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Labour Rights and Islamic Economics


May 1st is celebrated the world over as International Labour Day. In his Friday Sermon of May 1, 2009 the Khalifatullah Hadhrat Munir Ahmad Azim Sahib (atba) of Mauritius   reflected on the significance of recognizing and upholding the rights of employees and workers. The sermon makes a searing critique of the ways in which fundamental labour rights and freedoms have been virtually undermined in most countries of the world. Illustrating the case of Mauritius, the Khalifatullah (atba) points out how the political class pay lip service to the working class and indulge in tokenism to avoid addressing the real, substantive issues of their welfare and dignity.

Reflecting on the situation in the Muslim world, the Khalifatullah (atba) takes note of the strong undercurrents of dissatisfaction and discontentment among the Muslim masses against the elites of their societies. Almost presciently, the Khalifatullah (atba) anticipated the "Arab Spring" events of 2010-11 when he noted the revolutionary upsurge among the Muslim youth leading to the overthrow of governments. He noted that the deep divisions among the Muslims would increase the distance between Islamic precepts and the practice of Muslims. In recent decades, the planting of the western economic ideas and philosophies- ranging from socialism to capitalism, individualism to authoritarianism- on the Islamic soil have only created more puzzles and riddles. In these tumultuous times, the Islamic teachings are being trampled to dust by the leaders and the priests. Consequentially, the contemporary Muslim youth is vulnerable to misguidance and susceptible to violence while confusing oneself with the belief that one is doing service to the religion. The guiding presence of a Divinely- raised soul- a Khalifatullah to lead the Muslim Ummah is, thus, a historic spiritual necessity.

In the Friday Sermon, the Khalifatullah (atba) goes on to indicate and describe the outlines of Islamic norms applicable to economic and social systems. Moderation, restraint, responsibility, trust and fellow feeling are among the principles of conduct pertaining to social relations and economic activities in Islam, points out the Khalifatullah (atba). The task is to translate these ethical and spiritual norms of Islam into enforceable measures and legal rules. There could, however, be debates about specific policies and particular measures needed to maintain social equilibrium between individual freedoms and collective responsibilities. Be that as it may, Islamic norms and values can cater to and adapt in, the dynamic environment of changing societies, points out the Khalifatullah (atba).

Read the Extracts from the Friday Sermon:

“And We desired to show favour unto those who were oppressed in the Earth, and to make them examples and make them the Inheritors, and to establish them on Earth…” (28: 6-7)


Today is the first Friday Sermon in the month of Jamadal Awwal and also that of the month of May and it is a public holiday in Mauritius and also in many countries in the world today is Labour Day, a day for the workers whereby they have an insight of their rights.

Allah and His Messenger (peace be upon him) have also taught men their rights in this world. Each worker, each community, each people have each contribution for the development of their country. Each worker, whatever his qualification, intelligence, competence, quality of work, each of them has contributed to the welfare of their country. It is not just a group of people or a community who contribute to the development of a country. Each citizen in this world belonging to Allah has their right and liberty of expression. Nobody is more superior to others in the eyes of Allah. That is why you see that in Islam, when you stand up to pray, one must be held close to each other, shoulder to shoulder. There is no reserved place in the Mosque for either a minister or a king or for a scavenger etc.

Labour Day should be only for the workers so that they may do an analysis of the contribution which they have made to the country and it is also a day of reflection to found out about the foul play which there is in each sector of the different industries. It is also a way to ameliorate all that which is not working properly and it is a means to help the lower-class workers to meet their end as we may say. It is also an opportunity to find solutions to prevent exploitation of workers (especially the poor, weak of intellect, young girls and women) whereby they receive lesser salary whereas the high-class employers are making millions of roupies profit on each of their head. Moreover, these employers do not hesitate to fire these lower-class people from their work, and do not pay them their due. To protect themselves and their profits from tax payment, they finally declare their business bankrupt.

There are some people who talk big, and pretend to be great defenders of workers’ right, but in fact are trampling under their feet these workers. In this country, those who earn good money, they keep on earning well; but those who are poor, the low-class workers, they are those who all the time go through difficulties and all sorts of problems. Thus they remain in debt all the time.

The politicians, especially in Mauritius have made the first of May become means to make their dirty politics. They make bus free and available to fool the workers and the citizens of the country. It is a means for them to make these citizens forget the frauds, corruption and extreme poverty which there are in the country. Islam condemns these kinds of hypocrisy and dishonesty. The workers are not analysing and realising that these politicians are little by little taking away their dignity. These politicians are always downgrading others, and attributing such and such achievements to themselves. Then in all these self-attributions to success, where is the contribution of the workers? The first of May has ceased to be Labour Day, but has become Politician Day! Each of these politicians will be pompously saying that it is him who has brought this and this person to his gathering. They are the same people who do not hesitate to walk on the corpse of workers to obtain honour and they take from workers to fill their pocket with money for them and their children, generation after generation. 

There were those who did not possess anything, but when they were elected and came to power, they became the proprietor of lots of belongings. It is unfortunate to see the news on television concentrate on politicians and some selected sects of such and such community. These sects’ religious leaders use press conferences to tell people from their own religion to act as these politicians’ partisans and come to such and such gathering on the first of May. It is the politicians who are worsening the image of the country – Mauritius which the other countries know as a Paradise Island. Politics in Mauritius has become dirty, where there is no shame. To obtain power, one party is prepared to fight the other, and doing all sorts of tricks to come to power; even if it be communalism. It is only on their lips that they say: “One people, One nation”, but at the same time they are trampling under their feet the minority. Liberty of expression and people’s opinions are being trampled, especially for the Muslims because there is no unity yet among ourselves. We are not realising where we are leading the teachings of Islam to.

Stop dreaming. The time has come to take conscience of our religion, the religion that Allah has perfected for us and then made us Muslims. We Muslims must not let ourselves be divided by third parties who are keen to create division among Muslims. We all turn towards the same Qibla, read the same Holy Book (the Quran), observe the Fast in the same month of Ramadhan. Then, why are we divided? Why are we fighting among ourselves and killing our brothers of the same faith? Reflect on what is happening in all Muslim countries throughout the world.

The contemporary Muslim world is passing through one of the most critical yet creative periods of its history. Despite political freedom and economic resilience the pattern of life imposed upon Muslims during the period of colonial rule and strengthened in more subtle ways during the post-colonial era, has remained fundamentally unchanged. The present-day upsurge in the Muslim World is an expression of the Muslim people’s repugnance to the politico-economic systems imposed upon them either directly under foreign rule or through its continuing influence via the indigenous westernizing élite, who stand mostly alienated from their own people and traditions and whose interests somehow converge with the interests of the dominant élite of the west.

Islamic resurgence symbolises the failure of the major western models – secular democracy, territorial or linguistic nationalism, individualistic capitalism and totalitarian socialism, to mention only the leading few – to take root in Muslim society and capture the imagination of the Muslim people. That is why all efforts to introduce a secular system in the Muslim lands have taken place under the protective umbrella of severe rule. At the present moment the Muslim people are striving to reassert themselves by attempting to throw off their shoulders the yoke of various models of westernisation or more correctly “west-domination”, and also to get rid of their indigenous perpetrators.

“Islamic revolution”, symbolizing a holistic move towards a new civilization, is the target of the Ummah’s tryst with destiny, whether it be any Muslim countries. Islam – They are today grappling with the onerous task of rediscovering Islam’s relevance to their present-day problems and of formulating its answers to the challenges of the modern age. In spite of all the tensions and travails which characterize the contemporary Muslim is groping to perform the uphill task of establishing a New Social Order based on the ideals and values of Islam and capable of leading Muslims through the rough waters of the modern age. In spite of all the tensions and travails which characterise the contemporary Muslim scene, the soul of the Ummah must be engaged in producing a creative response to a multi-faced challenge.

The contemporary Muslim is groping, without a guide, to perform the uphill task of establishing a New Social Order based on the ideals and values of Islam and capable of leading Muslims through the rough waters of the modern age. The revivalist upsurge is not confined to political activism or cultural regeneration. At a deeper level there is a new awakening of Muslim thought and revivification of the entire Muslim ethos. So in this era the coming of a Caliph of Allah “Khalifatullah” is very important.

The ethical value that goes to make up the set of axioms in the model of Islamic economics would be accepted by most Muslim thinkers as essential to the Islamic system although some may have certain reservations in accepting them as necessarily sufficient. Tawhid (unity of Allah) contains within it and leads to the concepts of Risâlah (Prophethood), Hidâyah (Guidance) and Akhirâh (Accountability) but some would prefer a definite place for them in the system, maybe as a cluster of values that go to make up the first plank of the axiom set. 

Each of these concepts has its own implications for the economic system, as well as certain modifying influences on the implications of one another. Similarly the concept of freedom may also be formulated by others with a shade of difference. Human freedoms as well as human responsibility must be based on the coming of a Chosen Servant of Allah (especially when the teachings of Islam have been trampled to dust).  Some of us would feel that while correcting the imbalance embedded in western concepts of individualism and capitalism the delicate balance established by Islam through its concepts of Fard ‘alâ al-ain (Individual responsibility that is non-transferable) and Fard alâ al-Kifayah (Collective responsibility dischargeable by even a few) deserve to be captured in the system. Al-Adl (justice) is central to the Islamic system but it has to be supplemented by Al-Ihsan (beneficence).

Moreover, the interregional implications of Al-Adl are as important as are the interpersonal and inter-temporal ones. The question of the unity of the Ummah, its economic consolidation, and its non dependence on the non-Muslim world are so integral to the system, by essential aspects of “a man of God” that others may assign to this value a seat in the assembly of axioms. Emphasis must be put on equitable distribution of income and wealth should be shared but it would be difficult for many of us to agree with the role he assigns to the institution of private property as such in generating this inequality. That unrestricted private property is one such factor no one would dispute; but to assume that near total abolition of private property is what Islam aims at for achieving social equity would be against the mainstream of Islamic thought, classical as well as modern. The Islamic concept of trusteeship does not exclude right of ownership, restricted by the use – limits laid down by the Quran and Sunnah. There is very little evidence, logical or canonical, to suggest that “collective ownership” is or has ever been the Islamic norm.

More careful and rigorous differentiation between private ownership based on the concept of Amânah (Trusteeship) and the unrestricted private property and enterprise of capitalism as well as the collectivization of property in different brands of socialism deserves to be made. Similarly clear distinction between equity and equality, not to say of “absolute equality”. Islam’s commitment to equity and a fair distribution of income and wealth ensure justice in society, without imposing any artificial equality over the unequals.

The Islamic perspective on life is one of certainty, social harmony and dynamism. The Islamic emphasis on unity, acting as an integrative force, provides man with a perspective of certainty since guidance along the path of finding the truth comes from God, who is Truth Himself. Furthermore, Unity makes it “natural” for man’s economic behaviours to coalesce and reinforce each other.

Equilibrium (that is, Al-Adl), as the cohesive force in the universe, dictates a middle-of-the-road philosophy leading man on to the “straight path” of social harmony, and enjoining him to avoid all extremes.

Human freedom gets a new definition within the framework of the Islamic philosophy where the individual, though providentially endowed with free will, is never allowed to assume promethean irreverence. Nor are all his preferences an infallible guide to social action. In particular, individual freedom that constitutes a negation of unity or Equilibrium is not recognised in Islam.

Man must voluntarily curtail his own freedom in order to maximize collective freedom. This can best be done by increasing his social consciousness. This is the responsibility axiom which is both a restraining and a liberating force. It restrains (or rather constrains) human freedom by making man responsible not only for what he does but also for what goes on around him. At the same time, man has been asked (indeed commanded) by God to break the chains of traditions. In forbidding him to be backward looking or static, Islam is neither hide-bound nor tradition bound. Hence, there is no option left for him but to be forward looking. Thus, contrary to what is often asserted about the static nature of the Islamic outlook on life, the doctrines of Equilibrium and Responsibility build into the Islamic system an irrepressible dynamism, which refuses to tolerate the predominance of obscurantist force, which tend to prevent social change.

Should a class of social exploiters attempt to disturb Equilibrium, it is the responsibility of all men to restore it. In the Islamic perspective this struggle goes on between the just people and those who are unjust irrespective of the class to which they may belong.

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