Islam, derived from the Arabic root “Salema”, means peace, purity, submission, and obedience. Islam also means submission to the will of God and obedience to His law. Islam originated in the Middle East more than 1,400 years ago, and currently, the Muslim population is around 1.8 billion, or one-fourth of the total world population.[1] Islam is presently based not only in the Middle East but also in many Asian and African countries where approximately 69.4 per cent and 27 per cent of the total Muslim population lives, respectively. Europe and the Americas have only 3 per cent of the world’s Muslim population. There are 57 Muslim-majority states in the world now where more than one billion Muslims reside. These are also members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, founded in 1969.[2] According to the Statistical, Economic and Social Research and Training Centre for Islamic Countries (SESRIC),[3] the total population in the Muslim majority countries was 1.87 billion persons in 2019.[4] It also estimated the total labour force in the OIC countries as around 700 million workers.[5]

Given the importance of Islam in every Muslim’s daily life, Islamic teachings might have appeared prominently in labour and employment laws in these countries. Indeed, constitutions in some of the Muslim countries feature Islam as the state religion and a fundamental source for lawmaking, further requiring that no law repugnant to the injunctions of Islam could be enacted. An analysis of Constitutions of 57 Muslim majority countries states that 26 declare Islam as the religion of the state. There are 14 countries which proclaim Islam as the source of legislation.[6] However, Islamic provisions regarding labour and employment relations rarely emerge in the labour codes of Muslim countries.

The absence of Islamic principles in labour codes also stems from the fact that most of the Muslim countries were colonized at some point in the past century, and post-independence labour codes were usually just transplanted from the colonizing European nations without linking them to Islam. Thus, while the new nations’ constitutions contain many references to Islam, their labour codes are mostly devoid of even an allusion to Islamic teachings and principles.

In this work, we explore the possibility whether Islam, as a religion, can play a significant role in creation and adoption of labour codes in Muslim countries which comport with international labour standards and also meet the needs of modern economies. The religious nature of such labour codes will provide these with three essential characteristics: sustainability, adaptability, and stability. The religious and spiritual basis will make these more authentic, resonating better with the Muslim population and giving workers, employers, and citizens a sense of ownership and involvement in the labour law system.[7] Authenticity, ownership of the stakeholders and participation of the masses will also ensure more effective implementation.

Our starting point is the world of work at the time of the emergence of Islam and the occupations prevalent in Arabia. Arabs were mainly involved in “agriculture, trade, navigation and craftsmanship, which included carpentry and black smithery”.[8] We find references to these in various Quranic verses and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ). The most important and widely practised occupations were trade and agriculture. People of Makkah, the birthplace of Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ), were mostly involved in the trade. The people of Madina were engaged in agriculture. The institution of slavery was quite established at the time.[9] We find many verses in the Quran on the treatment of slaves. Keeping this in view, most of the time, the Quran and hadith refer to the master-slave and sometimes to the master-servant relationship. Moreover, because the economy at the time revolved around wars and battles, and most of the hiring was for military purposes, we see some provisions purely relating to the military. Nonetheless, many Quranic verses and ahadith are relevant to the modern employer-employee relationship.

In the early Islamic history (and even now at some places around the world), asceticism and Sufism led to voluntary unemployment among people. However, historians maintain that attitude of neglecting and avoiding work came from a negative image of manual labour, which was looked down upon in the Arab culture. Bayat (1992) has shown how the Arabic word for profession and occupation (Al-Mihna) has the connotation of humiliation and degradation. However, this view was not universal. The abandonment of work by Sufis was highly criticized by both the Sufis like Muhasibi (d. 857 AD), Talib al Makki and scholars like Shaibani (d. 804 AD), a famous Hanafi jurist. We also find work on the importance of labour and earning by others like Hanbalites (Ibn Taimiyyah (d. 1328 AD) and Abu Bakar al Khallal (d. 923 AD). They showed through hadith collections that “economic activity, both commerce and manual labour” was a duty imposed upon every individual. We find that a positive attitude toward labour was shown not only by intellectuals like Al-Isfahani[10] but also by Ikhwan Alsafa[11] (who were theologians) and the redoubtable Ibn Khaldun (d. 1406 AD).[12] Sufi arguments for work avoidance could also be refuted on the precept that Islam never asks its followers for ascetism. Instead, the Quran directs people to search for livelihood just after attending the Friday congregational prayers (62:10), so it neither requires nor expects people to spend their whole time in the mosque.
Introduction Islamiclabourcode

As we will notice in the following discussion, most of the injunctions in the Quran and Sunnah relating to a harmonious employer-employee relationship are forms of moral suasion. They can be analogized to the international labour standards, adopted by the International Labour Organization (ILO). Both have the moral force of authoritative and universally acknowledged norms. However, it is essential to note that, first, Islam encourages the state to play a role in regulating the labour market (as indicated in the establishment of the institution of Hisba), and second, these moral persuasions act as forceful legal injunctions concerning fundamental Muslim belief of the hereafter (al-akhirah). In this context, an individual is successful only if he is successful in the afterlife, and this success depends on whether one observed the moral standards encouraged by Islam.[13] Islam, like other Semitic religions, is an other-worldly religion where efforts and actions in this world will be fully rewarded or punished in the hereafter. This solicitude for the other world makes these moral persuasions stronger than mere legal injunctions. Islam does not deny the importance of legal provisions (instead, it encourages the role of the state); however, it takes the view that legal provisions without moral or ethical support have less significance.[14] The current work is also an attempt to turn these moral suasions into legally enforceable provisions.

This work is different from other studies done on the Islamic labour relations system in many ways. It is a non-comparative study; it does not compare Islamic labour provisions with other systems in the world and try to prove that Islam is the best system to follow. As explained by Bayat (1992), most of the literature on the subject is “an undeclared argument against Marxism”. There has always been an attempt to compare Islamic economic teachings with those of capitalist and socialist systems.  This book presents the Islamic system of labour law as it is, without trying to Islamicize current and modern workers’ rights provisions. It also does not claim that the Quran and Sunnah, the primary sources of Islamic lawmaking, have explained and resolved every workplace problem. These are not (and never were) labour codes; instead, these are believed to be the codes of life.[15] Various matters have been discussed in these sources in general terms, and most of the time, rules have been derived from these general provisions. The inferences from the Quran and Sunnah are based on our own interpretations, and we do not in any way claim these to be the only acceptable view.[16] Any mistake in inference or interpretation of the verses of the Quran or excerpts from hadith is solely ours.[17]

The current work is structured as follows. Section 2 identifies sources of lawmaking in Islam as well as the role of government in employment relations and the critical institution of “Hisbah”, or oversight of compliance with Islamic teachings. Section 3 discusses rights and responsibilities at work and provides extensive citations from the Quran and hadith relating to labour and employment issues. Section 4 presents a comprehensive Islamic Labour Code, based on the teachings of Quran and Sunnah, with detailed provisions on substantive labour rights.

Though a work in progress, it is designed as a legal document, ready for use and adaptation by Governments. It can also be used by trade unions and other rights-based organizations to advocate for legislative and institutional reforms in labour-related matters in the light of Islamic teachings. Similarly, it can be used by progressive enterprises, aiming to embed Islamic teachings in their organizational policies and cultures. The ultimate aim of this work is to raise awareness among the masses, especially the practitioners of labour law, industrial relations, human resources as well as those working with the legislative bodies, about Islamic injunctions on individual and collective employment relations. While rooted in Islamic teachings, the work does not claim any religious sanctification and is well aware of its limitations.

[1] Pew Research Centre


[3] It is a subsidiary organ of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and was founded in 1977.


[5] Considering the fact that Muslim population is living in countries other than OIC members, e.g., India where the Muslim population exceeds 200 million persons, we estimate that Muslim labour force is around 800 million workers.

[6] Other than Afghanistan, Iran, Maldives and Pakistan, the remaining 10 countries (Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria and United Arab Emirates) are based in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

[7] For details, please see Zulfiqar, A. A. 2007. Religious sanctification of labor law: Islamic labor principles and model provisions. University of Pennsylvania Journal of Labor and Employment Law 9 (3):421–44

[8] Please refer to Bayat, A. 1992. Work ethics in Islam: A comparison with Protestantism. The Islamic Quarterly 36 (01):05– 27

[9] Islam provided many ways for emancipation of slaves, for example, spending the Zakat funds for emancipating slaves and the option of Mukatabat (24:33)

[10] Raghib al-Isfahani (d.1109 AD). Isphahani also criticized Sufis while quoting an incidence at the time of second Caliph, Umar (RA) where the Caliph asked a pious man if he had a profession, and when his answer was negative, Umar (RA) did not approve it much and had a low opinion of him.

[11] Known as “Brethren of Purity”. It was the tenth-and eleventh-century secret brotherhood of philoso- phers and scientists who wrote Epistles of the Brethren of Purity and they gave a “doctrinal view to labor”. They were of the view that labor is sacred like God . . . because an artisan/laborer “creates new forms from the raw material which has no form, and in doing so, he incorporates and utilizes intelligence and thought”. Shatzmiller (1994, 380).

[12] Famous North African Islamic thinker, believed by many as the father of sociology. He was of the view that “Human labor is necessary for every profit and capital accumulation . . . the capital a person earns and acquires, if resulting from a craft, is the value realized from his/her labor”. For a comparison between the above three scholars, see The Islamic Philosophy of Labor and Crafts: The View of the Ikhwan al-Safa’, Isfahani, and Ibn Khaldun by Mohamed, Y.

[13] Quran talks about losers in the following words, “Shall I inform you of the greatest losers in their actions? People whose efforts in the life of this world are misguided while they suppose that they are doing good”. (18: 103–04)

[14] Shafi, M. M. 1988. Distribution of wealth in Islam. Karachi: Begum Aisha Bawany Wakf

[15] The Quranic claim that it is a “a detailed explanation of all things” (12-111) simply means that various life issues have been discussed in it. It is up to the readers to contemplate and derive various principles.

وَتَفْصِيلَ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ ۝

The ultimate aim and purpose of the Quran is explained in the following verse: “There has indeed come to you a light from Allah (i.e., Muhammad [blessings and peace be upon him]) and an Enlightening Book (i.e., the Holy Qur’an). By this Allah guides those who seek His pleasure to the paths to peace (and security), and takes them out of darkness (of ignorance and disbelief) by His command, and leads them to the light (of faith and guidance), and directs them towards the straight road”. (05:15-16)

قَدْ جَاءَكُمْ مِنَ اللَّهِ نُورٌ وَكِتَابٌ مُبِينٌ۝ يَهْدِي بِهِ اللَّهُ مَنِ اتَّبَعَ رِضْوَانَهُ سُبُلَ السَّلَامِ وَيُخْرِجُهُمْ مِنَ الظُّلُمَاتِ إِلَى النُّورِ بِإِذْنِهِ وَيَهْدِيهِمْ إِلَى صِرَاطٍ مُسْتَقِيمٍ ۝

[16] Inferring principles from Islamic teachings (Quran and Sunnah) is not an easy task. We invoke Allah for His help and for accepting our effort. The Quran has explained that drawing inference from a given information is not everyone’s task: “And if any (secret) matter pertaining to peace or war comes within their ken, they spread it abroad – whereas, if they would but refer it unto the Apostle and unto those from among the believers who have been entrusted with authority, such of them as are engaged in obtaining intelligence would indeed know [what to do with] it”. (04:83)

وَإِذَا جَاءَهُمْ أَمْرٌ مِنَ الْأَمْنِ أَوِ الْخَوْفِ أَذَاعُوا بِهِ وَلَوْ رَدُّوهُ إِلَى الرَّسُولِ وَإِلَى أُولِي الْأَمْرِ مِنْهُمْ لَعَلِمَهُ الَّذِينَ يَسْتَنْبِطُونَهُ مِنْهُمْ ۝

[17] May Allah forgive us for all such instances, Amen.