Moral Management

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Shaikh Saleem Bhimji has recently translated the book Moral Management: 30 Moral and Ethical Foundations Required to Develop and Nurture the Leader Within You, and 41 Tips to Successful Management and Leadership, originally penned by Abbas Rahimi in Farsi. It is a useful introductory work for an English-speaking Muslim audience who has few Islamic resources in their own language for guidance in business and organizational leadership.

The book begins with a thoughtful translator’s forward that explains the impetus of translating a work on Islamic business leadership. Shaikh Bhimji explains how Islam, being a holistic and timeless religion, provides guidance in all aspects of existence. Business development, management, economic policies and other fields related to economic social interaction are no exception. The Holy Qur’an and the Sunnah both elucidate methodologies on how such transactions and interactions should take place and on what principles they should be based. This book provides insights into some of these principles for organizational and business leaders.

A few arguments are presented to show how principles like these are greatly needed. Despite its scientific, industrial and technological progress, the modern world has fallen behind when it comes to ethics in relation to business practices. Corporate fraud, scandals all over the media, bribery between clients, billions of dollars lost through swindles, monopolization and environmental destabilization, all showcase the need for alternative ways of doing business. Much of today’s world has separated the business world from the realm of ethics, giving rise to shrewd and cutthroat business practices in the name of profiteering without an eye to humanitarianism or moral values. Greed has been stereotypically synonymous with business dealings.

Various intellectual and spiritual traditions have responded to these challenges in their own ways, like that of the advice offered by the Kaizen business strategy that attempts progress by discarding what’s unnecessary and eliminating wastage, or like that of some Jewish business literature that attempts to find a balance between monetary development and spiritual growth.

The teachings of Islam, however, do not simply reconcile between the mosque and the marketplace – It removes the man-made veil between them. “Islam is not just a religion in the spiritual sense of the word – it is a way of life. There is no separation between the secular and the spiritual in Islam. There is no difference between the sphere of worship and the sphere of business.” [1] The worldview of Islam shows us that “the [business] contract we sign on Tuesday carries as much moral weight as the prayers we perform on Friday afternoon or Sunday morning!” [2] This approach would see business dealings and managing employees as a sacred trust, and how we handle these trusts involve the pleasure or disappointment of the Almighty Creator. Therefore, Qur’anic injunctions and ahadith on effective and moral leadership is given within a framework that views all of life, including business management, in need of moral guidance.

According to the author, all human beings are in need of some leadership skills because everyone is accountable and responsible towards others, like spouses towards one another, parents to their children, or employees to their employer. Thus, Islamic teachings on leadership are relevant to all of us at some level. It suggests we take the responsibility of leadership seriously, as leaders are accountable to the individuals they oversee: “This leadership is a trust given to you. So may the mercy of Allah be distanced from that person – until the Day of Resurrection – who acts with treachery in regards to it.” [4]

The main section of the book is a listing of 30 characteristics that would characterize an effective, dynamic and moral leader. The author expounds upon each point by utilizing Qur’anic verses and narrations from the Infallibles (peace be upon them all) from a broad range of classical Islamic literature. These points are typically generalized in nature, and can apply to a wide range of leadership positions. A few points from this section follow:

  1. Manage others on the basis of truth and principles, not on feelings of love and hate, grudges or animosity, familial relationships or other personal based issues: “Accept the truth regardless of who it comes from – a young person or an old person – even if the person is your enemy. And reject falsehood no matter who it comes from – a young person or an old person – even if the person is a close friend.” [5]
  2. Develop a close bond between you and your people, and do not allow any barrier between you and them. “A person who has the duty of looking over the affairs of the people who keeps his door open to the people, removes obstacles (which prevent others from having access to him), and thoroughly reviews how he can solve the matters of the people, becomes such a person that it will be the responsibility of Allah to ensure that he is protected and is entered into Paradise.” [6] “Place yourself amongst the people, ensure that the downtrodden people are given preference over the noble ones, the work which the weak need done is completed before that which the powerful people need, and that the women are looked after before the men.” [7]
  3. Have an expansive heart when managing others: “Tolerance is the adornment of management.” [8] “If you are compelled to reprimand someone, ensure that it is brief (do not prolong it).” [9]
  4. The real nature of leadership is service, so a manager must seek to facilitate their work. “The leader of a community is the one who is a servant of others.” [10]
  5. Do not micro-manage every task, but create an environment of accountability by giving everyone a task to be responsible for based on his or her role and ability. “Make one person in charge of each allotment of work who will be responsible for that division; do not make it too difficult for him (to carry out his responsibilities), and do not overload him with them either.” [11]
  6. Managers and leaders should prioritize getting the job done over getting paid or receiving compensation. “Attach more of your importance to ensuring the fertility of land rather than the collection of taxes because the actual taxable capacity of the people cannot be realized except through the fertility of the land… A ruler who merely focuses on the collection of taxes and neglects the fertility of the land, lays waste to the land and consequently ruins the state and brings destruction to the servants; and his rule will definitely not last for long.” [12]

Following the main explanatory body of the text is a supplemental section containing 41 hadiths relating to leadership and managerial qualities. The last section of the book contains an English translation of the celebrated epistle of Imam Ali (peace be upon him) to his companion Malik al-Ashtar on the nature of a governor’s role in relation to his people. The author of this book review could do no justice in reviewing such a gospel of a work, and instead invites readers to review its content themselves.

Abbas Rahimi’s work on Moral Management can serve as a starting point for seeking ethical and effective guidelines on management and leadership. Its primary focus is to provide general guidelines, and only briefly touches upon practical applications on how to make one’s management role more effective and successful. It is hoped that a work like this will give rise to more in-depth literature on leadership and management in light of the ethical teachings of Islam, ones that combine principle-based management with guidelines on how to increase performance and ensure professionalism.

The book can be ordered online.

[1] Moral Management, Translator’s forward, p. iv

[2] Moral Management, Translator’s forward, p. v

[3] The Holy Qu’ran – 32:5 as quoted by Moral Management, Introduction, p. xii

[4] Imam Ali (peace be upon him) as quoted by Moral Management, Introduction, p. xvii

[5] Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his progeny), Biharul Anwaar, v. 67, p. 184, as quoted by Moral Management, p. 9

[6] Imam Sadiq (peace be upon him), Biharul Anwaar, v. 75, p. 340, as quoted by Moral Management, p. 26

[7] Imam Ali (peace be upon him) as quoted by Moral Management, p. 27

[8] Imam Ali (peace be upon him), Ghurur al Hikam, p. 331, as quoted by Moral Management, p. 29

[9] Ibd, Ghurur al Hikm, p. 331, as quoted by Moral Management, p. 94

[10] Imam Sadiq (peace be upon him), Atharul Sadiqin, v. 5, p. 144, as quoted by Moral Management, p. 75

[11] Imam Ali (peace be upon him), Nahjul Balagha, Letter 53 as quoted by Moral Management, p. 58

[12] Imam Ali (peace be upon him), Nahjul Balagha, Letter 5 as quoted by Moral Management, p. 67

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