Prophet Muhammad -peace be upon him- said in a hadith that the most truthful names are cultivator and thinker. In this tradition, prophet Muhammad is summing up the progressive and dynamic nature of human being as someone who always thinks, and does jobs. He thinks how to grow plants and feed his wife and children. He starts to observe his surroundings and make discoveries. After long hours of thinking, he starts to put into action some of the fruits of his thinking. Thus, thoughts are translated into actions.
Allah encourages us to travel on the surface of earth in search for provision. Allah had made the earth a conducive place to search for provisions and make endless discoveries through innovative approaches in order to unearth the hidden treasures. Read for example, Surah 67, verse 15
It is He who made the earth tame for you - so walk among its slopes and eat of His provision - and to Him is the resurrection.
Such motivations made Muslims explore the earth and float on all seas of the world in order to trade goods as well as preach their religion. Ask the people of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, China, and even Latin America before Columbus, and they would tell you wonderful stories of those traders. (Contrast this with European plunderers when they reaches those places)
There is no asceticism in Islam. Islam never encourages people to go to jungle and seclude oneself with worshiping and wait for provisions to shower from heaven.
It happened that people from Yemen used to travel for pilgrimage to Makkah without carrying with them the needed provision for the journey. When they run short of provision, they start to beg others. A verse (197) in Surah Baqarah (2) was then revealed. (see Bukhari on this story)
And take provisions, but indeed, the best provision is fear of Allah
Islam encourages its adherents to be strong so that they can have positive influence on society. See the following hadith narrated by Muslim
The strong believer is better and more beloved to Allah than a weak believer. However, both are good. Be forwarding looking to what benefits you, and go for it seeking the help of Allah, and never give up. If -at end- things did not go well, then never say “if I did it in different way, it would have been better”, rather say “it is a decree from Allah, and He does whatever He wished”, for the saying “if I did that way” opens up gates of Satan
Malnutrition is a leading cause of low productivity. Islam always encourages its adherents to eat good, and avoid eating all things harmful. Read for example, Surah 7, verse 32
Who has forbidden the adornment of Allah which He has produced for His servants and the good [lawful] things of provision?
One leadings characteristics of prophet Muhammad -peace be upon him- is that he: (surah 7, verse 157)
.. makes lawful for them the good things and prohibits for them the evil and relieves them of their burden and the shackles which were upon them ..
Weather is another factor that contributes to productivity and work. The best places are in the middle of earth where the weather is moderate between cold and hot, and between too rainy and too dry, and between too much daylight and too little day light. That is the middle east and locations surrounding it. It is no wonder then that Islam started from the mother of villages (that is Makkah) and Allah knew that people coming from such a place are the most productive and are most suitable among mankind to build a civilization on earth.
The best time for productivity is in the early hours after sun-rising. It is the time when the mind is fresh and body is ready to yield its best after a good night sleep. Read this hadith narrated by Sakhr al-Ghamdi (in books of Tabrani, Ahmad, Darmi, Abu-Dawood, Tirmidhi, and al-Albani branded this hadith as Saheeh):
O Allah, bless my Ummah in its early morning times
Islam always reminds people of the overarching responsibility to make progress on this earth and build the civilization. The monetary reward is only a secondary to this primary objective. This fits well with the concept of hereafter. Whenever a person does something good, then his wages is already paid with compounding factors in the world hereafter. Think about this wonderful hadith that is narrated by Ahmad, Bukhari (in his book al-adab al-mufrad), Abd ibn Humaid and al-Bazzar, by Anas ibn malik, the Prophet peace be upon him said:
if the doomsday (was about to) start while some of you was holding a baby palm tree, then if it is possible for him to implant it before the doomsday starts then let him do it.
This man might not live long to see the yield of this palm tree, but by just cultivating the baby, his reward is registered with Allah.
Read another hadith to see how wide the scope of work is in Islam, and observe the real incentive factor in Islam.
Narrated by Bukhari and Muslim, by Abu Dharr: I asked the Prophet “Which deeds are the best?”, He said “Believe in Allah, and Jihad in His cause”, I asked again: “what kind of slave is best to free?”, He said: “Those who are most expensive and most valued by its owners”. I said “If I could not afford to do that?”, He said “Then help an industrious person in accomplishing his job, or do a job for a disable (either mentally or physically) person who can not do it himself”, I then said: “If I could not afford that either?”, The Prophet said: “Stop your evil from reaching others, for that would be a charity on yourself”.
All prophets and messengers of Allah were people of this World, and had worked themselves to earn the money for their wives and kids. Prophet Muhammad worked as shepherd and earned wages in exchange. There is no distinction in Islam -when it comes to work attitude- between priests and laity. Both need to pray and work to earn money as well.
Professionalism and trustworthiness are the two key qualities that any employer looks for. See how they are highlighted in this verse (in the context of prophet Moses story when the daughter of old man of Madyan request his father to employ Moses) (surah 28 verse 26)
O my father, hire him. Indeed, the best one you can hire is the strong and the trustworthy.
Also, read this excellent hadith (narrated by abu Yala through Ayesha, and al-albani authenticated this hadith)
Allah loves when one of you does a work that he does it with perfection
As for the employer, Islam imposes a number of ethics that ensures preservation of employee rights. Read for example this nice story that happened with Abu Dharr - the companion of the prophet-. This hadith is narrated by Bukhari and Muslim
Al-Maroor ibn Suwaid says, I met Abu Dhar in ar-Rabadhah (the name of his residence neighborhood) and observed both himself and his servant wearing the same cloth. I asked him about that. He said, (long ago) I quarreled with a servant and called his mother by names. The prophet (when knowing this) said: “O Abu Dharr, have you called his mother by bad names? Surely you are a person still clinging to some values of dark ages! Your servants are your brothers whom Allah made them at your service and under your mercy. If some of you have such brothers under you, then make sure to feed them as you eat, and dress them as you wear, and never impose labor on them beyond their ability. If you have to impose burden on them, then help them in carrying such labors”
Contrast this with European plantocracies in the New World who used to burden their slaves to enjoy themselves with picnics and having good times. All such injustice were done just to satisfy their appetite for tea, coffee, and chocolates.
Another responsibility of employer is to pay wages on time. Here again Islam has its say
Ibn Umar narrated that the Prophet -peace be upon him said-: Give the wage to the employer before his sweat dries (narrated by Ibn Majah and authenticated by al-albani)
With such work attitudes, ethics and accountabilities, early Muslims were able to build a civilization that is unparalleled in history. The development we see today in Western societies is a result of adhering to some of these ethics, and the inequalities and injustices we see in the world today is a result of neglecting other Islamic ethics. We can reach utopia only when Islam -in totality- is practiced on earth.