The word Zimma (or dhimma) is an Islamic concept that means protection, custody, security, promise, and liability. Zimma is not a synonym of each one of these words; it embodies all of them together. The English vocabulary can only come close to defining certain words in Arabic because not all words have a direct translation, especially descriptive ones.
A Hadith uses this word directly as defined above, “Whoever prays Fajr will be under the Zimma (protection, security, custody, etc.) of Allah […].” Other common Arabic phrases use it indirectly like, “Do it with Zimma,” or when someone wants the truth they can say, “with your Zimma?” Used in similar context as, “for real?” But it’s much stronger like, “Do you hold your Zimma at stake for what you’re saying?”
So, what does doing something with Zimma or having your Zimma at stake mean? What does it mean to do your task under your protection, as if it was in your custody, in your security, with your promise, your liability?
You probably have an idea. Maybe you’re imagining taking care of a baby, a BIG responsibility, right? My mom used to tell me, “Wash the dishes with Zimma” or “Do your homework with Zimma.” Ultimately, she’s telling me that because I accepted responsibility or promised to do this task, I am therefore the only possible person that can secure a good outcome.
I quit my job because I couldn’t do it with Zimma.
In the corporate world, we’re rarely working alone or producing something that will only reflect on us individually. This gives us subconscious reasoning to slack, “Well, if anything goes wrong, it was a team effort.” Or, “I can’t be the only one working, look at Ben on Facebook.” Or, “It’s Nicole’s job to look this over so she should catch the mistakes anyway.” We may even try to be clever and rather than producing something we know is good, we test the system, “Well, if they let this slide or didn’t notice any mistakes then my performance was satisfactory.”
Yes, a lot of us do good enough work. But do we do it with Zimma? Are we promising our best work? How many of us would go back and refine certain things that we’ve submitted if we were told that our part alone will be presented to the president of the company or will be the reason they don’t lay us off?
I’m not saying it’s easy to work with Zimma. A lot of times we don’t see the bigger picture of what we’re working towards, we might not even know what the end result is and therefore we’re discouraged, realizing that we can’t work to our fullest Zimma. This is what really put a cap on my decision to leave. Because, ultimately, I was cheating the person that hired me by staying there and producing work that wasn’t my best, although I knew that when I accepted responsibility for this task I was trusted to be the only possible person that can secure a good outcome.
It’s not capability that’s disabling us. It’s not because we literally “can’t” do it, although the impression we give off is that we lack skill. It’s just a matter of willingness. Some people’s willingness overcomes their discouragement because they have to pay bills or provide for family, etc. Others can’t overcome it and are unwilling to give 100% of themselves to something whether they know it or not. It’s fair to feel that way but it’s not fair to stay that way.
If you have to stay, try your best to work towards a 100% because that’s what you promised. The first 70% is easy: waking up, looking presentable, making it to work, and doing the work “good enough.” The other 30% is the hard part: focus, discipline, sharpness, patience. What kept me going towards the end of my dilemma to stay or leave was because I was working on my 30%. I made it personal and that made me “willing” for a while. I realized that that 30% doesn’t just come because you simply want it to, it needs practice. So wherever you are, even in places you think you belong, you’ll still feel the hardship of performing at 100%.
I got great advice once: if you’re doing your work well, no one will have anything to say. Sometimes we need help to realize how much we’re actually giving. And for that, I thank my coworker and manager who nitpicked at everything I did, for making me realize that I wasn’t working with Zimma.