Between Cisco and Sujud: Earning Your Livelihood, Taking Benefit from the Corporate Lifestyle – Part II
Lecture by Suhaib Webb | Transcribed by Fuseina Mohamad
When I taught the AlMaghrib course I flew back from Houston after the first class. Masha’Allah, first or second time in my life I think I flew first class. First class is no joke, awuthu bilahi min al dunya wa ma fee ha (I seek refuge in Allah from this world and that which is in it). So I was sitting in first class with my V8 and there was a guy next to me named Frank. I was actually preparing for a class that I teach on Tuesdays and Thursdays so I thought, “You know what I’m going to do? I’m going to turn on the laptop and make the font like 100 so Ben can see what I’m writing.” And you have those interactions every day. I was like “Man, I’m lucky! Finally I get a chance to try out what I learnt at al-Azhar.” This is what Siraj Wahhaj calls “da`wah moments.”
So I turned on the laptop and started typing, “The Qur’an, Allah created us, etc.” That didn’t work. Then I needed to get up, and actually he got up before me and the stewardess was kind of rough, kind of harsh. I said to him, “You know it seems maybe she’s kind of rough.”
He said, “You know her husband lost his job.” So then I realized he’s a decent guy; he asked her and found out that she was a decent person.
Then he asked me, “What’s your name?”
I said, “My name is William.” I say William or Muhammed. Why? Because if I say Suhaib they ask, “What’s Suhaib?” Actually one of my names is Muhammed, that’s a long story, but I’m not lying to him. So I said, “My name is William.”
He said, “Really? What are you reading right there?”
I had an Arabic book with me. Don’t be shy of who you are. People are interested.
The other day I was working out at 24 Hour Fitness and I left a copy of ‘Umdatul Ahkaam because when you are on those elliptic machines you can read. So I was trying to memorize some hadith from ‘Umdatul Ahkaam although it’s not very easy. So I left the book there and came back after about an hour and a half and I said, “Did you guys find a book?”
The guy said, “Man, this is an amazing book. What is this? What is this writing? So beautiful.”
I said, “This is Arabic, I’m a Muslim. You know we have a local community.”
Just that instance of being able to talk to them can make a difference. Arabic has a barakah (blessing) to it.
So when Frank saw that writing, that khat (script) he said, “What is that book you’re reading? That’s not Freakonomics. What is that book you’re reading?”
I said, “Well this is an Arabic book that I’m translating for a class I teach.”
“Are you a Moslem?”
I said, “I’m a Muslim.”
He said, “You know I’ll be honest with you. I have a very bad opinion of you people.”
I said, “You know what? I appreciate your integrity.” He said it in a nice way.
He said, “I will be honest with you. I’m just being honest, man. I have a really bad image of you people.”
What he’s saying is despite all the work we do in the community, we’re very incubated and we’re not reaching people.
So then we started to talk and we got into some discussions, and he is actually pretty orthodox. By the end of the conversation he said, “This is the first enlightened conversation I have had with a Muslim in my life.”
And because of that one conversation now he e-mails me and he will say, “Look, what these people said about Islam is not true.” Just one simple interaction. I didn’t quote anything from al-Azhar, I didn’t tell him, “Well, Sheikh Ali Guma says such and such.” I didn’t say that; I just told him simple things: what’s Islam, who are Muslims, etc.
And you know he was asking, “You’re not terrorists right? You’re not really. Because we’re on a plane.”
I said to him, “No, we’re not terrorists.”
He’s like, “I knew you weren’t.” But he just had to hear it. Who did he have to hear it from? Who did he have to see it from? From one of us.
So every day you pack your lunch and you go to work. That’s a very good opportunity. That’s not something you should be ashamed of, because number one the Prophet (s) said, “The best property is the property of the righteous person.”
The other thing is, as we mentioned, the Companions of the Prophet who were the most helpful to him were affluent. They used their money for the sake of Allah. That doesn’t mean that it’s not a fitna (trial). It’s a trial, but fitna is used to clean silver and gold ore to get pure gold. So that’s a trial for us all. Wealth is a trial.
So there are just a few important points to make.
Number one: As people involved in Cisco and Sun and the MCA (Muslim Community Association), the most important thing is balance. Balance in your life. Allah said, “[Do] not transgress within the balance” (55:8). Especially for young professionals coming out of college; I remember when I came out of college. There is the propensity to get sucked in and lose priorities. The first and foremost priority is to be the servant of Allah. And that job and that money and that profession are used for Allah. If that intention is there you will find Allah will bless it, wallahi. Allah will put a blessing in those things.
I remember when I worked for AT&T there was a brother who worked there with me. Wallahi they loved us Muslims over there. We’re the best workers. We don’t come in with hangovers on Monday. Maybe we watched some cricket over the weekend but other than that we weren’t complaining, “Oh no, it’s Monday.” We were like, “Oh alhamdullilah it’s Monday. I’ve prayed Fajr in the masjid, got my dhikr down and I’m ready to get busy.”
So you see the Muslims are not staggering around like zombies; we’re ready to go. They told us, “We’ll give you a room to pray in.” Brothers were scared to pray, brothers wouldn’t pray. And I said “Why are you scared to pray, man? The land belongs to Allah!”
So we went, we talked to the woman in Human Resources and she said, “I know Muslims. Muslims are my best employees. They’re always on time, don’t take long lunch breaks, don’t talk to girls. They’re focused. Don’t talk to boys. They’re focused people. I respect that. They’re streamlined. You get from them all the time. They give it to you.”
I said subhan’Allah look at how these people look at us, yet we are too nervous even to say our names, instead saying “My name is Mo or Ebe, or Abdul.”
They like us. I remember there was a woman once who told me, “Please wear a thobe. I used to live in Saudi Arabia. Wear one of those white things, those are cool.” Subhan’Allah.
So they gave us a room to pray. By that time we had gained such an affection of the people, by the grace of Allah alone, that we would go and find brothers and say, “Let’s go and pray, man. It’s time to pray Asr.”
So with most of the brothers we had a jama`a (congregation) of about fifteen people. And non-Muslims would walk by and be like, “They’re praying. These people are praying. That’s interesting how they pray together.” They would stop, like you pass by the great Andes rhino in a museum, and they were just surprised. They would all ask us, “Why do you pray like that? You pray like it says in the Bible. Why do you wash? That’s in the Bible too.” And so we start a conversation with people and they start to know us and they start to respect us.
There was this one brother I went to and said, “Brother, come on, let’s go pray.”
You know what he told me? He said, “Allah doesn’t sign my paycheck, dude.”
I said, “Wow.” Deviant alarms started going off. So I said, “You know, brother, okay fine. I’m not going to ask you to say anything else because I’m worried about your state. You keep talking there’s no telling what’s going to happen to you.”
So I just left him. The next day he was fired. I wanted to go to him and say, “It looks like He didn’t sign it this month, brother!”
Nobody got fired from there, but he got fired.
So number two, the second important thing that you’ve got to realize, and I’ve got to realize, in corporate America is the issue of your identity. You have a noble identity—you’re a Muslim! Allah blessed you to be Muslim, that’s a sharaf (honor). It’s an honor to be a Muslim. It’s an honor, a great honor. Sometimes we don’t feel it because of the condition of Muslims. We’re going through some hard times, but remember that Allah called the Prophet (s) and said, “Wala sawfa yu’tika rabuka fatarda – Your Lord will give you what will please you” (93:5). Why didn’t He say wala sawfa yu’tika Allahu? He said rabuk because the Rabb, the Lord, is the One who nourishes you and takes care of you and makes sure everything is comfortable. At the same time it’s as if He’s saying to the Prophet (s), as Imam ibn Ashur explained, the horizons in front of you, O Muhammed, they might be difficult, but I am your Lord, don’t worry, because I am with you.
So when we get to high school, or junior high, or university, and we go home at night, sometimes we need to remember what Allah said to the ummah (Muslim community). Allah said to the Ummah of the Prophet (s), “Indeed this nation of yours is one nation, wa ana rabukum (and I am your Lord).” So Allah is telling us as an Ummah, “Ana rabukum, la takhafu wa la tahzanu ana rabukum – I am your Lord, do not be afraid, and do not grieve. I am your Lord.”
So the second issue is the issue of identity. I’ll be honest, when I was a non-Muslim I knew Muslims. I knew a guy in a high school named Salim Salim. Crazy dude, man. You would have never known it but he was a Muslim. And I remember I did not respect him. I didn’t respect him because he didn’t respect his religion. And I was a non-Muslim! I’m not going to tell you his full name—names have been changed to protect the innocent. But I remember as a non-Muslim I felt that he was a sell-out. I said, “Man, this dude’s a sell-out.” Even though I was doing more dirt than the Caterpillar company, I thought to myself, “This guy is a sell-out because he doesn’t practice Islam.” And we knew about Islam. What Islam tells them not to do, he does it. So I had no respect for him, but when I met a Muslim for the first time who held on to his principles and told me straight up, “I’m a Muslim,” I respected that person.
American people are like that. They respect you if you’re straightforward. No flip-floppers, no John Kerry. Straight to the point.
I remember I met a brother named Ali who became Muslim in Wichita, Kansas of all places. He had a stereo that broke the sound barrier. The brother would pull up to the masjid and the windows would start shaking. Step by step he became Muslim. Alhamdulilah he’s all right.
So I asked Ali, “Brother Ali, how did you become Muslim?”
He said, “Muslims are cool.”
I said, “Cool?” I thought maybe he was like me, you know I read the Qur’an, I read Ahmed Deedat, and got into intellectual debates about Paul and the concept of the trinity.
He was like, “No. Muslims are cool, man. Muslims are cool.”
I said, “Could you elaborate on that coolness?” Let’s get into our core coolness here and try to understand why Muslims are cool. Listen to this, sisters.
He said, “From middle school to high school in Wichita, Kansas there were these girls that used to wear this thing on their head. I couldn’t believe that they could do that.”
I said, “Why?”
He said, “Because of the pressure in my school for them to lose their virginity and dress like prostitutes. I watched those women from seventh grade to my senior year in high school and I came to a conclusion.”
I said, “What?”
He said, “Those girls are onto the truth.”
I said, “How?”
He said, “They didn’t waver, brother. Everyone wavered but them. To wear that in the nineties? The age of J. Lo? To wear that, something had to be stronger than the human spirit. Something had to cause them to transcend popular culture and cling to principles. The only thing that can do that is al-Haqq (the truth). That’s why Muslims are cool.”
I said, “I agree, brother. Muslims are cool.”
He became Muslim and he said, “I never talked to those girls. Those girls don’t even know me.”
By watching a living example of someone in the age of post-modernity, where there is supposedly no “fixed truth”, cling to the truth, and to look how he watched them from middle school to high school; he said, “From middle school to high school I realized that these women were holding onto a higher power. Something that they were clinging to gave them the ability to transcend the jahiliya (ignorance) that was around them and I realized it had to be the truth. So I stopped to ask questions and I found out that they were Muslims.”
You can do that in corporate America. How? By going out and preaching and telling people we are Muslims, etc? No. The most important thing people need now is people of good character. Upright people, righteous people, decent people. People who are not snakes. All over the world people need that, not just here.
There was a brother who worked in a startup in LA. Hardcore with a big long beard, turban or kufi, everything. I’m not telling you to do that, I’m just giving you examples of some people who subhan’Allah are proud of their identity. His coworker was a knockout. As these young people say, she was hot. I don’t like to use that kind of word but just so our youngsters can understand. For those of us who are older, she was quite lovely. So the brother he was pious, so he was like, “Subhan’Allah! I’d prefer if they would give me the old grandma.” But, alhamdullilah it was the qadr (will) of Allah.
So that brother, who was one of the students of Dr. Hussein Abdul Sattar, he made a sincere effort to be a good Muslim, for his own sake. And according to that brother, everyone in the place was hitting on that woman. Everyone! And she was married, but they had no class. The brother talked to her, he respected her, he was good to her, but he never tried to talk to her outside of normal bounds. Then he got a job in Chicago, may Allah reward this brother. This is a true story. He went to Chicago.
After a few weeks he gets a phone call from his old job telling him, “What did you do to the Latina lady?”
He said, “Wait a minute. Authu billahi min al shaitan al rajeem (I seek refuge in Allah from Satan the accursed). I did nothing to the Latina lady.”
“No, no. You did something.”
He said, “Why?”
They said, “She feel into depression. She’s crying at work. She said she misses you, man.”
Now, this brother, no offense he’s not Brad Pitt. The brother, he looked all right.
So he calls her, because they said, “Please call her.”
You know what she tells him? “I’m madly in love with you.”
He said “Why?”
She said, “You are the first person in my life to treat me like a woman. You’re the first person that didn’t treat me like a piece of meat in a butcher shop. That’s why I love you.”
Now I’m not telling you to go to corporate America tomorrow and find a pretty girl and be pious. It doesn’t work like that. But look how Allah blessed that brother to spread the light of Islam to a woman who everyone was trying to do bad things to. The Muslim character comes out.
That’s why in the Quran Allah says, “Washshamsi waduhaha. Walqamari itha talaha. By the sun and its brightness. And [by]the moon when it follows it” (91:1-2). As though Islam is like the shams (sun). The light is so strong that even in the darkness of night it illuminates things like the moon. So even in the cesspool of darkness the nur (light) of Muhammad (s) and the nur of Islam shines on people’s hearts.
Number one is identity. Don’t lose yourself. Don’t lose yourself in this world. Be who you are, don’t live a fake life. Be who you are and struggle. It’s not easy.
Number two: make sure that you find other Muslims in the workplace. You’ve got to have that relationship with brothers and sisters that will hold you together. I remember the brothers at Cisco, and Intel also, they invited me to two programs they did on Islam. Man, these were the best programs I ever saw on Islam. Amazing. The Intel program was so incredible that Intel recorded it and put it on their website. They said, “We’ve never had a program like this, this is unbelievable.”
Why were they so impressed? Because Muslims are doing it. Muslims are doing a good job, Muslims work hard, Muslims are decent people, and they’re on time.
The brothers had formed something like an MSA. Because what happens? What I call PMSA syndrome: post-MSA syndrome. We get out of college, we have all that zeal, we come to the communities and the chachas (elders) throw us out. Young brothers and sisters come out of college and they’re used to having that freedom to work as they did on campus. When they get older they lose that freedom and start to get depressed and down. They give up. It goes from Islamic awareness week to Islamic awareness minute, if we’re lucky. So you have to find other Muslims and create organizations on campus, Muslim organizations that will support you and also give a good image to other people.
The third and very important point is to not cut the umbilical cord to the masjid. You’ve got to come to the masjid, man. Once a week, twice a week, three times a week outside of Jumu`ah. Four times a week, once a day if you can do it, man.
You might say, “But I’ve got kids.”
Bring your kids to the masjid! I’m not going to tell you to throw your kids out. I want to see your kids in the masjid. No problem, we’re a community, bidoon istithnayaat (without exceptions). Just control your kids when it’s time to pray, brother.
And I want to warn you about the trick of letting your kids pray behind you. That’s a trick. There was a sheikh once in one of our communities who used to put his sons between the men and the women. So he thought, “Masha Allah, I’m following the sunnah my kids are going to be all right.”
In Salat al-Taraweeh as soon as the Sheikh would go Allahu Akbar [to start the prayer] his kids would go downstairs and play ping-pong and listen until they knew it was the last raka’ then they would run up and make rukoo and pray the last raka’. Every two raka’. They loved ping-pong.
But one day the Sheikh broke his wudu (ablution). He went back there and… We had to tell him, “Sheikh, we have child abuse laws in America. You’re not back home, Sheikh.”
Take your kids to the masjid. Take your wife to the masjid! Spend the evening together. Go pray Isha together, alhamdullilah. Go as a family. Go to the masjid because you have to have that connection, brothers. You’ve got to have that connection with Allah, because what’s going to carry you through corporate America is not your talents. That’s a side issue. Allah has blessed all of you, many of you have gone to Cornell University or MIT masha’Allah, but if you don’t have that relationship with Allah it doesn’t mean anything. It’s not going to take you anywhere. It won’t take you anywhere. So the third point is to have a strong relationship with your community.
Question & answer session will be posted soon.