I once met an investment manager who was known for her piety and spirituality in the workplace and who regularly made important investment decisions on behalf of the company she works for. I asked her one day, “Do you ever pray istikhara prayer before making an investment decision?” She looked at me with a blank expression and said, “I never thought about doing that!”
She is not an isolated case. We often make the same mistake of disconnecting our Spirituality as soon as we enter the workplace. By spirituality, I do not mean just performing the rituals, dressing in a certain way, or avoiding certain food and drinks. What I mean by spirituality is seeking barakah (the blessings of Allah ) in every aspect of our work, and engaging with your work on a deeply spiritual level as if it is an act of worship by itself.
If we go back in time and study some of the early Muslim scholars and their incredible achievements during the golden age of the Islamic civilization, we can notice a very clear pattern. The early scholars did not engage with their projects or tasks in a mechanical way with no spirit or faith attached to it. Instead, they saw a clear connection between their spirituality and the quality or output and impact their work had. Let me share two stories here that exemplify this:
Imam Bukhari (whose books cannot be challenged when it comes to their authenticity due to his rigorous authentication method) had a unique habit of performing ghusl (ritual cleansing) and praying istikhara asking Allah for guidance before placing a hadith in his collection. He even went a step further and finalized each hadith in the Prophet’s mosque itself, sitting next to the Prophet’s grave in the area known as Al-Rawdah to seek the barakah as he performed his work. [Chain of Command – Science of Hadith, P. No.: 85]
Fatimah Al Fihri was the founder of the oldest existing educational institution in the world, the University of Qarawiyyin. She had great aspirations and diligently spent all that was required of time and money to see her project to completion. She also decided to do something unique during the duration of building her university. She decided to fast every day from the first day of construction in Ramadan until the project was completed some two years later whereupon she offered salat al shukr, the prayer of gratitude in the very mosque she had so tirelessly worked to build. [Fatima al-Fihri, Why Islam]
Why did they do this?
Nowadays, we may find these practices as ‘extreme’ and may even label them as ‘unnecessary’ and find a legitimate religious text to exempt ourselves from such practices. But what these early scholars understood (and what we desperately need to understand) is that work without barakah has only a certain amount of benefit and impact, while work with barakah is lasting, impactful and has optimum benefit. Even though these actions were not obligatory, both Imam Bukhari and Fatima al-Fihri knew that having a connection with Allah is what brought them great success in their endeavors.
Just think of Imam Bukhari – there were hundreds of hadith collectors at his time, all with various levels of authentication methods; why did he stand out? Why are his books on our shelves today, hundreds of years later compared to those of his contemporary hadith collectors that have been lost through history? Is it perhaps because of him seeking barakah for his work with ghusl and prayer before placing every hadith in his collection? What does this barakah-seeking mindset mean to us today?
Why are not we tapping into the power of barakah in the workplace?
Sadly for some of us, we have not experienced the powerful link between barakah and work. We have been led to believe that spirituality is only in the mosque and at home, but work is where we get things done. We simply do not recognize that spirituality is the foundation to improve our work habits and the quality of our work output.
Many of us just see work as a means to pay our bills and live a comfortable life. What we fail to realize is that our paid work is part of our spiritual journey, which ultimately fills our lives with meaning and purpose.
So, what can we do about this? How can we realize the importance of barakah and try to seek it?
Sometimes taking small actions helps create the necessary intentions and emotions (just like forcing ourselves to smile is scientifically proven to makes us feel happy!). Below are 5 practical tips that would enhance barakah in the workplace and establish the link between spirituality and the quality of our work.
5 tips to tap into barakah/spirituality in the workplace
1. Set the right intentions
Let’s be more conscious about our intentions. Before starting a project, let’s ask: “Why? Why am I doing this?” Initially, you may come up with the obvious answer of “because I have to” or “because my boss told me to”. But, dig deeper, “What is the end result of doing this work? Who will benefit? How will my work help them and improve the quality of their lives?” Spend a few minutes doing this exercise and notice the enhancement in how involved and deeply spiritually connected your work would be as your intentions become clarified..
2. Be in a state of purity
Most of the scholars were very conscious about being in a state of ritual purity by performing wudhu (ablution) or ghusl before embarking on an important task. In fact, even to our recent times, I have read biographies of well-known scholars who will not write anything before they perform wudhu. What does performing ablution and washing our limbs have to do with our work? Again, it is about being in a spiritual state that is conducive to bringing barakah into our work – purifying our intentions and approaching work as if it is an act of worship, just like performing wudhu before prayers.
3. Seek Allah’s guidance through prayer
As smart, highly qualified and skilled we think we are, there is no harm (in fact, there is a great benefit!) in seeking Allah’s help through prayers during our work days. This means praying istikhara prayer before making important decisions (hiring people, firing people, accepting the next big project, investing, etc), praying duha prayer, praying 2 rak’ah before an important meeting or when a project seems about to fail and praying to show gratitude when things go well or on getting a promotion or on successful completion of a project. We should let prayers be that spiritual connection that helps us in every step of our career.
4. Develop a habit of fasting during workdays
I remember a time when I had to present a very important presentation to senior managers in a company, and it was one of those rare ‘make-or-break’ presentations in my career. I remember fasting that day and presenting in such a way that if you ask me “how did you do that?”, I would say “I have no idea”. The presentation went well and had repercussions of where I am today. Fasting helps invoke Allah’s guidance and mercy when you need it the most because you are admitting your weakness and affirming Him as your sole aid. This is not about ‘using religion’ to make you feel good rather it is all about coming closer to Allah and realizing that this nearness is what brings excellence into our work. Also, the supplication of a fasting person is always answered!
5. Supplicate for your work
How many of us truly raise our hands every day and ask our Lord for help and support in our work, or in a specific project? How many of us when we get stuck with a project or task, raise our hands and ask God to make things easy for us? How many of us sincerely supplicate asking The Almighty to excel in a project and to be successful? This is not about saying a few words, but it is about turning a project/task into a spiritual quest and thus, adding a new level of meaning and purpose to it.
Let’s not make our workplaces black holes with little spirituality. Let’s make them places which enhance our spirituality and allow it to fulfill its part in the quality of our work. Connecting our work with worshiping Allah is what will ultimately bring productivity and barakah to our working life.
How will you approach your work differently today? Share your thoughts and comments below.