Islam has honored, cared for and dignified the workers, and preceded all cultures in codifying the rights of workers while, in many other cultures and civilizations, the mere meaning of work was synonymous with slavery and dependency, and in others places, it implied humiliation and shame.
Islam offered specific rights to workers as citizens and community members and maintained a lot of the principles that guarantee their rights as workers with the aims of establishing social justice and securing a decent life for the workers and their families in their lifetime and after their death.
Islam has appreciated the value of work, viewed it from a respectful and extolling perspective, raised its value and linked the human dignity to it. Islam made work one of the religious duties that man is rewarded for and considered it an act of worship. The worker who enters upon the morning by getting their provision and the sustenance of his family and works for the superiority of his nation and realization of the good for the community is better than the worshipper who leans to worship and forsakes work.
Inactivity and disdaining working is a sign of shortage in man’s humanity and a reason for his insipidity and deterioration. Therefore, the Qur’an and Sunnah have honored work and confirmed the rights and duties of workers. We will quote some of these Islamic values of tolerance sustained by their proofs from the Qur’an and Sunnah.
The right of the laborer to wages
The wages of the laborer is a commitment on the employer, and therefore Islam assigned great care for it. We have already seen how Islam considered work a kind of worship, placed it on the peak of religious duties and maintained that the one who provides for his brother is better than his brother in terms of worship and closure to God. It is upon this holy outlook Islam sanctifies the worker’s right to a fair wage, and urges that every worker should be given his due right in return for his work.
The word ajr (with its different meanings that include wages) has been mentioned in the Qur’an in 150 places including the story of Shu`ayb and Musa (Moses) where Allah says:
She said, “Then one of the two women came to him walking with shyness. She said, “Indeed, my father invites you that he may reward you for having watered for us.” So when he came to him and related to him the story, he said, “Fear not. You have escaped from the wrongdoing people.” [Al-Quran, surah Al-Qasas, verse 25].
Abu Umamah reported: The Messenger of Allah said, “Allah decrees the (Hell) Fire and debars paradise for the one who usurps the rights of a believer by taking a false oath.” One man asked: “O Messenger of Allah! “Even if it should be for an insignificant thing?” He said, “Even if it be a stick of the Arak tree (i.e., the tree from which Miswak sticks are taken.) [Narrated by Muslim].
The laborer has the right to take equal and fair dues that fit his capabilities and talents. Almighty Allah says, “and do not deprive people of their due” [Al-Quran, surah Al-A’raf, verse 85].
Almighty Allah has warned of bad outcomes for the employer if he gave his employees’ wages that do not fit their work as Allah says,
Woe to those who give less [than due]. Who, when they take a measure from people, take in full. But if they give by measure or by weight to them, they cause loss. [Al-Quran, surah Al-Mutaffifin, verse 1-3].
Imam At-Tabari explains the meaning of the mutaffif in the verse by the one who reduces the right of their owners. A laborer has the right to take the appropriate dues for his effort in the work. Almighty Allah says,
“And O my people, give full measure and weight in justice and do not deprive the people of their due and do not commit abuse on the earth, spreading corruption.” [Al-Quran, surah Hud, verse 85].
Giving out the wages on the spot
Islam stressed that a laborer is entitled to taking his wages once he completes his work. It was narrated from
‘Abdullah bin ”Umar that the Messenger of Allah said: “Give the worker his wages before his sweat dries.” [Narrated by Ibn Majah]
Also, Abu Hurairah narrated that the Prophet said, “Allah said, ‘I will be an opponent to three types of people on the Day of Resurrection: One who makes a covenant in My Name, but proves treacherous; one who sells a free person and eats his price; and one who employs a laborer and takes full work from him but does not pay him for his labor.’” [Narrated by Al-Bukhari].
The right of the worker to choose an appropriate work
Islam has dignified work, elevated the status of workers and gave orders to engage in different labors that bring forth the good for the employers and employees. The texts of the Qur’an and Sunnah have stressed this in numerous places. God says,
And say, “Do [as you will], for Allah will see your deeds, and [so, will] His Messenger and the believers. [Al-Quran, surah At-Tawbah, verse 105].
Moreover, Allah has made the religious obligations within the circle of capacity and ability, He says,
Allah does not charge a soul except [with that within] its capacity. It will have [the consequence of] what [good] it has gained, and it will bear [the consequence of] what [evil] it has earned. “Our Lord, do not impose blame upon us if we have forgotten or erred. Our Lord, and lay not upon us a burden like that which You laid upon those before us. Our Lord, and burden us not with that which we have no ability to bear. And pardon us, and forgive us; and have mercy upon us. You are our protector, so give us victory over the disbelieving people.” [Al-Quran, surah Al-Baqarah, verse 286].
Abu Hurairah reported Allah’s Messenger said, “It is essential to feed the slave, clothe him (properly) and not burden him with work which is beyond his power.” [Narrated by Muslim].
Imam Ibn Hazm stated in his book Al-Muhalla “The government has to provide for the laborer enough food, the appropriate clothing, and the fitting domicile and to provide all the legal facilities. Moreover, the wages should meet all of this. Otherwise, it is a kind of injustice.”
The right of the laborer to rest
The worker has the right to rest, and the employer must not overburden him in a way that causes harm to his health, or makes him unable to work. Shu’ayb said to Moses when he wanted Moses to work for him,
“And I do not wish to put you in difficulty.” [Al-Quran, surah Al-Qasas, verse 27].
The Messenger of Allah said, “Do not charge them with works that they cannot afford.” [Narrated by An-Nasa’i and Ibn Majah].
Also, it was narrated that ‘Abdullah ibn `Umar said: “The Messenger of Allah entered my apartment and said: “I have been told that you stand all night (in prayer) and fast all day.’ I said: ‘Yes (I do).’ He said: ‘Do not do that. Sleep and stand (in prayer); fast and break your fast. For your eyes have a right over you, your body has a right over you, your body has a right over you, your wife has a right over you, your guest has a right over you, and your friend has a right over you.” [Narrated by An-Nasa’i].
This confirms the laborer’s right to rest, perform the duties of worship and accomplish the rights of his own family.
The worker’s right to fully obtain the rights determined by the employer
The employer must give the worker the rights he has stipulated upon himself and should not try to diminish anything of them because this is a kind of injustice and involves serious consequences. The employer must not misuse the severe need of the laborer to work to diminish his right and devalue his due fees. Islam prohibits injustice and confirms that “There should be no harm or reciprocating harm.”
The right of the worker not to be fired in case of the lack of his production
It is not to the employer to dismiss the worker from his job if his ability to produce is decreased by means of some sickness resulting from work or because of the worker’s old age. The general rule is that if the employer agreed with a person on a specific work, in which he remained until he grows old, it is not for the employer to kick him out of work when he grows old. Yet, he should acknowledge his age as he benefitted from his youth.
This rule and value are referred to in the hadith of the Prophet when he saw a man who exhausted his camel in work and when the camel grew old he determined to slaughter it. The Prophet said to the man, “You ate his youth and when he became fable you wanted to slaughter it!” So, the man left the camel. [Authenticated by Al-Haithami and Al-Albani]
The right of the worker to preserve his dignity
Islam asked the employer to protect the dignity of the worker. The employer should not humiliate the worker like a slave. In the history of Islam, there have been numerous situations in the life of his great men that support this principle.
The Prophet would eat with the workers and assist them in affording what they undertook of works. Also, it is not permissible for the employer to hit or abuse the laborer and if this happens, he should be held accountable for what he did.
Al-Ma’rur ibn Suwaid reported: “I saw Abu Dharr wearing a nice gown, and his slave was also wearing one similar to it. I asked him about it, and he said that he had exchanged harsh words with a person during the lifetime of the Messenger of Allah and put him to shame by making a reference to his mother. That person came to the Messenger of Allah and made mention of that to him. Thereupon the Messenger of Allah said, “You are a person who has remnants of the ‘Days of Ignorance’ in you. Your slaves are your brothers. Allah has placed them under your authority. He who has his brother under him, should feed him from whatever he eats, and dress him with whatever he wears, and do not burden them (assign a burdensome task to them) beyond their capacity; and if you burden them then help them.” [Narrated by Al- Bukhari and Muslim].
It was narrated that ‘Aishah said: “The Messenger of Allah never beat any of his servants or wives, and his hand never hit anything.” [Narrated by Ibn Majah]
The right of the worker to offer his rituals
An employer is asked to allow the workers to offer the rituals of worship imposed upon them, such as prayer and fasting. It is noted that the religious practicing worker is closer to goodness and is expected to perform his work in sincerity and perfectness. An employer should not hinder his laborers from worship because doing so is included in the punishment stated by the following Quranic verse:
The ones who prefer the worldly life over the Hereafter and avert [people] from the way of Allah, seeking to make it (seem) deviant. Those are in extreme error. Al-Quran, surah Ibrahim, verse 3].
Also, Allah says:
Have you seen the one who forbids. A servant when he prays? Have you seen if he is upon guidance. Or enjoins righteousness? Have you seen if he denies and turns away. Does he not know that Allah sees? [Al-Quran, surah Al-‘Alaq, verse 6-14].
The right of the laborer to complain and litigate
The Islamic rulings related to work are not limited to the organization of the basic rules related to laborers’ rights but also discussed the procedures that regulate the right of the worker to complain and litigate. Islam did not leave the parties of the contract vainly but it facilitated for them the course of demanding their rights whether consensually or via litigation. Islam paid great attention to the rights of the workers and assumed all the means that preserve these rights as a whole.
The Quranic verses and the Prophetic hadiths called for justices and warned against oppression because Allah does not carry out injustice against anyone and does not approve it. God says:
And Allah wants no injustice for [His] servants. [Al-Quran, surah Ghafir, verse 31].
In the divine hadith, “Verily I have made oppression unlawful for Me and for My servants too, so do not commit oppression. The rest of the hadith is the same.” The preceding nations have been yet destroyed by injustice and transgression. Almighty God says,
And We had already destroyed generations before you when they wronged [Al-Quran, surah Yunus, verse 13].
So those are their houses, desolate because of the wrong they had done. Indeed in that is a sign for people who know. [Al-Quran, surah An-Naml, verse 52]
Abu Hurairah reported:
The Prophet said, “Allah, the Exalted, says: ‘I will contend on the Day of Resurrection against three (types of) people: One who makes a covenant in My Name and then breaks it; one who sells a free man as a slave and devours his price; and one who hires a workman and having taken full work from him, does not pay him his wages.”‘ [Narrated by Al- Bukhari].
The right of the laborer in the takaful system
The word insurance is close, in meaning, in Islam to the civilian responsibility according to the modern jurisprudence which involves compelling a person to compensate for the harm which he has caused to the other. The Glorious Qur’an, the first source of legislation, has confirmed the civilian responsibility in Allah’s saying,
And never is it for a believer to kill a believer except by mistake. And whoever kills a believer by mistake – then the freeing of a believing slave and a compensation payment presented to the deceased’s family [is required] [AL-Quran, surah An-Nisaa’, verse 92].
The Sunnah, the second source of legislation, has stated this in the cases of direct damaging. Anas said, “The Prophet has gifted some food in a bowl but ‘A’ishah hit the bowl with her hand and poured the food out. The Prophet said, “Food for food and a bowl for a bowl.”
The Sunnah also imposed on the man who seizes the properties of others coercively then it is destroyed that he is held accountable for them. The Prophet said, “The hand guarantees what it takes until it gives it back.” (authenticated by Ibn Daqiq Al-‘Eid and Ibn Al-Mulaqqin according to the condition of Al-Bukhari)
According to the aforementioned bases, it is of the right of the worker to ask the employer to add him to the insurance system if its conditions, which we have stated, are met. He may resort to the court to claim for compensation for his injury.
These are the most important rights which Islam provides for the workers and guarantees for them a decent life and established social justice.
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