THE MULTIDIMENSIONAL NATURE AND
PURPOSE OF BUSINESS IN ISLAM
The perception of the nature and purpose of business is a very important determinant of how business could be strategically managed. This paper aims to contribute to our understanding of this issue from an Islamic perspective. It compares between competing views in modern management literature and offers an Islamic point of view. The paper attempts to show that business is an integral part of the whole life endeavour, which has a direct link with the purpose of being in this worldly life. As such, it is imperative for Muslims to seek to balance the different dimensions of business purpose, which certainly transcend profit.
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This paper aims to contribute to our understanding of strategic management to reflect the Islamic perspective. This contribution is based on the premise that our development of an Islamic-based business management should form a system of consistent frameworks. For there is a system of closely related issues that should be tackled together. Business management, for example, is deeply affected by the management view of the nature of business; the conception, purpose, and function of the firm; and how best they can achieve its purpose and perform its function. It is not sufficient, in the author’s view, to undertake such issues in a bits-and-pieces fashion without bearing in mind the whole picture; for this will be, at best, a patch-work; a transplant of some Islamic-based ideas in a secular framework.
The objective of this paper is to raise a number of issues related to the nature and purpose of business in order to stimulate debate among Muslim scholars and stir the lake of Islamic management with this fundamental issue. My observation is that most writings in the field of Islamic management are focused, with few exceptions, on public administration and on the tasks of management rather than tackling the more basic questions of business purpose, the business firm, competition and cooperation, etc., which should have been established first. Addressing those basic questions is essential in order to build upon them, to elaborate on them, and to extend the influence of their primary foundations to the lower ranking issues and topics. Of course there are seldom any right answers to the issues we are faced with, but it is important to start addressing them, to develop arguments and to seek supporting evidence. This paper is developed with these broad lines in mind. If it is successful in generating any debate on some of these issues, this paper will have achieved its purpose.
The argument here is based on the premise that the way we think about business and perceive the business firm dictates to a large extent the way we do business and the way we manage business firms. The author conceive business as a special kind of human activity carried out as part of the whole life endeavour of Muslims to fulfil the purpose of their existence in this world, i.e., as an inseparable part of the broad meaning of ‘ibadah. This means that business should be integrated with, and not separated from, other life activities of the Muslim, all of which are governed by Shari’ah Islami'iah. The Muslim himself is a part of the Muslim ummah, and business is an ummatic affair as well as an individual affair. It also means that business is a multifaceted in nature, that it serves more than one purpose in the Muslim life, and that it is driven by more than one motive. Since business is part of life, it should be in balance with other parts and guided by the values that govern the whole life. It is questionable, if not unacceptable, in my view, to have conflicting set of values where each set is applied to a certain field of life. Business life cannot be separated from other fields of life; and guiding values of business conduct cannot be at conflict with...
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