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Qur’anic Ethics for Environmental Responsibility: Implications for Business Practice

Abstract

Despite the growing interest in examining the role of religious beliefs as a guide towards environmental conscious actions, there is still a lack of research informed by an analysis of divine messages. This deficiency includes the extent to which ethics for environmental responsibility are promoted within textual divine messages; types of environmental themes promoted within the text of divine messages; and implications of such religious environmental ethics for business practice. The present study attempts to fill this gap by conducting a thorough content analysis of environmental themes within the divine message of Muslims (the Qur’an) focusing on their related ethical aspects and business implications. The analysis has revealed 675 verses in 84 chapters throughout all 30 parts of the Qur’an, with environmental content relating to the core components of the natural world, i.e. human beings, water, air, land, plants, animals, and other natural resources. This environmental content and its related ethics are grounded on the belief that humans are vicegerents of God on the earth and their behaviours and actions are motivated by earthly and heavenly rewards. Implications of these findings for different sectors/businesses are also highlighted.

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Notes

  1. From a psychological perspective, Leary and Kowalski (1990, p. 34) refer to “impression management” (may also be called self-presentation) as “the process by which individuals [and/or corporations] attempt to control the impressions others form of them”.

  2. Individuals release almost 33 % of the chemicals that form smog. They are also responsible for nearly 15 % of mercury found in domestic wastewater. Motor vehicles, consumer products, and other small, non-industrial sources now constitute 76 % of all air toxins. They also generate approximately 33 % of US greenhouse emissions, and 33 % of energy is consumed by households (Babcock 2009a, c).

  3. The Forum on Religion and Ecology (FORE) http://fore.yale.edu/about-us/ arose out of the initial dialogue in the mid-1990s on the relationship between religions and nature, and currently serves as the largest platform of its kind.

  4. It is believed by many Muslims that there is no singular (official) interpretation for the Qur’anic text. These differences in the interpretation are due to the richness of the Qur’anic text; language often tends to be symbolic, thus carrying various social and cultural meanings that can change with different schools of thoughts from different socio-cultural backgrounds (Islamic Research Foundation International, http://www.irfi.org). In this sense, interpretations of the Qur’an can be seen as synonyms, rather than antonyms, of the same text. With this in mind, the authors have chosen this Qur’anic interpretation for a number of reasons: (i) this interpretation is written by one of the key scholars of Qur’anic interpretations in recent times; (ii) the author of this Qur’anic interpretation was chosen by the Dubai International Holy Qur’an Award as the Islamic Character of 2007 for his publications, with special reference to the Qur’an interpretation; (iii) this interpretation is written in plain Arabic language, so easy to understand by non-experts; (iv) most importantly, this interpretation is informed by, and based on, other (relatively old) authenticated interpretations of highly respected scholars, by Islamic institutions worldwide, in this area of Islamic studies such as Al-Tabari, and Ibn Kathir; and (v) for every single verse, the author discusses meanings, the context, and reasons for revelations.

  5. The Qur’an (7:31) states: “And eat and drink but waste not by extravagance, certainly He (God) likes not Al-Musrifun (those who waste by extravagance)”. Accordingly, a reasonable use refers to a rational and fair use of an environmental resource (e.g. water) in a manner that is for a suitable and beneficial purpose, and that does not cause harmful results, thus not affecting the rights of others in using such a resource.

  6. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, environment is “the surroundings or conditions in which a person, animal, plant lives or operates” (http://www.oed.com) From an ecological perspective, this definition should include the notion of the relationship between the environment and its components (i.e. living and non-living objects that influence, and in turn are influenced by, surroundings) (Barrow 2005; Park 2001; Smithson et al. 2008). As ecologists and environmentalists are concerned with both biotic (living) and abiotic (non-living) components, environment may be seen as a community (i.e. ecosystem) in which organisms interact with their physical surroundings (Smithson et al. 2008). Such a view considers the human being part of the environment and a key environmental resource, which is consistent with the Qur’anic environmental perspective, yet contradicts the managerial view considering human beings and all their protection practices to belong to social ethics rather than environmental ones. Thus, this study adopts the ecological and environmental perspective regarding the human being as part (and the centre) of the environment.

  7. God says, “Verily, We did offer the trust to the heavens and the earth, and the mountains: but they refused to bear it. Yet man took it up—for, verily, he has always been prone to tyranny and foolishness” (Qur’an 33:72).

  8. However, Barlas (2009) argues that the absence of civil rights and liberties in most Muslim states makes discussions on such issues with the public difficult; therefore shifting people’s attitudes and behaviour is challenging.

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Acknowledgments

The authors would like to acknowledge the kind guidance of the editor (Professor Domenec Mele), and the four anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments and invaluable suggestions throughout the review process.

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Correspondence to Akrum Helfaya.

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Helfaya, A., Kotb, A. & Hanafi, R. Qur’anic Ethics for Environmental Responsibility: Implications for Business Practice. J Bus Ethics 150, 1105–1128 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-016-3195-6

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-016-3195-6

Keywords

  • Business practice implications
  • Corporate social responsibility
  • Environmental responsibility
  • Environmental ethics
  • Islam
  • Qur’an