Morality and Sources of Income

Here's an interesting question. What does a Muslim chef do for work when a lot of restaurants serve alcohol or pork?  Alcohol and pork are both generally considered illegal in Islam and so working in such a place where a lot of the business comes from the sale of these illegal products. Does that not taint the salary of the chef?

I won't go into the answer to the question. There are lots of rulings by various religious leaders.
  1. It is allowed as long as you don't serve or prepare alcohol and pork
  2. It is allowed by neccessity, but one should seek alternate employment as best as possible
  3. You are not allowed to work places that serve Haram items
  4. ...
A quick search on the internet is filled with Muslims asking these kinds of the questions.
What I want to point out is that Muslims do think about the morality of their source of income when it comes to such places.

Social Stigma

Indeed, there is a social stigma that would be associated with a Muslim working in an establishment where the income is derived from non-halal sources, such as a bar or restaurant or in the entertainment industry.

In the general population, there is also such a morality if you were to work for a big pharmaceutical company or a military contractor or in the tobacco industry...

Banking and Financial Sector

Among Muslims, there is also a stigma associated with the financial industry as Islam prohibits Riba (interest) and most of this industry gets its income from such sources.


Riba in Islam is a very serious sin. There are many Muslims who view sex or drinking with horror, but would tolerate interest.  What does Islam actually say about Riba?

Narrated AbuHurayrah
Allah's Messenger (peace be upon him) said, "Usury has seventy parts, the least important being that a man should marry his mother."

Allah's Messenger (peace be upon him) said, "A dirham which a man knowingly receives in usury is more serious than thirty-six acts of fornication." Ibn Abbas's version adds that he said, "Hell is more fitting for him whose flesh is nourished by what is unlawful."

Essentially this says that taking Riba is the same sin as having sex with your mother.
Riba is a far greater sin than drinking or eating pork. Juat let that sink in for second.

This is not simply mentioned in a few hadiths. Have a look at the prophet's last sermon. The message he wanted to leave for the future. He doesn't dwell or pork or alcohol.

Yet he does say
Allah has forbidden you to take usury (Interest), therefore all interest obligation shall henceforth be waived...

Even  within the Koran, Riba is mentioned more times than alcohol or pork.

As a final note on the severity of Riba, Islam has it's own version of the seven deadly sins.
Notice Riba, but nothing about drinking or pork.

Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet said, "Avoid the seven great destructive sins." The people enquire, "O Allah's Apostle! What are they? "He said, "To join others in worship along with Allah, to practice sorcery, to kill the life which Allah has forbidden except for a just cause, (according to Islamic law), to eat up Riba (usury), to eat up an orphan's wealth, to give back to the enemy and fleeing from the battlefield at the time of fighting, and to accuse, chaste women, who never even think of anything touching chastity and are good believers.
Sahih Bukhari (Book #51, Hadith #28)

Riba is not just 'Interest'

It should also be noted that Riba does not just mean interest. Though it is the most commonly understood form. In my view, Riba is best described as any form of manipulation that results in gaining value without trade.

Narrated Ibn Shihab: that Malik bin Aus said, "I was in need of change for one-hundred Dinars. Talha bin 'Ubaid-Ullah called me and we discussed the matter, and he agreed to change (my Dinars). He took the gold pieces in his hands and fidgeted with them, and then said, "Wait till my storekeeper comes from the forest." 'Umar was listening to that and said, "By Allah! You should not separate from Talha till you get the money from him, for Allah's Apostle said, 'The selling of gold for gold is Riba (usury) except if the exchange is from hand to hand and equal in amount, and similarly, the selling of wheat for wheat is Riba (usury) unless it is from hand to hand and equal in amount, and the selling of barley for barley is usury unless it is from hand to hand and equal in amount, and dates for dates, is usury unless it is from hand to hand and equal in amount"  
Bukhari (Book #34, Hadith #382)

 Narrated Abu Said Al-Khudri and Abu Huraira: Allah's Apostle employed someone as a governor at Khaibar. When the man came to Medina, he brought with him dates called Janib. The Prophet asked him, "Are all the dates of Khaibar of this kind?" The man replied, "(No), we exchange two Sa's of bad dates for one Sa of this kind of dates (i.e. Janib), or exchange three Sa's for two." On that, the Prophet said, "Don't do so, as it is a kind of usury (Riba) but sell the dates of inferior quality for money, and then buy Janib with the money". The Prophet said the same thing about dates sold by weight. (See Hadith No. 506).  
Sahih Bukhari (Book #38, Hadith #499)
Narrated Ibn 'Umar: 'Umar delivered a sermon on the pulpit of Allah's Apostle, saying, "Alcoholic drinks were prohibited by Divine Order, and these drinks used to be prepared from five things, i.e., grapes, dates, wheat, barley and honey. Alcoholic drink is that, that disturbs the mind." 'Umar added, "I wish Allah's Apostle had not left us before he had given us definite verdicts concerning three matters, i.e., how much a grandfather may inherit (of his grandson), the inheritance of Al-Kalala (the deceased person among whose heirs there is no father or son), and various types of Riba(1 ) (usury) ."  
 Sahih Bukahri (Book #69, Hadith #493)

In general the nature of money is a very important concept in Islam and money not earned is a very big deal.
I could go into more detail, but I'll leave it at this point for now. Earning money and the nature of money are a very big deal in Islam.

Why Riba is worse than drinking or Intercourse

If you're reading this far, you might be wondering why Riba is so bad in Islam. The reason that I can think is rather simple. Things like sex, eating pork, drinking alcohol are sins against oneself. You simply harm yourself and it is voluntary and limited.

Riba is one taking advantage of another person and in a greater scale can allow the oppression of people by taking advantage of their labor by those in control of the Riba.

Economic Questions

Indeed, in history and in the modern state, the source of your income is a very important moral question.

Is the income tax legal?
Are consumption taxes legal?
Are we allowed to have fiat money instead of a gold standard?
Are we allowed to have a property tax?

Another interesting question is that of taxation in the modern state.
The following link gives a bit of context and earlier on gives some interesting economic quesitons.

There is a decent summary at the end that act more as a set of principles that are interesting.

 On the basis of the above-mentioned arguments, it has been held that the Islamic state is authorised to levy and collect taxes like Income tax, Wealth tax, Property tax, Customs, Excise, Sales Tax, etc. in addition to Zakat from its Muslim citizens provided the following conditions are fulfilled:-
    a)       Taxes should be levied for emergencies, contingencies or genuine needs of the state and not for benefit of the ruling classes.
    b)       Tax proceeds should be prudently applied and honestly spent for the welfare of all in the public interest without any discrimination.
    c)       Principles of equity, justice and fairness should govern the charge, assessment and collection of taxes.
    d)       When the objective or the purpose of imposing a certain tax is achieved, that tax should be withdrawn.
    e)       And the last condition is that the rules and regulations and the tax laws and procedures should not be inconsistent with or repugnant to any injunction or provision of Islam.

Suffice to say this is a heavily researched topic in history and in modern day. It is complex to say the least. It is a well thought out moral question.

Questions for the Modern Muslim Worker

Given the importance of Riba and the morality of the monetary system and taxation, it is important for people to look at the source of income in the same manner as the Muslim worker who wants to work at a bar or bank.

Indeed, does the teacher, doctor, nurse, police officer... look at where their money comes from?
Does it come from Riba (a sin greater than having sex with your own mother).
If you live in a Western country and work in the public sector,
No doubt your salary is paid by debt which is Riba.
No doubt your government is involved in a fiat monetary system
No doubt the taxes do not satisfy the conditions above.


My point in all this is not to suggest what is legal and illegal. It is merely to pose the interesting question as to why most Muslims will readily question themselves and others if the source of their salary if it involves gambling, alcohol, pork...

Yet, most Muslims do not question the source of their salary in the greater question of Riba, taxation, and currency, especially if they are paid by a government.

Indeed, given the severity of Riba and economic sources, one would seriously have to ponder who is more moral.

  1. The doctor who gets money from the government that derives it's money from illegal Islamic taxation and Riba.
  2. The waiter who works at a bar or restaurant that serves alcohol and pork

I ask this simply as a question so that others might ask the question.
One must give great moral thought to the source of one's money. It is after all what most of us spend half of our lives doing.

This is of courses not just a problem for Muslims, but for all people under all governments.
One must always question the morality of where your money comes from.
Money and trade have always been great moral issues.


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