For Muslims, what is right and wrong is espoused through the word of Allah (The Exalted) in Al-Qur’an (16: 89) and the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
“And [mention] the Day when We will resurrect among every nation a witness over them from themselves [i.e., their prophet]. And We will bring you, [O Muḥammad], as a witness over these [i.e., your nation]. And We have sent down to you the Book as clarification for all things and as guidance and mercy and good tidings for the Muslims.”
(Qur’an, 16:89, Saheeh International). https://Qur’an.com/16/89
Based on these two important foundations, Muslims believe and accept Allah’s commandment of what is right and wrong because Allah (The Exalted) knows everything, including what is best for the true believers.
The word “ethics” originates from the Greek word “ethos”, which means “character, spirit and attitude of a group of people or culture” and it can be simply defined as a system of moral principles by which human actions may be judged as good or bad, right or wrong as well as the rules of conduct recognized in respect of a particular class of human actions of a group of people or followers in that particular society or culture (Al-Aidaros A. et al. 2013).
In almost every survey, since the early 1980s, conducted by two of the world’s most trusted and influential scholars on leadership, James Kouzes and Barry Posner, honesty has been selected more often than any other leadership characteristic. It emerges as the single most important ingredient in the leader-constituent (follower) relationship. Constituents want to know that the person they are following is truthful, ethical, and principled.
They want to be fully confident of the integrity of their leaders, whatever the context. Nearly 90 percent of constituents want their leaders to be honest above all else (Kouzes and Posner 2002, 2011).
From an Islamic point of view, ethics is related to several Arabic terms. These terms are as follows: ma‘ruf (approved), khayr (goodness), haqq (truth and right), birr (righteousness), qist (equity), ‘adl (equilibrium and justice), and taqwa (piety). Good actions are described as ‘salihat’ and bad actions are described as ‘sayyi’at’. However, the term that is most closely related to ethics in the Qur’an is ‘akhlaq’ (Beekun 1996).
Leadership in Islam is rooted in belief and willing submission to Allah (The Exalted). It focused on serving Him. The main tasks of leaders are to do good deeds and to work toward the establishment of the way of living ordained by Allah (The Exalted) (Beekun & Badawi, 2004).
According to Kazmi & Ahmad (2006), leadership in Islam centres on trustworthiness which represents a psychological contract between leaders and their followers that they will try their best to guide, protect and treat their followers justly.
Besides, a trustworthy leader is one who is mindful of his or her relationship with Allah (The Exalted) as well as is aware of the state of being the servant of Allah (The Exalted).
Many Muslim scholars have written about ethical issues based on the main Islamic sources, which are the Qur’an and Sunnah.
Islam instructs believers to observe certain ethics when they engage in financial and business transactions. In business transactions, honesty, trustworthiness, and fair dealings are an obligation to Allah (The Exalted).
Cheating, concealing the defects of merchandise, or taking advantage of someone′s ignorance is sinful. Allah (The Exalted) states in the Qur’an:
“And if one of you deposits something on trust with another, let the trustee discharge his trust, and fear his Sustainer.” (Al Baqara: 283)
“Give full measure when you measure and weigh with a straight balance. That is the most fitting and most advantageous in the final determination.” (Al Israa: 35)
“O you who believe! Whenever you give or take credit for a stated term, set it down in writing. And call upon two of you as witnesses; and if two men are not available, then a man and two women from among such as are acceptable to you as witnesses, so that if one of them should make a mistake, The other could remind her.” (Al Baqara: 282)
Allah (The Exalted) sent us the best model for this virtue. Our inspiration, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was the most trustworthy man in history.
In the Sealed Nectar (Al-Mubarkpuri 1979), Ibn Ishaq reported that Khadijah, daughter of Khwailid was a businesswoman of great honour and fortune. She used to employ men to do her business for a certain percentage of the profits. Quraish people were mostly tradespeople, so when Khadijah was informed of Muhammad (peace be upon him), his truthful words, great honesty and kind manners, she sent for him.
She oﬀered him money to go to Syria and do her business, and she would give him a higher rate than the others. She would also send her hireling, Maisarah, with him. He agreed and went with her servant to Syria for trade. When he returned to Makkah, Khadijah noticed, in her money, more profits and blessings than she used to. Her hireling also told her of Muhammad’s good manners, honesty, deep thought, sincerity and faith.
John Adair in his international bestseller, The Leadership of Muhammad, describes him as a ‘man of integrity’ (Adair 2010). Since young, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) earned his name, ‘Al-Amin’ (the honest & trustworthy one), by the people of Mecca. In his fair dealings, he became recognized for being trustworthy.
He was always entrusted to take charge of other people′s merchandise. He was entrusted to trade on behalf of those who could not travel themselves. He never overpriced his goods, nor skimped on weights. He usually gave other merchants the benefit of the doubt.
Al-Amanah (trustworthiness) is obligatory for every Muslim. This noble quality shows a character that will determine good morals in a person in daily affairs. Islam demands its ummah be characterized by the nature of trust that is mentioned in the Quranic verses and also the hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) (Nurzatil 2017).
Though the word Amanah is quite common, its concept and meaning are very profound and Muslims need to keep reminding each other about the same.
Amanah means trust, trustworthiness, loyalty, faithfulness, integrity, and honesty. Both Amanah and Iman originate from the same three-letter root verb Amina, which means to be in a state of peace, safety and security. The Qur’an mentions the Amanah or trust given to mankind—a trust which the heavens, the earth, and mountains refused to accept because they were afraid of its heavy burden, which requires the establishment of justice in society.
Allah (The Exalted) states in the Qur’an:
“Surely We offered the trust to the heavens and the earth and the mountains, but they refused to undertake it and feared from it, but man undertook it; surely he is unjust, ignorant” (al-Ahzab, 33:72).
Accountability, honesty, transparency, and perfection of action are all parts of Amanah. The concept of Amanah makes human life more meaningful because this puts man squarely charged with creating a moral social order. Thus it provides him with the opportunity to demonstrate his ability to be Allah’s vicegerent on earth.
The term Amanah is used in the Qur’an and the Sunnah to indicate a very broad and deep meaning. It defines man’s rights and responsibilities to all the other humans and his environment and the rest of God’s creation.
Everything given to us by Allah (The Exalted) is a kind of Amanah that should be managed appropriately according to the laws and rules revealed by Allah (The Exalted). Every task or responsibility assigned to the believers is considered an Amanah.
Islam requires the believers to be honest in their dealings with Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Indeed, honesty is one of the most important moral principles which testifies to a Muslim’s devoutness.
Honesty is among the characteristics of the believers whom Allah (The Exalted) calls ‘‘successful’’ because they “honour their trusts and their contracts”, among other traits. (Al-Mu’minoon, 23:8)
It is for this reason that the Prophet (peace be upon him) considers those who do not fulfil the terms and conditions of the trusts which are placed in their charge to have no faith:
“The person who does not fulfil the terms of his trust has no faith.” (Sunan Ahmad: 12567)
The Prophet (peace be upon him) was known by his honorific title of ‘As-Saadiq al-Ameen’ (the truthful and trustworthy) before the advent of Islam, for he was the epitome of honesty in all his dealings.
Its importance is indicated in several Qur’anic verses and Sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him), including the following:
Allah (The Exalted) says,
“Allah commands you to deliver trusts back to their owners.” (An-Nisaa’, 4:58)
The Prophet (peace be upon him) considers betraying the trust as one of the signs of hypocrisy:
“The signs of the hypocrite are three: when he speaks he lies, when he promises he breaks his promise and when he is entrusted he betrays the trust.” (Sahih Al-Bukhari: 33; Sahih Muslim: 59)
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said,
“The seller and the buyer have the right to keep or return goods as long as they have not parted; and if both parties speak the truth and describe the defects and qualities of the goods, their transaction will be blessed; however if they tell lies or hide something, their transaction will be deprived of all blessings.” (Sahih Al-Bukhari: 1973; Sahih Muslim: 1532)
He also said,
“Be truthful, for truthfulness leads to righteousness, and righteousness leads to Paradise. A man keeps on telling the truth until he becomes known as a truthful person.” (Sahih Muslim: 2607)
Some traders often have recourse to swearing falsely claiming that their merchandise is of good quality to persuade the buyers to purchase it. Islam considers such an act one of the major sins, as the Prophet (peace be upon him) said,
“Allah will not speak to three types of people on the Day of Judgement, nor will He look at them, nor purify them and they will have a severe punishment.” Amongst these types, he mentioned those who “swear falsely in order to sell their goods.” (Sahih Muslim: 106)
The life of the Prophet (peace be upon him) is an ocean and treasure chest of guidance and insight. As Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) said ‘his embodiment was the Qur’an’. He was hence the walking and talking manifestation of God’s divine direction. If the Qur’an was God’s outline of the ‘what’, the Sunnah can be seen as the ‘how’ of Islam. (Al-Azami 2019)
Of all the personal qualities of the greatest benefactor of mankind, if one may choose one quality as the most important, it is indeed his unfaltering truthfulness.
Allah knows best.
Read other articles from Prof Sattar Bawany:
Al-Aidaros A. et al. (2013) Ethics and Ethical Theories from an Islamic Perspective, International Journal of Islamic Thought 4(1):1-13. December 2013 Issue.
Al-Azami, N. (2019). Muhammad: 11 Leadership Qualities that Changed the World. Swansea, UK, Claritas Books
Al-Bukhari, M.I. (2000). Sahih al-bukhari: Riyad: Dar al-Salam li al-Nashr wa al-Tawzi`.
Adair, J. (2010). The Leadership of Muhammad, London, UK, Kogan Page.
Al-Mubarakpuri, S. (1979). The Sealed Nectar: Biography of the Noble Prophet. Jeddah: Darussalam.
At-Tirmidhi, M. (2003). The characteristics of Prophet Muhammad. (B. Shalaby, Trans). Egypt: Dar Al-Manarah. (Original work published in 883).
Al-Nawawi. (1996). Sharhi Shih Muslim. Cairo-Egypt: Dar al-Tawfiqiyah li-al-Turath.
Al-Qurtubi, A. A. M. (2003). Al-Jami’li Ahkam al-Qur’an. Reviewed by Hisham Samir
Beekun, R. I. & Badawi, J. (2004). Leadership An Islamic Perspective. USA: Amana Publications.
Beekun, R. (1996). Islamic Business Ethics. Nevada: University of Nevada.
Ibn Kathir, A. F. I. (1999). Tafsir al-Qur’an al-Azim (2nd ed.). Reviewed by Sami Ibn Muhammad Salamah. Dar al-Taibati. Riyad-Saudi Arabia: Maktabat al-Riyad al-Hadithah
Kazmi, A. & Ahmad, K. (2006). Management from Islamic perspective. Instructors’ Resource Manual, International Islamic University, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2002). The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations. 3rd Edition. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Kouzes, J.M., & Posner, B. Z. (2011). Credibility: How leaders gain and lose it, why people demand it. 2nd Edition. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Nurzatil, I.A. (2017). Concept trust by the hadith perspective. International Conference On Islamiyyat Studies (IRSYAD2017) Kolej Universiti Islam Antarabangsa Selangor.
Qur’an, (1997). (Saheeh International, Trans.). Jeddah: Abdul-Qasim Publishing House.
Professor Sattar Bawany is the CEO of Disruptive Leadership Institute (DLI), C-Suite Master Executive Coach, Author of Leadership in Disruptive Times (2020) and Professor of Practice for Disruptive Leadership at IPE Management School, Paris.
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