‘And We made the night and the day two signs. Then We effaced the sign of the night and made the sign of the day sight-giving; that you may seek bounty from your Lord, and that you may know the number of years and the reckoning, and everything We have detailed very distinctly.’ [Qur’an 17:12]
The Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said: “It is better for one of you to take a rope and bring a faggot of firewood on his back and sell it so that Allah gives him what he needs than for him to ask people who then give to him or refuse.” [Bukhari]
Work is a very important part of the world in which we live. Employment (for those of us that are fortunate to have a job) probably takes up more of our time than any other activity. It is the worldly source of the provisions that comes from our Lord.
Work is encouraged in the Qur’an and Sunnah. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was himself a trader and merchant along with many of the companions. Where possible, he encouraged his followers to earn a living and not depend on handouts.
Muslims have always had a positive work ethic and throughout our long history we have always excelled at everything that we did.
It is only recently do we find a chronic sense of apathy with regards to employment and work. Unemployment rates in the Muslim community stood at 16% at the last 2001 census against a UK average of just 4.7%. Current unemployment rate in the UK is 8.7% (June 2012) and I suspect the Muslim rate will be much higher.
If you look at the figures for educational attainment, you will see a similar trend whereby Muslim children are at the lower end of the performance scale when it comes to GCSE and A level performance compared to their counterparts from other faiths.
Unemployment is not the problem in and of itself as most people will be in and out of work at some points during their lives moving from one job to another. The problem is the attitude that some of our Muslim brethren have towards work and employment. A culture of laziness and dependency on state benefits has developed in our communities to the extent that some people are happy to stay at home and watch telly all day than to go out and work. On the other hand you have others that do work, yet at the same time refuse to pay any taxes and claim benefits on the side. The first group are better in my onion in that at least they are honest and not cheating the system whereas the second group are lying and stealing from the state.
Children growing up in families that adopt the above mentioned lifestyles are growing up with the same values and they are also either to lazy to work, or where they do work, they look to cheat the system just as they have seen their elders doing.
The problem with such attitudes is that we have a culture of benefit dependency and benefit cheats developing within our community and this leaves an ugly mark on how outsiders view Islam and Muslims. In the UK we are already perceived in some quarters as coming from foreign lands, eating up the benefits system and taking over council/social housing that should be reserved for working class white people.
The above view of the Muslims is a very negative one and in some way deflects much of the good work and Da’wah that is being done.
Taking from the state in my view is the equivalent of begging. You take your begging bowl to the dole office once a week (or however often the frequency is) and they put the benefits amount into the bowl and you return home happy. The welfare state is there as a safety net for people that are out of work due to redundancies, illnesses, seeking employment and so on. It is not there to provide a life long income stream for the unemployed.
In concluding I would like clarify that I know that this is not a Muslim only issue and people from all faiths and cultures have some people within their ranks who choose to remain unemployed and live off of the estate. I also appreciate that there is a large number of people who rely on benefits whilst genuinely seeking employment and this is very legitimate and I am in no way criticising them for having to take benefits. Finally I appreciate the other problem whereby for some people it is better for them to remain on benefits than to take a low paid job because once in the job all their costs go up (rent, taxes etc) and they are left with less disposable income than they are when on benefits (welfare trap). This is a problem the government needs to address.
The people that I am trying to address are those people that make a conscious decision not to work and remain on benefits even though they are fully able to work and those who work yet choose to cheat the benefits system by claiming benefits on top of their work.
As Muslims we should seek honest employment, pay our taxes, demonstrate excellence and efficiency in our work and be productive in all spheres of our life. We should strive to give something back to the society and to the community in which we live through our time and our skills. We should develop a strong work ethic in our children and develop them into productive human beings.
Islam teaches us to be honest, hard working citizens who contribute more to society than what they take from it. “The upper hand is better than the lower hand” [Bukhari] said the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) referring to the hand that gives being better than the hand that takes. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) also said that “Verily Allah has prescribed proficiency in all things.” [Muslim] and encouraged us to display excellence (Ihsan) in all that we do.
May Allah (SWT) grant us the Tawfiq to seek our provisions through work and to not rely on the welfare state – unless there is a genuine need to do so. May He grant us proficiency and efficiency in all that we do and may He save us from the pitfalls of absolute poverty.