Tuesday, October 15, 2013

On Work and Pay: A Muslim's Viewpoint (Feb. 2006)

Pay is money received in exchange for work. Volunteers apart, every worker expects to be paid. Some even refuse to work unless they get holidays with pay, a right to sick leave and a pension. What more could a worker ask for?

Some workers do negotiate their pay with their employers. Highly skilled people with prestigious university degrees usually get the best salaries. Some job hop for better pay or more comfortable work conditions. Less qualified workers can join unions to ask for pay rise or other rights. But, still, is that all?

Interestingly, some people downshift for the sake of peace. They give up positions where they were rightly paid and take jobs meant for people with less qualifications. The reason, they say, is stress. They were willing to sacrifice some of their original income so as to save their nerves, they would tell you.

There is yet another category of workers. These are people who do not “work” and yet get their pay each month. They just go to their place of work, report for work and sit idly in chairs while others work long hours so as to get the same salary at the end of the month. Curiously, those who “work” are much happier than those who “do not work”. The last-mentioned are not happy at all because their “working” colleagues tease them always, saying something like, “You useless people, we work to feed you. You steal our money…”

Many of those who do work before getting paid are not happy, either. The reason(s) could be stress, harassment, bullying or any form of injustice. The employer could be just, but not thoughtful enough. He may not care if you have personal or family problems. Your problems are your own problem; they must not affect your work.

Other workers just take it easy and seldom, if ever, protest. Some work in dangerous mines or in steel industry, where fire is a daily sight. Others work in the fields in the blazing sun. Others work far away from home, leaving spouse, children and relatives behind. Some are emigrants, others are in the army or sailors on the high seas. They do all that as uncomplainingly as possible because they cannot be paid if they don’t.

Hard work is much better than unemployment. A worker can pay for things a jobless person cannot. It makes a big difference when you cannot borrow money to fill an urgent need because you cannot guarantee paying the money back, while a worker with a steady income can. Worse, it is absolutely painful when you see yourself unemployed at the age of forty or older, while younger friends and relatives are already well-off.

But once you get a job you become like other workers. You too start suffering from new/old problems. You start thinking of holidays, among other things.

Holidays are the opportunity for many to rest and have fun. In France, for example, as soon as people come back from the annual holiday, they start preparing for the next, which obviously won’t come before eleven long months. One reason might be the French like boasting about their holidays. Another reason might be they simply get fed up with work between four walls.

The British, too, take holidays. Some holidays are long, others short- fortunately. Many Brits get bored by the end of Christmas holiday. Some claim that January is the month when so many people in Britain consider divorce. It is perhaps a silly assumption that Brits are anywhere close to work-addiction. But one just cannot help asking why there is so much quarrelling in British homes over Christmas. Does that not have anything to do with work between four walls?

Some people do dream of holidays, but they just cannot afford it. The City Authorities in Paris, France, thought up a brilliant idea to solve this problem. They turned part of the Seine River banks into something like Moroccan beaches. So those who cannot come to the golden beaches of my town, Mohamm├ędia, can enjoy themselves there, in Paris.

What has stricken me all the time as strange is that most of those who fill tour operator buses here are old folks. Far be it from me to suggest that senior citizens should stay at home and help their grandchildren with their homework. But this, however, sets me wondering whether a large number of people do not really look forward to old age and retirement. Couldn’t this be, for them, the time to make up for the “lost time” spent “between four walls”?

Now let me scream: why should one wait so long? After all, work is not a curse. Indeed, work is something wonderful. More than just an effort to be rewarded with (whatever) pay, work is in fact an act of worship. That is what Islam says, anyway. In this sense, even unemployment can be approached as some kind of work. The only difference is in pay. But the One who pays in both cases is the same: God.

The pay that an employer gives to an employee is but a nominal -say, moral- compensation for the effort made at work. This pay just cannot compensate for all the effort that a worker invests in his work. Every physical, mental or psychological effort you make to fulfil whatever task your employer expects you to will certainly have some (negative) bearing on your body or on your psyche at some point in later life. Whatever money or privileges you may get in exchange for your work will not replace any part of your body once damaged. Money cannot replace a lost nerve or a burn-out lung.

Smoking, obesity and high blood pressure are some work-related problems. If you add to this harassment or bullying, for example, what would your life be like? How would you behave towards your family? Would it be alright for you to shout at your loving spouse at home and smile at your bullying boss at work? How would you bear the stress of formality and etiquette if your child is suffering in hospital?

Things get worse when yours is not a steady job. As long as your work is precarious, anxiety will hardly let go of you. If you cannot provide for your pension in later life, what do you do?

Your children too will suffer if you lose your job. They will shun the company of their closest pals because they just cannot pay for the same little things, a sweet plus. What do you do then? Will you wait until the next elections to vote for the party promising more jobs?

Even if you do get a job after years of waiting, that will not “wipe out” the effects of your unemployment. The fear of losing your job will stay with you. That fear will affect your health at some point in later life.

Almost all workers lose something as they do their work. The peasant working in the fields in the blazing sun will have to deal with his aching head one day. The constant fear of bad crops will add to his problems. Idem for so many other workers.

One might imagine that some “workers” do not have anything to worry about. One would imagine that, say, an artist, for example, is someone who is free, who can work at his leisure and have a successful, enjoyable work life. But artists too do suffer. (As a novelist, I can tell you so.) An artist may have to weep days and nights, maybe years, before making you smile for a few seconds. An artist too does experience such things as stress and anxiety. An artist too needs money and stability. He too has his own social relationships. He too fears poverty, if he is not poor already.

Even those stars out there have their own “work problems”. It is not easy to become a star. The glamour of fame and opulence may not last a lifetime. And, for artists, this is painful. As soon as a star becomes a has-been, his problems will start piling up.

It’s not unusual to see a writer with a happy smile on his face after finishing a long novel. It’s not unusual to see a woman smile blissfully after delivering a baby. It’s not unusual to see a student on top of the world after obtaining a degree. But that novel has yet to be sold, and that baby has to be brought up, and that degree has to be accepted by an employer. Meanwhile, each of those may have to suffer.

Scientists say that if your head cools down after a heatstroke, that does not mean that you will escape the long-term effects of that heatstroke. The pain will go, but the effects of that and any subsequent heatstroke will pile up so that they may -God forbid- develop into something worse in the future. By analogy, all work-related problems will only accumulate over time. May God Save Us!

Why God? Did I not say that work is an act of worship? Did I not say that it is God who pays? What’s best: to turn to God or to drugs and drink?

The choice is not easy. You have to choose between (1) work that will “fulfil” all your dreams and (2) trust in God, who can fulfil your dreams.

Faith is a personal thing. If you believe in God, that means you believe in two lives, even if all people around you find it extremely hard to see that second life you are looking forward to. Your belief in the Hereafter makes you prepare for it. Whether you are an employee or an unemployed person, you “work” for both lives. If you have a job, you are approaching your work as an act of worship. If you are jobless, you are not wasting your time; you are reading books, or learning a foreign language, or doing anything you think will be of use to you when God grants your wish to have a job.

You also believe that whatever you may get in this life here below will end some day. You believe that the life that is really worth working for is the great Beyond, the one which will last for ever. In so believing, you will not care too much whether you are fully gratified or satisfied with your pay for your work here below. This belief will help you endure all pains.

Your belief in the Hereafter will not necessarily “wipe out” the bad effects of the past, but it will certainly help you cope with whatever consequences. Your belief will give you hope. You will not feel left out. That belief will make you take life as it is. It will lessen your worries. Your belief will make your day, hopefully everyday.

If you are jobless, your belief in the Hereafter will whisper in your ear that you too have your own work to do. You should not stay with your arms folded. Whatever you do during your unemployment is an investment for the future. You are accountable for what you do with your time. And then, if pay does not come here it will certainly be there.
Not that there will be no reward "here". Allah says: "Whoso desireth the reward of the world, (let him know that) with Allah is the reward of the world and the Hereafter. Allah is ever Hearer, Seer." An-Nisaa: 134 "Whoso desireth the reward of the world, We bestow on him thereof; and whoso desireth the reward of the Hereafter, We bestow on him thereof. We shall reward the thankful." Al-i'Imran : 145

This kind of belief is far from easy, but possible. Those who do not share your belief (in what could not be proved scientifically) will make it very difficult for you, all the more so since you cannot isolate yourself. Your belief is a personal matter, but you live in society. People won’t leave you alone. But your belief in God can make all that history.

That is my own belief, anyway. I am a Muslim.

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