I never really saw myself as a working mother, but when my children were 5 and 2, it felt like the right time to reconnect with that side of my life. After many interviews I finally got offered a good job, just a short commute from home. I had many fears about returning to this environment after several years of study and child rearing. What impact would this have on family life? Would my youngest child be OK without me? But most importantly, could I practise my faith as I had been doing for the last few years?
It was a reminder that we never really know where the blessings are going to be found, but Alhamdulillah, going to back to work was really good for me and my family. Somehow, it gave me back a bit of sparkle that I didn’t know I’d lost. Sitting at a clean desk, in a sunny corner of an office, with a cup of coffee that I would be able to drink while still warm, was such a luxury! I also loved the job, and enjoyed using my brain in a different way, and developing relationships with my colleagues that were based on things other than family and children. It seemed to create more balance in the relationship between me and my husband, who took on more responsibilities around the house, and I now treasured time with my children, rather than feeling like I needed a break from them!
I am fortunate to work in a University in a multi-cultural city, and so many of my fears in regard to practising Islam were unfounded. There are many other Muslims at the University, and even a few in my department. There are prayer rooms easily accessible at any time, and as my work is flexible, it’s easy to fit the prayers in. In this regard, my fears about practising Islam were unfounded.
Instead, there were some less expected challenges that relate to Ihsaan (loosely translated to mean sincerity or integrity), that our inner faith should be reflected in our actions at all times. A struggle at the best of times, I have particularly struggled with how to maintain this in the workplace. The first and most obvious thing, is that there are many opportunities for back biting within an open plan office. I enjoy a friendly relationship with my colleagues, but conversation can easily cross a line where I don’t want to follow, or even be present, since the one who listens to backbiting is the same as the one who initiates, unless you try to stop it.
The Prophet, peace be upon him said: “Whoever among you sees an evil action, let him change it with his hand (by taking action); if he cannot, then with his tongue (by speaking out); and if he cannot, then with his heart (by hating it and feeling it is wrong), and that is the weakest of faith.” [Muslim].
Not only this, but feelings of being slighted by others make me tempted to join in. This is not something I would be tempted to do in my private life, and it made me aware of the nature of the nafs ( the ego or soul with desires) and the continuous presence of Shaitan, which means that even when we train ourselves in one situation, we may need to go back over those steps when we find ourselves in a new situation.
“Say to My servants that they should only say those things that are best, for Satan does sow dissensions among them, for Satan is to man an avowed enemy”. (Quran 17:53)
Even more complex is the potential contradiction between the Islamic character traits of modesty and sincerity in our actions so that they are not done just to be seen by others, and the personality which is expected in the work place, where selling oneself and ones achievements are seen as key to progression. I found it easy to make the decision that I wanted to maintain my Islamic character, even if that meant missing out at work while others get ahead. After all, our provision is decided upon by Allah, and what he intends for us will not pass us by:
The Prophet, peace be upon him said, “If you all put your trust in Allah with due reliance, He will certainly give you provision as He supplies provisions to birds who get up hungry in the morning and return with full belly at dusk.” (Hadith Ibn-Majah)
However, in my first few months at work I was paralysed by the lack of ability to distinguish between speaking or acting out of need or purpose, or speaking or acting to be perceived in a particular way, fearing a deficiency in my intention:
The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Verily, my greater fear for you is the lesser idolatry.” They said, “What is the lesser idolatry, O Messenger of Allah?” The Prophet said, “It is ostentation. Allah Almighty will say to them on the Day of Resurrection, when people are being recompensed for their deeds: Go to those for whom you made a show in the world and look, do you find any reward with them?”
Source: Musnad Aḥmad 23119
Over time, I have come to realise there doesn’t need to be any contradiction. We are Muslims wherever we go, and if we’re getting it right, we should be a benefit to those around us. If our intention is correct, we can speak of our achievements and capabilities in order to progress in the workplace. We know that everything halal that we do, can be ibaadah (an act of worship) with the right intention. By working I can help my family enjoy a more comfortable lifestyle and secure our children’s future. My work itself is also potentially improving people’s lives, by the grace of Allah, and if I put this intention at the forefront it makes it much easier to decide when to speak out and when to stay silent.
Hard work and sincerity may not be noticed straight away, but over time they can be recognised. For me, the process of maintaining Ihsaan in the workplace is an ongoing project, with new challenges coming constantly. I hope inshaa’Allah that this process will help me understand myself better, and ultimately bring me closer to Allah.
About the author:
Fatima–Minna lives and works in the UK. She has two lively little boys who keep her very busy, and strives to increase in nearness to Allah.