Why is our nation so terrified of working hard?

Published: July 31, 2012

We are so work-shy that we gossip and shirk away from work even during our working hours. PHOTO: AFP

A friend of mine recently forwarded me one of those mundane text messages with a bit of a Pakistani touch to it. This one had me thinking for some time though. The SMS had been generated by some mathematician who had visibly taken on the pain to convert the net worth of Bill Gates into Pakistani currency, and with a few further calculations, had come to the conclusion that even if the gentleman spends 10 million ‘rupees’ (1 Crore) everyday, he wouldn’t need to work for at least another 750 years.

That all asserted, the sanity of the billionaire was questioned at the very end because, to the composer of the message, Bill Gates’ continuous quest to earn more and more seemed inane.

For me it’s not the avariciousness of Bill Gates that is questionable but the very issue that has been raised as to why he should continue to work. This, to me, is in direct contrast to the very paradigm of indolence and complacency that is  inherent in our nation.

As we grow old in this ‘Islamic Republic’, we’re made to imbibe and to an extent espouse the economic system that Islam propagates. An essence of this system is that it strictly prohibits accumulation of wealth and therefore encourages charity. Having been misconstrued by the masses as an injunction dictating ‘not to work harder than ones needs and thus not earn more than ones requirement’, it serves as a bedrock to most of our complacency.

What we seemed to have overlooked so conveniently is the fact that Islam never prohibited Muslims to employ their abilities to earn as much as they could, but instead barred them from keeping that money to themselves.

Thus the focus was not on earning less, but on spending more; spending upon others as charity or for social work and to alleviate the miseries of the impoverished is in no way forbidden.

An Islamic scholar once went back on his decision to migrate to a city with greater opportunities after having seen an injured bird being fed by another in the forlorn parts of the country and realising that Allah does indeed provide for all and in all sorts of circumstances. He was soon admonished by his teacher and reminded that though Allah did provide for all, he made some the source and others the recipients.

Thus, the choice as to whether one would want to be the beneficiary or a philanthropist rests with the man himself and in such circumstances the biblical intellect as Islam dictates, “It is better to give than to receive”, becomes even more important. Though the scholar did eventually migrate, the story and its moral have failed to pervade the masses.

Allama Iqbal’s concept of Khudi (Self) has been widely lauded by the learned. To the spiritual leader of Pakistan, self-sufficiency is a pre-requisite to sovereignty.

Iqbal repeatedly asserted that for the self to prosper it is essential that the person is not dependent upon another. He believed:

Tu jhuka jo ghaer k agay na tan tera na mann

(To a servile belongs neither his body nor the mind (soul)).

These shackles of slavery continue to restrain us. Not just on the individual level but also as a nation. A ravaging debate these days about American aid and its repercussions states that when we carry the bowl for begging, we concede our right to make our own decisions. Thus, the contentment and procrastination might provide temporary solace but they are the scourge that subjugates us.

What we need is a leaf out of the Japanese book of ways. A friend of mine working there recently told me about an interesting if not out rightly bizarre (by Pakistani standards) habit of theirs. He said that a majority of Japanese voluntarily work a couple of hours overtime on daily basis because they feel sitting idle is a curse they must save themselves from. To prevent against wasting time, they invest it instead in their offices and businesses ensuring not only their own progress but also their country’s.

On the contrary, we are so work-shy that we gossip and shirk away from work even during our working hours. The Holy Scripture may state that a nation not bent upon changing its conditions becomes stagnant, but we don’t bother about it even in the slightest.

In such circumstances, it should surprise no one that though Islam stresses most upon charity and giving alms, the biggest philanthropists come from within other faiths. Warren Buffett, for instance, donated more than $30 billion to a charity. That much money could have changed the lives of thousands of Pakistanis.

Unfortunately, we fail to produce such riches and the fact very much remains, that beggars can’t be providers!

Follow Badar on Twitter @badarchaudhary

Badar Chaudhary

Badar Chaudhary

An engineering graduate from Cardiff University, Britain, Badar tweets as @badarchaudhary

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Saad Siddiqui

    Well Written, to the point, no exaggeration. Yes in Islam we are advised to charity and not to store within, and we misinterpret it that we dont even have to use our skills and earn more Recommend

  • Hasan

    Nice write up, though the following article contradicts your argument (http://tribune.com.pk/story/415086/pakistanis-more-optimistic-than-us-india-about-hard-work-survey/).

    I whole heartedly agree with your ‘give more than receive ‘ Islamic directive, however the example you gave of Warren Buffet is at worst unsuitable for the following reasons:

    Warren Buffet is a statistical outlier. People in the West are generally not inclined to give in charity. I know because some friend and I carried out a flood victims fund raising campaign in Germany in 2010. The response was lukewarm. People in the west are generally insulated and they do not ‘feel’ the pain of the less fortunate.
    It is a well known fact that Pakistanis are one of the most philanthropic around. Yes, as an individual a Pakistani cannot donate $30b but thats not the point. The point of giving in Islam is not to earn a good reputation in others’ eyes, rather to improve the socio-economic conditions of the poor. And I have to say that I am extremely proud that Pakistanis have such large hearts. The outpouring of emotion (through donations) after the 2005 earthquake and 2010 floods are evidence to this.

    Keep up the good work but lets try not to bash ourselves up too much, constructive criticism should always be welcome. Thumbs up!Recommend

  • Shahid Ashraf

    Good one. But I’ve been thinking ever since that how can we change this mindset? I am sorry for sounding so negative but I see no hope for our nation :(Recommend

  • Parvez

    A nations work ethic is equated with the incentives provided and monetary incentive is not the prime driving force. Recommend

  • Asad

    @Hasan: Not true. I have raised money for the flood relief in California and we raised more than 8000$ just from students.Recommend

  • Asad

    @Parvez: My father’s company is a small team of dedicated individuals who get a lot of incentives and personal attention. Yet it is hard to find and hire more people who sometimes literally quit on the first claiming that the work is too hard. I doubt people are lining up to offer them jobs in the first place and yet they cannot bear to work hard to earn a living. Recommend

  • http://NewYork Falcon

    Very well written. However, for the example of Japanese, I think they are an inspiring hard-working bunch but some end up over-doing it. In fact, there is a Japanese word ‘Karoshi’ that pertains to the very phenomenon of death from over-work, which is a real issue in Japanese society. Other nations that I would add to the list are Americans, Indians, and Chinese.Recommend

  • Faraz

    It is not Islam that stop them to earn more it is their incompatibility that they earn less and when they are unable to earn they criticize Islam.Recommend

  • Sy

    Great article!

    Can’t wait to see the reaction of certain “liberals” over your comment on American aid.Recommend

  • Badar Chaudhary

    @Asad: Thanks for bringing that up. I’d good experiences raising money for different charities in Britain as well. People tend to be very generous and at the very least praised our altruism.

    @ Hasan: I appreciate your criticism but would beg to differ. The article is not about if our nation is charitable or not, but rather our incapacity to be generous because we just cannot ‘afford to do much charity’. As for the self bashing, I’m sorry if it felt that way but I believe recognition of a problem is a first step towards fixing it. This only shall lead us to the path of progress.Recommend

  • http://Birmingham elementary

    When the work is tedious,monotonous and under paid already ,prospect of working two hours extra is not something I would look forward to. Recommend

  • http://birmingham elementary

    I beg to disagree.
    When work is already tedious monotonous and under paid prospects of working two hour extra is not very exciting. There are people who work much harder than Bill gates and don’t get very far in life. If we increase the working hours of or government offices by two more hours will it lead to increase or decline in efficiency?
    Don’t aim to work hard , work smart instead,and enoy the leisure.Recommend

  • Madiha Ziafat

    This is very true that recognition of a problem is a first step towards fixing it,but you can say its my wish or request that kindly sort some solution for these issues or write something through which nation can realize that they should change this statement(WHY WE TERRIFIED OF HARD WORK?) rather always focussing on the criticism.Recommend

  • the sUltan!

    great article ! well most of the people in Pakistan are just relying on hope n their specific political parties….. what is the outcome? simply nothing! why can’t we just change ourselves and the way we think! all we need is +ive thinking and some courage…….Recommend

  • Parvez

    @Asad: I was looking at a bigger picture. On an individual case level you are very right but then one would have to narrow it down to industry, training, management, motivation and then the debate becomes detailed and I think, that is not the subject of this blog. Thanks for your comment anyway. Recommend

  • Sunflower

    Great article, “It is better to give dan recieve” , and wen u give with ur right hand not even ur left hand shuld know, Work and more work is da only way da person enriches itself wid happiness and satisfaction. Recommend

  • Ch. Allah Daad

    Concept of storing wealth is also obselete. In these days, money is kept in banks or in securites, which is used by banks and financial institutes for further investment and job creation. Only bad saving is in the form of gold and precious stones. No intellegent person would do that. Recommend

  • Abid P Khan

    Germany was flattened to earth twice but their hard work resulted in the country becoming an “economic wonder” in just a few decades. Max Weber termed it as “Protestant Work Ethic“.
    Wikipedia has a brief description of the topic.
    link, Protestant Work Ethic
    This has been his seminal work. Do read it, in case you haven’t already. Thanks.Recommend

  • Alam Dar

    I did not read most of the article but from what I understood the gist seems to be that Pakistani’s are unwilling to be generous. I feel that is a false statement. Only yesterday I was reading that Karachi is the philanthropic capital of the world and to be honest one of the reasons why are country is still moving forward is due to charitable efforts of some great people like Edhi. As far as I understand Pakistan gets enough charity. What Pakistan needs to progress is that people are taught to be self-sustainable rather than be dependent on others. As the saying goes ‘Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime’ .Recommend

  • Ali tanoli

    American Rich donate there money to escape from IRS……. internal revenue services.Recommend

  • deedee

    **Gates has pursued a number of philanthropic endeavors, donating large amounts of money to various charitable organizations and scientific research programs through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, established in 2000.
    Gates began to appreciate the expectations others had of him when public opinion mounted suggesting that he could give more of his wealth to charity. Gates studied the work of Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller, and in 1994 sold some of his Microsoft stock to create the William H. Gates Foundation. In 2000, Gates and his wife combined three family foundations into one to create the charitable Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which is the largest transparently operated charitable foundation in the world.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill%26MelindaGatesFoundation** Recommend

  • Vicky

    So when you guys were raising charity – were you asking these humans to give charity to Muslims? How many muslims give charity for humans?Recommend

  • amjad

    The irony is that compared to most Muslim groups, Pakistanis are in fact the hardest working. Although there are large groups of Pakistanis in the UK and Canada who don’t work and live on state khayrat / social assistance, it is nowhere near as bad as other Muslim nationals. For example in Canada most Somalis, Afghanis and Iraqis do not work but live on state social assistance which is state khayrat for poor people that comes from the taxes of working people.Recommend

  • AD

    Nice article pointing towards negative mindset of our nation which include me as wellRecommend

  • Ayesha

    What about the working class? Factory workers work for 16-18 hours per day on average in Pakistan. Women in villages work in the fields and at home and raise children at the same time. Domestic workers at your homes literally work all day. If you guys don’t like to work hard, and they work their bottoms off, and they are poor, and you are rich, you guys should, like, die or something.Recommend

  • gp65

    “People in the West are generally not inclined to give in charity. I know because some friend and I carried out a flood victims fund raising campaign in Germany in 2010. The response was lukewarm. People in the west are generally insulated and they do not ‘feel’ the pain of the less fortunate.”

    Some observations:
    1. You are comparing raising money for Pakistanis from Germans to raising money for Pakistanis from other Pakistanis. Are the 2 things comparable? How many Pakistanis donated during the 2004 Tsunami?What about Haiti which occurred few months prior to Pakistani floods? What about you – did you personally donate for either of these causes?
    2. For a person who talks in terms of ‘statistical outlier’, it is ironic that you are using your individual experience in one specific Western country (Germany) on one occasion to make a sweeping statement like “People in Western countries are generally not inclined to give to charity” Did you realize that your experience itself is a statistical outlier?
    3. Have you considered that perhaps Americans, French, British, Italians, Scandinavians may each have a different approach towards charit? Or perhaps the Germans you spoke to were not really familiar with the scale of devastation in Pakistan? Or maybe had already made a huge donation for Haiti that happened just a few months prior? Or maybe they prefer to give to known charities like red cross rather than individuals? Or that during that time Germany was also going through an economic crisis and the people may have donated to a soup kitchen or Goodwill or something like that which would benefit their less fortunate German brethren?Recommend

  • siddra

    Lets not lose hope and be patient i know at this point of time it is very difficult to have hope in something which has no signs of improvement but then we need not forget what OUR PROPHET (S.A.W.W) said. we need to have full faith in ALLAH and try to play our part with full dedication and motivation. Most importantly we need to get education at any cost.Recommend

  • She

    We always make comparison of our country with other developed ones. Its not the resources, economy, land, leaders of a country that make a difference. Its the attitude and mindset of a nation that decides where in the world they are going to stand. Recommend

  • Gratgy

    Working hard will not help you achieve paradise in the afterlife, but blowing yourself up in a crowded place willRecommend

  • Vikram

    If there is a natural disaster or famine any where in the world, Wstern Aid agncies are their first to help. Westrn countries also give billions of dollars to poor Muslim countries every year? How many billions dollars do you think Pakistan got as a zakat from Western countries..Recommend

  • Vikram

    @Faraz:Real islam is how Muslims live, it is a way of life. Pakistan being 98% Muslim is an example of how Islam influences its followers.Recommend

  • Nasir

    I totally agree with you siddra. i do believe in what you are saying but then the thing is why we all are not taking it seriously. i also wanted to thank you for sharing an useful link with all of us.Recommend

  • Toba Alu


    Before you talk about well known facts you should consult the World Giving Index of 2010. Pakistan is no 142 out of 153 countries. This is index is not based on actually no of PKRs or USD given but on how many people gave money in the month before the interview, how many people volunteered time to an organisation, and how many people helped a stranger who needed help. Although you could argue that this survey has a lot of flaws, it certainly gives some indication. I have heard many times how charitable Pakistanis are, but I have also heard many times that Nawaz Sharif only pays PKRs 5000 tax (never seen any evidence). The more often you say it the more you believe it.

    Btw don’t forget that many people in the more affluent developed societies actually pay a hell of lot of tax. Their governments appear on other charitable lists and donate on behalf of their citizens to f.i. flood victims in Pakistan and elsewhere.Recommend

  • Saad Malik

    Dear Friends,

    Its an esteemed privilege for me to shear with you all that the author of this Article Mr Badar Iqbal is a young graduate, and this article is his very first input on a blog such as this platform.We hope to see a lot more polished and profound efforts by Mr Badar Iqbal, with time contributing to our knowledge, which can help to expand the ora of our nation and Our vision.

    I wish him the best and whole heartedly congratulate him on such an immaculate effort at the very twilight of his career.Recommend

  • Tahir Mehmood

    I think Pakistani nation as a whole is very generous-some more than others of course. Islam is against accumulation, but not trade, and does not enjoin one to give all of one’s wealth away.
    Coming to the west, the western mindset is quite different. In my time that i have spent in the West, this is what i have observed; you first make money, and fulfill your desires, weather it be jets or yachts, or mansions all over the world. once you make money and fulfill all your wishes, and leave more than enough for your children, you give the rest to charity. Bill Gates for example was a billionaire in the 1980’s, but it wasnt till mid 2000’s that he started giving out. Before that he bought his fair share of art, the most expensive house in the world at the time 75M USD, and then in mid 2000’s he decided, lets go for charity on an aggressive level.
    This is the case with most US billionaires.

    In Pakistan, our amibtions to do well and achieve material comfort are not really encouraged under the branding of materialistic ambitions etc, and therefore we are less inclined to achieve the best we can, rather just enough to provide for ourselves and our family.

    If we teach our society to do well here, enjoy, also be generous to the poor—we may arrive at some sort of balance.Recommend

  • Tahir Mehmood

    its ludicrous to ask the average person to work hard for the benefit of society. Humans, despite their altruism, are inherently self-interested. Nobody, would work 20 hours a day, utilize and hone their skills and talents, so that after 20 years, they can start helping people. Also in our society, i have noticed once someone work’s hard and makes money and does well there are always detractors A. always assuming the source of wealth is questionable and dodgy at best. B. and always very judgmental with what others do with their wealth—this puts people off. I.e. the corolla guy has a neighbor who bought a mercedes, (suddenly the neighbor becomes far-removed from the poor, avaricious, overly indulgent, not caring for the poor, and instead splurging on a car etc etc) (not that the corolla guy is anymore generous, but he needs to feel good about himself by judging what other’s do with their wealth. THIS attitude has to change.

    People are not encouraged to do the best they can to achieve the best they can. Nobody wants to do ridiculously well, because their efforts are not rewarded. In India, despite talks about the mounting inequalities, their new found billionaires are considered role models, and their large than life lifestyles as something that many want to strive far—what that does is lets out your creativity, you use your head to find a way to get to the top, and in lots of cases end up creating something that adds value to yourself and society as a whole.

    This is a much better pitch, work hard, make money, play hard, and then also share your success with others.Recommend