Work, work, work, work, work [ad infinitum]. Today I am thinking about ‘work’. This week I have been ‘blessed’ with the task of having to mark one hundred and eighty-odd books. Spelling, grammar, PEE paragraphs, and all. And this, amid preparing for and delivering lessons. And all of those additional[ly numerous] pastoral considerations.
Alhamdulillah, though. ‘Work’ is truly a blessing. To be able to be concerned not with things like whether or not I will be able to eat tonight or have access to fresh water (etc.), but about things like whether or not I have printed out the Year Eights’ worksheets for tomorrow. To be financially secure, and to have this structure to my days, reminiscent precisely of all of my own former school days. [Teaching is definitely a befitting career path for stationery addicts and school-lovers!]
I have so much to do… I really like it, though sometimes it feels like the stress is enough to give me a stomach ulcer or something. There are always ‘pay-offs’ at play when it comes to work (and, indeed, when it comes to all things in life!) I can either make that History lesson as wonderful as it could possibly be: carry out some more research for it, tick all the boxes, every single one of the statutory ‘criteria for success’. Or I can focus more on those English lessons, instead. I cannot ‘do it all’, and I cannot do things ‘perfectly’. I can only assess the circumstances with which I am presented, and do my (realistic) best, given them.
I must always adapt. And try my best. عمل and تَوَكُّل. Work, and Trust.
Put the work in, and then put my Trust in my Ultimate Provider, Governor of all outcomes.
Gosh, today I am tired. My work day had begun approximately twelve hours ago. It is nice there: I like the environment. A group of lovely Muslim women, a nucleic, rather comfortable, staffroom. We are a rather ‘homogenous’ group, maybe, to outside eyes. But how different these personalities are, how various and multifaceted, when one is able to look a little closer.
That is a very important thing, in matters of work: the people, ‘work family’. Community, environment. Places – edifices and such – and the people that inhabit them, shape them, make them. I so enjoy working in a Muslim environment; I feel like my Deen is being nurtured well here, Alhamdulillah.
Also, the nature of the work you undertake is important. Sometimes, it will just be you and your work, alone. And that state of ‘flow’ that ensues, at the best of times [although marking feels like painful hackwork, at the worst of times]. You, feeling fulfilled and challenged. Like you are ‘good’ for the work, and like it, too, is good for you.
Khayr. We seek the Khayr in things. And know that we do not ‘work’ merely for the sake of work. We must take a balanced approach. Ultimately, the supreme consideration in our lives ought to be our submission to Allah.
That is another nice thing about working in a Muslim environment: when it is prayer time, you can simply pray. There are Wudhu facilities, and prayer mats.
My official time is up now, but I feel I must carry on. I want to write about ‘work’ some more, in a future article, perhaps. How important a thing it is, to talk about.
It is the thing most people in the ‘modern world’ find themselves centring the majorities of their days on – devoting their existences to, in both ‘direct’ ways, and indeed in ‘less direct’ ways (e.g. planning for family holidays around work demands). Our identities – who we are – are largely defined by what we do.
“Who are you?”
“I am [a firefighter / an accountant / the CEO of a salsa dip company].”
People are known to define themselves, almost instinctively, through their professional (or academic) titles. People are known to attach purpose and meaning, intrinsically, to these very things, too; ‘work’ finds its way to the very core of their existences.
As Muslims, we are told to partake in society; ours is not a tradition of any sort of sustained monasticism. Study, work, mingle with others. But ‘work’ in and of itself need not define us, nor give us ‘meaning’, nor be the ‘be all’ or the ‘end all’ of it all.
Because, first and foremost, we are Muslimeen. We are privileged enough to be acquainted with Haqq. The foremost consideration in our lives ought to be Deen: serving Allah. Everything else – including ‘serving’ our superiors at work – is subsidiary, and we must link everything else to our ultimate purposes. And the ‘workaholic’ ways of the ‘modern world’ around us had come about as a direct consequence of some of our fellow People of the Book having come to favour Dunya and materialism over Deen and spirituality. Trying (futilely) to satisfy the yearnings of the soul with… ‘work’, and with material ‘success’, which they had looked upon as being indicative of God’s grace and favour upon them.
“Hard work, self-denial, plus the threat of eternal damnation for the lazy” [The Guardian], and running after profits and material indicators of ‘success’, so as to (attempt to) fill gaps in meaning, and towards objectives of personal status and existential ‘legitimacy’. Do these phenomena sound familiar to you? Of course they do! Just take a look at the ways of the world around us!
As Muslims, though, we must learn to be Muslims. Our purpose, meaning, honour, and success come from Allah, as a direct consequence of bowing before Him, and not before the abstract idols of any of these capitalistic ‘workaholic’ models.
Within our considerations of work, I think we must ask ourselves: is this occupation Khayr for me? Is it Deen-friendly? Is it something I truly enjoy? Am I working in moderation; am I balancing it well with my other responsibilities and such, e.g. with giving time to my loved ones (who are constantly, with time, growing older/old), and with nurturing a good home?
It is true that working forty hours a week (and this is just a nominal number. Because I do often have to take work home with me, too) is not for everybody. And this is okay. I do not know if it will always be for me. Maybe, in the future, I will work ‘part-time’, at least at certain points in my life.
The key lies in seeking and pursuing whatever is most Khayr (good) at the time. For example, if work becomes a little too stressful one week, it is okay to take some time off and away from it all. This adage is something I have, for a while, known, but two weeks (I believe?) ago I was reminded of it, when I came home from work, more tired than is normal for me, on Mondays, and I left everything I had ‘to do’ downstairs, and simply went upstairs and relaxed, away from it all. For, what is the point of ‘work’ if it is not Khayr for me? If it eats away at goodness; if it, as a different example, begins to negatively affect my relationships with my loved ones?
And, ultimately, these well-needed rests result in better long-term relationships with our work. [The next day, I had been able to complete my tasks more happily and efficiently.]
I do not want to be a person who is ever simply ‘busy’ for the sake of being busy. And, for my work to have true ‘meaning’, I must always consider it against the backdrop of life at large. I already know what the purpose of my life is. In my work, there shall be Khayr, if I turn towards Allah throughout it all, far more so than to any considerations of salary [that age-old remark about how teachers do not get paid enough, here!] or of societal praise and recognition.
Remember Allah, and remember your Divinely-ordained rights and responsibilities (including those you have with regard to your family). Remember that ‘work’ ought not to be the beating heart of your life, and that Deen, family, health, are far more important. Let work be ancillary to them.
And explore; [come to] know yourself. What is good for you; what is not so good for you.
An example of a rather interesting academic/professional journey, I think, is YouTuber Subhi Taha’s one:
The ‘work’ part of life is not, in actuality, experienced as a series of tick-box accomplishments and such. From your (the experiencer’s) point of view, ‘work’ will not be a trail of LinkedIn updates. And ‘career stages’ are not merely transitory experiences, whose sole significance is to get you from A to B. This is life, and these are, at present, true parts of it!
You will wake up in the morning, do what you do, have breakfast (hopefully with a loved one or two), travel to work (whether by car, by train, by bike, or – if you work in Greenwich, for example, or in certain parts of Bangladesh – by boat). You will sit, surrounded by your colleagues. Talk about the news, or about your home life, or about the work you all have in common. Follow your work timetable: a meeting here, a lesson there, your lunch hour. But timetables certainly do not account for everything: they are only outlines, inherently liable to change. You do not know what each day will bring.
You do your job; try to impart Khayr onto others, and upon yourself. Our relationships with Allah, and with others (our work ‘superiors’; the people whom we serve – students, or patients, etc.; our colleagues) and with our own selves (being challenged, learning, developing, enjoying). This is what work ought to be more deeply considered in the context of. Oh, and nature! No place is a good place without some incorporation of the natural world. An orchid plant, or a bonsai tree. Or a tree to sit beneath, during your lunch hour, sometimes. Or maybe, just maybe, if you are fortunate enough, you have access to an actual cave. Sigh. A girl can dream.
This life is a test and the life of Muhammad (SAW) is our ‘exemplar paper’ to follow. He had been a statesman, a prophet. Muslim, father, husband, friend. Human being: he would tend to his own household duties, such as mending his own sandals and garments. He would climb that mountain, sit within that cave, and he would reflect.
Also, there may come some points in your life when you need to, or decide to, take some time off working. Maybe, to spend some more time with your children. Or maybe, you get a bit sick. You take a ‘year out’ to travel. Who knows? Life is, at once, so vast and so small.
What is the core of your life? Why is your work Khayr and important? And are you beginning things with ‘Bismillah’?
“Like sands passing through the hourglass, look around you: these are the days of our lives.”
The Concise Compositions series comprises a series of blog articles that are each based on a certain topic. You give yourself ten minutes – timed – to write about whatever comes to mind, based on the topic. You cannot go over the time; you cannot stop typing beforehand, either. And you cannot go back to edit [save for grammatical errors, etc.]. I challenge all fellow bloggers to give this a try [or, if you do not have a blog, try it on paper – maybe in a journal]! Include ‘ConciseCompositions’ as a tag for your pieces, and include this block of writing at the end of them. Have fun writing!
Sadia Ahmed J., 2020