How I avoided haram at the workplace

This post is longer than my usual ones, but I wanted to share my experience as it could benefit someone, even if it’s just one person.

One of the many challenges I faced when I started to practise Islam was trying to maintain a halal job. But I believe Allah سبحانه وتعالى made things easy for me as I was unwilling to compromise my beliefs and principles.

My first job, after I started practising Islam, was at Sainsbury’s (supermarket). I worked there part-time for two years, while I was studying at college. In my first year I worked in the produce department. In my second year I worked in the bread department. So my main role didn’t entail anything haram. However, on the weekends, when the store got really busy (during peak hours), I was required to work on the checkout. This was when I first started to encounter some problems.

As I was getting trained to work on the tills, I remember feeling anxious. I was thinking to myself, “What am I going to do if a customer wants to buy alcohol or pork? What if he wants to pay by credit card?” All sorts of thoughts and concerns were going through my mind.

The good thing was that I was told it would take two weeks to get fully trained before I could work on the tills. So in that time, I asked a few knowledgeable people about my situation. Back then, I was told that there was no harm in accepting credit card payments or scanning haram meat. However, I was told that it was totally forbidden to deal with alcohol in any way, shape or form.

Eventually, the day came when I was required to carry out my checkout duties. I had to think really fast. I even remember hoping and praying that I didn’t get a customer who wants to buy alcohol. But the inevitable happened and I saw a customer in my queue with alcohol in his trolley. I had to think really fast, while I was serving the customers who were before him in the queue. I had to say something before he placed his items on the conveyor belt. Then I just said to him, in my young voice, “Excuse me sir, I’m sorry, but I’m not allowed to serve alcohol. You’ll have to go to another till.” He looked at me and didn’t even doubt or question what I said. In my mind, I meant my religion doesn’t allow me to serve it, but he most likely thought I meant legally, according to the law.

That was it. I had found the perfect excuse and thing to say. From that moment on, that was what I told every customer. I think it worked because I looked so young – I was under the age of 18 and it seemed like a plausible excuse to customers. But I doubt it would work for me today, lol. And it most likely won’t work for most people.

Several months later, while I was walking through the warehouse, I was asked by the deputy manager to move some crates of alcohol. This was the deputy manager! He was no ordinary member of staff. This time I was stuck, so I decided to “say it as it is”. I said to him in plain words, “I’m sorry, I’m not allowed to deal with alcohol. It’s forbidden in my religion.” He looked really surprised, and the first thing he said to me was, “What about so-and-so? He’s a Muslim but he always helps out.” The person he was referring to (whose name I won’t mention) was a brother with a large beard – much larger than mine, which was barely visible in those days. In fact, I don’t think I even had a beard. He was seen as the most religious person. He never missed his prayers and would always give salam to people. I didn’t want to say anything negative about him so I just replied, “I’m not so-and-so.” The deputy manager respected my wishes and called someone else for assistance.

So, al-ḥamdu lillāh, I never dealt with alcohol while I worked at Sainsbury’s. And I never missed any of my prayers. My colleagues respected me because I was one of the best workers. I used to work really hard to look after my department. So whenever I had an issue with something, due to my religious beliefs, they respected me. I even refused to wear Santa hats and those ugly Christmas sweaters, and no one said anything to me.

After I left Sainsbury’s, I got a job at the Link, selling mobile phones. I was given two breaks: a 15 minute break in the morning and a one hour break for lunch. When winter came, the prayer times became really close, so I had to ask my manager for an extra two breaks for ‘Asr and Maghrib prayers. At first he refused, saying that we all get the same breaks. But by that time I had been in the job for at least four months, and I had noticed that he and another employee would go outside the shop nearly every hour, for a couple of minutes, to smoke cigarettes. So I said to him (the manager), “But you go out every hour to smoke a cigarette. If I added up all those minutes it would probably come up to 15-20 minutes every day. I’m not asking for extra time. Just let me divide my lunch time the way I want. Let me spread it out throughout the day to accommodate my prayers. I’ll still be able to hit my sales targets.” He thought about it for a few seconds and then he said, “Alright.” In my mind I thought to myself, if he doesn’t allow me to pray, I’m leaving the job, but al-ḥamdu lillāh it didn’t come to that.

So these were just a few of the challenges I faced when I started practising Islam, but I believe Allah made things easy for me as I was unwilling to compromise my religious beliefs and values, and over time I gained more confidence. Since then, the Deen has only become easier and easier to practise, al-ḥamdu lillāh.

Most jobs are, in essence, halal, but most of these jobs (especially in non-Muslim countries) also entail some things or tasks that are haram. But those things that are haram can be avoided. If one cannot avoid them, one should look for another job.

Everyone’s circumstance is different. I’m not qualified to issue any fatwas. I just wanted to share my personal experience to show that it is more than possible to earn a halal living and not compromise one’s Deen.

We must remember that Allah is the source of provision, not one’s job.

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