Is It Permissible for Muslims to Work in the West?

Answered by Shaykh Yusuf Weltch

Question

Some Salafis were arguing with a friend of mine that Muslims in general, male or female, shouldn’t work 9-5 because it’s slavery. The Salafis told my friend why women working in the West are haram because there’s free mixing and gender interactions while being exposed to liberalism and feminism, so you risk apostasy.

Plus, they said it’s slavery, and it gets in the way of your salah, and the fact that women choose more successful men means if they’re successful themselves, it destroys their chance at marriage. Plus, none of the prophet’s wives (Allah bless him and give him peace) worked as these women do nowadays. My friend argued then they said men, too, shouldn’t work in the West. They’re influencing many Muslims and said they’d only listen to a scholar.

Answer

In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate

Even though there are challenges in modern western societies regarding working, there is no evidence in the Sacred law that makes a general prohibition for men and women to work.

Sweeping generalities are antithetical to the nuances that make up the beauty and universality of the Sacred law.

Additionally, the claim does not make sense anyway. It is just as likely for a person to work in a Muslim-majority country and still be susceptible to the same challenges.

The Rulings of Working

It is an obligation of every Muslim male who is financially responsible for others to seek out a livelihood sufficient enough to fulfill their basic needs.

The Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Seeking a permissible livelihood is an obligation after the other religious obligations.” [Bayhaqi, Sh’uab al-Iman]

It is permissible for a woman to seek an income outside of the marital home if her husband cannot take care of her financially.

If he can take care of her financially, she may still seek an income outside the home, with his permission, as long as it does not lead to her neglecting other religious requirements.

Working in a Non-Muslim Majority Country

It is part of the constitution of the United States, and that of other western countries, that one has a right to practice their religion.

With this, even though one may be in the workforce from 9 to 5, they still have the right to perform the five prayers (in many places, employees are even allowed to pray in a nearby mosque), the Jumu’a prayer, and other such religious acts. Furthermore, it is unlikely that one’s work demands one to do something impermissible.

If this were to occur, such that one is required to remove the hijab, to touch the opposite gender, to directly assist in a prohibited act, etc… In such a case, that specific job is prohibited.

Caution in Making Judgments on the Sacred Law

Understandably, one would be adamant in advising Muslims not to enter the workforce in western countries due to the challenges therein. However, deeming this a prohibited act and generalizing its harm for every Muslim is going too far.

Without definitive proof, we cannot establish something as strictly prohibited (haram).

Allah Most High says, “Do not falsely declare with your tongues, “This is lawful, and that is unlawful,” ˹only˺ fabricating lies against Allah. Indeed, those who fabricate lies against Allah will never succeed.” [Quran, 16:116]

Imam al-Malik and Imam al-Shaf’i (Allah be pleased with them both) have been very wary of making general declarations that something is strictly prohibited (haram). [Khattar, al-Mawsu’a al-Fiqhiyya al-Yusufiyya]

This is especially true if there is no certainty on its prohibition due to an ambiguity in it or a valid difference of opinion. [Ibid.]

They would use terms like “I dislike it” or “I fear that it may be prohibited.” Rarely would they declare prohibition resolutely? [Ibid.]

Summary

You will encounter many people with passionate views on various topics in the religion. Some may even give proof or quote so and so scholar or Imam. However, an authentic understanding of the religion is passed down through a chain of transmission which signifies its validity and authenticity.

If you find a scholar with proper classical training that follows the Sunni mainstream and strives to live their life according to the Prophetic example – hold onto them and take your knowledge from them.

Certain red flags can help you know one from the other: sweeping generalities and quick, non-nuanced declarations of prohibition or disbelief or associating partners with Allah (shirk) are the most obvious red flags. The inauthenticity of such methods can be summed up in two words: not Prophetic.

Hope this helps
Allah knows best

[Shaykh] Yusuf Weltch
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Shaykh Yusuf Weltch is a teacher of Arabic, Islamic law, and spirituality. After accepting Islam in 2008, he then completed four years at the Darul Uloom seminary in New York where he studied Arabic and the traditional sciences. He then traveled to Tarim, Yemen, where he stayed for three years studying in Dar Al-Mustafa under some of the greatest scholars of our time, including Habib Umar Bin Hafiz, Habib Kadhim al-Saqqaf, and Shaykh Umar al-Khatib. In Tarim, Shaykh Yusuf completed the memorization of the Qur’an and studied beliefs, legal methodology, hadith methodology, Qur’anic exegesis, Islamic history, and a number of texts on spirituality. He joined the SeekersGuidance faculty in the summer of 2019.