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Hard work and responsibility in Islam

December 5, 2013

Upper hand is better than lower hand

By Abu Amina Elias

In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful

Islam calls us to be responsible to our community and to work hard to provide benefit to others, rather than relying upon begging for charity.

Abdullah bin Umar reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

أَلَا كُلُّكُمْ رَاعٍ وَكُلُّكُمْ مَسْئُولٌ عَنْ رَعِيَّتِهِ فَالْإِمَامُ الَّذِي عَلَى النَّاسِ رَاعٍ وَهُوَ مَسْئُولٌ عَنْ رَعِيَّتِهِ وَالرَّجُلُ رَاعٍ عَلَى أَهْلِ بَيْتِهِ وَهُوَ مَسْئُولٌ عَنْ رَعِيَّتِهِ وَالْمَرْأَةُ رَاعِيَةٌ عَلَى أَهْلِ بَيْتِ زَوْجِهَا وَوَلَدِهِ وَهِيَ مَسْئُولَةٌ عَنْهُمْ وَعَبْدُ الرَّجُلِ رَاعٍ عَلَى مَالِ سَيِّدِهِ وَهُوَ مَسْئُولٌ عَنْهُ أَلَا فَكُلُّكُمْ رَاعٍ وَكُلُّكُمْ مَسْئُولٌ عَنْ رَعِيَّتِهِ

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.

Source: Sahih Bukhari 6719, Grade: Muttafaqun Alayhi

One of the ways we can be responsible is to provide for others and to instill within ourselves a strong work ethic. It is far better for a Muslim to earn his own living and provide for his family than to rely upon the charity of others.

Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

وَالَّذِي نَفْسِي بِيَدِهِ لَأَنْ يَأْخُذَ أَحَدُكُمْ حَبْلَهُ فَيَحْتَطِبَ عَلَى ظَهْرِهِ خَيْرٌ لَهُ مِنْ أَنْ يَأْتِيَ رَجُلًا فَيَسْأَلَهُ أَعْطَاهُ أَوْ مَنَعَهُ

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.

Source: Sahih Bukhari 1401, Grade: Muttafaqun Alayhi

Providing charity for others is far better than receiving charity yourself.

Abdullah ibn Umar reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

الْيَدُ الْعُلْيَا خَيْرٌ مِنْ الْيَدِ السُّفْلَى وَالْيَدُ الْعُلْيَا الْمُنْفِقَةُ وَالسُّفْلَى السَّائِلَةُ

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.

Source: Sahih Muslim 1033, Grade: Sahih

The Prophets were the best examples of self-sufficiency, hard work, and responsibility. For example, the Prophet David, upon him be peace, would never eat a meal unless he earned it himself.

Abu Huraira reported: The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

وَلَا يَأْكُلُ إِلَّا مِنْ عَمَلِ يَدِهِ

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

Source: Sahih Bukhari 3235, Grade: Sahih

David would work with his own hands even though he was king of the Israelites. He could have lived a life of luxury and ease, but rather he set for us an excellent example of responsibility and hard work.

Likewise, the Prophet Zechariah, upon him be peace, earned his living as a humble carpenter.

Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

كَانَ زَكَرِيَّا عَلَيْهِ السَّلَام نَجَّارًا

Zechariah, upon him be peace, worked as a carpenter.

Source: Sahih Muslim 2379, Grade: Sahih

Prophet Muhammad would also serve himself and perform chores for his family, rather than having others work for him.

Aisha reported: She was asked, “What did the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, do in his house?” Aisha said:

كَانَ بَشَرًا مِنْ الْبَشَرِ يَفْلِي ثَوْبَهُ وَيَحْلُبُ شَاتَهُ وَيَخْدُمُ نَفْسَهُ

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

Source: Musnad Ahmad 25662, Grade: Sahih

In this regard, the Prophet would frequently ask Allah for the means to be self-sufficient.

Abdullah ibn Mas’ud reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَسْأَلُكَ الْهُدَى وَالتُّقَى وَالْعَفَافَ وَالْغِنَى

O Allah, I ask you for guidance, righteousness, abstinence, and independence.

Source: Sahih Muslim 2721, Grade: Sahih

For those who are struggling to meet their needs, it is a virtue to give them charity but it is even better to give them the means to support themselves, as in the popular saying, “Feed a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

On one occasion, a man came to the Prophet begging him for charity but the Prophet gave him the means to work for himself.

Anas ibn Malik reported: A man from the Ansar came to the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, and begged from him. The Prophet asked:

أَمَا فِي بَيْتِكَ شَيْءٌ

Have you nothing in your house?

He replied, “Yes, a piece of cloth, a part of which we wear and a part of which we spread on the ground, and a wooden bowl from which we drink water.” The Prophet said:

ائْتِنِي بِهِمَا

Bring them to me.

He then brought these articles to him and he took them in his hands and asked:

مَنْ يَشْتَرِي هَذَيْنِ

Who will buy these?

A man said, “I will buy them for one coin.” He said twice or thrice:

مَنْ يَزِيدُ عَلَى دِرْهَمٍ

Who will offer more than one coin?

A man said, “I will buy them for two coins.” He gave these to him and took the two coins and, giving them to the helper, the Prophet said:

اشْتَرِ بِأَحَدِهِمَا طَعَامًا فَانْبِذْهُ إِلَى أَهْلِكَ وَاشْتَرِ بِالْآخَرِ قَدُومًا فَأْتِنِي بِهِ

Buy food with one of them and hand it to your family, and buy an axe and bring it to me.

He then brought it to him. The Prophet fixed a handle on it with his own hands and said:

اذْهَبْ فَاحْتَطِبْ وَبِعْ وَلَا أَرَيَنَّكَ خَمْسَةَ عَشَرَ يَوْمًا

Go gather firewood and sell it, and do not let me see you for a fortnight.

The man went away and gathered firewood and sold it. When he had earned ten coins, he came to him and bought a garment with some of them and food with the others. The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, then said:

هَذَا خَيْرٌ لَكَ مِنْ أَنْ تَجِيءَ الْمَسْأَلَةُ نُكْتَةً فِي وَجْهِكَ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ إِنَّ الْمَسْأَلَةَ لَا تَصْلُحُ إِلَّا لِثَلَاثَةٍ لِذِي فَقْرٍ مُدْقِعٍ أَوْ لِذِي غُرْمٍ مُفْظِعٍ أَوْ لِذِي دَمٍ مُوجِعٍ

This is better for you than that begging should come as a spot on your face on the Day of Judgment. Begging is right only for three people: for one who is in grinding poverty, or for one who is in severe debt, or for a painful compensation for killing.

Source: Sunan Abu Dawud 1641, Grade: Hasan

Begging without a valid excuse is a major sin in Islam and there is no blessing in the charity one receives from such begging.

Mu’awiya reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

لَا تُلْحِفُوا فِي الْمَسْأَلَةِ فَوَاللَّهِ لَا يَسْأَلُنِي أَحَدٌ مِنْكُمْ شَيْئًا فَتُخْرِجَ لَهُ مَسْأَلَتُهُ مِنِّي شَيْئًا وَأَنَا لَهُ كَارِهٌ فَيُبَارَكَ لَهُ فِيمَا أَعْطَيْتُهُ

Do not be persistent in begging. By Allah, if one of you asks me for something and I give it to him unwillingly, then there is no blessing in what I have given him.

Source: Sahih Muslim 1038, Grade: Sahih

Begging for charity is only permissible in cases of dire need such as overcoming a large debt, experiencing a calamity, or suffering in extreme poverty.

Qabisa ibn Mukhariq reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

يَا قَبِيصَةُ إِنَّ الْمَسْأَلَةَ لَا تَحِلُّ إِلَّا لِأَحَدِ ثَلَاثَةٍ رَجُلٍ تَحَمَّلَ حَمَالَةً فَحَلَّتْ لَهُ الْمَسْأَلَةُ حَتَّى يُصِيبَهَا ثُمَّ يُمْسِكُ وَرَجُلٌ أَصَابَتْهُ جَائِحَةٌ اجْتَاحَتْ مَالَهُ فَحَلَّتْ لَهُ الْمَسْأَلَةُ حَتَّى يُصِيبَ قِوَامًا مِنْ عَيْشٍ أَوْ قَالَ سِدَادًا مِنْ عَيْشٍ وَرَجُلٌ أَصَابَتْهُ فَاقَةٌ حَتَّى يَقُومَ ثَلَاثَةٌ مِنْ ذَوِي الْحِجَا مِنْ قَوْمِهِ لَقَدْ أَصَابَتْ فُلَانًا فَاقَةٌ فَحَلَّتْ لَهُ الْمَسْأَلَةُ حَتَّى يُصِيبَ قِوَامًا مِنْ عَيْشٍ أَوْ قَالَ سِدَادًا مِنْ عَيْشٍ فَمَا سِوَاهُنَّ مِنْ الْمَسْأَلَةِ يَا قَبِيصَةُ سُحْتًا يَأْكُلُهَا صَاحِبُهَا سُحْتًا

O Qabisa, begging is not lawful except for one of three cases: a man who is in heavy debt, so begging is permissible for him until he pays it, after which he must stop; a man whose property is destroyed by a calamity, so begging is permissible for him until he can support himself; and a man who is afflicted by poverty attested to by three astute members of his people, so begging is permissible for him until he can support himself. O Qabisa, besides these three begging is forbidden and the beggar consumes what is forbidden.

Source: Sahih Muslim 1044, Grade: Sahih

For this reason, the Prophet taught the companions not to ask others for charity. In fact, this was part of the pledge of allegiance some of the companions made to the Prophet.

Awf ibn Malik reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

أَلَا تُبَايِعُونَ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ

Will you not give your pledge of allegiance to the Messenger of Allah?

Someone said, “O Messenger of Allah, we have already given you our pledge, so what are we pledging to now?” The Prophet said:

أَنْ تَعْبُدُوا اللَّهَ وَلَا تُشْرِكُوا بِهِ شَيْئًا وَتُصَلُّوا الصَّلَوَاتِ الْخَمْسَ وَتَسْمَعُوا وَتُطِيعُوا وَلَا تَسْأَلُوا النَّاسَ شَيْئًا

That you worship Allah and do not associate any partners with Him, that you pray for five prayers, that you listen and obey, and that you do not ask people for anything.

Source: Sahih Muslim 1043, Grade: Sahih

The companions were so careful to obey this command that they would not ask for help even in small matters. Awf ibn Malik said:

فَلَقَدْ كَانَ بَعْضُ أُولَئِكَ النَّفَرِ يَسْقُطُ سَوْطُهُ فَمَا يَسْأَلُ أَحَدًا أَنْ يُنَاوِلَهُ إِيَّاهُ

Indeed, some of those people obeyed this to the extent that if his whip were to fall from his mount, he would not ask anyone to hand it to him.

It is not necessary for Muslims to go so far, but this demonstrates how seriously the companions took this command.

Despite the injunctions against begging, we should answer the request of the beggar and give them charity, for the Prophet never refused anyone who asked him in the name of Islam.

Musa ibn Anas reported:

مَا سُئِلَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ عَلَى الْإِسْلَامِ شَيْئًا إِلَّا أَعْطَاهُ قَالَ فَجَاءَهُ رَجُلٌ فَأَعْطَاهُ غَنَمًا بَيْنَ جَبَلَيْنِ فَرَجَعَ إِلَى قَوْمِهِ فَقَالَ يَا قَوْمِ أَسْلِمُوا فَإِنَّ مُحَمَّدًا يُعْطِي عَطَاءً لَا يَخْشَى الْفَاقَةَ

The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, was never asked anything for the sake of Islam but that he would give it. He gave a man large numbers of sheep, so the man went back to his people and said: O people, become Muslim because Muhammad gives as if he has no fear of poverty.

Source: Sahih Muslim 4275, Grade: Sahih

The Prophet would even give charity even to beggars who were rude and disrespectful.

Anas ibn Malik reported:

كُنْتُ أَمْشِي مَعَ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ وَعَلَيْهِ بُرْدٌ نَجْرَانِيٌّ غَلِيظُ الْحَاشِيَةِ فَأَدْرَكَهُ أَعْرَابِيٌّ فَجَبَذَ بِرِدَائِهِ جَبْذَةً شَدِيدَةً قَالَ أَنَسٌ فَنَظَرْتُ إِلَى صَفْحَةِ عَاتِقِ النَّبِيِّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ وَقَدْ أَثَّرَتْ بِهَا حَاشِيَةُ الرِّدَاءِ مِنْ شِدَّةِ جَبْذَتِهِ ثُمَّ قَالَ يَا مُحَمَّدُ مُرْ لِي مِنْ مَالِ اللَّهِ الَّذِي عِنْدَكَ فَالْتَفَتَ إِلَيْهِ فَضَحِكَ ثُمَّ أَمَرَ لَهُ بِعَطَاءٍ

I was walking with the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, while he was wearing a Najrani sheet with a thick border. A desert Arab overtook the Prophet and forcibly pulled his clothes. I looked at the shoulder of the Prophet and I saw that the edge of his shirt had left a mark because of the strength of his pull. The man said: O Muhammad, order them to give me something from Allah’s wealth which you have! The Prophet turned and he smiled, then he ordered that he be given charity.

Source: Sahih Bukhari 5738, Grade: Sahih

In summary, Muslims should develop a strong and responsible work ethic. We should do our best to provide for ourselves and others, rather than relying upon the charity of others. We should not beg unless it is absolutely necessary, but even then we should answer the request of the beggar.

Success comes from Allah, and Allah knows best.