Prof. Dr. Wan Sulaiman Bin Wan Yusoff
Deputy Rector of Student affaires,
Kolej Universiti Insaniah (KUIN)
Alor Star Kedah (DA)
E-Mail: [email protected]
This paper is concerned with the role of ethics, morality, maqasid al-syariah and
altruism in economic life. It is not concerned with welfare economics or related
normative issues, but with the way in which ethics, morality and altruism influence the
actual behavior of economic agents. The terms "Ethics", "Morality", Maqasid AlSyariah, and "Altruism" have somewhat different connotations. Ethics refers to a set of
moral principles or the science of morals in human conduct, or a rule–governed
behavior. Meanwhile morality may have a more sentimental dimension – it may refer to
the degree of conformity to moral principles or moral conduct in which the main
characters are personified human qualities. Amongst the various motivations underlying
moral behavior towards beings, human or otherwise, the following deserve explicit
mention: sympathy, benevolence, fairness, duty and commitment. All those terms are
discussed and compared from conventional and Islamic perspectives. In Islamic
economics on the other hand, Maqasid Al-syariah, deals with the behavior of Islamic
man rather than Economic man as in conventional practice. These two different
behaviors, faiths and world views of man will make their ways of action in daily life
activities, including economic and political social activities, different. Moreover,
Islamic Man’s activities are purely based on Divine Guidance rather than logical
thinking and theories of human beings alone. In this regard, I may conclude that Al-dinAl-Islam should cover a wider scope than the scope of Ethics, Morality and Altruism
(without the revealed knowledge of Divine Guidance). In other words, the scope of
Ethics, Morality and Altruism are implicitly partial concepts of Al-din-Al-Islam.
Islamic economics, therefore, should be rooted in authentic revealed principles, ijma'
and qiyas of Islam, rather than based only on ethics, morality and altruism.
This paper can be discussed in the following sections
This paper is concerned with the role of ethics, morality and altruism in
economic life. It is not concerned with welfare economics or related normative issues,
but with the way in which ethics, morality and altruism influence the actual behavior of
economic agents.
The terms "ethics", "morality" and "altruism" have somewhat different
connotations. Ethics refers to a set of moral principles or the science of morals in human
conduct, or rule–governed behavior. Meanwhile morality may have a more sentimental
dimension – it may refer to the degree of conformity to moral principles or moral
conduct in which the main characters are personified human qualities. Amongst the
various motivations underlying moral behavior towards beings, human or otherwise, the
following deserve explicit mention: sympathy, benevolence, fairness, duty and
commitment. Sympathy normally refers to our feelings for specific beings with which
we have some personal familiarity, if only through media images, whereas benevolence
involves a more general sense of goodwill. Fairness and duty are more abstract in
character since they are based on moral rules rather than sentiment. Commitment is akin
to duty, but has a somewhat different connotation, because it embodies the notion of
personal decision or promise, whereas duty is typically intrinsic to, and inseparable
from, some specific social roles such as those as a doctor, pilot, mother or father.
Taking on a social role may be a voluntary act. It is clear from our experience that we
all act unselfishly on occasion. We do things for other people at some cost to ourselves
even when there is no external punishment or reward for doing so. We are often honest,
fair or helpful towards others even when there is no prospect of either punishment or
reward. We can also observe similar behavior in many of those around us, and we spend
a great deal of energy in instilling these virtues into our own children. Such virtues are
most obvious under conditions of extreme danger when people may risk life and limb
for others but they are also constantly encountered in everyday existence.
It is sometimes (based on ethics) claimed that such apparently virtuous behavior
is really selfish because people gain pleasure from it or get satisfaction from doing the
right thing. Or because (based on religious belief) they believe that Allah Almighty will
reward them in the next world (Hereafter) for the good deeds and punish them for the
bad deeds they do.
From the economic point of view, the precise nature of our psychological
motivation for helping others or obeying social rules is of secondary importance1.
Provided there are no external, earthly rewards for such behavior, it is reasonable to
define it as unselfish. Apart from casual observation, there is systematic evidence to
show that human beings, and also other animals, frequently behave in an unselfish
fashion. Amongst sociobiologists, for example, it is taken for granted that altruism is a
pervasive feature of animal life.
Altruism, from the Latin "alter", or "other," describes actions performed in a
selfless manner for the benefit of others. Most modern economists either ignore altruism
or seek to explain it away as really a manifestation of long-term self-interest. There are
some exceptions, such as Akerlof (1982), Arrow (1975) or Phelps (1975), but they are
comparatively rare. Economists typically assume that agents are both self-seeking and
dishonest, which is described as being rational
Etzioni (1988), Frank (1988) and Wilson (1993) survey the experimental
evidence in this area. In some of the main findings, there is some truth in this claim, but
P. Groenewegen, "Economics and Ethics, ch. 2, "Ethics and Economist's view (Robert Rowthorn), Routledge, London, N.Y.
its result is to produce a seriously distorted view of economic life, and policies which
either fail to utilize people's capacity for altruism or, worse still, erode this capacity by
promoting selfishness and opportunism.
Moreover, many of them were uncomfortable with the very concept of fairness.
In the words of Marwell and Ames (1981): "More than one-third of economists either
refused to answer the question regarding what is fair, or gave very complex, uncodable
responses. It seems that the meaning of "fairness" in the context was somewhat alien for
this group". The conclusion that economists behave in a more self-interested fashion
than non-economists is confirmed by the experiment of Carter and Irons (1991). In a
recent article by Frank et al. (1993), entitled "Does Studying Economics Inhibit
Cooperation?” This finding suggests that economics is a discipline which attracts people
who are more selfish in certain contexts and also reinforces this characteristic. They
suggest that economics encourages a compartmentalized view of human existence,
whereby selfishness is morally acceptable and might be construed as part of economic
life. Meanwhile altruism and cooperation are relegated to other spheres of life.
However, fortunately there are still many organizations in the real world which are run
by people who recognize that moral standards matter. It is to be hoped that such people
are not driven out by social science graduates imbued with the theory that in business
life individuals single-mindedly pursue their "self-interest unconstrained by morality".
Altruism is a concept of loving others as oneself, or a behavior that promotes the
survival chances of others at a cost to one’s own, or self-sacrifice for the benefit of
others. Now universal, the evolutionary theory of altruism was coined by scientists
exploring how unselfish behavior could have evolved. It is applied not only to people
(psychological altruism), but also to animals and even plants2.
Altruists choose to align their well-being with others – so they are happy when
others thrive, sad when others are suffering. Essential in establishing strong
relationships, most societies acknowledge the importance of altruism within the family.
By motivating cooperation rather than conflict, it promotes harmony within
communities of any size.
Altruism in a wider perspective is the abdication of claims of power over others.
To state that "None of us are worth more and none are worth less than anyone else" is
almost a truism, but modern technology has given a new urgency to all such appeals for
altruism. Life on earth is being destroyed at an alarming rate, and evidence is mounting
of impending disasters such as ecological collapse and climate change that threaten us
all. Communications technology – and www in particular – is boosting altruism and
establishing a global consciousness. It is encouraging to see how easily individual acts
of altruism can have a global impact (e.g. Wikipedia, free software, or give away
websites). In spite of massive investment by the corporate world, a mentality shift in the
IT sphere is well underway from scarcity to abundance.
The concise definition of altruism is unselfish concern for the welfare of others.
It is a traditional virtue in many cultures, and central to many religious traditions. In
English, this idea was often described as the "Golden rule of Ethics". Some
philosophers considered it as a fundamental property of human nature.
Altruism can be distinguished from a feeling of loyalty and duty. Altruism
focuses on a motivation to help others or a want to do well without reward, while duty
focuses on a moral obligation towards a specific individual (e.g. God Almighty or a
King), a specific organization (a government), or an abstract concept (a country etc.).
Some individuals may feel both altruism and duty, while others may not. Pure altruism
is giving without regard to reward or the benefits of recognition.
Altruism in Islam – Th.Emil Homerin (2006)3 examined notions of generosity
and hospitality in pre-Islamic Arabic poetry and culture, and then turned to related
notions of aiding the needy in the Quran, with particular attention to giving to the interrelated
("charity/"alms"), zakah ("alms"), their range of meanings and uses. The word altruism
is closely related to the term "Ithar" ("preferring others to oneself"), which became an
important religious ideal and a central tenet of Muslim futuwwah and tasawwuf,
chivalry and mysticism. But how close and equivalent will depend on definitions. The
word "Ithar" of Muslim chivalry and mysticism may fit Green's definition of altruism as
"international action ultimately for the welfare of others that entails at least the
possibility of either no benefit or a loss to the actors". But this will be the case in
material not spiritual terms.
Nonetheless, in Islam – since Almighty Allah SWT has promised in the Quran
to reward every good deed and punish every bad deed done by any person in next
world, if the possibility of heavenly and/or spiritual reward for an action disallows it
from being altruistic, it will not disallow it from being an altruistic action because a
person sacrifices present for future rewards. Al- Quran uses Ithar for giving charity. It is
difficult to see how altruism could be a useful and appropriate category for the academic
study of religion. Moreover, the root word of altruism was from French Philosopher,
Auguste Comte who coined the word "altrisme" (with meaning 3) in 1851, and two
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years later it entered the English language as altruism4. In this case, altruism would
appear to be a secular, not Islamic religious category. In this regard, I may conclude that
Al-din- Al-Islam should cover a wider scope than the scope of Ethics, Morality and
Altruism. In other words, the scopes of Ethics, Morality and Altruism are implicitly
partial concepts of Al-din-Al-Islam. Islamic economics, therefore, should be rooted in
authentic revealed principles, ijma' and qiyas of Islam, rather than based only on ethics,
morality and altruism. Nonetheless, Islamic values (ethics, morality, and altruism) are
deriven from Al-Quraan and Sunnah using Ijma, Qiyas and other principles.
It is a fact that the economic activities of humankind cannot be divorced from
the ethical position a person takes, and this is conditioned by the religion the person
professes. According to Wilson (1997), "an understanding of religious teachings helps
put ethical issues, including economic relations, in a fuller perspective". The only
fruitful way to study economics in their fuller perspective is to derive basic economic
propositions from the first principle of religious ethics – namely, those which are
universally accepted by economic agents. The relationship between economic behavior
and religious ethics and morality needs to be highlighted because a voluntary
acceptance of restrictions on one's freedom to support collective action and cooperative
relationship requires an "internalized" sense of social obligation, which all religions
have emphasized, e.g. truth, mutual trust, observance of contractual obligations etc.
Indeed, without strict adherence to shared religious virtues, no economic system can
work efficiently. Because in a true religious community, we will have minimum
government interference, all activities will be voluntarily motivated. It is only when, in
a fair game, the economic agents follow the rules that substantial economies in the
costly information-gathering activities can be achieved to minimize the incidence of
"moral hazard" and "fraud" in the market place.
With the state of development of ethically and religiously motivated economics
today, we find that the economic-ethical-religious connection is emphasized much more
in Al-Quraan than in the Torah and Bible (Wilson, 1997, pp.117). Mainly because of
this – the majority of Muslims today are aware of the basic tenets of the Muslim
teachings on economic matters…. Even the less devout recognize that there is some
substance in Islamic economics. It is, therefore, not surprising that, as compared with
"Christian economics and Jewish economics", Islamic economics seems to stand at a
"higher" plane of development. In this respect, Wilson has much more to say than is
available in the standard texts on the subject written by Muslim economists5.
The intimate connection between this-worldly actions of humankind and the
corresponding reward (punishment) of those actions in the Hereafter is emphasized by
all three great religions. All three seek to redefine economic "rationality" by informing
economic activities with a sense of the sacred. According to this "redefinition",
economic agents should not be constrained in their day-to-day behavior by myopic
considerations of self-interest alone. Instead, they should consider it in their own
interest to recognize that a true (and a fuller) welfare maximization is achieved by an
Syed Nawab Haider Naqwi, "Economics, Ethics and Religion: A Rejoinder to Wilson", Journal of the International Association
for Islamic Economics and the Islamic Foundation, Number 10, 2001/1422H, pp 91-96.
abandonment of the desire for the transient things. Based on Al-Quran, Islam makes this
redefinition even more explicit, for example, "Whoever is preserved from the
niggardliness (his own greed) of his soul, these it is that are the successful ones", (59:9).
"Who gives away his wealth, purifying himself (or he may grow in goodness), (92:8).
In the human heart, there is the existence of greed, and then the right approach is
to follow the principle given by Almighty Allah SWT that "every man should enjoy the
good of all his labor". In this regard, the proper governmental role is to make sure that
no one is defrauded of the labor of his own hands. This method acknowledges the
existence of greed in the human heart, and the necessity of channeling it for the benefit
of all by means of the enforcement of economic morality. Otherwise, many have
suffered when the moral foundations required of a truly free economy were ignored
because of the greed of certain individuals.
The basic idea that all wealth belongs to Almighty Allah SWT as an absolute
ownership and that humankind is only a trustee of this wealth is common to all three
religions. However, there are subtle differences in their position with respect to the
implementation of this idea for economic behavior. Thus, the Jew interprets Divine
ownership as legitimizing the existing structure of property rights. The Christian point
of view is that people are accountable before God for the way they use the resources at
their disposal, but they have a wide discretion in using them to the best of their ability.
Meanwhile, the Islamic position is to emphasize the concept of the "relative" ownership
of all wealth. Thus, "of that whereof He hatches make you trustees". (Al-Quraan 57:7),
"Believe in Allah and His Apostle, and spend out of what He has made you to be
successors of. For those of you who believe and spend shall have a great reward". The
individual must spend with moderation and for the benefit of the society. (25: 67), "And
they who when they spend, are neither extravagant nor parsimonious, and (keep)
between these the just mean".
Regarding the responsibility of the rich to help the poor and the needy – this
issue is another common theme in the three religious traditions. Judaism emphasizes the
individual's social obligation to help the poor. Christianity urges the rich to help the
poor, to who belongs the Kingdom of God, without going as far as saying that the poor
have a right to the wealth of the rich. The Islamic viewpoint explained that the poor
have a right to the wealth of the rich: (70:24-25), "And those in whose wealth there is a
fixed portion, for him who begs and for him who denied (good)". "And is whose wealth
a due share is included for the needy and dispossessed". Whence follows that the act of
giving is not just charity, it is rather a means of restoring to the poor and the deprived
what would have belonged to them if the society had been more justly organized. It is
for this reason that not helping the poor, and not urging others to do the same, is
tantamount to a denial of the faith, (107:1-3), "Have you considered him who calls the
judgment a lie? That is the one who treats the orphan with harshness, and does not urge
(others) to feed the poor". Being a Muslim, zakat is declared as the third pillar in the
sunna as well as in the Quran, without which the structure of Islam does not stand.
Zakat in Islam is not a mere charity left to the righteousness of individuals as part of
their good deeds. It is rather an essential pillar of their religion, one of its major rituals,
and the second of its four main forms of worship. Zakat is rather a social welfare
institution supervised by the State and organized as a tax administration by a specific
governmental body.
Yet another common issue discussed through the three religious traditions is to
highlight the gap of income and wealth distribution a deviation from God's design.
Judaism seeks to do it by restoring the Divine Order. The Christians regard "moderation
in the distribution of wealth as a desirable and essential precondition to recreating a
"natural order" and in the New Testament, there is reference to the need for material
equality, as opposed to spiritual equality (Wilson 1997, pp 77-78). In Islam, the
changing of an unjust structure of private property right is essential to achieving an
economic system, so that it (wealth) does not concentrate in the hands of those who are
rich among you. (59:7) "Whatever Allah has restored to His Apostle from the people of
the towns, it is for Allah and for the Apostle, and for the near of kin and the orphans
and the needy and the wayfarer, so that it may not be a thing taken by turns among the
rich of you, and whatever the Apostle gives you, accept it, and from whatever He
forbids you, keep back, and be careful of (your duty to Allah); surely Allah is severe in
retributing (evil)". If it is unjustly distributed to begin with, because, far from being a
part of some natural order, an unjust economic structure, zulm (the antonym of adl), is
the negation of social equilibrium. This interpretation is consistent with Islam's social
philosophy: while individual freedom (ikhtiyar) is explicitly recognized, including the
individual's right to private property, it is duly balanced by a deep sense of social
responsibility (fard), with uncompromising firmness, (Naqvi, 1994).
In the case of riba (interest, usury), Christianity unequivocally condemns this
practice and institution, but not in the view of Judaism, especially when the Jews are in
a state of diapora – the fact is that "many of the leading bankers and financiaries have
been Jewish (Wilson, 1997, p.32). In this particular issue, the Islamic position is the
most explicit on the abolition of riba, which is seen as one of the most "visible"
defining characteristics of an Islamic economic system. Islamic economics appears
more "developed" and it is also better equipped, with one-solid condition that Islamic
economics should fully implement its activities based on Syari'ah injunctions, to meet
modern economic challenges than present-day capitalism. I do agree with some Islamic
economists that to move further, our discipline must shed all traces of rejectionist
romanticism and the excess baggage of anachronistic ideas to bring economic prosperity
and spiritual happiness to the Muslim societies. Still, it is important to persevere in our
effort to raise a "unified" economic discipline, on testable foundations, in a typical
Muslim society but not in some Islamic utopia.
There are many different understandings of ethics. The online Internet
Encyclopedia of Philosophy says, “The field of ethics, also called moral philosophy,
involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong
behavior (Internet Encyclopedia 2003). As the World Health Organization put it, “ethics
are norms of conduct for individuals and for societies (WHO 2002a, p. 24).”
The following are widely accepted normative principles in applied ethics:
• Personal benefit: acknowledge the extent to which an action produces
beneficial consequences for the individual in question.
• Social benefit: acknowledge the extent to which an action produces
beneficial consequences for society.
Principle of benevolence: help those in need.
Principle of paternalism: assist others in pursuing their best interests
when they cannot do so themselves.
Principle of harm: do not harm others.
Principle of honesty: do not deceive others.
Principle of lawfulness: do not violate the law.
Principle of autonomy: acknowledge a person’s freedom over his/her
actions or physical body.
Principle of justice: acknowledge a person’s right to due process, fair
compensation for harm done, and fair distribution of benefits.
Rights: acknowledge a person’s rights to life, information, privacy,
free expression, and safety (Internet Encyclopedia 2003).
Principles of ethics may be applied to help make decisions, and to critically
assess decisions that have already been made. They may be used not only by individual
persons but also by states, international agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and
other kinds of parties as well.
As we see, from these illustrative principles, ethical issues are other-regarding.
That is, they are particularly concerned with the impact of one’s actions on others.
Where there is no identified “other”, there is no ethical analysis. “Bare” policy
questions typically ask, “which choice of action would be best”, understood to mean,
“best for us”. The ethical question is: “which choice of action would be good for us,
while also taking account of its effect on others and on the environment?”
Ethics raises questions not only about what decision should be made, but also
about how decisions should be made. One widely accepted ethical principle is that those
who are likely to be affected by a decision ought to have an opportunity to participate in
making that decision. Ethics is concerned not only with outcomes but also with
An ethical response to public issues means taking responsibility for public
action. This includes taking responsibility for inaction. Many people suffer because of
bad things that governments do, but far more suffer because of the good things that
governments fail to do.
In relation to public policy, ethical issues are problematic questions about what
action should be taken by governmental agencies in particular kinds of situations
relating to public interest. They are problematic in the sense that there is ongoing
uncertainty or dispute about what should be done. Often, public policy issues are
problematic because there are difficulties in accommodating the interests of different
groups. The decision as to whether one should produce and eat genetically modified
foods would not raise serious ethical issues insofar as it affects only the person.
However, if one is in the position to decide whether to manufacture genetically
modified organisms or to allow imports of genetically modified organisms into one's
country, one is facing an ethical question because the choice of action would affect the
larger public.
We should speak of publics, in the plural. Being sensitive to the ethical
dimensions of public policy questions means being sensitive to the ways in which
policies are likely to impact different kinds of groups: producers, marketers, consumers,
the poor, the hungry, ethnic and other minorities, and so on. The calculus of
policymaking must weigh the impacts on various others as well as on oneself. It is
particularly important for the strong to take account of the impact of their actions on the
The environment may be viewed as a special kind of “other” that may be
affected by one’s policies. Attention must be given to the importance of sustainability of
food production, processing, and marketing operations. Taking a “deep ecology”
perspective, it is also important to respect the integrity of the environment for its own
sake, and not only for the instrumental value of natural resources in serving human
Ethical principles may be derived from various sources, and may be expressed in
a variety of different formats. They may show up in statements of religious doctrine (the
Bible, the Quran), moral codes (e.g. the Ten Commandments), law, codes of conduct,
and other forms. With regard to issues of public policy, one of the most important forms
of expression of widely accepted ethical principles is human rights:
Human rights refer to an internationally agreed upon set of principles and
norms embodied in international legal instruments. These international human
rights principles and norms are the result of deep and long-standing
negotiations among Member States on a range of fundamental issues (WHO
2002a, p. 24).
Human rights law is based on widely accepted international agreements about
the rights of individual persons and the correlative obligations of states. The Universal
Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, the international human rights covenants and
treaties, and the subsequent elaborations and interpretations of these documents through
protocols, General Comments, and other means set out the agreed framework.
Ethical principles and methods are important for dealing with issues that have
not yet been addressed by human rights law and principles:
Ethics is particularly useful in areas of practice where human rights do not
provide a definite answer, for example, in new and emerging areas where human rights
law has not been applied or codified, such as human cloning (WHO 2002a, p. 24).
Since they are not concrete, immediate problems, but rather generic problems of
a particular form, the appropriate response to ethical issues is the articulation of agreed
principles or guidelines that help one to make decisions about action in those kinds of
cases. Ethical dilemmas are addressed through the clear articulation of appropriative
normative frameworks, whether in the form of principles, guidelines, and codes of
conducts, agreements, or law.
The Maqasid al-Shari'ah includes everything that is needed to realize Al-falah
and Al-hayatuttayyibah within the frameworks of the Shari'ah. According to Imam AlGhazali, the word "Maqasid al-Shari'ah" includes everything that is considered
necessary to preserve and enrich faith (Religion: The Vision of well-Being), life (Self:
The Central Goal), intellect (Mind: The Human Resources), posterity (Progeny: InterGenerational Continuity) and wealth (The material Economic Resources). Here, that
faith comes first indicates that within the Islamic perspective, faith is the most
significant ingredient for human activities and well being. Without injecting the
dimension of faith into human decisions, irrespective of whether they take place in the
household, the corporation, the market or elsewhere, it may not be possible to realize
efficiency and equity in the allocation and distribution of resources, and even to
minimize macroeconomic imbalance and economic instability. Efficiency and equity
cannot be defined without resorting to a moral value. Second preservation of maqasid is
life, intellect and posterity, and these three goals of primary objective can be viewed as
adequate nutrition, clothing, upbringing and education for spiritual and intellectual
development, housing, medical facilities, and comfortable transport, enough leisure to
meet all essential family and social obligations, and an opportunity to earn an honest
living, etc. The above goals of the Shari'ah cannot come from prices and markets alone
in a secularist environment, but also need to satisfy certain moral criteria in the pursuit
of wealth and the operation of markets or the politburo. The satisfaction and fulfilment
of all these needs would make all members of both the present and the future
generations tranquil, comfortable, healthy and efficient, and able to contribute richly
towards the realization and perpetuation of falah and hayatuttayyibah. Therefore, the
efficient and equitable allocation and distribution of resources that are based on moral
values, according to Ibn al-Qayyim, can help to realize falah and hayatuttayyibah for
the well-being of the economy.
In general, according to Hamudah A.A. (2008), the Islamic economic system is
not drawn in the light of arithmetical calculation and capacity of production alone,
rather it is drawn and conceived in the light of a comprehensive system of morals and
principles. The person who is working for another person or firm or government
institution is ordained by Allah SWT to do his work in the most efficient manner and
with honesty. The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said that "if any of you undertakes to
do any work, Allah loves to see him do it well and with efficiency". Once the work is
done, the worker is entitled to a fair wage for his services. In market structure and
business dealings, Islam paid a great deal of attention in this respect. Honest trade is
permitted and blessed by Allah SWT. This may be carried out through individuals,
companies, agencies and the like. But all business deals should be concluded with
frankness and honesty. Cheating defects of merchandise from the dealers, exploiting the
needs of customers, and the monopoly of stocks to force one’s own prices are all sinful
acts and are punishable by Islamic Law. If one is to make a decent living, it has to be
made through honest ways and hard endeavor. Otherwise, easy come, easy go, and it is
not only that, but anybody that is bred with unlawful provisions will be, according to the
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), a burning fuel in Hell Fire on the Day of Judgment. To
combat cheating and exploitation, Islam demands honesty in business, warns the
cheaters, encourages decent work and forbids usury or the taking of interest just in
return for lending money to the needy. This is to show man that he rightfully owns only
what he works for, and that exploitation of other people’s pressing needs is irreligious,
inhuman and immoral. In the Quran Allah SWT says:
Those who devour usury will not stand except as stands one whom the evil one
by his touch has driven to madness. That is because they say: ‘trade is like usury’. But
Allah has permitted trade and forbidden usury. Those who, after receiving direction
from their Lord, desist shall be pardoned for the past; their case is for Allah (to judge).
But those who repeat (the offense) are Companions of the Fire; they will abide therein
(for ever). Allah will deprive usury of all blessing but will give increase for deeds of
charity; for He loves not creatures ungrateful and wicked (2:274-276).
And the Firmament has He raised high, and He has set up the Balance (of
Justice) in order that you may not transgress (due) balance. So establish weight with
justice and fall not short in the balance (55:7-9).
This is to guide man to resort to justice and straightforwardness in all his
dealings and transactions. The future of cheaters is grim and their doom is awful. Here
is how the Quran looks into the matter:
Woe to those who deal in fraud, those who, when they have to receive by measure
from men, exact full measure, but when they have to give by measure or weight to men
give less than due. Do they not think that they will be called to account on a Mighty
Day, a Day when (all) mankind will stand before the Lord of the Worlds? (83:1-6)
Besides that, there are numerous Al-Hadith of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)
excluding the cheaters, exploiters, monopolizers and dishonest business people from the
band of the true Muslims. Any business deal that involves injustice or cheating or
exploitation is strictly prohibited and cancelled by the Law even after it is concluded.
The main purpose of Islamic legislation on economics and commerce is to secure the
rights of the individual and maintain the solidarity of society, to introduce high morality
to the world of business and enforce the Divine Law in that sphere of enterprise. It is
logical and consistent that Islam should be concerned with such aspects as these because
it is not merely a spiritual formula but a complete system of life in all of its aspects.
Proprietors are constantly reminded of the fact that they are, in reality, mere trustees or
agents appointed by Almighty Allah SWT to administer their holdings. There is nothing
in Islam to stop the Muslims from attaining wealth and endeavoring to make material
improvements through lawful means and decent channels. Yet, the fact remains that
man comes to this world empty-handed and departs from it likewise. The actual and real
owner of things is Allah SWT alone of Whom any proprietor is simply an appointed
agent, a mere trustee. This is not only a fact of life but also has a significant bearing on
human behavior. It makes the proprietor always ready to spend in the way of Allah and
to contribute to worthy causes. It makes him responsive to the needs of his society and
gives him an important role to play, a sacred mission to fulfill. It saves him from the pit
of selfishness, greed and injustice. This is the true conception of property in Islam, and
that is the actual status of proprietors. The Quran considers the possession of wealth as a
trial, and not a token of virtuous excellence or privileged nobility or a means of
exploitation. Allah says:
It is He Who has made you (His) agents, inheritors of the earth: He has raised
you in ranks, some above others; that He may try you in the gifts He has given you.
Verily, your Lord is quick in punishment, yet He is indeed Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful
Moreover, everything in the earth belongs to Allah, Who distributes it among
His servants in the form of inherited trusts and objects of trial. The following verses in
Al-Quran: To Him belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth, and all affairs
are referred back to Allah ... Believe in Allah and His Messenger, and spend (in charity)
out of the (substance) whereof He has made you heirs. For, those of you who believe
and spend (in charity)-for them there is a great reward. And what causes have you why
you should not spend in the cause of Allah? For to Allah belongs the heritage of the
heavens and the earth (57:5, 7, and l 0)
In Islam, moral values give a long-term perspective to self-interest by extending
it beyond the span of this world, which is transitional, to the Hereafter, which is eternal.
While individuals’ self-interest maybe served in this world by being selfish and
concentrating only on improving their own condition, their self-interest in the Hereafter
can be better served by fulfilling their moral obligations towards their family and
society, even if this involves the sacrifice of their material self-interest in this world.
One of the primary goals of moral value in Islam is to rein in self-interest, and create a
balance between self-interest and social interest. Without the motivating factor of moral
values, the reliance on regulations and controls may have to be greater and the
governments may have to play a greater role in the economy for the realization of
humanitarian goals, (see M. Umer Chapra, 2000).
Moral value could, firstly, confine consumer spending6 primarily to necessities
and comforts and thereby, minimize wastefulness and extravagance. These consumer
behaviors combined with obligatory duty in Islam – like zakat, awqf, sedaqah and other
altruistic spending, would not only contribute to better need fulfillment but also increase
savings, investment, development and growth in the economy. Once the demand from
consumer behaviors is based on moral value, moral restraints on producers may also
discourage them from promoting the sale through immoral and persuasive advertising.
Thus, based on Metwally (1981), an Islamic firm may differ from a non-Islamic firm
not only in its goals but more importantly in its policies, structure, conduct and
performance (SCP) in market strategies.
Secondly, moral value could also discourage consumers to consume luxurious
goods in their patterns of daily life consumption and naturally the flow of credit for the
See Al-Quran verses 12:46, 47, 48 and 49; 17:26, 27 and 29; 25:67.
production of luxurious goods may decline. Thereby, financial intermediations also
flow in a harmonious way due to most of the producers concentrating their product on
necessities and comfortable goods, adding a further healthy dimension to the
consumption and production processes. Thirdly, moral value could direct the consumers
and producers to act in accordance with their own tastes and preferences and maximize
their utilities and incomes (profits) on condition that it is done within the constraints of
moral values
Additionally, along with this moral value for the consumers and producers, the
maqasid shari'ah helps reduce the existing arbitrariness in government spending
decisions by providing the criteria for establishing priorities based on the following six
broad principles adapted from the legal maxims7:
The principal criterion for all expenditure allocations should be the well-
being of the people (Article 58)
The removal of hardship and injury should take precedence over the
provision of comfort (Articles 17, 18, 19, 20, 30, 31, and 32)
The larger interest of the majority should take precedence over the
narrower interest of a minority (Article 28)
A private sacrifice or loss may be inflicted to save a public sacrifice or
loss, and a greater sacrifice or loss may be averted or prevented by imposing a smaller
sacrifice or loss (Articles 26, 27 and 28)
Whoever receives the benefit must bear the cost (Articles 87 and 88)
Something without which an obligation cannot be fulfilled is also
obligatory (see al-Shatibi, Al-Muwafaqat, vol. 2, p.394; and also Mustafa al-Zarqa
(1967), vol. 2, pp. 784 and 1088)
Majallah al-Ahkam al –Adliyyah, briefly known as the Majallah, states 100 maxims of jurisprudence in its preamble
In the market mechanism, Islam requires all the parties competing in the market
to operate under the guiding light of moral values and the restraints imposed by these on
self-interest and private property, to ensure fairness and justice8 to all parties
(consumers, and factors of production) interacting in the market. Moral values related to
the conscientious use in the market economies are work ethics, honesty, integrity,
avoidance of fraud, cheating, selfishness, opportunism, corruption (Fasad9),
exploitation etc. (see Al-Quran, 61:2-3). The Islamic market mechanism should avoid
"Injustice and Wrong-doing" (Zulm). The word zulm (injustice) as used in Al-Quran
denotes many things, especially the following terms:
Disobeying the dictates of Allah and His messengers; following one's
own desires (2:35, 2:229, 6:33, 11: 37, 17:59, 25:8, and 30:29)
Depriving others of their rights (2:281, 4:10, 4:30, 10:54, 16:111)
Engagement in interest transactions (2:279)
Concealing or suppression of evidence (2:140)
Oppression of the weaker class (16:41)
The Muslim Ummah today needs to work out seriously our economic system
based on the Islamic norms. The economic principles taught by Al-Quran and Al-Hadith
of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) are quite capable of solving the major economic
problems faced by the world today. While they allow private ownership and the market
economy, they also provide a well-considered system of distributive justice, which may
eliminate inequities and bring about a system in which the profit motive works in the
collective interest of society.
See Al-Quran verses: 4:58, 127,135; 5:8, 42; 6:152; 7:29; 16:90; 42:15 and 57:25
See Al-Quran verses: 2:11, 27, 30, and 205; 17: 4, 26: 151,152; 11:85; 8:73; 28:4; 7:74,85,86; 5:33; 28:76, 77
From section 1, we go on to discuss altruism further here to show that Islamic
economics and the concept of altruism must go together in order to make the socioeconomics of the Muslim Ummah without prejudice and more efficient, stable, just and
fair. Because altruism itself comprises selfless acts done for another's benefit in spite of
oneself, in other words, altruistic power is the power of love and a person who is loved
by others has the power to intentionally affect their interests simply by virtue of this
love. Thus, the basis of the power of love is no other than love itself: the unification of
selves. It is no stimulation of need alone, no simple triggering of the superego, no
posing of alternative interest, no changing salience in an interest. It is simply love.
Altruistic power is then the ability to use love to induce a person to do something. (R.J.
Rummel, Social Power vol. 2). Now, such love power is derived when a people have
love for each other, love for humanity, love for one’s nation, or group can induce such
love based on interests. Indeed, such interests are a basic force in social relations that
serve as the basis for reform movements, ideologies, economics, politics and conflict.
These acts are from altruism, a basic integrative feeling – a love – for humanity
However, love in Islam is not just a need that is gratified and temporarily
satiated. It involves the total self, the gestalt, knowledge, structure, real faith (Iman) and
process that combine the dynamic psychological and spiritual fields. It manifests itself
through reaching out, integrating with another, the uniting of selves. It involves the total
field. This makes love so fundamentally basic and so powerful, wholly capturing the life
and soul of a person. A person in love cannot be distracted; a person working for
humanity and the Ummah cannot be deflected. Love engages our total field and orients
it towards love's end. (i.e. Love's Almighty Allah SWT and Prophet Mohammad
Altruism is a humanitarian endeavor praised by all societies; practically every
nation on earth has its own noble stories of great kings, men, women and brave warriors
in history. They sacrificed their material possessions, status or even themselves for
some or other common good. In this regard, without any reservation or hesitation
whatsoever it can be pointed out by some real and practical examples in Islamic history
that Islam has the most perfect, sincere and comprehensive expression of altruism.
The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said in a Hadith:
“None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for
himself.” (Saheeh Al-Bukhari)
Based on this hadith, altruism instantly becomes a condition of true faith in
Allah SWT
During the great battle of Yarmuk, a Companion of the Prophet (PBUH),
Ikrimah b. Abu Jahl and two noble warriors were mortally wounded. An able Muslim
who was attending to the wounded offered one of the injured warriors some water, but
the selfless soldier refused, insisting that one of the other fallen men be offered water
first. When the water reached the second man, he too refused to drink before the thirst
of the other wounded soldiers was quenched. Alas! By the time the water had reached
the third man, it was already too late: he and the other two soldiers had died. Truly
these three paragons of self-sacrifice made manifest the words of their Prophet (PBUH)
when he said:
“The best charity is that given when one is in need and struggling.” (Ibn
“…And they give others preference over themselves even though they
were themselves in need….” (Quraan 59:9)
The single greatest act of communal altruism was the establishment of
brotherhood between the Muslim emigrants fleeing persecution in Mecca (the
Muhajiroon), and their helpers who took them in in Madina (the Ansaar). (Coded Ben
Adam, Dec 2007). The Ansaar made previously untold sacrifices for their brothers in
faith, despite the fact that they were themselves in great need. By their deeds, the bonds
of brotherhood in the new Medinan society were strengthened and solidified in a
manner not seen before or since. Arab was matched with non-Arab, freeman with
former slave, Qurayshi (a member of Prophet’s own tribe) with non-Qurayshi, and so
“By no means shall you attain righteousness unless you spend of that
which you love….” (Quraan 3:92)
As an amazing example of how this brotherhood manifested itself, we have the case
of the two Companions of the Prophet: Abdur-Rahman b. Awf, who was a Muhajir, and
Sa’d b. al-Rabee, an Ansari. Abdur-Rahman narrates in his own words:
“When we came to Medina, the Messenger of God established bonds of brotherhood
between me and Sa’d b. al-Rabee. Sa’d said: ‘I am the wealthiest of the Ansar, so I will
give you half of all my wealth. And see which of my wives you prefer, I will divorce her
for you, and when she becomes lawful (as a divorcee), you can marry her.’ I (AbdurRahman) said to him: ‘I do not need that. (But tell me), is there a marketplace here
where people trade?’ Sa‘ad said: ‘There is the marketplace of Qaynuqa’… And so,
the following day Abdur-Rahman went to the market to begin trading. Before long, he
was once again wealthy, as he had been in Mecca, and able to marry of his own
accord.” (Saheeh Al-Bukhari)
“And those who, before them, had homes (in Madina) and had
adopted the Faith, love those who emigrate to them, and have no
jealousy in their breasts for that which they have been given (from
booty and the like), and they give (the emigrants) preference over
themselves, even though they were themselves in need.
whosoever is saved from the covetousness of their own souls, such are
they who will be successful.” (Quraan 59:9)
The altruism of the Medinan Muslims, praised by God in the Quraan, was so great
in its scope and impact that the Meccan recipients of their brothers’ selflessness were
worried there would be no grace left for them! The Companion, Anas b. Malik, said:
“When the Prophet, may Allah praise him, came to Madina, the Muhajiroon came to
him and said: ‘O Messenger of Allah, we have never seen any people more generous
when they have the means and more helpful when they have little, than the people
among whom we have settled. They have looked after us and they have let us join them
and share in all their happy occasions, to such an extent that we are afraid that they
will take all the reward (from Allah in the Hereafter).’ The Prophet said: ‘Not so long
as you pray for them and praise them.’” (Al-Tirmidhi)
Allah Himself praised the Companions of Muhammad, both Muhajir and Ansar, for
their great many selfless sacrifices and services in His Cause. He, the Almighty Allah
SWT, also praised whoever would follow in their footsteps. Let us then follow them,
perchance we may too be rewarded in heaven.
“The foremost (in faith) from the Muhajiroon and the Ansar and those
who follow them in righteousness; Allah is well-pleased with them and
they are well-pleased with Him. He has prepared for them (the
Companions and their followers in righteousness) gardens under
which rivers flow to dwell therein forever - that is the supreme
success.” (Quran 9:100)
In Al-Quran 49:13, "O you men! Surely We have created you of a male
and a female, and made you tribes and families that you may know each
other; surely the most honorable of you with Allah is the one among you
most careful (of his duty); surely Allah is Knowing, Aware".
In this verse, Allah SWT advises us that we have been made into nations and
tribes so that we may come to know one another and that there is no superiority of one
over another except in taqwa, that consciousness and loving awe of God which inspires
us to be vigilant and to do what is right. This verse is an implicit condemnation of all
racial, national, class or tribal prejudice ('asabiyyah), a condemnation which is made
explicit by the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH): "He is not of us who proclaims the cause
of tribal partisanship, and he is not of us who fights in the cause of tribal partisanship,
and he is not of us who dies in the cause of tribal partisanship".
When asked to explain what he meant by tribal nationalist partisanship, the
Prophet (PBUH) answered, "It means helping your own people in an unjust cause".
This verse establishes the brotherhood of man on the broadest foundation. It
teaches that Allah SWT does not judge men or women on their appearance, social
standing, wealth, or stated affiliation, whether tribal, national, or religious, nor even on
their skill or intelligence, but only on their striving to be faithful to an innate sense of
what is true, just, right and good. This is within the reach of every human soul, and not
the preserve of any privileged or exclusive group. The Quran teaches us that our
intellectual faculties are not designed to exist in a moral vacuum. The various words in
the Quran which denote these faculties ('aql, albab, basirah, rushd) also carry a
profound sense of moral valuation. There is a criterion (furqan), a touchstone within
our own hearts which enables us to distinguish between the true and the false, and
between right and wrong.
As quoted by one Muslim Hero (Abd al-Qadir10, 1847), in his celebrated
letter to Malik al-Ashtar, Imam 'Ali writes: "Make your heart a throne of mercy towards
your people. Show them perfect love and care. For they are in one of two groups:
either your brother in religion or your fellow-human being". This broad view, in total
harmony with the Quran, embraces all races, all cultures, and all tongues. It asserts the
unity of the human race and the equality of all human beings, demanding compassion
for all and not only to members of one's own group. (See Jeremy Henzell-Thomas and
Kabir Helminski, 2007)
The spiritual tradition of Islam affirms the humanitarianism that underpins such
universal ethics, morality and altruism in economic activities for the betterment and
The leader of the struggle and insurgency in Algeria against the French colonial forces in 1847
fulfillment of promises to every member of society. Its members are endowed with
piety, truthfulness, faithfulness, sincerity, straightforwardness, fairness and justice.
Cheating, deception, manipulation and any negative dealings in economic activities are
alien characteristics in contrast to the noble character of a true Islamic man in
economics. There is no room for swindlers, double-crossers, tricksters, or traitors in true
Islamic economics. Islam views that any unethical and immoral dealings in economic
activities are considered as heinous sins, a source of shame to the one guilty of
committing them, both in this world and the next. The Prophet (PBUH) did not merely
denounce them by excluding them from the Muslim community in this world, he also
announced that on the Day of Judgment every traitor would be raised carrying the flag
of his betrayal. A caller will cry out from the vast arena of judgment, pointing to him,
drawing attention to him:
“Every traitor will have a banner on the Day of Resurrection and it will be said: This is
the betrayer of so-and-so.” (Saheeh Al-Bukhari)
The shame of traitors – men and women - will be immense. Those who thought
that their betrayal had been forgotten will find it right there, exposed for the whole
world to see on banners raised high held by their own hands!
Their shame will increase even more when they meet with the Prophet of Mercy,
the advocate of the sinners on that terrifying and horrible Day. Their crime is of such
enormity that it will deprive them of divine mercy and the Prophet’s intercession. The
Prophet (PBUH) of Islam said:
“God said: There are three whom I will oppose on the Day of Resurrection: a man who
gave his word and then betrayed it; a man who sold a free man into slavery and kept the
money; and a man who hired someone, benefited from his labor, and then did not pay
his wages.” (Saheeh Al-Bukhari)
One should steer clear of all the various forms of deceit and deception present in
today’s society. Cheating is common in examinations, business transactions, and even
between spouses and loved ones. Placing a label on domestically-made products to
make it seem that they are imported is a kind of fraud. Some people give wrong advice
when their council is sought and thus deceive the person who believes he is getting
good advice. An employee should do the job for which he is paid without any
deception or cheating. Ruling parties rig the ballot to win elections thereby cheating the
whole nation.
Cheating between spouses and having extra-marital affairs are
widespread in modern society. A Muslim should value himself too highly to be among
those who cheat or deceive perchance one might fall in the category of hypocrites about
whom the Prophet (PBUH) said:
“There are four characteristics, whoever has all of them is a true hypocrite, and
whoever has one of them has one of the qualities of a hypocrite until he gives it up:
when he is trusted, he betrays; when he speaks, he lies; when he makes a promise, he
breaks it; and when he disputes, he resorts to slander.” (Saheeh Al-Bukhari, Saheeh
Therefore, a Muslim who has true Islamic sensitivities avoids deceit, cheating,
treachery, misconduct and lying no matter what benefits or profits such activities might
bring him because Islam considers those guilty of such deeds to be hypocrites.
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