Islam’s recipe for sustainable livelihood in the age of COVID-19

August 14, 2020

AS of June 2020, about 1.6 billion workers in the informal sector, out of a global total of two billion, and a worldwide workforce of 3.3 billion, could barely earn a living. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) stated that these were the people whose livelihood were either destroyed or significantly hampered by the ravaging coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

As the world struggles to live with the pandemic, the world labour body has also predicted serious implications for workers in the formal economy, making the world unsafe for all categories of people. Many workers of the formal sector have also lost jobs or had their income reduced significantly. With the gradual ease of lockdown measures across the globe, governments, especially in the developed nations, have prioritised the opening of critical sectors that could quickly reinvigorate their collapsing economies.

The call for reopening of worship centres was, however, rife in Africa, where the operation of the religious organisations is the main source of income for a significant number of people. Though informal, crude and unpredictable, the continued dependence on these organizations for a living is a reflection of the desperation to survive occasioned by the high rate of unemployment in the developing world. No doubt, this pandemic has exposed the weak link between an average man and his source of living. Must a man be caught economically unawares? Must a Muslim be caught in the web of economic uncertainty? Must a Muslim be so desperate to survive?

Allah has revealed the Qur’an as a guide in all aspects of decision making. ‘…And We have revealed to you the book, explaining all things, a guide, a mercy and glad tidings to Muslims’ (Q16 vs 89). Islam already outlines the steps for man to earn a sustainable and decent living but the problem has been traced to ignorance or complete disregard for these measures. The prophets, whom Allah sent as models, have also practically demonstrated the steps to economic freedom.


By far the most enduring means of living for man is agriculture. The Creator calls the attention of man to the unlimited bounties in this sector in several verses of the Qur’an: ‘It is He who has spread out the earth for his creatures. Therein is fruit, and date palms, with spatters, and husked corn, and scented herbs. Then which of the favours of your Lord will you deny?” (Q 55:10-13), and “Then let man look at his food, how we pair forth water in abundance, then we split the earth into fragments and produce therein corn and grapes and nutritious plants’ (Q 80: 24-28). Salih, Ishaq, Yaqub, Yusuf, Ayyub, Shuaib, Muhammad and many other prophets of Allah were practically engaged in one form of agriculture or the other. In the authentic compilations of Imam Bukhari, Abdullah bin ‘Umar narrated that the Prophet concluded a contract with the people of Khaibar to utilise the land on the condition that half the products of fruits or vegetation would be their share. The Prophet used to give his wives one hundred Wasqs each, eighty Wasqs of dates and twenty Wasqs of barley. When ‘Umar became the Caliph, he gave the wives of the Prophet the option of either having the land and water as their shares or carrying on the previous practice. Some of them chose the land and others chose the Wasqs. ‘Aisha chose the land.

With its network of opportunities in the primary, secondary and tertiary levels, agriculture deserves man’s special consideration. There is no record of a better sector that has proved valuable for the human race. Even with the advancement in technology, reliability, transferability, ready markets, availability and abundance are features that would always stand agriculture out. Historically, this sector has always survived shocks. Even as the world battles with COVID-19, workers in agriculture are smiling to the banks, as they struggle to cope with the surge in demand for food and allied products. When the chips are down, man would hang on to the basic necessities of food, clothing and shelter. Agriculture is the bedrock of all these. Nations that have maximized the potential in agriculture have since become global models.

Whether in plant cultivation or animal husbandry (primary), manufacturing or processing (secondary) or packaging and distribution (tertiary), it is time man explored this great gift from Allah for individual and societal prosperity. Whether as Imam, religious scholar, student of the religion or an average practitioner, it is time for Muslims to prefer secured and ethical occupations over volatile and exploitative means. The agricultural chain is so strong, valuable and long for everyone to hold on to.

Multiple sources of income

Economic prosperity has always been the language of a few privileged individuals and nations. The Global Poverty Report 2020 states that about 700 million people (10 per cent) of the world live on less than two dollars a day, with 41 per cent of the African population in this category. Wealth creation is a function of utilisation of a variety of resources at one’s disposal for the benefit of all. The core point is variety. That is why wealthy people are investors in multiple businesses. The richest people in any society are those with more involvement in many critical sectors of such an economy. The last of the prophets, Muhammad, was a trader, a farmer and an entrepreneur. Islam, thus, enjoins man to tap into the various opportunities that abound around him in order to earn a decent living. The word ‘Amal’ (work) appears in 360 verses of the Qur’an and several others are there enjoining man to ‘travel through the earth’. The injunction to explore the creation for a legitimate living is more explained in Suratul Rahman, verse 33: ‘O company of jinn and mankind, if you are able to penetrate beyond the regions of heaven and the earth, then pass. You will not penetrate except by authority (from Allah).’ One way to do this is an investment in streams of income. There is no harm for a lawyer to grow crops and neither is it wrong for a teacher to be a successful carpenter. For a multiple income earners, a shock in one source is absorbed by a surge in the other. He is scarcely negatively affected by economic emergencies.


Rather than wait on others for the supply of income, Islam calls on man to put his destiny in his hands by practising entrepreneurship. Hani’ bnNayarbn Amr narrated that the Prophet Muhammad was asked about the most glorious job. He answered that it was which was done by someone with his own hands. Many of the companions of the Prophet who planted the seed of Islam with their income were renowned businessmen and traders of local and international repute. Realistically, it is easier and faster to get rich (through Allah’s blessing) as an entrepreneur than as a paid employee. Ability to grow at one’s pace, transferability and exclusive control are benefits that should attract all and sundry to entrepreneurship. What is more, many successful entrepreneurs have told the story of how they started with zero capital. Entrepreneurship is a way to wealth, a journey to financial freedom.

Emerging trends

With the challenge of Allah to mankind and the jinn to explore the vast creation, man has no reason to be timid in exploring modern avenues that promise a legitimate source of living. Muslims of this generation, in particular, have no reason to be backward in science and technology, if they truly want to emulate their predecessors, whose dominance of global affairs, for centuries, was rich in enormous inventions in the field of medicine, science, mathematics, technology and art. Today, Muslims are passive players in affairs in which they were once well revered. Information technology (with its wide areas), telecommunications and social networking are emerging trends for a sustainable income. Will Muslims explore?

A popular prayer of the Prophet reads: ‘Our Lord, grant us the good of this world and the good of the hereafter, and protect us from the punishment of Hell’. From the viewpoint of Islam, the prosperity of this world enhances that of the hereafter in no small way. Sustainable sources of income are a reflection of a comfortable way of life. Islam, thus, enjoins man to strive to attain a maximum height in income generation. Allah abhors idleness or poor utilisation of resources (time, energy, intelligence and capital) and encourages man to take charge of his affairs as much as possible.

Adesina is the Imam, Shamsiyyah Mosque, Kubwa, Abuja.


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