I was recently scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed and started reading a post that one of my friends had shared. As I read it, I recognized it as an article I had written for a magazine many months ago. The post on Facebook, my writing, had already reached three thousand likes. I should have been ecstatic! I should have been celebrating that my words had not only reached so many people, but had moved them as well. I should have been screaming with joy, but instead I was literally shaking with anger. The tiny detail that made the difference? My name did not appear anywhere on the post.
I felt robbed. I felt like someone had stolen something very valuable from me. It wasn’t just my article that had been taken; it was my rights. As the owner of that piece, it was my right to have it attributed to me, it was my right that readers know I was the mind behind the words. It was my right to be acknowledged. And that right had been violated.
Perhaps, if I weren’t a writer, it would have hurt less. Perhaps, if I weren’t struggling to sell my book, I would have taken it as a compliment that someone liked my piece so much they wanted to share it. Perhaps I would have been more open to the people who tried to comfort me with words like, ‘They didn’t acknowledge you, but God does, and your reward is with Him.’
But those words only infuriated me. Not because I don’t believe them – because I do, wholeheartedly. I believe in living my life for the sake of God, and seeking His pleasure. I believe that it is our duty to do our best at everything, and in so doing, each act is thus done for the sake of God; because that is what He commanded us to do. I believe in helping where I can because, again, God commands it. I believe in doing everything for the sake of God.
But I also believe in worldly compensation, because this, too, is commanded by God. In the second chapter of the Qur’an, Surat al Baqarah, God clearly explains that each person is to receive due payment for any transaction (2: 282). We are not required to do business with each other and expect nothing more than a ‘May God reward you’ as payment. We are not! Here is a perfect example: consider someone who has made posters explaining the ninety-nine names of God. The posters teach people who He is and spread the message of the Oneness, the Greatness of the Creator. This person is obviously in that business for the sake of God. But that does not mean that this person should not make a profit from their work. They deserve to make a profit. And if a thief were to break into their home and steal their posters and pass them out for free, that person has been violated, even though their message is still being spread. Their monetary compensation is their right and no one would ever comfort them by saying ‘Your reward is with God.’ Yes, God willing, He will reward us, but that does not excuse people from according us with our worldly rights. God tells us in the Qur’an never to transgress upon anyone’s rights, and we all deserve that same courtesy. It may be that some of our communities fail to recognize the theft of intellectual property. Maybe they don’t consider it a thing, don’t understand how a non-physical entity, an idea, can belong to someone. But any writer, artist, teacher, or lawyer can assure you that intellectual property indeed has an owner.
Sadly there are some zealots that scoff at us artists for demanding recognition. But a quick search in the traditions, the ahadith, of Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) turn up the incident where a man asked the Prophet how he should act if someone tries to take his belongings. The Prophet advised the man not to surrender them. The man then asked what he should do if the offender continued to fight him for them, and the Prophet replied that he should fight back (Sahihmuslim.com, Book of Faith, chapter 64, hadith no. 259). This hadith makes it very clear: despite what some believe, it is not a mark of piety to abandon our rights. To follow Islam properly, we must stand up for them.
When I became aware that my piece was out there, it had already received three thousand likes. I immediately contacted the editor of the magazine in which it had originally appeared, and she took action by emailing the site. Other writers and friends of mine went to the post and made comments demanding that my name be added to it. My name finally appeared on the post… at about eleven thousand likes. My article received eleven thousand likes and over nine thousand shares before the site acknowledged me.
I cannot help but wonder how many new fans I may have gained if my name had been on it from the minute that post had gone live. I cannot help but wonder how many more readers would have read the poems on my website, how many more books I would have sold. I cannot help but wonder how my professional life would have been affected. Yes, I accept everything that comes my way with a resounding ‘Praise God.’ Yes, I feel blessed that my words touched so many people. But it saddens me that I did not receive my due rights. It saddens me that I know it will happen again, to others if not myself. And it saddens me that so many people underestimate the importance of giving credit where it is due. It is such a simple thing – attributing a piece to its rightful creator. It saddens me that many in the Muslim community think so little of it, when in fact, it is theft – a major sin in Islam. It saddens me that so many are either unaware of that fact, or simply do not care.
May your rights – personal and professional – never be violated. And may you never transgress upon the rights of another, even unintentionally.
(If you’re curious about my article that received so many likes, you can find it here, on the website of SISTERS Magazine, where it originally appeared. It is an article about parenting.)