Faith Friday: Rumi on Purposeful & Meaningful Work

Two inspiring Muslims, Muhammad Ali and Peter Sanders, from two very different career fields. (source: Peter Sanders Photography)

The Amir said: “Night and day my heart and Soul are intent upon serving God, but because of my responsibilities with Mongol affairs I have no time for such service.” Rumi answered: Those works too are work done for God, since they are the means of providing peace and security for your country. You sacrifice yourself, your possessions, your time, so the hearts of a few will be lifted to peacefully obeying God’s will. So this too is a good work. God has inclined you towards such good work, and your great love for what you do is proof of God’s blessing. However, if your love of work were to weaken, this would be a sign of grace denied, for God leads only those who are worthy into those right attitudes that will earn spiritual rewards.  
Take the case of a hot bath. Its heat comes from the fuel that is burned, such as dry hay, firewood, dung and the like. In the same way, God uses what to outward appearance looks evil and nasty, yet in reality is the means to cleanliness and purity. Like the bath, the man or woman fired by the efforts of work becomes purified and a benefit to all people. - Jalaludin Rumi, 'Fihi Ma Fihi'

When I was working in the fashion world I enjoyed myself and learned a lot but I also felt that I wasn't fulfilling my purpose. That troubled me, perhaps because of my aspirations and responsibilities as a Muslim. I began asking Muslims of various professions and from numerous industries how they reconciled faith with their work. Many of them said, "I wish I was doing something more meaningful." I could relate to that a lot. At the same time, I also thought, "Hang on, we can't all be imams, sheikhs, teachers, doctors, scientists, counsellors, etc. Muslims can and should make a difference in many industries. We can't all make hijrah to an Islamic country or volunteer in a developing country. If we can, we should try to make a difference and benefit others wherever we are."

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a translation of Rumi's book 'Fihi Ma Fihi' ('It is What it Is' - free PDF version). Rumi is famously known for his poetry but in this book he writes more casually and anecdotally. However, that doesn't mean the book is any less important or powerful. Not to me, at least. When I came across this particular page I knew I had to share it because I know a lot of people wished they could change jobs or switch industries and perhaps rightfully so. People have their personal reasons. But for those who are undecided perhaps Rumi's words could bring you some comfort or spark a change of perspective.

Additionally, in order to overcome or counter Islamophobia, Muslims need to set a good example everywhere and anywhere. Strengthen your position. Earn your recognition. Assert your positive influence. Improve yourself first, and then benefit those closest to you such as your family, friends and colleagues but don't be afraid to think big! As Steve Jobs said,

"The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do."

Whatever your purpose may be, the underlying aim is to do it with sincerity. According to Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, the Prophet (peace be upon him) came across a group of men who were discussing the dajjal (the false messiah or the antichrist). He (peace be upon him) then said, "Can I tell you what frightens me more for my ummah than the dajjal himself?". The men asked him what that might be. He replied, "That they work for other than the sake of Allah." Another hadith reveals a similar sentiment: Abu Dhar said, "I was with the Prophet (peace be upon him) one day and I heard him saying: "There is something I fear more for my ummah than the dajjal." It was then that I became afraid, so I said: "Oh Rasulullah! Which thing is that?" He (peace be upon him) said; "Misguided and astray scholars." [Musnad Ahmad (5/145) No. 21334 and 21335] 

Whether your purpose is clear or not, your dreams big or small, or your job seems important or trivial, it is your sincerity that will help you to find clarity, fulfillment and earn God's pleasure.