By Khalid Baig
At their most basic and visible level trade and business involve
exchange of goods and services. But there is much more to business than
moving goods and services in one direction and money in the other. The
product, the packaging, the delivery system, and the advertising
messages that accompany it, all of them carry statements about what is
good, or acceptable, or desirable, and what is not. Through this much
larger exchange --- at emotional and intellectual levels --- business
can be a powerful agent of cultural change.
This role is increased manifold in the age of the media and professional
marketing campaigns. In simpler times, the role of the seller was
generally to satisfy demand arising out of genuine needs. In the age of
glut we are witnessing today, the role of the marketer is to create
demand first, so he can then satisfy it. This is done in the only way it
can be done; by replacing needs (which are limited) with wants (which
can be unlimited). They sell fantasies and status symbols. They appeal
to our basest desires.
In the world's most "developed" economies advertising messages come at
the consumers from all directions, at all times of day and night. Their
persistent message: Buy, buy, buy. Consume, consume, consume. Indulge
your desires. This is consumerism --- a morbid outcome of materialism
under capitalism. Its spread far and wide around the globe is part of
what is called globalization.
Consumerism's creed: we live to consume. For every problem in the world,
it has one solution. Buy something. Its victims try to fill the
emptiness within them with the newest gadgets and try to congratulate
themselves for living in such an era of progress. But as they accumulate
more and more of the goods, the meaninglessness of all this increases
even more. The hollowness deepens.
Further, behind the glitter of the slick handiwork of the marketer, one
can see the ugly face of exploitation. Consider the recruitment of
female charm for selling everything from automobiles to toothpastes to
zoo admissions. Never before in history were women demeaned and
exploited on such a massive scale. Those who can make money from it have
filled every square inch of available space with the picture of women in
varying degrees of undress. Unfortunately, the environment has been so
saturated with this filth that like the person living in a sewer we no
longer feel its stink.
What is truly saddening is the failure of Muslim societies in putting up
a challenge to this onslaught. An equal or probably greater
responsibility lies with the business leaders there. They could have
rethought the purpose of advertising, marketing, packaging, and selling.
They could have used their considerable muscle to launch a counter
campaign to challenge the pop culture. They could have demonstrated the
high ethical and moral teachings of Islam through distinguished
practices to a world that badly needs them. Instead, they have been
blindly following the tricks and techniques of the business enterprises
from the "developed" world. The best of them have gone to the elite
business schools and have concluded that marketing is all about
manipulation. Their outlooks, goals, mindsets, and tools are the same as
those of their masters.
The failure here is at two levels. First there is a failure to
understand the role of business in today's society. That is why even big
Muslim enterprises show no vision of promoting their language, culture,
and moral values. They are there just to make money. If their owners and
leaders have some religious inclinations, they will spend some of that
money on charity. But the idea that they need to incorporate Islamic
teachings and moral values in everything from product conception and
design to marketing communications and business policies and practices
does not occur to them.
Second, there is a failure to remember the responsibilities of a
business under Islam. There are several ahadith that tell us the merits
of a righteous businessman. According to one hadith the Prophet said:
"The honest and veracious businessman will be (in the Hereafter) with
the prophets, the siddiqs (the Truthful), and martyrs." [Tirmidhi].
According to another hadith he was asked about the best means of earning
a living. He replied: "Righteous trade and working with one's hands." [Musnad
The company of the prophets and martyrs is the highest rank one can
imagine. How can it be that one attains such an exalted status in the
Hereafter while spending his time making money? Because by bringing
truth, honesty and God consciousness to one's business, one brings
righteousness to life. Righteous trade is a comprehensive expression
that encompasses piety in all aspects of running one's business.
It was the Muslim traders who had imbibed these ideals who spread Islam
in the four corners of the world. Muslims did not establish missions to
convert people. But as local people came in touch with Muslim traders,
the latter's piety and honest and truthful business dealings won them
over. This happened in land after land in large parts of Asia and
Africa. Thus emerged a new dawn that ended corruption and exploitation
and brought in a new era of peace and prosperity.
To the people possessing wealth, like Qaroon (Korah in the Bible) this
is the message given by the Qur'an: "But seek, with the (wealth) which
Allah has bestowed on you, the Home of the Hereafter. Do not forget your
portion in this world: but do good, as Allah has been good to you, and
seek not (occasions for) mischief in the land: for Allah loves not those
who do mischief." [Al-Qasas, 28:77].
Thus one's wealth --- and wealth making efforts --- should be geared
towards seeking the Home in the Hereafter and one must not use them to
spread mischief on earth. Today we have forgotten the first commandment.
What is worse, through our blind following of what we mistakenly think
to be successful business practices, we are engaged in spreading
mischief, although we may not even realize it.
There is a grave responsibility and a tremendous opportunity here. By
broadening their vision Muslim businesses can make a formidable force
challenging the spread of consumerism, materialism and pop culture.
Through carefully thought out business policies and practices, they can
end exploitation --- of women, of consumers, of the poor. This is what
the world needs. This is what they need themselves. For righteous trade
is the only trade in which one can never lose.
Article Taken (with Thanks) from Albalagh.net
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