Society Ummah

Unprofessionalism in the Muslim Community

2863023857_b70299fbbc_oIt’s the end of the month, but there will be no paycheck for another week.

As though being late wasn’t bad enough, to top it off, you are made to feel as though the money you’ve worked for isn’t your right; they are doing you a favor by paying you anything at all. This Islamic Organization is simply out of money, and you have to wait until they get some. It coincidentally comes to your attention that some employees in higher positions had their checks issued on time and without any delay.

An Islamic school wanted you to teach two subjects and pay you as a quarter-time employee. Apparently if you don’t teach 4 subjects to the entire school then you will not be considered a full-time teacher (that isn’t a sarcastic remark). In addition, you were told that your pay was based on 1/4 of the full-time teacher’s pay. When you find out what that rate is, you know that your pay is much lower than what 1/4 actually is. They are trying to take advantage of the fact that you are new and don’t know anyone or how much they make. Sadly, you do know another teacher, and you realize their dishonesty. As a result, you quit.

Another school refused to pay you your last paycheck after they were informed that you wouldn’t be returning next year. They claimed that withholding the pay was their right since you breached your contract, when in fact you had signed no contract in the first place. Now you have to take legal action in order to get your money. Contracts are made on a yearly basis, so to leave at the end of the year is simply to choose not to renew a contract. There should be no conditions on getting paid for work that was already done. That same school was telling you and all of its employees to report lower income than they were actually getting, in order for the school to be eligible for a tax break.

A Muslim-owned business approached you and requested a redesign for their website. When you gave them your price, they said it was too high. So you agreed to do it at a lower price, and explained your terms for design work (limiting the number of revisions to the design once you finalize it, requiring 50% pay upfront, and overtime will be charged at an hourly rate). In response you got a horrible attitude, they requested your references, more samples of your work, and said they might consider hiring you. When they had approached you in the first place and offered you the work, based on a design you did, that they saw, and liked. Other non-Muslim businesses you work with have gladly paid you the 50% and agreed to abide by these same terms.

Subhan’Allah (glory be to Allah). All of these are real stories.

You start to wonder if these organizations had planned to abuse you from the get-go.

But, you haven’t done anything wrong to them, so why would they bother? Then you remember Allah’s words from the Qur’an, “O you who have believed, avoid much [negative] assumption. Indeed, some assumption is sin” (49:12).

Is it because you are working with Muslim organizations, so your work is “Feesabillilah”—for the sake of Allah—that people pushing the boundaries shouldn’t bother you?

The short answer is no. Because if it was, we would all be willing to sacrifice to help get things done, and more importantly to help each other. That executive would give up part of his salary to help you pay your rent on time.

Is it because this is my Muslim brother or sister that I should let them fall behind on the payments?

It can’t be because they are the ones that want you to be there on time, every time, to work for them. They want flawless work, in a hurry, with an impossible deadline and an insane volume of work to be completed. This is a paid position: you were promised a paycheck in exchange for specific tasks and duties, and it is an agreement between you and your employer.

Allah requires us to respect these agreements, as stated in Surat Al-Israa, “…And fulfill [every] commitment. Indeed, the commitment is ever [that about which one will be] questioned” (17:34).

Are all employees doing right by their employers, and inherently the victims?

Of course not. Obviously both cases exist, but unprofessionalism just breeds more unprofessionalism. The employee that slacks should be fired. The employer that mistreats their worker should lose that employee to a more deserving firm.

“Woe to those who give less [than due], who, when they take a measure from people, take in full. But if they give by measure or by weight to them, they cause loss. Do they not think that they will be resurrected for a tremendous Day – the Day when mankind will stand before the Lord of the worlds?” (Qur’an, 83:1-6)

Allah warns us specifically about this type of behavior in the Holy Quran. Yet it seems as though Muslims are failing (repeatedly) to recognize or abide by this obligation.

In Project Management there are three main areas that need to be balanced in order to successfully complete a project.

  1. The Budget, or how much money is allocated to completing the project.
  2. The Schedule, which breaks the project into smaller tasks and their respective deadlines.
  3. The Scope, which are the things that need to be completed and delivered by the due date.

Whenever any of these three factors are changed, the entire project is thrown off.

How is that?

Here’s a situation:

You gave me $20 and asked me to go to a store and get some items on a list. The list costs exactly $20 including tax. So I have 45 minutes to go and bring the groceries back. The project here is getting the groceries. If you were to call me on the phone, and tell me you need some meat from the Halal store as well, that would throw me off. Because of the money, I am now over my budget; also, it will increase the time I’ll need, so I won’t be able to deliver on schedule.

You see?

So changing any of the three factors in a project will change the other two. If you push these limits then either the project will fail or it will be completed with poor quality.

Bottom line: When the balance is lost, the project suffers.

I believe that to be the exact case with these Muslim businesses and institutions. They are attempting to ‘milk’ employees for work they aren’t willing (or able) to pay for. They have expectations that exceed their ability or willingness to fairly compensate. Employees come in with higher than usual expectations from a Muslim employer, and expect über-ethical and fair treatment. Employees’ morale and trust in their employer drops, and as a result the quality of their work suffers.

Expectations have to be made clear, respected, and fulfilled by both sides. If we all know Allah is watching us, then we should act like it. Muslim businesses and Islamic organizations are the pillars of our community; when we build our Ummah on broken principles it will fall apart overnight.

Most of you reading this know that sadly this is the situation in general. I am sure there are exceptions to the rule, but I have traveled, searched, and have yet to find a case where this doesn’t stand true in one way or another.

We have reached rock bottom when Muslims sincerely warn other Muslims against getting jobs with Muslim companies or Islamic organizations. Why is it that in exchange for being in a so-called Islamic environment, you will face all sorts of head- and heartache?

I’m not writing this with the intention to bash other Muslims or talk smack about the Ummah. On the contrary, I want to point this out and have it addressed and remedied, so that it is no longer the case. I make du`a’ that Allah guides us all to the best of manners and etiquette, and that we are among those that heed good advice and follow the best of it. Ameen.

About the author

Sumayah Hassan

Sumayah Hassan

Sumayah Hassan was born in Alexandria, Virginia. She is the third oldest of seven children and daughter to a Somali father and African-American mother. Sumayah spent her childhood and teen years in Cairo, Egypt, where she learned Arabic and graduated from high school. She then returned to Virginia and attended George Mason University, where she completed a B.S. in Biology. Despite switching her major from Art, she continued taking video editing and graphic design classes throughout her stay in university. Last year, Sumayah moved to London, United Kingdom to live with her husband Mohamed. She is also pursuing her MBA in Marketing in the UK. Hassan works from home as a freelance Graphic Designer and Illustrator. On the weekends, she teaches basic Qur’an classes at the local mosque in Lewisham.

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  • Aameen to your dua’a. I pray that this post, at the very least, provokes some thought that leads to fixing this widespread problem in the long term.

  • Great article and post – very much needed!!!
    JazakumAllahu khairan!

    I will give you scenarios from my designer friend:

    1) Muslim client approaches design agency on referral and uses the referrers business name. Requests a logo project and the designer gives a discount based on previous client. Client agrees to go ahead, but doesn’t pay the 30% deposit (and subsequently doesn’t), but then throughout the project requests additional new designs and changes that go beyond the budget. The client agrees to pay the additional fee and eventually chooses a design. The designer sends his invoice to the client and several weeks of delay later, the client pays only 80%, citing that he gave himself a ‘discount’. The designer is baffled and asks why, since there was no discount on the invoice? Client responds, that he feels $20-30 isn’t much at all and should be let off between ‘Muslim brothers’. The client then complains and says he won’t use the design and won’t pay any further. The designer explained to him that it isn’t right or ethical or Islamic, eventually the client agrees to pay, but to this day (1 year) the client has not paid the remainder.

    2) Muslim organisation requests new website. The work begins as it is a previous client, when the work is finished, the client is invoiced the total. The client then takes several months to get back and eventually says that they do not have the budget for the work and are awaiting funds. The designer asks why work had been requested and commenced without a budget, the client doesn’t doesn’t have a sufficient answer. And to this day the the Muslim organisation has not paid over $1800 worth of work.

    3) Muslim charity requests and tenders a job out to several design agencies and requests, on a very tight deadline, a design submission without pay. The client then will choose the agency based on which design they like. This process is called ‘speculative’ work and is considered unethical and dishonest by the design industry (other than architects).

    The intention is to not pay everyone who contributes, but only the single designer or studio that has the successful logo. What they don’t realise is that it is like going to a grocery store, eating several chocolate bars and then paying for the one you liked the most. It is nonsensical and harms the community and businesses.

    Other scenario’s include calling the designer on weekends (when it is non-working days) and after-hours. Also the expectation that they are the only client being served and have extremely tight and unrealistic deadlines, budgets and requests.

    These are just some of the ridiculous scenarios that my friend faces from Muslim organisations.

    On the one hand it is unprofessional because of lack of experience and dealings with mainstream (non-Muslim) communities and professional organisations and on the other hand it is their own dishonesty and corrupt ways.

    There is a sea of change with the younger generation who have a lot more experience and respect for people and because of their interaction beyond the Muslim community. The designer says that he has had the best dealings with those who fear Allah and are afraid of being accountable (they paid in advanced or on time or dealt in a very professional manner) and he usually finds them to be the most honest and sincere practising individuals.

    What he and I have noticed is that it seems to be primarily from the immigrant generation (those that came from abroad to live in the west) and not the native or locally born-Muslims who are/have learnt to avoid the 3rd world methods employed by their older generations.

    wa Allahu A’lam and may Allah guide us our ummah to sincerity, honesty and good dealings with each other.

  • Hassan,

    You are absolutely 100% right on target. I used to work for a desi guy; If I went over a 100 hundred hours every two weeks; he claim I hadn’t worked so many hours and would cut some hours off… He saved maybe 20-40 bucks that way… For what… Initially I sort of argued but then I gave up; cause it was just after 9/11 and I wasn’t going to get another job that easily if at all…

    Desi people; or really any first generation ethnic people have this built in them. Our societies are so corrupt at home that it take 2 or 3 generations to filter out. Memon/Bori business community are very devout Muslims in prayer and charity but they work their workers to the bone and use tactics described above. Here in 3rd world usually people don’t have another choice so they accept it. Something is better than nothing. Also there business dealing at times are suspect as well. But its same all over really; Godfather rule applies “it not personal its business”. The American/European business went through all this in early 1900’s and then government slowly caught and developed rules and regulations and most business generally follow it now. And those American/European businessmen now have different and new ways to rip off their employees and people.

    Most of these Islamic people are coming from 1900 business owner mentality. Boss is the king and the worker is the dirt to be stepped on. What can you do; nothing. Islam came to us to save us from ignorance but what can Islam do when hold ignorance closer than the Quran. Businessmen say; sorry I can’t do business via the Islamic methods. Feudal lords say: sorry we are Muslim but if a member of my tribe does anything bad; I can not let be punished because he my kinsman. Forget Islam. nobody follows Islam. People who follow Islam truly can fill small stadium in the world. May allah forgive me; I don’t even follow it truly. First of all… I am not sure I know all the rules and then I don’t Arabic or the subtle understanding of the Quran, and Sunnah.

  • Salam

    I have recently taken my 2 elder kids out of Islamic school after many years. This was one of the factors, the ongoing unprofessionalism. I hear you sister, and it’s painful. There has been so much good my kids have learned over the years Islamically, but these kinds of things really mess things up. I have really wanted to believe in Islamic schools over the years, now I’m not so sure.

  • Subhannallah,

    When I was in the Muslim world working for an Islamic instituiton, al-hamdu lillah everything was right and on time with the paycheck, but the general management was very subpar compared to the “secular organizations trying to westernize themselves and even these secular institutions run rampant with corruption. Now in the US as an Imam, both the salary and the management are very weak. As Muslims we need to take our deen and the management of the Da’wa/Tarbiyyah process very serious especially in the west. We are defintely half stepping it big time. We Muslims have become engulfed in lip service our Da’wa thus many would be Msulims/practicing Muslims are like you say that but look at the reality! Allah said in soorah al-Saff verse 3 “It is greatly disleasing to Allah that you don’t do what you say.
    The prophet said “If any of you did something then seek perfection in doing it”

    May Allah guide us to the way of strong character and maturity in our actions

  • The fair and timely pay is just one aspect of professionalism though. Establishing sound processes for decision making, planning, having a culture of mutual consultation, delegating authority, respecting authority, making appointments based on qualifications, providing adequate training to staff, setting measurable goals, gathering useful data and measuring progress based on it, having positive attitude, open communication of issues, joint celebration of successes, and so on are also needed.

    One way to ensure that there is progress on the path to professionalism is to seek accreditation (in the case of schools).

  • That’s why you should hire non-Muslims. Sad, but true.

    A tip a sister who had been abused like this told me was: If you want to do Islamic work (graphic design, web design, etc)- then make sure you draw up a contract, detail everything and have them sign it. That way you are legally secure and they know it, so they are less likely to mess around. And if they do, you can take it to court.

    Here is a draft dawah-work contract:

    Salam aleikum.

    • Abu Muawiyah –

      We didn’t delete your comments. The entire website accidentally got deleted a few hours ago so we had to restore a backup. The backup was from last night so we lost the recent comments! We are extremely sorry about that.

  • Salam

    Lol, the irony of announcing deleting an entire website on a post about unprofessionalism! Just kidding, of course I deeply respect the work of all the brothers and sisters on this site!

    • We don’t get paid nor make money off this website. And the professionalism came in with us being able to restore a backup and get up and running again (alhumdulillah) instead of just calling it quits. 🙂

      • Salam Bro

        No offence meant, I just have a strange sense of humor. I have benefited tremendously from this website, as I am sure have many others; yes you don’t get paid, but Inshallah lots of wealth waiting for you on the other side.

  • excellent points, jazakallahu khayr.

    One aspect I’d like to add, especially in regards to contract work (design or otherwise) is that there’s also a certain level of non-financial harms that can come from working with Islamic organizations.

    Some people, by simple virtue of paying you for something they consider “should” be free, will automatically raise their expectations to unrealistic levels. Then, if those expectations are not met — EVEN THOUGH the contract is fulfilled — they can still ruin a person’s reputation in the community.

    I have heard stories of people who did projects, got paid, the contract was fulfilled on both sides, but still the organization will bad mouth the person saying “he took so much money from us, and now he won’t even x,y,z”

    So this is another unfortunate circumstance have to be aware of – every time you do a project for an Islamic organization, not only do you have to watch out for unprofessionalism, but character assassination as well.

  • Jazak Allah khayr for this post, Shaykh Suhaib. I have to say that as I read from the beginning, I was afraid it was the same person going through all those trials! Personally, I think this is like the fitnah of bad experiences that many people face who grew up in America/the-West and make hijrah to Muslim countries.

    In a sense, it all boils down to expectations. And I am not just talking about the people who have bad experiences. I’m also talking about the people who act wrongfully, they seem to have the expectation that Allah will not hold them to account for how they treat their brothers and sisters in Islam.

    Maybe the latter group have no idea of the reckoning on the Day of Judgment, when believing men and women who might otherwise enter Jannat, will find their good deeds parceled out to those they wronged! May Allah protect us from that fate. And should good deeds not suffice to right the wrongs, to find that one is encumbered with the wrongs of others! And thus to be cast into the fire whose fuel is men and stones… Na’udhobillahi min shururi an fusina wa min sayyiaatinaa!

    And which expectations are the best expectations? The idealists’? The realists’? No, those of the ones who place their trust in Allah. What Allah has given them in this life, they are certain that no one can take it from them except by the Decree of Allah. And what they cannot attain in this life, they are certain that no one could have given it to them except by the Decree of Allah. And they are satisfied with His Decree, alhamdolillah alaa kulli haal.

    • Salam

      So I consider myself a ‘realist’ lol… I agree with you, we should only trust in Allah. Being realistic means NOT having great expectation of human beings, but only of Allah. And we are always satisfied with his decree, Alhamdolillah, but that is NOT an excuse for those who don’t come up to the expected standard.

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