Anchoring Businesses Through Islamic Lensby Helmy Sa'at
There are many peaks and troughs in the world of business. It is to be anticipated as part of an inevitable equation in entrepreneurship either as building blocks of successes or stumbling blocks and humps caused by missteps and failures.
Does that mean one has to be ruthless in business dealings in ensuring continual and long-lasting success?
When entrepreneurs partake in the halal market, the balancing act involved in the pursuit of profits and gains is not confined to just parameters of choosing halal (permissible) and staying away from haram (forbidden) products and services, according to Islamic principles.
The halal market is booming as the global halal foods and beverages market, for instance being one of the fastest growing consumer markets in the world. It grew by more than USD $412 billion from 2015 to 2020. When everyone is scrambling for a piece of the economic pie, what is the role of religion in the business landscape? As we chase profits in this world, it needs to be balanced with how gains are being accumulated for the afterlife, too.
Thus, there needs to be a better understanding for both Muslim and non-Muslim entrepreneurs of how (halal) businesses are to be executed, especially behind the scenes that forms part of the bigger chain of supply. The following business ethics form the roadmap to the paths of success as the business grows, thrives and expands sans guilt or sin, whether intentional or otherwise:
Do What Is Right, Always
Uphold and practise integrity, even when no one is watching. Even in the world of commerce within this digital age, accelerated by the pandemic where we might be far removed from realities on the ground. Every transactional relationship with or without meeting face-to-face warrants integrity in words and actions for all stakeholders involved. Build trust with mutual respect by being honourable.
It was narrated from Ibn ‘Umar that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said:
التَّاجِرُ الأَمِينُ الصَّدُوقُ الْمُسْلِمُ مَعَ الشُّهَدَاءِ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ
‘The trustworthy, honest Muslim merchant will be with the martyrs on the Day of Resurrection.”
[Sunan Ibn Majah 2139]
Treat Employees Well
How often have we heard a business owner say that their colleagues or employees are like their own family? Pretty often. More importantly, how frequently have we seen such words and sentiment being put into practice without fail? Perhaps rare.
Narrated Abu Huraira:
حَدَّثَنَا يُوسُفُ بْنُ مُحَمَّدٍ، قَالَ حَدَّثَنِي يَحْيَى بْنُ سُلَيْمٍ، عَنْ إِسْمَاعِيلَ بْنِ أُمَيَّةَ، عَنْ سَعِيدِ بْنِ أَبِي سَعِيدٍ، عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ ـ رضى الله عنه ـ عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ “ قَالَ اللَّهُ تَعَالَى ثَلاَثَةٌ أَنَا خَصْمُهُمْ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ رَجُلٌ أَعْطَى بِي ثُمَّ غَدَرَ، وَرَجُلٌ بَاعَ حُرًّا فَأَكَلَ ثَمَنَهُ، وَرَجُلٌ اسْتَأْجَرَ أَجِيرًا فَاسْتَوْفَى مِنْهُ وَلَمْ يُعْطِهِ أَجْرَهُ ”.
Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet ﷺ said, “Allah said, ‘I will be an opponent to three types of people on the Day of Resurrection: -1. One who makes a covenant in My Name, but proves treacherous; -2. One who sells a free person and eats his price; and -3. One who employs a labourer and takes full work from him but does not pay him for his labour.'”
[Sahih al-Bukhari 2270]
Good treatment of employees leads to higher productivity whereby positive employee engagement leads to a 20% to 25% improvement in productivity whilst reducing rates of absenteeism and employee turnover. Positive employee engagement produces a team which is overall more innovative, happier and healthy.
So, how do we achieve this? It goes beyond the specific act of timely monetary compensation for one’s labour. Start with the following couple of healthy steps. First, create space for employees to speak up and speak out. Establish legitimate channels of communication that produce opportunities for feedback to be easily shared responsibly without fear of personal backlash or reprimand. Take concrete steps and provide the necessary tools and resources to tackle issues highlighted.
This leads to the next step which is mutually beneficial for both parties involved. By being heard and taken seriously, this creates a deep sense of ownership of the business itself. By empowering employees, they are more rooted in contributing to the successes of the business. It is not just about collecting a monthly pay check while on the road to retirement.
Beyond Buzzwords And Branding
Paying it forward is an Islamic principle. It is about the effort to uplift which leads to the betterment of the local communities in close interactions with the business. In the world of global business it is popularly known as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). One familiar facet of CSR is philanthropic responsibility which encompasses funding educational programmes or supporting health initiatives in addition to donating to charitable social causes and projects.
There are many pros for businesses to engage in CSR. One being stronger brand image, recognition and reputation which has the potential to drive up sales due to increased customer loyalty and support. However, in Islam this is not and should not be the main driving force for CSR. Such values and principles have always been central in Islam.
وَلَا يُنفِقُونَ نَفَقَةً صَغِيرَةً وَلَا كَبِيرَةً وَلَا يَقْطَعُونَ وَادِيًا إِلَّا كُتِبَ لَهُمْ لِيَجْزِيَهُمُ ٱللَّهُ أَحْسَنَ مَا كَانُوا۟ يَعْمَلُونَ
Whatever they spend, be it less or more, and whenever they cross a valley, is all written down for them, so that Allah may give them the best reward for what they used to do.
[Surah At-Tawbah 9:121]
God’s Green Earth
An extension of CSR would be the duty to preserve the immediate natural environment. In Islam, we are the stewards or guardians of the Earth:
وَهُوَ ٱلَّذِى جَعَلَكُمْ خَلَـٰٓئِفَ ٱلْأَرْضِ وَرَفَعَ بَعْضَكُمْ فَوْقَ بَعْضٍ دَرَجَـٰتٍ لِّيَبْلُوَكُمْ فِى مَآ ءَاتَىٰكُمْ ۗ إِنَّ رَبَّكَ سَرِيعُ ٱلْعِقَابِ وَإِنَّهُۥ لَغَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌۢ
It is He who made you successors on the earth and raises some of you above others in rank, to test you through what He gives you. [Prophet], your Lord is swift in punishment, yet He is most forgiving and merciful.
[Surah Al-An’am 6:165]
As protectors of the Earth, we are duty bound to not destroy the planet we all call home. Islam and the economy are compatible as we are called upon to ensure that our businesses have little to no harmful impact on the environment.
Albeit humans are blessed by Allah to harness the riches of the natural resources for their own survival, it is not without responsibility. In other words, we are not entitled to carte blanche in our approach and actions. We have a duty to do it respectfully and responsibly to ensure that bounties of the Almighty continue.