Islam and Professionalism: In Search of Excellence


Towards Becoming Better Muslims:


By Dr. Mahmudul Hasan


Sunday, 24 March 2013 00:00


Islam not only encourages us to be proactive and to work hard. It also puts an emphasis on doing our work in the best possible manner.


In a world of competition and continuous struggle to achieve progress and prosperity, Muslims need to remind themselves of Islamic work ethics and professionalism. They should go back to the Islamic way of doing things, not necessarily the Muslim way of doing things. They need to go back to the sunnah (tradition) of all Prophets to excel in their work and to establish for them a respectable position in the twenty-first century world. In today’s world, when we think of professionalism or excellence in work, the usual scenario that comes to our mind is, for example, how the Japanese accomplish their work or how people in America and in west European countries perform their professional duties. While we can learn important lessons from the people of these countries, we must appreciate the importance of professionalism in our religion. We should not forget that ‘good work’ and ‘excellence in work’ are two of the most important principles of Islam.


A Religion of Action

Islam is a religion of action, not of idleness. In the Quran, almost in all places the mention of ‘faith’ is invariably followed by that of ‘good deeds’. All of us are familiar with the oft-repeated expression aamanu wa amelus salihat (those who believe and do good deeds) in the Quran. No matter how sincerely Muslims may believe, it is pointless for them to live a life without putting their faith into action and practice. In the Quran, the word ’amal (work) appears 360 times, and a synonymous term fi’l (also translated as work) is mentioned in another 109 places. So altogether the concept of work appears 469 times in the Quran. This recurrent use of the concept of work in the Quran and in innumerablehadiths emphasizes the need for the believers to be proactive. Islam does not support any idea of waiting for God’s blessing in idleness. Nor is God happy with those Muslims who perform some basic daily and periodic rituals and spend most of their time in indolence and idleness, for example, in watching TV or gossiping with friends and family. In other words, the teachings of Islam do not suggest that it is enough for Muslims to profess faith and perform some rituals, but do nothing for the benefit of themselves or the wider society. Rather, in Islam true faith and sincere deeds are inseparable. Islam promotes the idea of earning with continuous struggle what God has allotted for a person. As the Quran states: {That man can have nothing but what he strives for; that (the fruit of) his striving will soon come in sight. Then he will be rewarded with a complete reward.} (53: 3941)


Prophets and Excellence

when it comes to hard work, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the best role model for us to emulate

The outstanding classical Muslim scholar Imam Al-Ghazali mentions in the eleventh-century monumental work Ihyaa’ `Ulum Ad-Deen(Revival of the Religious Sciences) that the Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him) once encountered a person who completely devoted himself to worshipping God. Jesus asked the man what he did to earn his living. The man replied that his brother worked and provided him with food. Jesus then told him: “That brother of yours is more religious than you are.” (The Book of Provision, Chapter 1). Al-Ghazali also mentions a precept of Umar ibn Al-Khattab who used to stress this point further by telling people: “Never should anyone of you think thatdu`a for sustenance without work will avail him, for heaven never rains gold nor silver” (The Book of Provision, Chapter 1). After all, when it comes to hard work, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the best role model for us to emulate. It is mentioned in prominent hadiths that he used to pray to God to seek refuge from laziness or idleness. We all know that even before he was chosen as a messenger of God, he was well-known as a hardworking and trustworthy person. This earned him the respect of his employer, Khadijah, who later proposed marriage to him because of all the merits and virtues she saw in him. Islam not only encourages us to be proactive and to work hard. It also puts an emphasis on doing our work in the best possible manner; in other words, it promotes ‘comprehensive excellence’. The Quranic term for excellence is ihsan and two of its derivatives are muhsin and its plural muhsinun. The word ihsan and its various derivatives occur innumerable times in the Quran. And this tells us about the enormous importance of ‘excellence in work’ in Islam. Islam does not stop simply by advising us to do good deeds. It tells us to do good deeds and to excel in good deeds. The Quran states: {If Allah had wished He would surely have made you one community (professing one faith). But He wished to try and test you by that which He gave you. So try to excel in good deeds. To Him you will all return in the end, when He will inform you concerning that over which you used to differ.} (Al-Ma’idah 5: 48). Prophet Muhammad also did not stop by guiding us to do good deeds; he also made it a point to tell us to perform our good deeds in the best possible manner. He said:  “Do good deeds properly, sincerely and moderately. . . Always adopt a middle, moderate, regular course, whereby you will reach your target (of paradise).” (Al-Bukhari)


Excellence and Its Importance

Based on the importance Islam lays on ‘excellence in work’, we can say that professionalism is part of our duty as God’s vicegerents in this world. As God’s vicegerents, we Muslims are meant to actively participate in all permissible professions in all walks of life and to excel in everything that we do without compromising core Islamic values.

the Quran teaches us that unless humans can anchor their work in faith, they are the losers

In the conventional sense of the term, in today’s secular world, professionalism sometimes involves telling lies, twisting the truth, or, in some professions, exposing one’s awrah in order to look smart and to attract clients. In most cases, professionalism is used to serve one’s own selfish interests without any regard for ethical conduct and honesty. People without regard for Islamic rules and teachings may work hard and try to excel in their professions only for self-glorification or for material aggrandizement in this world. The Quran regards such hard work and professionalism as misdirected, short sighted, wrongly motivated and wrongly focused. It touches on such wrongly prioritized professionals in the following manner. God says: {Say: Shall We inform you of the greatest losers in (their) deeds? (These are) they whose labor is misdirected and lost in worldly life, even though they think that they are doing well in work.} (Al-Kahf 18: 103-4). Also the Quran teaches us that unless humans can anchor their work in faith, they are the losers. (Al-Asr 103). We Muslims are extremely fortunate by the mercy of God that our efforts are not misdirected. Our efforts are aimed at achieving rewards in this world and in the hereafter. We are instructed to promote Islamic causes by rendering services to humanity, by cultivating beneficial knowledge and by nurturing the future leaders of the Muslim ummah. If we can get our intention right and if we can excel in the work that we do for the pleasure of God, our professionalism and hard work can be a means for our salvation in the next life, in sha’ Allah. With the Quranic spirit of amal saleh and ihsan, let us multiply our efforts and excel in all good deeds that we do.


Dr. Md. Mahmudul Hasan is Assistant Professor of English Language and Literature at the International Islamic University – Malaysia (IIUM)

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