Does Islam encourage people to work even though if the only work they can find is low paid manual labor? Well, it is clear that Islam encourages hard work, enterprise and self sufficiency. Even when one is rightfully eligible to receive from the public treasury it is more superior to earn one’s own income.
Even if the job entails manual labor and is not well remunerated, provided one is not being taken advantage of, one should not be averse to taking up the job.
Work itself is given special importance to the extent that it is considered as an act of worship in itself. Although some people believe that they are not obliged to work because they dedicate themselves to worshiping God, this is actually a wrong perception of the concept of worship.
The Muslim scholar Imam Al-Ghazali mentioned in his book Ihyaa’ `Ulum Ad-Deen (Revival of the Religious Sciences) that Jesus (peace and blessings be upon him) once saw a man who had completely devoted himself to worship. When he asked him how he got his daily bread, the man replied that his brother, who worked, 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 the Prophet’s Companion `Umar ibn Al-Khattab, who used to stress this point further by telling people, “Never should anyone of you think that du’a (supplication) for sustenance without work will avail him, for heaven never rains gold nor silver” (The Book of Provision, Chapter 1).
The Prophet Muhammad himself, who is considered a paragon of virtues in Islam, used to pray seeking God’s refuge from laziness or idleness. Even before he was chosen as a messenger of God, he was a hardworking 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.
However, that’s may depend on the current context, if by taking employment one is paradoxically worse off than when claiming benefits from the state, than this will diminish the superiority of self sufficiency.
And Allah knows best.