Ethics in Islam
we have to adhere to ethical standards, not only in business but also in all
aspects of life. Both business and ethics are interrelated. There is a reference
to this point in the Qur’an: For you in the Messenger of Allah is a fine example
to follow (Al-Ahzab 33:21).
It is worthy stressing here that when Muslims stick to ethics in their daily
lives, they will become good examples to emulate. Perhaps this will help rectify
some aspects of the distorted image about Islam. Thus they will to some extent
become worthy ambassadors of their religion.
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was an ideal human being. He was the best teacher,
preacher, and guide; the best statesman, lawgiver, judge, diplomat, negotiator
of treaties, and military commander; the best family man, a good husband, a kind
father, a good neighbour, and friend of his people. He was also a very honest
and successful businessman.
The Prophet was chosen by God to be His last prophet at the age of 40. Before
that he was very much involved in business. He was born in Makkah, frequented by
caravans from Syria in the north and Yemen in the south. The Prophet would join
these caravans and that is how he traveled to Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, and many
other places in Arabia. Some historians have also suggested that he probably
traveled to Iraq and Ethiopia.
From his early age, he was involved in commerce. He had a good reputation as a
hardworking, truthful businessman. It was due to this reputation that Khadijah,
a wealthy businesswoman, hired him to work for her business. Many people in
Makkah had asked for her hand and worked for her, but they either cheated her or
she was not satisfied with their work. Finally, she found Muhammad (he was not a
prophet at that time) and she asked him to work for her. He made several
business trips. She was impressed with his work as well as his impressive
personality, they later got married.
After marrying Khadijah, the Prophet took several business trips throughout
parts of Arabia. Ancient Arabia used to have commercial fairs in almost all
major towns and regions; it is probable that the Prophet visited some of these
commercial fairs. After becoming a prophet, his business activities decreased,
although he would occasionally participate in business transactions. His vast
business experience helped him in dealing with people with great care. He often
used to mention the names of people and tribes whom he met in his journeys.
People were often amazed of his knowledge of people and their regions.
The Prophet emphasized that honesty and kind dealings with customers are the
secrets of success in business. He said, “The truthful and honest merchant is
associated with the Prophets, the upright and the martyrs” (Al-Tirmidhi). “God
shows mercy to a person who is kindly when he sells, when he buys and when he
makes a claim” (Al-Bukhari). The Prophet gave many teachings on business and
economic issues, he covered almost every aspect of business and economics. Here
are only a few major principles of fair business dealings according to Islam.
1. No fraud or deceit, the Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have said, “ When a
sale is held, say, “There’s no cheating” (Al-Bukhari).
2. Sellers must avoid making too many oaths when selling merchandise. The
Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have said, “Be careful of excessive oaths in a
sale. Though it finds markets, it reduces abundance” (Muslim).
3. Mutual consent is necessary. The Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have said,
“The sale is complete when the two parties involved depart with mutual consent”
4. Be strict in regard to weights and measures. The Prophet (pbuh) is reported
to have said, “When people cheat in weight and measures, their provision is cut
off from them” (Al-Muwatta). He told the owners of measures and weights, “You
have been entrusted with affairs over which some nations before you were
5. The Prophet forbade monopolies. “Whoever monopolizes is a sinner” (Abu
6. Free enterprise, the price of the commodities should not be fixed unless
there is a situation of crisis or extreme necessity.
7. Hoarding merchandise in order to increase the prices is forbidden.
8. Transaction of haram items, such as intoxicants, are forbidden.
The Prophet’s general advice to all people was, “What is lawful is clear and
what is unlawful is clear, but between them are certain doubtful things which
many people do not recognize. He who guards against the doubtful things keep his
religion and his honour blameless, but he who falls into doubtful things falls
into what is unlawful, just as a shepherd who pastures his flocks round a
sanctuary will soon pasture them in it. Every king has a sanctuary, and God’s
sanctuary is the things he had declared unlawful” (Al-Bukhari).
The Role of Business Ethics Today
Business people and their enterprise require to be reminded about their role and
responsibilities. The following issues need special attention in the present
1. Globalization should mean that all people are considered to comprise one
family. All human beings should be treated with respect, equality, and fairness.
Exploitation of one group by another should stop. There should not be any
division among people because of their race, colour, nationality, gender, or
2. The resources of the Earth are not only for us, we share this biosphere with
other species, and so we take care not to waste or destroy them.
3. We should use the Earth’s resources with great care and should remember that
we have a duty to leave this world in a better condition for the posterity.
4. Human beings are one family, although we have our differences. Diversity is
natural and beautiful. We should try to understand other people’s religions and
cultures and we should be sensitive to their feelings and emotions.
5. The universal golden rule states, “Like for others what you like for
yourself.” We should try to empower others and work to eradicate poverty,
hunger, illiteracy, disease, and unsanitary conditions in order to live in peace
6. Businesses should promote ethical standards in their enterprise, People
involved in business should always be honest, truthful, and fulfil all promises
and commitments. We must eliminate fraud and cut-throat competition.
7. We should also promote more political freedom, open debates, participatory
8. We must encourage and support an educational system that promotes openness,
dialogue and that which guards against fanaticism. Our educational system should
not teach every view in the absolutist terms. Our children should be taught
about the multitude of perspectives and one should be open to other points of
(Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi is president of the Fiqh Council of North America)
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