As far as Islamic Shari`ah is concerned, work is an act of worship that has certain rights and duties on the part of the employers and the employees.
Dr. Muzammil H. Siddiqi, president of the Fiqh Council of North America, states the following: Workers justice is a very important topic and it should be discussed in detail by Muslim scholars. There is a great need for developing specific rules and legislations for governments and corporations in the Muslim world. Among Muslim countries, to my knowledge, Pakistan and Iran have some specific rules in this area. The full and proper implementation of these rules is also needed. To explain briefly some basic values and principles related to workers rights, let me say the following:
Justice and fair dealings are basic values of Islam and they must be always emphasized. No peace and harmony in the society can exist without justice. Justice should be done to all people. What is justice? There are two words used for justice in the Qur’an: al-`adl and al-qist. `Adl is to follow the balanced way, neither going to one extreme nor to another, neither extravagance nor negligence. Qist means to recognize that every person and everything in this world has some rights. To give every one his, her or its dues is justice. Injustice is to deprive others their dues. Almighty Allah says in the Qur’an: [O you who believe, stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for Allah can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest you swerve, and if you distort (justice) or decline to do justice, verily Allah is well acquainted with all that you do](An-Nisaa’ 4:135).
All people are equal. It does not make any difference to what race they belong, what color they have, what country they come from, what their gender is or what their occupation is. Young and old, rich and poor, white and black, citizens or foreigners with legal work permits are all equal; and they all should be respected, honored, and treated equally. Almighty Allah says: [ O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other (not that you may despise each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full Knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things)](Al-Hujurat 49:13).
Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said the following words in his last sermon:
“O people, indeed your Lord is one and your father is one. Behold, there is no superiority for an Arab over a non-Arab, nor for a non-Arab over an Arab, nor for a white person over a black person, nor for a black person over a white person, except through piety.” (Musnad Ahmad)
High Regard for Work and for Workers
Islam has given high regard for work. Those who work and earn their living by their own labor must be respected. Of course, the work has to be lawful and it should be done in an honest and sincere manner. All anti-social works, irresponsible behavior, and work done with cheating and deception are forbidden in Islam. Employers and employees all must be honest and must deal with each other justly.
On the treatment of workers there are general and specific teachings in Islam. The following five points must be emphasized:
1. Clear and proper agreements. All agreements, whether oral or written, must be clear and transparent. The agreements must be just and lawful. Employees should know their duties and responsibilities and they should be told their rights in terms of vacations, leaves, compensations, etc. Allah says in the Qur’an [O you who believe, fulfill your contracts] (Al-Ma’idah 5:1). The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Muslims must abide by their agreements, unless there is an agreement that makes halal what is haram or makes haram what is halal“ (At-Tirmidhi). This means that illegal terms and conditions are not valid under Islamic law. It is the duty of both the employers and the employees to fulfill their agreements to the best of their capacities.
2. The dignity of workers. Islamic law allows all human beings the right to enter upon any lawful profession or occupation and to conduct any lawful trade or business. The workers should be treated with dignity and honor. No work is menial or degrading. Our Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) kissed the hands of a laborer who showed him his rough hands due to his hard labor. He prayed for him and spoke very highly of those who labor over against those who sit idle or go begging. Islam teaches that workers should be treated with kindness. Allah says [Serve Allah, and make not any partners with Him in His divinity. Do good to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbors who are near, neighbors who are strangers, the companion by your side, the way-farer (you meet) and those whom your right hands possess (your workers): for Allah loves not the arrogant, the vainglorious. (Nor) those who are stingy, or enjoin stinginess on others, or hide the bounties which Allah has bestowed on them; for We have prepared, for those who are ungrateful, a humiliating punishment](An-Nisaa’ 4:36-37).
3. Kindness to workers. Workers are our brothers and sisters. They are our helpers. We need them; we depend on them for many things that we cannot do for ourselves. Workers should not be given work beyond their capacity. They should have a humane and safe environment for work. They should be compensated if they are injured on the job. They should have time for work and time for themselves and their families. Children or minors should not be used for labor. Women should have proper environment for hijab without jeopardizing the rules of khalwah (privacy). They should not be employed in vocations that are unsuitable to their gender, and they must be ensured maternity benefits in their employment. The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Your brothers are your responsibility. Allah has made them under your hands. So whosoever has a brother under his hand, let him give him food as he eats and dress as he dresses. Do not give them work that will overburden them and if you give them such task then provide them assistance” (Al-Bukhari).
4. Proper and timely wages. Workers should be given proper and just wages. Exploitation of any person is not allowed in Islam. Allah says [To the Madyan people We sent Shu`aib, one of their own brethren. He said: “O my people, worship Allah; you have no other god but Him. Now has come unto you a Clear (Sign) from your Lord. Give just measure and weight, nor withhold from the people the things that are their due; and do no mischief on the earth after it has been set in order: that will be best for you, if you have Faith] (Al-A`raf 7:85). Allah warns those who take full measure but give less to others: [Woe to those that deal in fraud. Those who, when they have to receive by measure from men, exact full measure. But when they have to give by measure or weight to men, give less than due. Do they not think that they will be called to account? On a Mighty Day. A Day when (all) mankind will stand before the Lord of the Worlds] (Al-Mutaffifin 83:1-6). Workers should also be paid on time. The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Give to the worker his wages before his sweat dries” (Ibn Majah).
5. Freedom to form unions. Based on all the above principles, we can also infer that workers in Islam have a right to exercise the freedom of association and the right to form unions. Special trade unions and associations help workers in their work and socialization. They can also help workers to seek justice for their rights and bargaining power to receive proper compensations. However, employers and employees all must fear Allah in the exercise of their rights and duties.