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Business Ethics in Islam

By Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi

As Muslims, 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” (Al-Bukhari).

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 destroyed” (Al-Tirmidhi).

5. The Prophet forbade monopolies. “Whoever monopolizes is a sinner” (Abu Dawud).

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 scenario.

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 faith.

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 and tranquility.

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 democracies.

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 view.

(Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi is president of the Fiqh Council of North America)



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