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West London Islamic Centre & Jamia Masjid

Islamic Articles::Citizenship & Social Responsibilities

Entrepreneurship & Self-Reliance in Islam

A common misconception in the minds of Muslims, and people in general, is that the mark of a religious person is detachment from worldly life. He would be a person having not much wealth, nor want it. He wouldn’t really be involved in business, commerce or the professions, and that most of the time you would find him in the masjid.

This is what some people think. Does Islam agree?

When we look at the lives of the most religious Muslims who ever lived, those whose hearts were attached to Allah and His Messenger and who were engaged in works of righteousness all the time – the companions of the Prophet Muhammed (pbuh), we discover something interesting. Many of them were rich and wealthy and by today's standards they would be termed as millionaires.

Was this because they loved the dunya (worldly matters)? Was it because they preferred to live a life of luxury and comfort? No, it was because they were embodying in their lives the teaching of the Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) who said:

“The honour of a Muslim is in his being free of need of others.” (Related in Tabarani)

The honour of a Muslim comes from not needing anything from anyone (except Allah). They were being encouraged to stand on their own two feet; not to rely on loans and hand-outs; that the best food they ate was from the earnings of their own hands, as narrated by the Prophet of Allah that:

'No one has ever eaten any food that is better than eating what his hands have earned. And indeed the Prophet of Allah, Dawud (David), would eat from the earnings of his hands.'

The companions of the Prophet (pbuh) used to adopt a very professional attitude when it came to earning their livelihood. They knew the market, they knew the people and they knew where to get the best deals. One time the Prophet (pbuh) asked his companion Urwa bin al-Ja’d to go and buy him a sheep – which cost about 1 gold dinar. Urwa went away with the single dinar that the Prophet had given him, found a man from whom he bought two sheep with the dinar, then sold one of them back to another man for a dinar, and returned to the Prophet handing over the sheep and the Prophet’s money. The Prophet was pleased with him and made du’a (supplication) that Allah bless Urwa in his business dealings.

Another example is that of Abdur-Rahman bin Awf who entered Madinah penniless, having left Makkah to escape the persecution of the idol-worshippers. Upon his arrival the Prophet(pbuh) asked one of the wealthiest people of Madinah to look after him. This blessed man offered to split his wealth in two and give half of it to Abdur-Rahman, but Abdur-Rahman made du’a for him and politely declined his offer before asking to be shown the way to the market of Madinah. Abdur-Rahman is described as being a man who set out for the market early in the day. He bought and sold goods, and in a very shot-time had earned enough that he married one of the women of Madinah and giving her gold as her mahr (dowry).

At the same time, the Sahaba (companions) were the best in prioritising the different aspects of their life. Allah (swt) describes:

'Men whom neither trade nor sale (business) diverts from the remembrance of Allah and performing prayer and giving zakah.” (Al-Qur’an 24:37)

If one of them were to hear the adhan (call to prayer) whilst buying or selling, they would not hesitate to put everything aside and go and offer Salah in the masjid. There was no question in their minds of ‘let me make one more sale before I go’ they would just up and leave. If you are a business person, imagine these sahaba in your place. What would their attitude be towards offering not the just the Jummah prayer but also the five daily prayers? When you start work in a new job, what is the first thing you look for? The local Kebbabish or the local masjid?

Spending all our time busy with work at the expense of time spent worshipping Allah and looking after our families is unjust. Even though we have noted that there is much in Islam and in the history of the earliest Muslims that encourages us to be successful business and career orientated people, we should understand that this is not meant to turn us into slaves of worldly life. We need to focus our hearts on worship, prayer and charity as much, if not more than we do in making our businesses succeed; we need to extend our Islamic knowledge and have a meaningful and positive impact on our communities. Making money to ‘secure’ our families is of no use if we do not play an active part in their physical, spiritual and moral upbringing – which is our greatest security.

This brings us to the important question of how we earn our living. There is no doubt that one of the obligations upon the Muslim is that he earn for himself and his family a pure and halal sustenance. The Prophet (pbuh) mentioned a traveller on a long journey, who is dishevelled and dusty, and he stretches forth his hands to the sky and supplicates, 'O my Lord! O my Lord!' - while his food is unlawful, his drink is unlawful, his clothing is unlawful, and he is nourished unlawfully; how can he expect his supplication to be answered?

Islam adopts a middle way in all things, even in business. Islam doesn’t frown upon a rich person for being rich, indeed prosperity is a test in itself. What is frowned upon is a persons heart being attached to his wealth. Imam Ahmad (ra) said that,

'Abstinence is that you have money and you don’t become overwhelmed with sadness when it decreases, and you don’t become overwhelmed by joy when it increases.'

How often is it that Allah blesses a person with lots of wealth, and that person starts to forget who the true controller of his wealth and status is? The true believer is the one who can function with wealth but not be overcome by it. Whilst at the same time an able and fit believer is not a burden on society, he does not rely on hand-outs, welfare or benefits. He or she tries every way possible to educate, train and secure a job or vocation, to feed, accomodate and clothe their loved ones, benefit the less fortunate in society and attain inner-satisfaction, self-respect and the pleasure of Allah (swt).

The Prophet(pbuh) said: 'This religion is easy. No one becomes harsh and extreme in the religion without it overwhelming him. So fulfill your duties as best you can and rejoice. Rely upon the efforts of the morning and the evening and a little at night and you will reach your goal.' [Al Bukhari]