Run A Business Islamically: Benefits, Merits, Opportunities

Running a business in accordance with Islamic principles is a fundamental concern for Muslims in the modern world. This is the first in a series of articles from Running A Business Islamically.

This topic is often neglected for various reasons. One is that there is a conscious or unconscious sense that religion is about devotion to Allah. Some people just stop there. People may get on with their lives without concern for what religion calls us to in our worldly life. This is a short-sighted understanding of the purpose of life. Others have a negative sense that, “Religion is about the hereafter, therefore you neglect this world.” That too is a wrongful concern.

Why Start and Run a Business?

Matters are known by their definitions. Sayyid Sharif al-Jurjani, in his Book of Definitions, gives this definition: “Religion is divine guidance, calling those of sound mind to choose the good of this life and the next, towards the eternal good.” 

We as believers hold fast to a truth claim that what the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) has come with is truth from Allah, that the Quran is Revelation from Allah, and that it is preserved both in its text and its understanding.

Therefore, the full definition of religion is that it is, “Divine guidance, revealed by Allah through His Prophets, addressing those of sound intellect to choose the good of this life and the good of the next.” This notion of choice is very, critical. Allah tells us:

إِنَّا عَرَضۡنَا ٱلۡأَمَانَةَ عَلَى ٱلسَّمَـٰوَ ٰتِ وَٱلۡأَرۡضِ وَٱلۡجِبَالِ فَأَبَیۡنَ أَن یَحۡمِلۡنَهَا وَأَشۡفَقۡنَ مِنۡهَا وَحَمَلَهَا ٱلۡإِنسَـٰنُۖ 

“Verily We offered the solemn trust of moral choice to the heavens and the earth and the mountains, and they refused outright to bear it, and quailed for dread of it; but Man bore it” [Quran, 33:72 tr. Keller, Quran Beheld]

What is the nature of that acceptance? We do not know its reality ultimately. The scholars have speculated a lot about it. That trust is the gift of having intellect and that intellect relates to our consciousness.

Moral Choice

We have a unique consciousness, which is the subtle reality that makes us human beings. Allah has gifted us with moral choice. Other animals have choice too but that is not a moral choice. They are not going to be taken into account in the hereafter whether they ate the cat food or they nibbled on your little toe. 

Allah granted us the ability to choose. That is the nobility of the human being. Allah says:

 وَلَقَدۡ كَرَّمۡنَا بَنِیۤ ءَادَمَ

“Verily We have loftily honoured the offspring of Adam.” [Quran, 17:70; tr; Keller, Quran Beheld]

The most encompassing understanding of what it means that Allah has honored the children of Adam is the fact that He has granted us the intellect. The intellect ultimately is the capacity within us to distinguish and choose. Divine guidance is there to empower us, it calls us to choose the good.

What Allah Deems Good

Good is what Allah has deemed to be good. If you apply the question “why?” to any defense of the good, beyond the fact that the good is what God has deemed to be good, it is not really defensible. If you do not believe in God and the hereafter, how can you truly defend the notion of good and bad? Even though some theologians say we can discern that some things are generally clearly good and other things that are generally clearly bad, other scholars disagree.

The notion of choice is very central to religion. Religion guides us to make beneficial choices. But those choices are not just the ultimate choices of the hereafter, but also choices that facilitate the good of this life.

We see in the Quran and the Sunna of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) guidance on how to make worldly choices. The key teaching in this is that religion gives us empowering principles towards seeking the worldly good. 

Allah created us on earth for the hereafter. He tells us:

وَٱبۡتَغِ فِیمَاۤ ءَاتَىٰكَ ٱللَّهُ ٱلدَّارَ ٱلۡـَٔاخِرَةَۖ وَلَا تَنسَ نَصِیبَكَ مِنَ ٱلدُّنۡیَاۖ وَأَحۡسِن كَمَاۤ أَحۡسَنَ ٱللَّهُ إِلَیۡكَۖ 

“‘And seek earnestly in all Allah has given you the final abode, though forget not your share in this world; And be gracious to others, as Allah has been gracious to you.” [Quran, 28:77; tr. Keller, Quran Beheld]

Religious teachings come with a lot of guidance. Guidance on how to pursue worldly good and live the good life in our work life. The worldly good is the things that we incline towards in this life, pursued in a manner that is pleasing to Allah. Allah says:

رَبَّنَآ ءَاتِنَا فِى ٱلدُّنْيَا حَسَنَةًۭ وَفِى ٱلْـَٔاخِرَةِ حَسَنَةًۭ

“‘Our Lord, give us in this world mighty good, and in the next world mighty good.” [Quran, 2:201; tr. Keller, Quran Beheld]

What is the great good of this life? Pursuing the things we are inclined towards in a manner resulting in the ultimate pleasure of Allah.

The Bounty of Allah

Fascinatingly, if you look in the Quran, throughout it you see a call and an encouragement to seek of the bounty of Allah. The central weekly duty is the Friday prayer. Allah tells us: 

فَإِذَا قُضِیَتِ ٱلصَّلَوٰةُ فَٱنتَشِرُوا۟ فِی ٱلۡأَرۡضِ وَٱبۡتَغُوا۟ مِن فَضۡلِ ٱللَّهِ 

“So when the prayer is completed, spread far and wide cross the earth, and seek eagerly of the bounty of Allah” [Quran, 62:10; tr. Keller, Quran Beheld]

One of the most encompassing encouragements in the Quran that is related to faith itself with respect to trade is in the verses of light in Sura al-Nur. Allah says:

رِجَالٌۭ لَّا تُلْهِيهِمْ تِجَـٰرَةٌۭ وَلَا بَيْعٌ عَن ذِكْرِ ٱللَّهِ وَإِقَامِ ٱلصَّلَوٰةِ وَإِيتَآءِ ٱلزَّكَوٰةِ ۙ يَخَافُونَ يَوْمًۭا تَتَقَلَّبُ فِيهِ ٱلْقُلُوبُ وَٱلْأَبْصَـٰرُ

“True men: diverted not by trade or sale from the remembrance of Allah or keeping well the prayer or giving the due alms: They fear a terrible day in which hearts and eyes shall roll with utter woe.[Quran, 24:37; tr. Keller, Quran Beheld]

Here it is not referring to “True men” as the mere gender, but accomplished ones. Those who glorify Allah by day and by night. Who are committed to Allah in the days of their life. Whose trade and transaction do not draw them away from the remembrance of Allah.

Work and Devotion

What is primary in their life? The remembrance of Allah and their devotion to Allah. However, what do they busy themselves outwardly within life? Trade and transaction. The scholars say there are many lessons and wisdom in this. The reality of being able to be fully devoted to Allah is facilitated by work.

Someone came to the great Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal and asked him for life advice. He advised to trade because there may be a funeral prayer, and there may be someone sick, pointing to one of the benefits of working for oneself: It gives one control over one’s time. 

By not working for somebody else, you can make advantageous religious and social choices. If you are working for someone else, you may not have that luxury.