By Mohamad Azhar Hashim
April 21, 2015
Islam recognises entrepreneurship not only as a means to earn a livelihood, but also as a noble vocation that can elevate the rank of a Muslim, equivalent to those righteous servants of Allah.
This is based on the saying of the Prophet: “The truthful, honest merchant is with the prophets and the truthful ones and the martyrs.”
We can equate the word “merchant” with “entrepreneur” in the present context, whilst the words “truthful” and “honest” are comprised in what we today call ethics, or in the business context, business ethics.
According to the book Business, Government, and Society by Steiner and Steiner, ethics is the study of what is good and evil, right and wrong, and just and unjust.
As such, business ethics is the study of good and evil, right and wrong, and just and unjust actions in business.
In addition, according to the book, ethical traditions that apply to business support truth telling, honesty, protection of life, respect for rights, fairness and obedience to law.
Entrepreneurship is not about short-term moneymaking.
One should not envisage that an entrepreneur is only doing business for the purpose of acquiring lots of money in the short-term, and using whatever means, ethical or unethical.
Many researchers have provided evidence of entrepreneurs who have achieved long-term success in building their businesses by embracing ethics as the integral part of their businesses.
This may be contrary to the perception of many people that being ethical will only hinder business success, especially when facing intense competition in today’s challenging environment.
Ethical values are essentially important in driving businesses, as they may provide assurance that the interests of the business, the community and the stakeholders are well protected from all unwarranted elements such as fraud, exploitation, manipulation, oppression and injustice, which eventually result in the downfall of the business itself.
The holy Quran makes reminders about being honest and trustworthy, to protect people from committing fraud and irregularities, particularly in business transactions.
For example, the holy Quran stipulates: “and give measure and weight with (full) justice.” (The Quran 6: 152) and also “And give not short measure or weight.” (The Quran 11: 84).
The reminders signify that there is always the tendency of committing fraud and irregularities in any business transactions, whether simple or complex, which will result in prolonged disputes between the parties involved.
Undoubtedly, trust is an important ethical element upon which a business foundation is built, and in this regard, the holy Quran mentions: “Verily, Allah commands you to render back the trusts to those who deserve it.” (The Quran 4: 58).
Hence, Muslim entrepreneurs should always build the foundation for their businesses on trust.
A simple example is that an entrepreneur should never exploit consumers by providing inferior or low-quality products, or services at high prices, simply because no one else is offering similar products or services.
Prices charged must reflect the quality of products offered or services delivered.
Another significant development in today’s business landscape is the proliferation of business transactions through cyberspace, or the usage of Internet.
Technological advancement has made internet business transactions thrive and as a result, interface with customers is not required anymore, whilst the products will be delivered to the customers’ doorstep.
This type of business transaction requires even a higher degree of trust compared with the traditional way of doing business, in order to sustain the business for a long time.
The sellers must keep their pledges in ensuring that the items ordered are of the same quality as advertised in their social media platform.
Timeliness is also a vital trait that cannot be overemphasised as part of the endeavour in building a strong business foundation on the basis of trust.
Time should be managed well and effectively, in particular when dealing with customers and suppliers.
Goods or services must be delivered to customers in a timely manner prescribed, whilst payment to the distributors or supplier, for example, must be made without delay.
Evidently, entrepreneurs have contributed immensely to shape the world we live in today, alongside their vision and objective in building their business for long-term success.
This process will continue for the betterment of the humankind.
That is why Islam values entrepreneurs who are laden with ethical values as equivalent to the prophets, the truthful ones and the martyrs.
It is imperative that the present Muslim generation be highly motivated and aspire to become entrepreneurs who embrace ethics as their strength, which in turn will enable them to contribute effectively to the development and progress of the nation as well as society.
Mohamad Azhar Hashim is a Fellow at Ikim’s Centre for Economic and Social Studies. The views expressed here are entirely his own.