Islamic Business Ethics (Part 3)

Quranic Overview on Seeking Knowledge
The Quranic exhortations do not limit themselves to physical resources. They do encourage the study and understanding of natural laws.
Knowledge in The Quran

Part 1 - Part 2

Quranic Inducements to Study and Explore

The Quran does not present the universe as an adversary of mankind. It is presented, rather, as a friend and means of human endeavors on earth.

Following are a few examples from the Quran which clearly stimulate research, discovery, development and improvement of the quality of life.

{And in the earth are tracts (diverse though) neighboring and gardens of vines and fields sown with corn and palm trees growing out of single roots or otherwise: watered with the same water yet some of them We make more excellent than others to eat. Behold, verily in these things are signs for those who understand!} (Ar-Ra'd 13: 4)

{See you not that Allah sends down rain from the sky and leads it through springs in the earth? Then He causes to grow therewith produce of various colors: then it withers; you will see it grow yellow; then He makes it dry up and crumble away. Truly in this is a message of remembrance to persons of understanding} (Az-Zumar 39: 21)

{It is Allah Who has subjected the sea to you that ships may sail through it by His command that you may seek of His bounty and that you may be grateful} (Al-Jathiyah 45: 12)

{It is He who made the sea subject that you may eat thereof flesh that is fresh and tender and that you may extract there from ornaments to wear; and you see the ships therein that plough the waves that you may seek (thus) of the bounty of Allah and that you may be grateful} (An-Nahl 16: 14)

{And cattle He has created for you; from them you derive warmth and numerous benefits and of their (meat) you eat. And you have a sense of pride and beauty in them as you drive them home in the evening and as you lead them forth to pasture in the morning. And they carry their heavy loads to lands that you could not (otherwise) reach except with souls distressed: for your Lord is indeed Most Kind, Most Merciful. And (He has created) horses, mules and donkeys for you to ride and use for show; and He has created (other) things about which you have no knowledge} (An-Nahl 16: 5-8)

It is noted that the above quotes deal with the fundamental resources: agricultural, water, fisheries and animal resources. In a sweeping statement, the Quran indicates that everything on earth and even in the heavens was created for the benefit of mankind:

{It is He who has created for you all things that are on earth; moreover His design comprehended the heavens for He gave order and perfection to the seven firmaments; and of all things he has perfected knowledge} (Al-Baqarah 2:29)

{And He has subjected to you as from Him all that is in the heavens and on earth: behold in that are signs indeed for those who reflect} (Al-Jathiyah 45: 13)

The Quranic exhortations do not limit themselves to physical resources. They do encourage the study and understanding of natural laws such as the alternation of day and night, forecasting rainfall and astronomical phenomena.

{It is Allah Who alternates the night and the day: verily in these things is and instructive example for those who have vision!} (An-Nur 24: 44)

{Behold! In the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of night and day there are indeed signs for persons of understanding. Those who celebrate the praises of Allah standing, sitting and lying down on their sides and contemplate the (wonders of) creation in the heavens and the earth (with thought): ‘Our Lord! Not for naught have you created (all) this! Glory to thee! Give us salvation from the penalty of Hell fire} (Al-Imran 3: 190-91)

{See you not that Allah makes clouds move gently, then joins them together, then makes them into a heap? Then will you see rain issue forth from their midst. And He sends down from the sky mountain masses (of clouds) wherein is hail: He strikes therewith whom He pleases and He turns it away from whom He pleases. The vivid flash of His lightning well-nigh blinds the sight} (An-Nur 24: 43)

Knowledge in itself is neither a threat to faith nor is it inconsistent with piety and fear of God.

{And a sign for them is the night: We withdraw therefrom the day and behold they are plunged in darkness; And the sun runs its course for a period determined for it: that is the decree of the Exalted in Might the All-knowing.  And the moon We have measured for it mansions (to traverse) till it returns like the old (and withered) lower part of date-stalk. It is not permitted for the sun to catch up to the moon, nor can the night outstrip the day: each (just) swims along in (its own) orbit (according to law)} (Ya-Sin 36: 37-40)

Role of Learning

The above Quranic exhortations necessitate a positive attitude toward learning and acquisition of knowledge. This is grounded in the Quran also. The very first word of the Quran revealed to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was iqra’, literally "read":

{Proclaim! (or read) in the name of your Lord and Cherisher Who created} (Al-'Alaq 96: 1)

The Quran also praises those who combine faith with knowledge:

{…Allah will raise up to (suitable) ranks (and degrees) those of you who believe and who have been granted knowledge: and Allah is well-acquainted with all you do} (Al-Mujadilah 58: 11)

A distinction and preference is given to those who are endowed with Knowledge:

{…Say: Are those equal who know and those who do not know? It is those who are endowed with understanding that receive admonition} (Az-Zumar 39: 9)

Knowledge in itself is neither a threat to faith nor is it inconsistent with piety and fear of God. In fact, unbiased and correct knowledge leads to piety.

{Indeed those who are endowed with knowledge fear Allah} (Fatir 35: 28)

Generally speaking, the Quran considers it a sin not to use senses and reason as legitimate means of searching for truth and admonishes those who make claims that are not based on knowledge, and those who blindly imitate their ancestors.

{For the worst of beasts in the sight of Allah are the deaf and the dumb, those who understand not} (Al-Anfal 8: 22)

{Those who give partners to Allah will say: If Allah had wished we should not given partners to Him, nor would our father, nor should we have had any taboos. So did their ancestors argue falsely until they tasted of Our wrath. Say: Have you any (certain) knowledge? If so produce it before Us. You follow nothing but conjecture, you do nothing but lie} (Al-An'am 6: 148)

{Many are the Jinns and mankind We have made for Hell. They have hearts wherewith they understand not, eyes wherewith they see not and ears wherewith they hear not. They are like cattle, nay more misguided; for they are heedless (of warning)} (Al-A'raf 7: 179)

The mention of healing connected with honey is an open invitation to examine the medicinal or healing properties of honey.

The attitude toward learning is reiterated in numerous sayings of Prophet Muhammad:

Seeking knowledge is a mandatory duty on every Muslim. (Al Albani)

Whoever pursues a way in search for knowledge, Allah will make an easy way for him/her to paradise. (At-Tirmidhi)

The priority of a scholar over a worshipper (without understanding) is like the superiority of the moon over other stars. (Abu Dawud)

Scholars are the heirs of prophets. (Abu Dawud)

The Experimental Method

One aspect of learning encouraged in the Quran is the experimental approach. A few examples may illustrate this. Explaining how God inspired the honey bees, the Quran states:

{Then eat of all the produce (of the earth) and find with skill the spacious paths of your Lord: there issues from within their bellies a drink of varying colors wherein is healing for people: verily in this is a sign for those who give thought} (An-Nahl 16: 69)

The mention of healing connected with honey is an open invitation to examine the medicinal or healing properties of honey. Similarly, in drawing our attention to study the properties of metals, we read:

{We sent aforetime our apostles with clear signs and sent down with them the Book and the balance (of right and wrong) that people may stand forth in justice. and We sent down iron in which is (material for) mighty war, as well as many benefits for mankind, that Allah may test who it is that will help His cause and help Its messengers though unseen, for Allah is full of strength, exalted in Might (and able to enforce His will)} (Al-Hadid 57: 25)

In a clear and amazing reference to embryonic development of the human, we read:

{We did create the human from a quintessence (of clay). Then We placed him/her as (a drop of) sperm in a place of rest firmly fixed; then We made the sperm into (something that) clings (or clot); the of that clot We made a (fetus) into (a chewed-like) lump; then We made out of that lump bones and clothed the bones with flesh; then We developed out of it another creature; so blessed be Allah the Best to create!} (Al-Mu'minun 23: 12-4)

The above quotes from the Quran lay down the foundations of the experimental approach and the replacement of conjecture with truth based on firm knowledge, factors which were crucial and decisive in bringing about scientific development. This call stands in contrast to the philosophical speculations and conjecture.

{Conjecture is not substitute for truth} (An-Najm 53: 28)

It follows that the common notion that Roger Bacon was the father of the experimental method is not accurate. Born in 1214 (CE) Bacon came nearly six centuries after the Quran clearly called for this approach to learning. According to Rob Briffault, Roger Bacon was one of the apostles of Muslim science to Europe.

The above analysis of the Islamic worldview makes it possible to understand the place and role of ethics in Islam, one manifestation of which is in the sphere of business.

Role and Nature of Ethics in Islam

Prophet Muhammad was even more explicit when he negated the quality of faith from a dishonest person even if he/she claims to be a “believer”

It was indicated earlier that Islam is more than a “religion” in the common restricted sense. It is rather a complete way of living. As such, ethics is not one of its “compartments”, but something at its very core. This may explain why Prophet Muhammad summed up his mission in the following words:

I was not sent except to perfect moral characters. (Al-Albani)

The Quran does not speak of Iman (faith) as an abstract concept or a quality that is independent of action. It ties between “faith” and righteous deeds as inseparable components of what constitutes a true believer. Prophet Muhammad was even more explicit when he negated the quality of faith from a dishonest person even if he/she claims to be a “believer”:

There is no faith for one who lacks honesty. (Al-Mundhiri)

Conversely, he tied faith to acts of kindness to others:

Whoever believes in Allah and the [life] hereafter, let him be hospitable to his guest, and whoever believes in Allah and the [life] hereafter, let him not hurt his neighbor, and whoever believes in Allah and the [life] hereafter, let him say something beneficial or remain quiet. (Al Bukhari)

While acts of pure worship constitute essential pillars of Islam, both primary sources of Islam, the Quran and Hadith indicate that they are not always meant for themselves as mere rituals. The five daily mandatory prayers are described in the Quran as acts to help restraint the believer from immorality and wrongdoing (see chapter 29:45). Zakat (charity) as a means of purification; of the giver from greed, stinginess, ungratefulness and apathy; of the receiver from envy and hate of the uncaring well-to –do persons; and of society from injustice, oppression and social instability (see 9:103). Fasting is described as a means of attaining righteousness (as stated in chapter 2:183). Even the highly structured rituals of pilgrimage to Makkah are tied to good moral behavior (as mentioned in 2:197). In fact, the restrictions on the pilgrim not to hunt an animal for food or even pluck a tree leaf is a form of training on how to live in harmony with all the creation of God. This may explain why Prophet Muhammad said:

There may someone who gains nothing from his fasting except for hunger and there may be someone who gains nothing from his night prayers except for staying up late. (Ibn Majah)

Anyone who does not desist from falsehood in words and deeds, Allah has no need for him/her to abstain from food and drink (Ibn Majah)

Such explanation of the nature and purpose of the essential acts of worship in Islam might have led the noted scholar Muhammad Al-Ghazali to describe acts of worship as “practical drills” on moral behavior.

As the broader Islamic ethics are anchored in the Islamic worldview, they are also the foundation of specific applications in the economic sphere of life. These applications are examined in the framework that is familiar to most readers, especially those with background in economics and business; production, consumption and distribution.

To be continued…

This article is republished with the author's kind permission.
Related Links:
Does the Quran Hate People of the Book?
Seeking Knowledge: The Guiding Light
Tariq Ramadan’s 7 Cs of Seeking Knowledge
Prophet Muhammad & Freedom of Faith
Islam's Logical Nature Convinced Isa

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