Islamic Business Ethics

When Imam ‘Ali deputed Muhammad bin Abi Bakr as the governor to Egypt. He wrote the following document as an advice to him and the Egyptians:
“Know, O people, that the righteous ones have acquired [the joys of] this transient world as well as the forth-coming hereafter. They shared with the worldly people in their mundane matters while the worldly people did not share with them in [the blessings of] their hereafter.
“They lived in this world in the best manner of living and ate the choicest food and so they enjoyed herein all that the worldly people enjoyed and achieved from it what the haughty and arrogant had achieved.
“Then they departed from it with the sufficient provision and profitable bargain [for the hereafter]. Thus they tasted the pleasure of renouncing the world in their world and were assured of being neighbors of Allah in their hereafter where neither their prayer shall be rejected nor their share of pleasure shall be diminished.”2
Upon hearing a man abusing the world, Imam Ali (a.s) said, “O you who abuse the world, O you who have been deceived by its deceit and cheated by its wrongs. Do you covet the world and then abuse it? Do you accuse it or should it accuse you?
“Certainly, this world is a house of truth for him who appreciates it; a place of safety for him who understands it: a house of riches for him who collects provision from it (for the next world) … [it is] the market-place for those devoted to Allah. Herein they earned mercy and therein they acquired Paradise by way of profit.
“Therefore, who can abuse it when it has announced its transitory nature and called out that it would leave! lt has given news of its own destruction and the death of its people. By its hardship, it set an example of their hard ship. By its pleasures it created eagerness for the pleasures (of the next world) …The world recalled to them the next life and they bore it in mind. It related to them (things of the next lire) and they acknowledged them. lt preached to them and they took lesson there from it.”3
B. The Attachment
The wealth of this world is a blessing of God: and. therefore, Islam does not condemn the world and its wealth. However, Islam has always emphasized to its followers that the attachment of humans to this world should be of a nature where you are in control of your life, and not the slave of this world and its pleasures.
“Say: If your fathers, your sons, your brothers, your wives, your clan, possessions that you have acquired, business that you fear may slacken and dwellings which you love- if these are dearer to you than Allah, His Messenger and to struggle in His way, then wait till Allah brings about His decision”. (9:24)
The .key word in this verse is “dearer;” a person can love the family and the worldly possessions but not more than the love that he or she has for God and His Messenger.
The Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) said, ”The best help in piety is being free from need.”4 Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s) said, “The best help for the hereafter is this world.”5 Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s) said, “One who forsakes his world for his hereafter or his hereafter for his world is not from us.”6
Imam Musa al-Kazim (a.s) has very elegantly described the relationship of the believer to this world and the hereafter. He said,
Work for your world as if you are to live forever and work for your hereafter as if you are to die tomorrow.7
Wealth versus Poverty and Asceticism
However, a question comes to mind: Docs not Islam, like other religions, prefer poverty to wealth and affluence? The reality is that Islam does not consider poverty or affluence as the goal; the ultimate goal is to submission to the will of God and whatever helps that submission is preferred.
Therefore, Imam as-Sadiq (a.s) said, “Wealth which prevents you from injustice is better than poverty which pushes you towards sin.”8
So what does Islam say about asceticism (zuhd)?
Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq explains the real meaning of asceticism as follows: “Asceticism (zuhd) in this world is neither neglecting your wealth nor making the permissible (halal things) into forbidden (haram); instead, zuhd in this world means that your wealth should not be stronger to you [in attachment] than what is with Allah.” 9
Affluence and Charity
Once people have amassed enough wealth to ensure a comfortable standard of living for themselves and their dependents, then they must realize that it is better to share the extra wealth with the less fortunate members of the society.
They must engage in public service. After all, the affluent people are to consider themselves as the trustees of God’s wealth and the poor as the dependents of God¬ should not the trustees of God take care of His dependents?
Referring to the lack of concern for the society’s well¬being by corporate America in the nineties, Harvey Pitt, the chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission said, “We are coming off a period of enormous and probably excessive exuberance in the markets …I don’t want to condemn corporate America. I do condemn the fact that in the excesses of the 90s, the people really lost sight of fundamental values.”10
Even Alan Greenspan, the chairman of US Federal Reserve, talked about the “infectious greed” that has gripped “much of our business community.”
Sama’ah once asked Imam as -Sadiq (a.s) about a people who had excessive wealth while their brethren in faith were in such dire need that even the zakat was not sufficient for their needs: “Is it permissible for them to eat their fill while their brethren are hungry, since they are in financially depressing time?” The lmam replied,
“A Muslim is a brother of a Muslim, neither does he oppress him nor does he abandon him or deprive him. It is a duty upon the Muslims to work diligently on this matter, to connect and cooperate in it, to be charitable towards the needy, to show sympathy as Allah has commanded about them, and to be beneficent to one another.”11
‘Abdullah bin Abi Ya ‘fur narrates that at a person came to Imam as-Sadiq (a.s) and said, “By Allah, I like to seek the world (i.e., wealth) and love to be given of it.”
Imam: “What would you like to do with it?”
The answer was “[I would like] to maintain myself and my family; to help my relatives and to give in charity; to do hajj and ‘umra.”
Imam said, ”Then what you are doing is not seeking of the world; instead, it is seeking the hereafter.”12

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