Surfing the Internet and Checking Personal Emails at Work

Hanafi Fiqh

Answered by Mufti Muhammad ibn Adam

Question: My Muslim work colleagues constantly surf the net on facebook, twitter, etc, and check personal emails at work. Is this allowed? If not, what should a person do to compensate for it?

Answer: In the name of Allah, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful,

Allah Most High says in the Qur’an:

“O you who believe, do not consume each other’s wealth by false means, unless it is a trade conducted with your mutual consent.” (Qur’an 4:29)

Based on this, a key principle of Islamic commercial law is that transactions and contracts are based on mutual consent (taradi). [See: Al-Majalla al-Ahkam al-Adaliyya, Article 175] As such, when employed by an individual or company for specified times (ajir khas), one must honor the terms and conditions set out in one’s employment contract, and not breach them in any way. The hours of work are a trust (amanah); hence, one must use the time wisely doing the work one is paid for, not as one wishes.

It is generally a grave sin to not put in the full hours at work or spend time doing non-job related activities, and thereafter receive the full salary at the end of the month. Allah Most High says:

“Woe to the curtailers; who, when they measure something to receive from people, take it in full, and when they measure or weigh something to give it to them, give less than due. Do they not think that they will be resurrected on a Great Day, the Day when all the people will stand before the Lord of the worlds? Never [i.e. they should never act in such a way], indeed the record of deeds of the sinners is in Sijjin. And what may let you know what Sijjin is? A register, inscribed.” (Qur’an, Surah al-Mutaffifin, 83: 1-9)

According to some exegetes (mufassirun) of the Qur’an, like Abdullah ibn Abbas (Allah be pleased with him), the term “Tatfif” mentioned in the verse has a wide-ranging implication, and not restricted to measurement and weight. If an employee takes the full salary, but does not work for the full required hours, then this too comes under the definition of “Tatfif” and hence sinful. One must realize that if one does not put in a proper day’s work, one will be answerable to Allah Most High on the Day of Judgment. It may be possible to conceal one’s behavior from the employer but not on the Day of Recompense when each and every minute will have to be accounted for.

Coming to your specific question in relation to doing non-job related activities during work/office hours, there are a few points to consider:

1) If one’s employer (i.e. the main bosses of the company and not the supervisor) grants permission to carry out non-job related personal activities during work hours such as surfing the net, checking personal emails, making personal phone calls, etc, then it is permitted to do so, and not sinful. This is due to the verse quoted in the beginning that contracts are based on mutual consent. If unsure, one should verify with the employer or read the company’s policy, since some companies allow for personal web time. One must ensure, however, not to go over the limit specified. (See: Radd al-Muhtar ala ‘l-Durr al-Mukhtar 6/70 and Fatawa Mahmudiyya 16/572)

2) If no such permission is granted by the employer, or the company policy does not allow personal activities during work hours, then it will not be permitted to surf the net and the like. In fact, the Hanafi jurists (fuqaha) assert that besides offering obligatory (fard) prayers (and emphasized Sunna prayers according to some), one is not permitted to carry out any other non-job related activity.

Imam al-Haskafi (Allah have mercy on him) states:

“A specific employer [i.e. an individual employed by another for specified hours] is not permitted to work for someone else [during the specified work hours], and if he does, his wages will be deducted in proportion to the time spent doing the other work.”

Imam Ibn Abidin (Allah have mercy on him) commentates on the above by saying:

“… In fact, he is not [even] allowed to offer voluntary (nafl) prayers… He must not engage in anything except the fard prayers. It is mentioned in Fatawa Samarqand that some of our [Hanafi] scholars have stated that he may offer Sunna prayers, but they all agree that offering Nafl prayers is not allowed.” (Radd al-Muhtar ala ‘l-Durr al-Mukhtar 6/70, bab dhiman al-ajir)

This means that offering non-emphasized Sunna prayers, like the four Rak’at Sunna before Asr Salat, is not allowed. One should also keep in mind that if it is possible to offer Fard Salat during the break or after work hours, it is not permitted to offer it during work. However, if this is not possible, and there is a fear of missing Salat altogether, one may offer it during work ensuring not to take more time than necessary. It would be best to discuss the matter with one’s employer.

In addition to Fard prayers, one may carry out minor acts which normally are not objectionable to the employer even without explicit permission, such as going to the toilet, having a cup of tea, etc. This is provided one does not spend unnecessary time doing the act such that it interferes with one’s work. One should be extremely cautious in this regard, and not spend endless hours chatting way with friends and having snacks. (See: Fatawa Mahmudiyya 16/573 from Radd al-Muhtar 4/418)

3) As for doing non-job related activities after completing job-related ones; if one’s employer or company allows it, then it is permitted. However, if no such explicit permission is granted by the employer, there is leeway to engage in personal activities (instead of remaining idle), provided:

a) One remains at the workplace/office. It is not permitted to depart even after completing one’s work,

b) One is able to immediately abandon the personal activity for any job-related task that may come up; and,

c) The activity is not a paid job. It is emphatically not permitted to work for someone else during work hours, and if one does, a proportionate amount will need to be returned from one’s salary. (See: Ahsan al-Fatawa 7/301)

4) In regards to returning some of one’s wages to atone for any past wrongdoing; if general forgiveness is sought from the employer, then that is sufficient, and all of one’s wages will be Halal. If the employer does not forgive or it is not possible to seek forgiveness for some reason, then technically it is not obligatory to return wages for spending time doing personal activities during work hours as long as one remained at the workplace.

Imam al-Haskafi, the renowned Hanafi Jurist, states:

“An employee employed by someone for a specified time is entitled to his wage for [merely] surrendering himself for that time even if he does not wok [diligently].” (Radd al-Muhtar ala ‘l-Durr al-Mukhtar 6/69)

This means that although one is sinful for negligence and doing non-job related activities during work hours, the full wages would be considered Halal provided one stayed at the workplace for the full working hours. This is from a legal point of view, in that if the matter is taken to court, a Muslim judge would rule that the employer must pay his employee. From an employee’s perspective, however, his conscience should induce him to return some amount from the salary in return for the time spent doing personal activities.

Indeed, if one does not even go to the workplace, one will not be entitled to full pay, and thus a proportionate amount from the salary must be returned for the days/hours spent away from work, otherwise one will be consuming unlawful (haram) wealth. Many employers give their staff a certain number of days’ paid sick-leave per year. In this instance, it is permitted to receive wages for the days taken off; provided one is honest and genuinely ill.

Similarly, a proportionate amount from the salary will need to be returned if one spent time doing other paid work at the office/workplace, as explained previously.

5) All of the above discussion is when using one’s own computer, phone, etc for the non-job related activities. As for using computers and telephones that belong to the employer, one must keep in mind that one is essentially making use of someone else’s property, which includes the consumption of electrical power, hence explicit permission must be attained prior to surfing the net or using the telephone to make personal calls; otherwise one will be guilty of stealing from one’s employer. It would be wise, in this regard, to check the employer/company policy, since some may allow their employees to use the internet and phone within reason.

And Allah knows best

[Mufti] Muhammad ibn Adam
Darul Iftaa
Leicester , UK