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How To Achieve An Islamic Welfare State?

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Abdul Qayyum Khan Kundi discusses the key characteristics of an Islamic welfare state that almost every politician in Pakistan promises.

Every Pakistani politician claims that they want to establish an Islamic Welfare State in Pakistan. But their behavior and decisions demonstrate ignorance about the key characteristic of such a state and how to achieve it. A society that claims to be representing the ideals of Islam has to first demonstrate that they adhere to an Islamic work ethic.

Islam aspires for an individual to achieve harmony with his natural state of existence. It wants to help the person achieve self-actualization in this world as well as succeed in the afterlife. Maintaining a career that conforms to Islamic ethics is critical for achieving this higher objective.

A state or an organization can devise rules to provide quantitative benchmarks for work like hours to be worked, breaks, production or sales targets but qualitative delivery is left to the person according to Islamic tradition. It imposes responsibility on the individual to educate oneself about it from the Quran and Sunnah of the Prophet PBUH. It is a continuous struggle and does not end until the end of our temporal existence. This brings us to the question: What are the salient features of Islamic work ethics?

First and foremost, an individual has to engage in a career that provides rizq-e-halal (clean earning) which is akin to a prayer to God thereby considered a spiritual rather than a material act. It has two components: first the type of career and second discharging one’s responsibility with honesty. This means that a person has to engage in a career that is beneficial to the whole society and does not harm it in any way.

For instance, a person cannot engage in selling drugs because they cause societal damage. The second part is that the person must complete his task honestly. This means that a person that promises to work for eight hours a day should deliver it with honesty and dedication. There cannot be excessive tea or prolonged prayer breaks during the eight hours promised. What good is our five times prayer if we do not perform our duties with honesty and earn the curse of a person that needed our attention during work hours?

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The second element of Islamic work ethic is to ensure huquq ul ibad (protecting the rights of the people). This means that a person performing any duty should demonstrate compassion for not just his customers but also co-workers and contractors.

For instance, when a person comes for death, birth or succession certificate to a government office then the clerk should do his utmost to help them complete the requirement without asking for any favors or bribes or causing unnecessary delays. Similarly, making payments to contractors on time so that they don’t face cash flow problems is also adherence to huquq ul ibad. 

The third element of Islamic work ethic is being honest in maintaining oath and promises. For instance, a person should measure properly and also deliver products that are promised. Informing customers about a defect in a product is also part of maintaining a contract. It also means to deliver on time and make payments on time. There are multiple verses in the Quran in which God warns us the breach of contracts will be severely punished.

The fourth element of the Islamic work ethic is to create work and life balance. Quran repeats many times that the wealth a person generates is only granted by God alone regardless of how much work a person does.This does not mean that a person should sit at home expecting God to deliver the sustenance but rather means that a person has to create a balance between work, family, and spiritual life. Working extra hours is not a guarantee of more wealth and there should be time allocated for family and pursuit of spiritual contentment for a healthy lifestyle. This also does not mean that a person does not fulfill his promises made in terms of productivity or product delivery but that makes only those promises that can be delivered in a reasonable amount of time.

Fifth element of Islamic work ethic is maintaining discipline and productivity. There is almost eight hours gap from Fajr to zuhar prayer. So if a person starts his workday at fajr the eight hours work shift will end at zuhar. This leaves significant day time to take care of other errands as well as spend time with the family and children. 

The sixth element of Islamic work ethic is that existence in this temporal world is not without purpose. This means that there is no concept of retirement is Islam but with advancing age, a person can engage in work that is less stressful and physically taxing. Or a person can engage in charity work once enough wealth is generated for maintaining a decent lifestyle. But staying home and not engaging in productive activity is against Islamic ethics of existence.

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The seventh element of the Islamic work ethic is to be fair and just. This suggests that a person has to contain greed and blind ambition. This means a person managing a business should earn a reasonable rather than excessive profit.  Hoarding commodities to create shortages to demand higher prices is also unjust and against Islamic work ethic. The appointments and promotions should be based on merit and capability without discrimination so it has to be ensured that a deserving person is not deprived. Someone too eager to seek a position is automatically considered unfit for it as it is an indication that the title is sought for personal benefit. Caliph Omar ibn Khattab (RA) removed Khalid bin Walid from the military command when the perceptions started building that victories are attributed to him rather than the whole army.

All the above can be established through multiple verses of the Quran and example of the Prophet (PBUH). I just wanted to give a glimpse of Islamic work ethics to get the conversation going but I do hope that scholars of social sciences and Imams of the mosque will talk about this subject in detail. The bad ethical state of Pakistan is in a way reflection of failures of our Imams to guide the community.  

I consider the current republic as a failure because it does not allow a citizen to engage in productive life as dictated by Islamic work ethics. We have to build a second republic that provides an environment to exercise these ethics.



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