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Human Resourse Management: An Ethical approach

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By Saif Alam Siddiqui, for Maeeshat

In this era of Globalisation past decades have witnessed a tremendous curiosity concerning Islam and the Muslim world especially within Western world. This trend has been focussed mainly in business and management processes and their political and cultural contexts. The traditional trend focussed mainly to Islamic Economics and Finance exclusively in hunt for alternative for the recent international financial crisis. However there have been some attempts to describe the nature and contents of management in Arab and Muslim countries but there are hardly any credible and empirical literature which have examined the practice of Human Recourse Management (HRM) from an Islamic management perspective and is limited in unmasking the gap which prevails between the theory of management in Islam and the habit of management in Arab and Muslim countries. As most of these countries use a combination of Islamic and civil law, there is hardly any consideration given to Islamic management in any of these countries.  Unlike the common civil law, Islamic law is based on the interpretation of the Quran (words of God), the Hadis (tradition of the Prophet Mohammedﷺ), Ijma – collective reasoning (consensus amongst scholars) and Qayas/Ijtihad analogical deduction (individual reasoning) which formed and so called Shari’ah law.

The components of Islamic law practised in most of these Countries, are restricted to only those laws which are confined to the limited aspects of social life, such as family and inheritance laws, while the components of economics and management law are left to civil laws which are imported from West. The Managers in The Arab world seems to have lost their intellectual wisdom and  its seems effortless for them to have ready-made Hot cakes of western management to be served rather than to led effort to develop and implement their own ethical management ideas of their traditional origin from Quran and Sunnat.  It’s strange to know that these business ideas is very disappointing to them and its hardly fit comfortably with their expectation and it’s uncomfortable for its implementation so there is a need for understanding the national and traditional contexts in which management is practiced in different geographical location.  The real obstacle is that management in Arab and Muslims countries is very much influenced by traditional and non-Islamic norms and values of different cultures.  Despite of their everlasting wealth of Black Gold and of material resources many of the Arab countries are economically and industrially underdeveloped.  Neither the Western management has adopted nor do the traditional nationally inherited management practices and behaviours seem to have initiated any worthwhile efforts.

Principles of Islamic management system:

The first principles of an Islamic management system were originally established by The Prophet Mohammedﷺ in Medina (Saudi Arabia) before 1436 years by establishing first Islamic state. Due to its modesty this management system had laid the foundation of many civilization for centuries. The most distinguishing characteristic of this administration was Shura or consultation because Heﷺ, consult His companion’s advice in a number of matters which were not specifically or directly stated in The Holy Quran. By analysing this system of consultation an obvious doubt comes in one’s mind that, Heﷺ was The Prophet, his Companions would have executed his decisions without questioning but Heﷺ had encouraged on creating an environment of consultation, participation and consensus among the members this shows the importance of collective approach where every individual counts in decision making for a successful Management system which creates the real spirit of collective efforts. The Prophet Mohammedﷺ had an official consultative council comprising pious, knowledgeable and wise companion for making decisions which would affect the community, the Pious Caliphs who succeeded him maintained a consultative body and continued this system of consultation. Later, as Islam spread throughout the globe, the boundaries of Muslim empires expanded the system of public administration became more and more complicated and less centralized administration system was very often left to the local people. In later centuries, Muslim scholars from different parts of the world gradually developed extraordinary Islamic knowledge to cover all disciplines from exact sciences, such as Architecture and Medicine, to Astronomy and to arts, such as music and poetry, to Social Sciences, such as Economics Finance and, Management system. Today, we can find numerous well-documented Islamic heritage and a wide literature on these system but it’s a very bitter truth that neither of these is currently fully practiced in any part of Muslim globe.  Islam emphasizes and encouraged co-operation in work and consultation in making decisions. The principles of work ethics and management in Islam derive from the Holy Quran, and from the tradition of Prophet Mohammedﷺ. There are numerous verses in Quran which speaks about justice and honesty in trade and commerce, and courtesy and fairness in employment relationships, and also encourage humans to learn new skills and to strive to do productive work which benefits the individual and community as whole.

Management is compelling in Islam and appointing a leader is obligatory in most circumstances of life Prophet Mohammedﷺ said, ‘When three are on a journey, they should appoint one of them as their leader’. This tradition focus the obligation and importance of appointing leader.  In Islam, life without work has no meaning and engagement in economic activities is an obligation’.  Economic engagement is obligatory for those who are able to work and self-reliance is a virtue as well as a mean for self-fulfilment and success. Its importance can be analysed from this Prophetic tradition– it is narrated that the Prophet Mohammedﷺ said; “No one eats better food than that which he eats out of his work’. The status of Human Beings is of vicegerent and Trustees of God on earth therefore their activities should be the acts of worship. Whatever task a Muslim performs is carried out with the intention of worshipping God, and earning a suitable (halal) income and living a good and respectable life. Doing work is an obligatory and a social, economic and religious duty for every Muslim who is able to work, work ethics in Islam are related to striving for perfection, seeking rewards in life and hereafter, and exerting effort without excess. It is not just important to earn livelihood and being self-reliant but the most important is to utilize and enjoy the bounties of God for the benefit of oneself and for community as a whole.

As far as the practice of Human Resource Management (HRM) is concerned, there are many values and norms that managers should comply. Values such as Trustworthiness, Responsibility, Sincerity, Discipline, Dedication, Diligence, Cleanliness, Co-operation, Good conduct, Gratitude and Moderation guide the principles by which human resources are managed, all these principles are supported with verses from the Holy Quran and the Sunnat of the Prophet Mohammedﷺ.

Principles of Islamic management system with significant implications for the practice of HRM

  1. Intention (Niyat): Every act should be accompanied by intentions. The Prophet Mohammedﷺ said: ‘Actions are recorded according to intention and a person will be rewarded or punished accordingly’. A person is endowed with free will and is responsible for change in society. “God does not change the condition of a nation unless it changes what is in its heart”. (Quran-13:11). The implications of this principle in human resource management is that employees should not, be punished for making unintentional mistakes and should be rewarded or punished for their intended objectives, ideas, plans and strategies rather than just for the outcomes of their actions which may be affected by external factors beyond their control. This encourage the importance of human resource planning and strategic decision-making.
  2. Piety (Taqwa): Forever mindful of God a person will refrain from behaving unjustly and will command his/her soul to move from the state of evil level, which is the primitive stage that man shares with animals, to the state of self-reproaching level, at which man is conscious of evil and struggles between good and evil by seeking repentance, to the highest level, when the mind is perfectly in tune with good deeds, piety and justice. In HRM, constructive criticism and advice become a common practice and even a duty, when wrong doings are seen in one’s organization or community.
  3. Justice (Adl): Justice is a virtue that every person should develop regardless of whether he/she is a leader or a subordinate. It is stated in Quran 5:8: “O you who believe! Stand out firmly for God as witnesses to fair dealing and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice…”. Justice is never to be affected by personal interests and other considerations. Justice is to protect freedom and equality. All people are equal regardless of their sex, colour, race, wealth, prestige, profession, status and knowledge. What truly counts is their actions and deeds. The Prophet Mohammedﷺ made it clear that people are equal: “An Arab has no preference over a non-Arab, nor a non-Arab over an Arab, nor is a white one to be preferred to a black one, nor a black one to a white one, except in piety”. Justice leads to equality and in order to maintain justice and equality there should be a sense of humility among those in managerial positions. In organizations where justice prevails, employees are treated and rewarded equally and fairly. Managers treat their subordinates with respect and courtesy, and never look down to them or ignore their views and suggestions.
  4. Trust (Amana): An organization or a company is a trust of those who own it and to those who work for it. The concept of trust is a core value governing social relationships, as every person is held accountable for his/her doings in the community. The Holy Quran: 8:27 – “O you that believe! Betray not the trust of God and the Apostle nor misappropriate knowingly things entrusted to you”. Trust leads to consultation and delegation of authority to employees. The leader is ‘ameen’ or a trustee, who should respect the trust bestowed on him/her by their superiors and subordinates. Any act of misuse of resources or mismanagement is seen as a violation of trust.
  5. Truthfulness: It is forbidden to lie or to cheat in any circumstances and doing and saying what is right to the best of one’s knowledge. Managers as well as subordinates are reminded not to be guided by their personal feelings that might divert them from the right path of justice, care and trustworthiness. The worker should be patient, to fulfil their contractual duties, to be honest and to work hard. Honesty and trustworthiness are central to effective management it safeguard humans from temptation to misuse the resources entrusted to them.
  6. Self-improvement: This value is related to a state of passion for excellence and perfection and implies the continuous struggle within oneself for self-betterment in order to do best. Striving to do better all the time results in passion for work which requires managers and employees to work hard and improve the quality of their products and services through the promotion of learning, training, innovation and creativity. Creativity therefore becomes an indispensable value in one’s life.
  7. Sincerity and keeping promises: Sincerity, infuses trust and confidence in an organization and creates a culture of trustfulness and cooperation among employees and employers. Keeping promises is a moral obligation for every Muslim. It is a big sin to intentionally fail to meet one’s promises. Breaking one’s promise led men to enter into the category of hypocrites which is unpleasant for one’s character, Quran-5:1-”O you who believe! fulfil (all) obligations”.
  8. Consultation (Shura): This principle of teaches managers to treat their subordinates as their equals and to be humble in their dealings with other people. Pride and arrogance are not the behaviour of a good Muslim. In organizations, managers are expected to seek advice and to consult with their subordinates before making decisions. A leader is required to seek advice and to consult others before making decisions. Taking part in discussions and making suggestions are key leadership values.
  9. Patience (Sabar): At the organizational level, patience and humility go hand in hand. Being patient in making decisions reduces the possibility of making mistakes and increase the chances of success.

There are very little evidence available for these management ideas to be used in corporates by Arab or Muslim managers because the practice of management is very much influenced by non-Islamic traditional norms and values and by Western management practices and theories. Now let us see the real picture of the practice of Human Resource Management system in Muslim world.

Characteristics of contemporary management in Arab world:

Despite their wealth, most of the Arab countries are economically, socially and industrially underdeveloped, its  a very bitter truth that the Arabs lost their sense of direction and have been in a very pathetic condition which is similar to that condition after the First World War. There are problems of unemployment, poverty, health and education, as well as high levels of social and political unrest. Expectations are very high   but very far away from what could be realized. It is not because of scarcity of resources as, they have in abundance, but the real scenario is the matter of organization system. In broader concept the organizational problems lead to numerous problems and impact wide range of consequences. Employee dissatisfaction leads to absenteeism, high turnover, corruption and bureaucracy are the outcomes of modern industrial life. This outcome can occur in any organization where formalization, centralization and bad conditions of work are to be found.  The situation in Arab countries is very pathetic problems lie in the complexity of interaction between dominant social values, technology and level of development claimed.

Studies shows that too much centralization, overbearing bureaucracy, poor communications, lack of management skills and unrealistic performance issues such as the importance of personal factors over the organization priority exist. There are numerous issues related to expatriation in the Middle East, especially social isolation, racism on grounds of language cast and creed colour etc, and fear from lack of trust by locals expatriates complain about the locals and the locals complain about expatriates. As many multinational companies are targeting to employ foreigners for their hard work and commitment, rather than the host country nationals, because of their poor performance; while the governments of these countries insist on creating jobs for their citizens.  Local employees frequently complain about Western managers that they fails to pay attention to host culture because they feels that westerners had been arrogant and materialistic, and faithless. It seems that there is a lack of understanding between Host national citizens and expatriates for their worthwhile contribution in economy, there often exists a lack of understanding by many expatriates, of the importance of local cultural norms and values.

Review on Management Practice in Arab and Muslim countries:

The real scenario is very pathetic and need to address seriously in priority

  1. Managers are either extremely autocrative or very consultative. This kind of managerial behaviour depends apparently on the varying types of subordinate, most Managers are dictatorial in dealing with their subordinates and their organizations are centrally controlled and politically orientated. Status, position and seniority determine the nature of decision-making.  Power and authority position the role of individuals in an organization and have strong implications for relationships between Managers and subordinates. It does not matter how much you know but who you are?
  2. The widespread use of ‘Wasta’(refrence) or ‘Jugad’ in Subcontinent context is a type of interpersonal relationship which is exploited in order to get things done. For example, the recruitment, selection and reward of employees is very often based on ‘Wasta’ despite the apparent use of recruitment, selection and rewards methods which are practised in western management system this type of practice gives precedence to family and kin over organizational objectives. Very often, friendship and kinship take precedence over qualifications as managers feel obliged to support their relatives and family and friends.
  3. Muslim culture is based on face-to-face interaction, as daily contacts with people in the market and in the Masjid are important, this type of behaviour is also found at the workplace where managers and their employees prefer direct contact with each other, because it is believed that the face-to-face interaction produces trust, support and commitment. The use of personal networks, connections and coalitions to support face-to-face interaction is widespread. The successful managers are those who have developed the capability to give negative messages while maintaining strong interpersonal rapport.
  4. The Arab society is paternalistic, collectivist and highly power structured. The young must respect the old and the junior must obey the senior. In all Arab and Muslim countries, age is a plus factor in terms of credibility and authority so that the older person in the house, in the tribe or even in at work is the leader

It is crystal clear from the above discussion that there is a wide difference between theory and practice, and between what is expected, according to the Islamic principles, and what actually is being practiced by Muslim managers.


In Islam, management as a function is a process of coordinating activities according to a set of principles derived from the Holy Quran and the Sunnat. Management is, therefore, a moral, spiritual and physical function which is not driven only by earthly objectives but also by rewards in the after-life.  Employment relationships should go beyond the written and the psychological contracts between an individual and an employer by considering the universal brotherhood, the moral and spiritual dimension should always be most important in making decisions and its implementation.

The Writer is the founder of www.tizarat.com , he can be reached saifalam89@gmail.com

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One comment

  1. Thanks for shading lights on the ethical approach of HRM

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