Being self-employed is in fashion yet it’s important to be aware of our duties to God and those we do business with.
A Guide to Islamic Business Ethics for Muslim Entrepreneurs
The percentage of new businesses starting up globally roughly increases by an average of 6% year on year. The UK, for example, has massively outpaced this average since the start of the pandemic – sitting at 14%. In the U.S there were nearly 500,000 start-ups in January 2021 alone.
Trying to open and successfully run a new business in the midst of a devasting pandemic has been somewhat of a surprise … or was it the best time to start?
The economic impact and restrictions that came with the Covid-19 pandemic actually gave us the perfect environment to become entrepreneurs. Nearly everyone found themselves having so much free time at the peak of the pandemic. Being made furloughed (if you’re in the UK) or redundant and not being able to go out due to lockdown gave people an opportunity to grow an already existing ‘side hustle’ or draw up plans to begin something new they had been holding off on for so long.
So-called secure jobs had turned their backs on us and we realised we need to become as independent as possible. Of course, the collective loss of income brought on a sense of desperate times calling for desperate measures, giving us no choice but to find an alternative salary.
The vast majority of businesses are online and the start-up costs are quite low compared to brick and mortar – adding further incentives.
Having plunged ourselves into the world of the self-employed, it’s important for us to go in with knowledge of the essentials of Islamic business ethics. This will ensure our money is halal and that we conduct ourselves with the best of akhlaq.
Reliance on God
Tawakkul in Allah (SWT) is essential to our success. It will stop us from despairing when things are not going so well. Knowing everything is in God’s hands also reminds us at the heights of our success that it can all be taken away at any point and for us to not become arrogant.
Reliance needs to be measured and balanced. We need to exert our own actions within our God-given physical and mental capacity and do our utmost best to make our venture successful through learning about business, marketing, finance etc. countered with regular prayers and duas to God. We absolutely cannot sit at home praying and hoping things will work out by a means of a miracle. At the same time, God is not to be left out of the equation because sustenance is from Him. In short, the effort is our responsibility and the result is His:
Allah expands the sustenance for whomsoever He desires and straitens it for whomsoever He desires…”
Similarly, it’s important to get the necessary protection for our business via insurance. Tawakkul and subsequence protection from God is conditional on us exercising our logic and free will to do what we can.
A hadith in the book Tirmidhi records a conversation with a man and the Prophet (PBUH) that summarises human efforts vs God’s effort perfectly. This man is about to leave for some journey without tying his camel. After being asked by the Prophet why the camel is not tied, the man replies saying “I put my trust in Allah.” The Prophet then replied, “Tie your camel first, and then put your trust in Allah.”
Seeking Only Lawful Sustenance
It goes without saying that what we earn money from and the way we earn it has to be halal. If we are looking for a business opportunity it’s to make sure it’s not in the area of items forbidden to sell such as alcohol. In reality, ensuring halal money stays halal is more difficult. As Muslims, we are duty-bound to pay our Islamic and secular taxes without fail. The former purifies our income and the latter is a legal responsibility.
Managing Your Time
We should not run our business in a manner that affects our religion. We don’t want to be conducting our business in a way it delays our prayers and affects our attendance at juma and other mosque programs nor delay those obligations out of fear of a loss of profits.
And when they see merchandise or entertainment, they go towards it and leave you alone [in prayers]. Say to them: ‘What is with Allah is better than entertainment and merchandise. And Allah is the best of providers.”
Relationship With Customers
Our customers should be treated with the utmost request – regardless or religion or race. They are the sources of sustenance that God has sent our way. If we are selling a product, it should be fairly priced and delivered as expected with respect to quantity, weight, general appearance etc. The same applies to service and consultation based businesses, where we aren’t necessarily selling anything physical, is to exert our best efforts to ensure a customer receives what we promised to deliver and sell.
Allah (SWT) says:
Give full measure and weight with justice.”
It’s always a nice practice to give a little more than expected too. From a religious point of view, it is something beloved by Allah (SWT) and is within His sunnah. He is always giving us more than we expect and deserve. On the other hand, it establishes a sense of goodwill with customers and ensures repeat custom and success for our business.
Always respect the customers right for a refund, exchange and listen to any other complaints or concerns they have. Communicate and establish the rights a customer has and put in place a clear and robust contract between yourself and people and businesses whom you’ll be providing a regular and on-going service.
Relationship With Employees
All humans are to be treated with kindness and respect. However, if we have someone working for us, there are extra considerations to make. Like you, your employees are also seeking sustenance, which makes it important that you establish their hours, responsibilities and wages before they begin working with you.
Once they are working for you, they are your responsibility. Treat them fairly, guide and mentor them to be the best at their job, be gentle when pointing out their mistakes and teach them rather than admonish.
Your Business Partner
Similarly to employees, the key thing to outline and clarify with a business partner(s) is the extent of their responsibilities, their share of profits and their share of the business itself. If we are inviting investors to fund our business, we should also outline expectations. All such expectations and responsibilities should be written in a contract, stored and signed.
The importance of contracts is covered at length in chapter 2, verse 182.
Start Everyday With Bismillah
Abu Hurairah reported that the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said (recorded in Mu’sasat al-Risaalah):
Every important word or matter that does not being with the remembrance of Allah is maimed.”
Every day, when you are at your desk or shop or wherever it is your work from, begin the day with Bimillahir Rahmanir Raheem. Starting with the name of Allah (SWT) will bring barakah (blessings) into your activities and fruitful outcomes.