it is called, are, as far as we know, based upon four fundamental principles: public good, justice, honesty/ truthfulness and compassion.


Clean living

(1) It is related by Abdullah bin Masud that the Apostle of God said: “to earn a clean living is, also, a duty next (only) to the principal duties of Faith.” ~ Baihaqi


As most commentators agree, what this Tradition seeks to emphasise is that after the testimony that there is no deity save God, and Mohammad is the Apostle of God, and Namaz, Roza etc., which are the fundamental tenets of Islam, it is the earning of one’s livelihood through honest means and by engaging oneself cleanly in a trade or profession that comes first. Whoever is heedlees of it incurs the danger of succumbing to the temptation of earning money or acquiring wealth from illegitimate sources, and, then, his end, in the Hereafter, will be what has been indicated in the Quran and the Traditions with regard to those who live on unclean income. Again, to perform a duty enjoined by God, obviously, is an act of worship, and the bondsman who does so is deserving of the Divine reward a person becomes entitled to on doing anything he is required to do by the Lord. Hence, to strive towards earning one’s livelihood through honest means is virtually identical to worship and worthy of Divine recompense. What good tidings does it contain, indeed, for the conscientious traders, artisans, workers and peasants who make a clean living! It may, however, be remembered that the emphasis in this Tradition is on the seeking of a clean livelihood and not merely on making an income. The object of this saying is to warn against everything in connection with subsistence that is forbidden and unlawful.

Worth of money in certain circumstances

(2) It is related, on the authority of Miqdaam bin M’adi Karab, that he heard the Apostle of God say: “A time will come when money, alone, will avail.” ~ Musnad-i-Ahmad


The narrator of this Tradition is a Tab’ee called Abu Bakr bin Abi Mariyam. He has related it on the authority of Hazrat Miqdaam bin M’adi Karab. The incident he has mentioned in this context is that Hazrat Miqdaam bin M’adi Karab had some milch cattle, the milk of which was sold by his slave-girl while the price was collected by Hazrat Miqdaam himself. Some people felt that it was unbecoming of Hazrat Miqdaam to make money by selling milk, and they objected to it. Hazrat Miqdaam admitted that he did so, and, in his support, referred to the aforementioned saying of the Prophet. He felt there was no harm in selling what was his property. Had the holy Prophet not said that a time was to come when money, alone, would be of use to men? What Hazrat Miqdaam meant was that it might not be a highminded act to make money by selling milk, but, it, surely; was permissible.

The honest trader will be with the Prophets, the Truthful and the Martyrs

(3) It is related by Abu Saeed Khudri that the Apostle of God said: “The trader who plies his trade cleanly find honestly will rise, in the Hereafter, in the company of the Prophets, the Truthful, and the Martyrs.” ~ Tirmizi, Daarmi, and Daar-Qutni


Note: The same Tradition has been quoted by Ibn-i-Maja, on the authority of Hazrat Ibn-i Omar.

Says the Qur’an: “Whosoever obeyeth Allah and the Messenger, they are with those unto whom Allah hath shown special favour, of the Prophets and the Sincere and the Martyrs and the Rigteous. The best of company they are.” (IV: 69) The life of a trader is beset with numerous trials and temptations. He is, often, confronted with a situation in which there, apparently, is the danger of loss if he remains steadfast and follows the path of honesty, as enjoined by the Almighty, and a good chance of profit if he disregards the Divine commandments and allows himself to be guided solely by material considerations. Thus, the trader who observes his duty to God in business dealings comes out successful in the trial prescribed by the Lord, and, for him, there is the promise that he will be in the company of the most favourite bondsmen of the Lord in After-life,-the Prophets, the Truthful and the Martyrs. This will be the reward of the upright traders in the world to come.

Dignity of labour

(4) It is related by Miqdaam bin M’adi Karab that the Apostle of God said: “The cleanest food is that which has been earned by the labour of one’s hand, In fact, the Prophet Daud (David) used to work with his hands for his living.” ~ Bukhari


It stresses the dignity of labour and cites the example of Prophet Daud to bring home the point. It is told in the Qur’an that Hazrat Daud used to make chain-arm-ours, and, from the above Tradition, we, further, learn that he did it for a living.

(5) Narrates Rafey bin Khadeej that a person (once) enquired from the Apostle of God which income was better and more clean, (What was a better way of earning one’s livelihood)? “That a man worked with his hands, and every trade that was (done) with honesty,” replied the Apostle of God. ~ Musnad-i-Ahmad

Agriculture and fruit-growing

(6) It is related by Abu Hurairah that the Apostle of God said: “Whatever believing bondsman grew a crop or planted a tree, and a bird, animal or man ate from it, it would be charity on his part”. ~ Bukhari and Muslim

Legitimate wealth is a blessing

(7) Amr bin el-‘Aas related to us, saying that the Apostle of God said to him: “I intend to send you, (on a military expedition), as the commander of the army, and, then, by the grace of God, you return safe and sound (and victorious) and take the spoils of war (from the enemy), and receive a good grant of wealth from God,” Upon it, (Amr bin el-Aas went on to relate that he said): “Oh Apostle of God! I have not embraced Islam for worldly goods, but for the liking and attachment I have for it and for the reason that I am blessed with your company.” “Oh Amr!” the Prophet replied, “Clean and lawful wealth is a good thing (and a blessing for a virtuous bondsman.” ~ Musnad-i-Ahmad


It tells that wealth acquired through legitimate means is a special favour of the Lord. On the other hand, in the earlier volumes, we saw Traditions, under the headings of ‘Asceticism’ and ‘Soft-heartedness’, to the effect that poverty was preferable to riches and the poor of the Ummat were more blessed than the well-to-do. Both the view-points, however, are correct in their context. If contentment and willing acceptance of what has been decreed by the Lord falls to the lot of anyone, along with poverty, it, doubtlessly, is an enviable state. It was preferred by the holy Prophet for himself, and he used to pray for it. At the same time, if the Lord bestows riches on anyone, through lawful means, and he is, also, blessed with a grateful heart and the prudence to make a proper use of his wealth, it, too, is a special favour of God.

Among the Apostles, the Lord bad favoured Hazrat Daud (David), Hazrat Sulaiman (Solomon), Hazrat Ayub (Job), and Hazrat Yusuf (Joseph), and many others with His grace in this matter, and among the leading Companions there were Hazrat Osman, Hazrat Abdul Rahman bin ‘Auf, Hazrat Zubair bin ‘Awam etc.,.


(8) It is related by Abdullah bin Masud that the Apostle of God said: “On the Last Day (when people will be brought together for the Final Requital), no one’s feet will move until he has been questioned about five things: about his life, and how he lived it; about his youth, and wherein he wasted it; about his wealth, and wherefrom he acquired it.. and on what he spent it; and about what he did in what he was given the knowledge of.  ~ Tirmizi


Stressing the importance of monetary affairs, this traditions tells us that everyone will have to render a full account of his conduct in that field on the Day of Judgement, as to how he earned or acquired wealth in his life and in what manner did lie spend it.

The curse of ill-gotten wealth

(9) It is related by Abdullah bin Masud that the Apostle of God said: “If a person earns or acquires anything (through dishonest means), and, then, gives away a part of it in charity, the act of charity will not be accepted, and if he will spend from it on his needs, there will be no auspiciousness in it. And if he will leave it behind to his descendants, it will serve for him as a provision for Hell. Believe it! God does not remove evil with evil, but evil with good. One impurity does not annul another. (It can not make it clean).” ~ Musnad-i-Ahmad


It emphasizes that charity given from ill gotten wealth is not acceptable to God, and there is no real propitiousness in impure earnings. In the same way, should a person leave behind wealth obtained in an illegitimate way, it will recoil on him on the Day of Final Reckoning. He will be guilty both of making money dishonestly and leaving it to his heirs and successors to eat of the impure while to leave behind wealth acquired cleanly and honestly is a kind of charity, and will fetch a reward in the Hereafter. The concluding part of the narrative explains why charity from unclean wealth will not find acceptance with the Lord and prove harmful for the giver on the Day of Last Judgement. Charity serves as an atonement for sins and acts as a means to forgiveness provided that it is given out of goods acquired through lawful means, but if it is given from wealth earned by corrupt and fraudulent practices, there will be no such property in it in the same way as dirty water can not be expected to make dirty clothes clean.

(10) It is related by Abu Hurairah that the Apostle of God said: “Oh people! God is pure Himself, and accepts only what is pure, and He has given the same command, concerning it, to all Believers as He has to His Apostles. For the Apostles, the commandment is: O ye Messengers! Eat of the good (and lawful) things, and do right, (XXIII: 51); and for the Believers: O mankind! Eat of what is lawful and wholesome in the earth, (and avoid what is Impure). (II: 168).” “After it,” relates Abu Hurairah, “the Apostle of God narrated the story of a man who undertakes a long journey (to a holy place) and arrives (there) in such a condition that his hair is dishevelled and his body covered with dust. He raises his hands towards the heavens and cries: ‘O Lord! O my Preserver” But his food is of the impure, his dress is of the impure, and he has been brought upon what is impure: how his prayer can, then, be granted?” ~ Muslim


The substance of the above Tradition is that God is pure and accepts only offerings that are pure, i.e., from goods acquired through legitimate means. It, further, denotes that the commandment to eat of the good and lawful things was given to all the Prophets, in the same way as to all the Believers. A true Believer should, therefore, realize the significance of the Divine commandment and observe it scrupulously. The holy Prophet has, also, emphasised in it that ill-gotten wealth is so hateful to God that even if a man went to a sacred place, like a miserable beggar, to supplicate to the Almighty, but his food and clothes were of the impure, his prayers would not be accepted.

(11) It is related by Abdullah bin Omar that the Apostle of God said: “If a person buys a cloth for 10 Dirhams, and, among them, one is tainted, i.e., it has been earned through dishonest means; none of his Namaz will be accepted by God as long as he wears it”. After relating it, Abdullah bin Omar put his fingers in his ears and said: “May both the ears of mine become deaf if I have not heard the Apostle of God say so.” ~ Musnad-i-Ahmad and Baihaqi

(12) It is related by Jabir that the Apostle of God said: “The flesh and body shall not go to Heaven that are raised on unlawful sustenance. Hell is more deserving of the flesh that has grown on one’s body out of what is unlawful.” ~ Musnad-i-Ahmad, Daarmi and Baihaqi


Apparently, it shows that a person whose sustenance is of the impure will go to Hell. But the commentators have expressed the view, in the light of other Traditions as well as verses of the Quran, that such a man will not be able to enter Heaven without undergoing punishment for living on unclean income. He may, however, be forgiven without punishment if he has repented sincerely before death or some high-souled bondsman has prayed for forgiveness, on his behalf, and the prayer has been granted, or the Gracious One, the All-merciful, Himself, decides to absolve him of the consequences of his sin.

(13) Abu Hurairah relates, saying that the Apostle of God said: “A time will come when people will not care whether what they are acquiring is lawful or unlawful, legitimate or illegitimate.” ~ Bukhari


The time, indicated in it, has come, to be sure. How many are there, today, even among those supposed to be religious-minded, who care to think or enquire about goods coming in their possession whether they are lawful or not. Maybe, even worse days are ahead. In another version of the same report, quoted in Musnad-i-Razeen, it is added that prayers will not be accepted at such a time. Inability to distinguish between the pure and the impure, and the lawful and the unlawful is, in fact, the spiritual death of a Muslim.


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