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Three Women Reveal their Struggles to have a Halal Hustle

Klaudia Khan talks to sisters who left behind tempting but questionable wealth.

In a consumerist world money defines everything: the worth of a person is based on their income, the bigger the salary indicates a higher status. But as Muslims we know that money is not everything. Actually, wealth is a blessing that we should not even occupy ourselves too much with, because our rizq (provision) is predetermined. What’s more important is sticking to Islamic values and doing the right thing – seeking only halal income. But when we earn good money, work in a prestigious organization and are admired for our achievements by friends and family choosing to do the right thing is not that easy. Meet some brave Muslimahs who did just that; they ditched their apparently great jobs, because they were not compatible with their faith and instead set to look for a job that is 100% halal.

 

 

Aneesa Sidat was determined to climb the career ladder as a solicitor and had managed to secure a training contract in a nearby town immediately after completing her studies. It seemed perfect, not only career-wise, but also because her employers were very accommodating when it came to Aneesa’s religious practice: “During my interview the partners asked if I required a place to wash and pray, and once I started work and realised that I was the only Muslim in the firm I was absolutely touched and thanked Allah for making it so easy for me to continue my salah during work. I was also granted extended leave to perform Hajj with my family, alhamdulillah, and upon my return was asked many questions which I saw as a dawah opportunity!

 

 

“I would always sneak off for my salah in the designated prayer room and if anyone was looking for me it was common knowledge that it was ‘Aneesa’s prayer time’ and ‘she’ll be back in 10 minutes’. Ramadhan brought on gasps of awe and disbelief, and my headscarf, which was always coordinated with my long skirt suits, was the subject of office jokes that I never suffered from bad hair days!

 

 

“Morally I didn’t have an issue with my job as I refused to take on a case if I suspected the clients were dishonest and under the Solicitors’ Practice Rules we were expected to turn down such cases. My timesheet was never tweaked and I tried my best to earn an honest halal income.  A very good income it was too!”

 

 

Yet being an only Muslim in the company was not easy as on many occasions, such as pub lunches, mandatory Christmas parties or other office social events, Aneesa felt that she had to make an effort to “take part and, not necessarily fit in, but be a good sport and not draw more attention to my religious beliefs.”

 

 

Aneesa had a good few years’ break from work after she had her two children and it was when her youngest started nursery and she could return to the office that Aneesa began to feel uncomfortable about coming back to work in a male dominated environment. She was now a single mum, as her marriage ended in divorce, and she was struggling with the idea of working in a mixed environment, no matter Muslim or non-Muslim.

 

 

“Alhamdulillah, after six months of voluntary work in an Islamic girls’ school I was asked by my sister if I’d like to work for SISTERS as the Managing Editor. Naturally I jumped at the opportunity, after istikhara and with the intention of doing what was best for my deen.  Although I have earned less than I did as a solicitor, Allah has blessed me with so much barakah in my earnings and peace knowing that I am working in a fully halal environment, from my own home.“

 

 

Non-Muslim or male dominated work environments are just a couple of the issues that Muslim women struggle with when they are determined to make their career halal. Sometimes it is the nature of the work itself that causes doubt. Such was the case with another lawyer who decided that a career in the city was not really an option for her, and she decided to quit just two years after she qualified. Hajera Memon was a real estate finance lawyer and her work involved drafting interest-based loan agreements for large German banks, hotels, and other corporate real estate clients. Undoubtedly it was a prestigious and well-paid position, but dealing with interest (riba) created a discord in Hajera’s heart as she knew that it went against the teaching of Islam and was unethical. “Islam has strict rules on working with and being involved with riba,” Hajera explains. “As I read around the issue further, my heart didn’t feel at ease to continue in this career, as progressing in the field further would have meant more in-depth involvement in interest-based transactions.”

 

 

Hajera had made up her mind, but still taking the plunge was not easy and when she informed her family and friends that she wanted to quit the career she worked for so hard, it was a bombshell. Still, no one could deny the reasons behind her decision. Hajera prayed to Allah to make her path easy and replace what she was leaving behind with something better. She looked for an alternative way and a vocation that would be fully compatible with her faith.

 

 

“I’ve always loved writing, art and creativity so this was the area I wanted to explore,” she explains. “I was also keen to choose something that would allow me to establish a long-term source of beneficial knowledge –sadaqah jariah – from the new career I chose.”

 

 

After a brainstorming session with her friends Hajera decided to create something new and unique – children’s Islamic novelty books, and she opened her own independent publishing house Shade 7. Alhamdulillah her first Quranic pop-up book ‘The Story of the Elephant’, which she financed through crowd-funding, has been a great success and just recently Shade 7 has launched another one-of-a-kind publication:  a wudhu bath book that changes colour when wet.

 

 

Another sister who resisted the lure of the right salary in a wrong industry is Shaki Hussain. Shaki had a temporary contract in the HR department for a large company, who brews and distributes several beer brands. The alcohol industry is lucrative and consequently the employees earn big money and get lots of additional benefits. So when Shaki was offered a permanent and very well-paid contract in the company she admits that the offer was “incredibly tempting.” Yet she knew that working in the alcohol industry could never sit easily with her beliefs, she informed her employers of her reasons and declined the proposal. Shaki chose to do the right thing and soon after she was able to find the right job, too. “During my last week as a temp, I secured a permanent position elsewhere – an IT software company. It was in this company that I embraced the hijab, followed by the abaya, and began praying at work. All I can say is that by giving up a very tempting salary and benefits fisabilillah, I received so much more in terms of guidance. And I got a great position with rewarding salary, and a fantastic manager and team who supported me when I embraced the full hijab, alhumdulillah.”

 

 

Stepping down from the wrong career path requires not only courage, but also trust in Allah that He would eventually replace what we leave behind for His sake with something better. We need patience when success and prosperity in new job arena take more time and effort than we could anticipated. The same qualities: courage, tawakkul and sabr are also needed when it is not ourselves, but our husbands who quit non-halal jobs.

 

 

Sister Sabrina (name changed) from South-East Asia is married to a convert from the UK, a chartered accountant who decided to leave his job at the bank and his field altogether after embracing Islam, as he didn’t want to be involved with riba. Sabrina’s husband has set up a new business from scratch, but his move is still incomprehensible for his non-Muslim parents, who don’t really understand the significance of riba, nor appreciate that their son changed profession when apparently he used to be very successful in what he did.  Sabrina admits that the situation is not easy: “It takes time to establish a business and you can experience some loss at the beginning. Also my non-Muslim in-laws feel like their son let them down and look at me as their hope to convince him to go back into accounting. There is therefore both the financial front and family front to deal with. It’s sometimes not easy to reassure your spouse when they are going through difficulties after leaving something for Allah’s sake. You have to be strong for your spouse in this context. Alhumdulilah, I’m blessed to have supportive parents, but there are cases where both sets of parents are not supportive and there are some marriages that end up divorced due to both the financial strain and lack of support from family. I think the support from family is really important when undergoing a shift in career especially for Allah’s sake.”

 

 

According to Abdullah ibn Masud, Radi-Allahu unhu, The Prophet Muhammad, (SAW) said: “Seeking halal earning is a duty after the duty.” In modern times and within the framework of the global financial system making sure that our earning is purely halal is one of the biggest challenge that we face as an Ummah. Yet to change the world we shall start from ourselves, as the brave sisters who told us their stories did. Feel inspired. Stop and ponder if your career is halal.

 
Klaudia Khan is a Muslim writer living with her husband and three daughters in the UK.