The Dignity Of Work
Imam W. Deen Muhammad
(Editor's note: Following are excerpts from an address delivered by Imam W, Deen Muhammad in Gary, Ind. on Aug. 27, 1982.)
I HAVE SPOKEN many times on the dignity of work — what it means to the spiritual life of the individual as well as what it means to the society. This time I want to speak in the context of religious history and also the history of the United States of America.
Praise be to Allah. Muslims were involved in the history of this country -its early development. In fact, it is documented that Muslims were here centuries before this country way founded. It is documented in a couple of new books out right now that Muslims were here in America long before this country was founded. They were exploring this part of the world, and built settlements.
It is also documented that the Jews were in the very beginning of this country.
We know of the Christians' part in the settling of this country, and their part in the actual establishment of our form of government - - the democratic government of America. It all began with people seeking new lands, new opportunities.
WHY WOULD people seek new lands—? Because they want new opportunities. They were seeking new horizons for broader vision.
THIS LAND has been called by many people the land of opportunity, and opportunity itself suggests the need for people to do some work, doesn't it?
Opportunity is an opportunity to act, to do something, to be involved. 1 believe this land is the land of opportunity more than it is the land of freedom.
Sometimes we get it mixed up. We think the best description of this country is closer to the idea of freedom than it is to the idea of work. But actually work is what made this country. Workers coming here made it possible for this land and this country to be developed. If workers hadn't come here, nothing at all would have happened.
People were seeking new, broader horizons for realizing their own aspirations, and their aspirations involved work.
We have to understand that those Christian pioneers who landed in Plymouth came here with the desire to have more freedom and opportunity to practice their religion as they believed it. Those people came here also with a desire to work — they came here as workers, They suffered many tragedies along with others who came here just for material gain.
SO WE HAVE a few major concerns that underlined the movement of people from other parts of the world to this land. One is the strong Christian concern. And the other is the strong concern for more material outlets, or more material resources, strong material concern. Another is the strong concern for freedom, democracy - not just the religious concern, but a general concern for freedom. That general concern for freedom is based on the concept of man in scripture.
The Christians say in their scripture that man is a sacred vessel, that God has put into him a need to grow and that need to grow is sacred. No one should suppress that need. No one should deny him the full evolution of his inner potential. Man has an inner potential and no one should suppress or deny the growth God intended for it.
That concept is very much the same as our concept in Al-Islam. Allah says in the Quran that lie has created you to grow. God says He has created you to grow; then growth is sacred your growth is sacred.
SO WE FIND that the two religions are saying exactly the same thing concerning the dignity of the individual; that dignity is sacred and the human being has a sacred right to realize his full potential or the full capacity or the full possibilities for that individual.
Praise be to Allah, now we see history as it concerns us here in America, both as religious people and as citizens of the United States. Let's go back now to the groups that I named who were visitors here long before the country itself was founded.
I named the Muslims, I named Jews, and of course we are well aware of the great Christian movement here from Europe.
THE JEWISH group that came this way are called Sephardim, Sephardim Jews. Other Jews came too, but they came here with strong religious motives. They too wanted to advance freedom and release the human potential so it would be free to grow to the greater dimensions that God had intended for it.
These Jews made financial contributions and other contributions to the development and growth of the United States. How significant their contribution was is not the concern here; it is enough to say that Jews were involved in the beginnings of this country and they did make significant contributions.
THE MUSLIM involvement is documented that not only were Muslims settled here long before this country was founded, but they owned the ships, those three ships, the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. On those ships also, were Muslims. We have it documented that Columbus was aided by Muslims. He was aided by a Muslim navigator and they met with other Muslim navigators before even undertaking the great challenge of coming across the ocean to this part of the world.
So we know that the Muslims were involved, but what we don't know is that Muslims were also involved financially and scientifically with the newcomers who braved the great task of establishing themselves in a wilderness.
THE OLDEST alliance we have is our alliance with Morocco, a Muslim country in Africa — that is the oldest alliance. No other alliance has outlived the alliance this country has with Morocco.
The treaty is one to support each other and to work together to advance peace in the good life of human beings. That kind of treaty, that kind of alliance exists between this country, the United States, and the Muslim country, Morocco. That agreement represents the longest formal political bond between the United States and any other country.
We have that as a unique Muslim situation for the American people. No other country, including all of the Christian countries, have had an agreement, an association with this country longer than the one enjoyed by the United States and Morocco.
LET'S GO BACK to the pioneers now. If any of you have read in school as part of your school work, or if you have done some reading on your own, about the perils and the hardships that the pioneers and other settlers had to face to get here and stay, then you must understand that work was involved.
This country wasn't founded and established by shiftless, lazy people or by people looking for a soft career. It was established by people who were looking for great possibilities, and they didn't care how hard the job was, they accepted it and worked to reach those possibilities.
They were not people looking for a salary. They worked for something bigger than a salary. If they were just looking for a salary perhaps they would have turned back as soon as they got on the ocean. I know most of us — if we had to spend 10 nights on the ocean being sea sick and so forth, we would say, "Wait — can you take me back?! Have we gone out too far to go back?!"
THEY WERE NOT just looking for a salary, they were looking for great hopes, great possibilities, even bigger possibilities. And that's the way we have to think if we want to call ourselves a community that's representing leadership for the world!
No community, no organization, no group can represent leadership for the world if they are only looking for the perishable things, the selfish things of life.
They have to be looking for greater possibilities for the whole of humanity.
They have to have vision that is big enough to appeal to a whole people, to many people, to different races, different communities, even different nations.
THEIR IDEA or their vision has to appeal to a broad spectrum of people and concerns. If they can't do that then they should never try to put themselves off as a community that represents leadership for other people or leadership for the world.
You can't represent leader- * ship for other people and leadership for the world unless you have a vision, unless you have ambitions and hopes that are big enough to accommodate other people and big enough to accommodate the world.
Anybody accepting the challenge that big has to be a worker by nature, not a lazy people.
DEAR BELOVED Muslims, we are trying to show how this aspiration we have now to become more productive in America and more meaningful in the whole context of life for human beings ties in with our American reality. That's the purpose of this address, to show you how it ties in with our American reality.
Believe me, those who go places in this country, are those who work hard!
I don't care whether it's in politics or in finance. I don't care what field it's in or what sphere it's in, those who go places in this country are those who work hard.
And they must work consistently. They can't be seasonal workers, saying, "Oh, it's spring. I don't want to work" - and when it gets hot and when the temperature goes up to 100 they sit down for a rest. No they have to be consistent workers. They have to work through all of the seasons. Those are the people who really get ahead in this country.
If we can let that enthusiasm spark our own lives, you'll see just how successful we'll be as individuals, as families and as communities.
NOW WE COME to the Quran for the concept of work. We can approach it from many directions, but we are going to approach it from a very basic concept in religion, from the concept of the human being as a dignified creature, and that he has great potential. From the concept that man cannot serve man without respecting the central dignity of the human person.
Whatever we do — we may set up an educational institution, establish a Clara Muhammad School, and as teachers, as educators we have great vision — if we don't respect what is central for man, that institution will eventually fail because other concerns will come in that will be destructive, self-defeating.
You may have a concern to impress people, that you are really educators, that you have the vision as educators - that concern will eventually defeat you.
You may have a concern to earn money, saying, "Oh, we are going to establish such an excellent school that people will be attracted to this school from the rich quarters of society. We'll have rich people who'll want to have their children here. That means we have an opportunity here to grow rich," You may establish an institution just to become rich.
Do you see the many concerns that could come in? No matter what the initial intention was, many other concerns can come in and defeat that initial intention.
THE INTENT to promote education is a sacred intent, but it can be corrupted, knocked off track and bring us to a bad end. So it is with civic involvement or political involvement.
We can get a desire and say, "Oh, we want to give Mayor Hatcher (Gary, Ind.) our support. That man is courageous. He's the mayor here and he's been successfully voted in over and over again for several times now. That shows he has what it takes. He has guts, he has stick-to-it-ivness — He's not a quitter. I'm going to join Mayor Hatcher, and I'm going to make this ghetto a fine prosperous city."
We can say all that, can't we? But if we don't come in with respect for what is vital, what is sacred in the life of every human being, that hope will fail us, or we will fail that hope, eventually.
The thing that gives us longevity on the Earth, no matter what involvement we undertake, is respect for what is central, for what is sacred for each given person. America has lost it simply because of that.
America was founded on the sacredness of the individual. The whole vision of the American government, how it operates, is based on the sacredness of the individual person.
We live in a country that is founded on that idea, and that idea has been sustaining this country and preserving it. Our Constitution is perhaps the oldest living Constitution for any nation on this Earth - - the Constitution of these United States.
WHY HAS IT LIVED so long, when other countries have had to scrap their Constitution and make new ones? Because their Constitution wasn't based on that respect for what is central in the life of every human being, that common denominator that binds every human together, the human content that God made in every human being and the great potential there because of that human nature.
If it were animal nature, the potential wouldn't be there; if it were a gorilla in that vessel, the potential wouldn't be there. Now I could go on and on....
That potential is there because God created that vessel for the human being and has given man the vision and the insight to identify that human content. And when he identifies it, he says, "This is the sacred dimension, the sacred dimension upon which we have to pattern the whole society."
Countries that have understood this and have taken it up have been successful. And America, I repeat, is successful because it has. Us whole Constitution is designed with respect for that. And as long as this country is held to that commitment, we have hope in this country.
But when we as citizens start to exert pressure on our leaders and on our government and on the people themselves to keep that kind of concern — loyalty and respect in the people, the leaders of the country — we have hope. When we stop doing that, we have no hope. If we fail that, we fail ourselves, we fail the country.
To do that takes courage. To do that we have to have workers.
THE QURAN tells us very clearly the perception we have to have in order to stay in touch with that. As long as we stay in touch with that, we have hope. If we lose touch with that, we don't have hope any more.
The Quran has given us the vision or the perception that will keep that hope for us. Not that the Quran is the only book that gives it to us. The Quran is the word of God. If anybody accepts a book or an idea as coming from God, and then himself believes in God. then that idea grounded in God or grounded in something that has been approved by God has more possibilities for growth, for success than an idea grounded in something that was imagined or created by an individual.
No individual can have as much reality in the life of people as God could. That's impossible!
So if we can show in a religious context, especially in scriptural context, this vision, this purpose, the sacredness of the human being, this vital core that we need for everything else to spring from, to grow from, to evolve around, to be patterned upon, then we really are on the way.