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What Do the Hadith Say About Hard Work?

Let's face it, nobody likes hard work. Nobody wants to get up at seven in the morning. Nobody wants to sit in an office for upwards of eight hours a day. And nobody wants to take time out of their personal schedule for Skype and phone calls with their boss or co-workers. That's why I became a writer. Of course, even I must recognize that hard work is a necessary - and often rewarding - part of life. However, the prospect of being able to pay your bills, make your rent, and pay for dinner at the weekend isn't always enough to motivate us to work hard. On those particularly taxing days, we need a little bit of extra encouragement. For Muslims, that extra encouragement can be found in a frequent source of inspiration: the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad.

Along with the revelations from Allah which make up the Holy Quran, the Prophet Muhammad shared much personal wisdom throughout his life. Documented in the Hadith, Muhammad's sayings provide guidance on all aspects of life. These include romantic relationships, taking care of the environment, paying one's debts, and, of course, the importance of hard work. Many thousands of words could be written about Muhammad's insight into each of these topics. In this article, however, we're going to be focusing solely on the fourth. Here is what the Hadith have to say about hard work. 

b2ap3_large_16 What Do the Hadith Say About Hard Work? - Blog

Everybody is a Leader 

If you work long enough in any particular role for any particular company, it can be easy to feel as though you are just another cog in the machine. You may begin to lose your sense of identity and come to view yourself as little more than another step on your employer's ladder as they climb towards their own professional ambitions. According to the Prophet Muhammad, however, this is never the case. In Sahih Bukhari 6719, Muhammad theorized that one does not have to be a king to be a leader. This he explained through the words:

"Every one of you is a shepherd and is responsible for his flock. The leader of the people is a guardian and is responsible for his subjects: a man is the guardian of his family and is responsible for his subjects: a woman is the guardian of her husband's home and of his children and is responsible for them, and the slave of a man is a guardian of his master's property and is responsible for it. Surely, every one of you is a shepherd and responsible for his flock"

-Sahih Bukhari 6719

Now we'll be the first to acknowledge that the above passage may not have a lot of immediate application in the modern world. After all, it was put forth in 7th-century Saudi Arabia, where the roles of men and women were very strictly defined and the keeping of slaves was a common practice. However, there is certainly wisdom to be found among Muhammad's words. Rather than seeking to reaffirm the position of leaders, men, women, and slaves in the above passage, Muhammad is telling us that we need not be bound by our supposed titles. We all play a crucial role in keeping our society and workplace running smoothly. Even the lowliest intern can achieve leadership status through hard work and dedication to their craft.

Hard Work is Better Than Begging  

Many people are content to put in the bare minimum amount of effort from the moment they arrive at work to the moment they punch out in the evening. They often justify this by telling themselves that their lack of effort may not get them promoted, but it won't get them fired either. In reality, however, this is not the case. When you don't dedicate yourself fully to your work, you start down a slippery slope, becoming lazier and lazier. Eventually the minimum effort you started with begins to feel like maximum effort, so you work a little less and a little less. Eventually, you will begin making easily avoidable errors which impact the work of those around you and the success of the company as a whole. Although your decline in diligence was so gradual that you yourself didn't notice it, you can bet it will come to your employer's attention sooner or later. This will almost definitely lead to you be disciplined, if not let go entirely. With this in mind, then, the choice is not between working hard and putting in the minimal amount of effort. Instead, it is between working hard and being fired. Although such a decision should be obvious, you may draw some inspiration from the below saying from the Prophet Muhammad:

"By him in whose hand is my soul, if one of you were to carry a bundle of firewood on his back and sell it, that would be better for him than begging a man who may or may not give him anything."

-Sahih Bukhari 1401

The obvious takeaway from this saying is that if you fail to work diligently, you will likely end up unemployed and begging. While there are many differences in opinion between our modern world and the world in which Muhammad lived, the attitude towards begging remains much the same. For more than 1000 years - and since the dawn of civilized society - it has been viewed as the single most demeaning way in which a person can support themselves. With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that the prophet Muhammad considered a life of hard work and delayed gratification to be markedly better than one spent begging on doorsteps and street corners. There is a second interesting, rarely considered point made in the passage discussed above. Muhammad agrees that hard work is better than begging for the obvious reasons. However, he also states that hard work is the only way a man can be sure of earning a living. If one begs a man for money or food, he cannot be certain of receiving anything. He can be even less certain of receiving anything of substance. If he dedicates himself to his work, however, he is virtually guaranteed to be suitably rewarded, even if his work is as menial as selling firewood. 

The Prophets Worked Hard  

The Prophet Muhammad is famous for his discipline and his work ethic. Despite being orphaned at a young age, Muhammad worked his way through Mecca's business world to become one of the city's most prosperous caravan traders. In fact, it can be said that Muhammad was a success even before he received his first revelation from Allah. While Muhammad is perhaps the best example of hard work, he is far from the only messenger of God to have worked diligently in the days prior to their prophethood. Job never wavered in his dedication to his work, even after losing everything his labor had earned him. Jesus dedicated himself fully to the craft of carpentry prior to the beginning of his mission, even though he likely knew exactly what lay in store for him. The Prophet David was famous for his reluctance to accept handouts and favors, choosing instead to earn all that he was given. Muhammad recalled David's determination to be self-sufficient in a passage from Sahih Bukhari. It reads as follows:

"David would never eat except from the earnings of his own hand's work."

-Sahih Bukhari

In many cases, it can be quite difficult to do as the prophets did. Very few people alive today have the level of self-control, righteousness, humility, and spirituality characteristic of the prophets of old. However, we are all capable of hard work. As such, the most surefire way to emulate David, Job, Jesus, and even Muhammad himself is to immerse yourself in your work. By fully dedicating yourself to the task you have been asked to complete, regardless of its urgency or importance, you can complete it just as the prophets would have done. This will not only earn you the money you need to live independently, but, surely, the favor of Allah and his messenger.

Independence is Next to Godliness

Oftentimes, success and acclaim bring servants and a loss of independence. Monarchs, presidents, rockstars, and other high-profile figures generally have an army of people to wait on them hand and foot. Unfortunately, it seems like this is also the case with the religious leaders of our time. It was not, however, a factor in the life of the Prophet Muhammad. Aisha, Muhammad's third and youngest wife, is generally regarded as one of the most reliable sources of the Prophet's life, deeds, and words. When asked about her late husband's daily life and work ethic, she replied with the following quote:

"The Prophet was a man among men. He would remove fleas from his clothes, milk his sheep, and serve himself."

-Musnad Ahmad 25662

During his marriage to Aisha, Muhammad was deep into his prophethood. His followers were constantly increasing and, as such, so was his status within the community. Despite his fame, however, Aisha never witnessed her husband conduct himself in a manner befitting a king or celebrity. He continued to toil as he had done in the days before his first revelation, refusing to take anything unless he earned it himself. He could have easily had one of his many adoring followers remove fleas from his clothes for him. He could have also had them milk his sheep and serve him his food and drink. So why didn't he? Clearly, Muhammad understood the value of hard work. He recognized that it was hard work which had dragged him out of what could have been a very bleak life and put him on track to becoming one of the top entrepreneurs of his time. He recognized that an unwavering work ethic was one of the few things all prophets shared outside of their prophethood and likely believed sloth would lead to him falling out of favor with Allah.

Finally, some argue that the Prophet Muhammad dedicated himself so steadfastly to his work as he wished to lead by example. At a time when Islam was still developing, Muhammad was almost definitely aware that laziness on the part of his followers would delay, and possibly prevent, the spread of his message throughout the world. Furthermore, if the Muslims did not produce their own goods and foodstuff, they would be forced to rely on other tribes for sustenance. Given that many tribes at the time were firmly opposed to Islam, this would lead to Muslims dying out before they had even had the chance to put the Quran into writing. With these things in mind, Muhammad sought to instill assiduousness in his men by practicing it himself. It was not only the Muslims of Muhammad's time who stood to gain from following his example. Modern Muslims, and indeed people of all faiths, can expect to see their quality of life drastically improve if they conduct their professional affairs in a similar manner to the Islamic prophet.

It is Good to Provide Charity 

Although Muhammad warned against begging unless it was absolutely necessary, he did acknowledge that it is important to provide charity if you wish to be considered a Muslim. The Prophet stressed the importance of sharing your possessions and your money in a number of Hadith, but one of our favorite examples is the below passage, taken from Sahih Muslim.

"The upper hand is better than the lower hand, the upper hand being the one that gives and the lower hand being the one that receives."

-Sahih Muslim 1033

Like most of Muhammad's sayings, this passage is delivered with poetry and metaphor without being rendered inaccessible to the common reader. In it, Muhammad clearly compares the financially stable to the upper hand and the less fortunate to the lower hand. It tells us that it is better to be well-off and in a position to share your possessions than to be complacent with little or no income even when people are willing to support you. For this reason, it is important that every Muslim who is capable of doing so works diligently and earns a living that is sizable enough to support themselves and their family, with enough left over to share among those who are not quite as successful.

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