Saturday, December 15, 2007

Seeking Provisions

It is crucial for us to understand that trusting in God's provision for us should never prevent us from working to earn a living. The Prophet himself implied this when he said, “So stay warily conscious of God and beautify the way you beseech and request.” He implied that it is acceptable to request material support and to seek to earn a living in the world. If relying on God negated the need to request, search and earn, then the Prophet would never have declared it acceptable and admonished us to beautify the way we go about it. The Prophet never said, “Don't request,” but rather said, “Beautify the way you beseech and request.” It is as if he were telling us, “When you seek provision and request it, beautify the way that you seek it. Be polite, courteous and humble in presenting your needs, always turning over final say in every matter to God alone.” With this advice, the Prophet has allowed us to request provision through intermediate means (al-talab min al-ashab). Intermediate means could be supplicating God or working in the world. The Prophet had previously pronounced, “It is allowable for people to live off their rightful earning (kasb al-yamin).” This is just one instance among many when the Prophet showed that working and earning money is allowable as an intermediate means by which we receive our provision. Indeed the Prophet encouraged us to work and struggle to earn and improve our lot.

There are many benefits to engaging the world through hard work. The true One knows the weakness of human hearts, acknowledges our inability to clearly see what is apportioned for us, and compensates for our frailty by guaranteeing that we will receive our provision. In divine wisdom, God has allowed us to option of working and relying on intermediate means for earning, as a way of receiving this provision. Through divine benevolence, God has granted this to us as a support for our feeble hearts and repose for our forgetful souls.

Working for your living protects you from lowering your dignity by having to beg for support from others. It preserves the luster of faith from the tarnish of having to ask from other people. Whatever God gives to you by means of your work does not come as a gift from others, necessitating some subsequent obligations upon you. If someone hires you for a job or pays you for some service rendered, your boss cannot count it as a gift or charity, for your work helps to further the boss' own goals. You take your livelihood as earnings from the boss, not as charity. You take it as a right and not as a request.

As you work to earn a living, you are distracted from sinful pursuits. You are saved from the curse of idle time, which gives you the opportunity to act against God's commands. Just observe how negligent people, when they have vacation from work or periods of unemployment, dispose of their time in sinful pursuits! For such people, working for a living is a form of compassion from God; it keeps them from temptation, trouble and inevitable negative consequences. Further, earning a living allows you to be compassionate with those who do not work. The profits you earn are a means of providing the gift of livelihood to those who dedicate themselves to worship or keep their time unencumbered for meditation. If not for those who work and give their earnings, how could anyone spend time in isolated prayer or dedicated service to God? Indeed God had made earnings a from of service for others who dedicate their lives entirely to God.

From another perspective, God desires believers to grow close to each other in relationship of mutual interdependence. This is reflected in Divine Speech, Surely the believers are siblings (ihwa). Earning a living through work causes people of different backgrounds to come together, to get acquainted, to cooperate, and to learn to love each other. For this reason, only a stubbornly ignorant or foolishly heedless person would deny the efficacy of working to earn a livelihood. We have no report of the Prophet Muhammad commanding people to stop working an earning as he called them to live in accord with God. Rather, in calling his followers to divine guidance, he urged them to engage in the kinds of work that are pleasing in the sight of God. The Qur'an and the Prophet's teachings are full of exhortations to work. The poet excelled who exclaimed:

God commanded May, in her starvation
“Shake the palm tree in your desparation
And gather the dates that fall as it leans!”
The dates could have fallen, if God had willed,
And without a shake her needs could be filled
But nothing occurs without intermediate means.

How clearly the poet points out the meaning of Divine Speech [as it tells the story of Mary when she was pregnant with Jesus and living in isolation]: Shake the trunk of the date palm so that the dates fall into your gathering arms. Once the Prophet stopped at someone's house and was offered a meal of cucumbers and fresh dates. He pronounced, “This offsets the damage of that,” meaning that the cucumber require hard labor to cultivate while dates come almost freely. However, this is an exaggeration [since cultivating dates, too, takes labor].

When the Prophet said to be like and “wake up hungry in the morning and take rest well-fed in the evening,” he was teaching that working for a livelihood was the established norm in this religious community. The birds, as they wake then rest, are analogous to us in our work. We wake in the morning to earn and acquire; in the evening we return home to rest and enjoy what we earn. There is a maxim that explains this point: working with intermediate means is necessary for rectifying your material being, just as withdrawing from intermediate means is necessary for clarifying your spiritual seeing. God established intermediate means through divine wisdom's subtlety, but do not rely on them fully to acknowledge God's absolute singularity.
The Book of Illumination (Kitab al-Tanwir fi Isqat al-Tadbir)

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