Relooking into the concept of Amal (work) and learning from the wisdom in the Science of Environmental Anthropology | Pergas Blog

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Relooking into the concept of Amal (work) and learning from the wisdom in the Science of Environmental Anthropology

17 September 2018 3:45 am // Written by Muhammad Adha Bin Mohd Shaleh;

The writers realized that our societies are eating the bitter fruits our own greed. Pertain to this, the writers also realized that those bitter fruits are the result of our wrongly articulated concept of work. That is, when it comes to the understanding of work, we tend to equate work to only by increasing our material consumption. We believe this current understanding of work is not right, and it is wrong to remain silent. We strongly feel that there is something missing in our current discourse about work. Hence, the writers relook into the concept of ‘Amal’ in Islam and brought in the wisdom from the science of Environmental Anthropology as a lesson to be followed by human.

Introduction: Common thinking of common people

Common thinking of common people in characterising successful community has always been stereotyped by how far community could go in life. And the benchmark of successful community has always been measured by material success. Corroborating this idea of success would be from an investment expert who paints a picture of success by suggesting his clients the best strategy in gaining profit from their investment. For him, client’s expectation is demanding and to provide the right direction in the market requires details including ‘How to reap returns from investment? What to profit from the market? Admittedly, according to Benjamin Graham, the best predictor in the market could gain us huge profit in the investment when he said: ‘Investor should always remember that market quotations are there for his convenience, either to be take advantage of or to be ignored. He should never buy a stock because it has gone up or sell one because it has gone down”[1] Indeed, Graham was right about the connection between profit from the market and prediction in it.

Now, from the lens of an investor regarding profit pursuits, the investor would agree to a sentiment of fear. No one doubt that the impending fear that is looming large, as far as the result one’s investment is concern. It is whether one reaps a huge benefits or he loses a lot of money. It is logical to say that if he reaps the profit, he forgets his fear. It is also logical to say that if he fails to reap, he shall taste the bitter fruits of his investment. And the conundrum of failure will exhaust his life, disturb his minds and eventually a stressful life. These bitter fruits of the life of an investor force him to reflect about the root causes of his stressful life as he realized that his life is driven by fear, led by greed and ultimately the misleading idea about work. He needs a solution and Islam could be a great help.

Amal (work) in Islam

The demise of stressful life can be catastrophic. A sign of catastrophe can be mitigated if we return to the meaning of work in Islam. This is crucial to individuals who are searching for antidote to stressful life and those who want to understand the Islamic concept of work in general.  The return to the concept of Amal in Islam does not mean going backward and leaving out material life. Islam encourages people to be part of the world by maximizing their intellect. Allah says “Disperse through the land and seek of the bounty of God”[2]. “God has permitted trade and forbidden usury”[3]. The prophet reminded us about work when he said “You know best the affairs of your worldly life”[4].

A simple picture can be painted in conjunction to Amal is by creating a counter action to labor exploitation in any workplace. In reality, employees will be asked by higher management to work long hours with the intention to boost productivity, maximizing every opportunity in making profit. On contrary, Islam denies such exploitation by emphasizing equal treatment to all individuals. This is because, a Muslim treats others as his brother and human being and therefore he is prohibited from exploiting others. Islam also emphasizes Muslims to accumulate wealth and spend their wealth accordingly. Muslims are called to invest in meaningful activities that benefit their society. This idea of spending wealth has been vindicated by Allah when he says: “O you who believe! Spend of that which we have provided for you, before a Day comes when there will be no bargaining, nor friendship, nor intercession. And it is the disbelievers who are the Zalimun[5].

Learning from the wisdom in the Science of Environmental Anthropology

Our learning about work insofar appreciates Islam. Existing discussions have been generous in giving the readers the picture of correct attitude towards work. Increases in material pursuits could lead a stressful life on individuals. The writers are hardly in a position to unearth the antidote to mitigate stressful life by depending on Islam only. Thus, the writers want the readers to learn from the Science of Environmental Anthropology, a science that allows learners to draw from traditional societies concerning their principles in life.

Notably, the current plague of our working system and the bitter that modern man tastes is the result of the maximization of profit. We destroyed our life by destroying our ecosystem. When our ecosystems are polluted, our health conditions become worst. Our greed contributed to the entire collapse of our forest, river and air as our societies are running out of resources. Because of greed that shapes our working system, we come up with the notion that greed is good. Unfortunately, greed bred more plagues and in turn created panic in our societies, all in the name of profit.

Fortunately, Anthropological studies on traditional societies[6] have come up with different views when it comes to maximization of profit. Apparently, profit maximization is alien to traditional societies. Not their famous practices to open up thousands of hectares of land for sustaining their livelihood[7]. If you ask any traditional societies for example the Jakun living mostly the forest in the Malaysian Peninsula about how much the take from the forest, they will tell you “we only extract resources when we need and we leave out the remaining shoots (trees) for future generation”. What crucial lessons that we gleaned from the last statement?

We have to remember that we are still living in bodies that are adapted to traditional traits, despite our material advancement. Our body needs a good rest. Our mind needs relaxation as much as our body. Thus, we have to learn practicing some principles from traditional societies to approach universal issues such as work, stressful life and fear. Some of the principles are crystalized in the following points:

  • For every child born, a family needs to plant a tree. So future generation could benefits.
  • If the land is too large and hence it is impossible to exclude everyone from utilizing natural resources (forest), a boundary is made by members in a society. This boundary is respected by non-members and lands that are bounded are managed collectively.
  • People work collectively to cultivate crops on a shared land and they established mutual relationship among community members: I trust you and you trust me.

If we pause a little and focuses on the principles above, we could come up with an equation about the value of life: L (Life) = T (Trust) + CA (Collective action) + FG (Future generation). None of the principles above encourage members in a society to lead a greedy life. Instead they teach people to think of what would happen to our life if the natural resources are not available in the future. They dispel individualism in societies and laud for better production through the concept of sharing. And teach people to establish trust among community members.

Finally, the writers have highlighted the concept of work in Islam and pointed some value of life practiced by traditional societies. Most of us take for granted those lessons and due to this ignorance that the writers strongly encourage readers to start relooking at the essence of Amal and wisdom from the science of Environmental Anthropology.

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[1] For more details, please refer to Graham Ben The Intelligent Investor: The Classic Text on Value Investing, HarperBusiness,(2005) pp.174-175.

[2] 62:10

[3] 2:275

[4] Sahih Muslim, 4358

[5] Surah Al-Baqarah, 254

[6] For more details, please read Environmental Anthropology Today by Helen Kopnina & Eleanor Shoreman-Ouimet (2011) pp. 1-56

[7] For more details about traditional livelihood practices concerning land, please read Ecology and Socialism Solutions to Capitalist Ecological Crisis by Chris Williams (2010) pp.44-47


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