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A Shi’a Islam Approach to Wisdom in Management: A Deep Understanding Opening to Dialogue and Dialectic

Abstract

This paper considers how a Shi’a Islamic perspective of wisdom can inform contemporary business ethics theory. Given the growing business ethics literature that adopts an Islamic orientation, it is vital that Islamic tenets in a business context are established. Thus, this paper thoroughly researches the tenets of Shi’a wisdom theory using a hermeneutic analysis, guided also by Iranian theological scholars of ancient Persian and Arabic foundational texts, to provide a comprehensive explanation of the foundations of Shi’a faith relevant to business ethics. Having established the principles of Shi’a wisdom, we outline points of consonance and dissonance in comparison to the Western humanist, primarily Aristotelian, orientations to wisdom. Although identifying apparently irreconcilable differences, this analysis reveals important elements of Shi’a wisdom theory that can significantly invigorate and influence business ethics theory.

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Appendix 1: Shi’a Islam and Shi’a Denominations

Appendix 1: Shi’a Islam and Shi’a Denominations

All Muslims adopt the fundamental principles of the belief that was introduced during the life of the Prophet Mohammad. These principles—the belief in the Quran, recognising the prophet as the last messenger of God, and the unity of God—are universally shared among Muslims, regardless of sect. The difference between sects usually revolves around the question of what happens after Prophet Mohammad’s death, rather than during his lifetime. Hence, since the Prophet died in 632 AD, there have been ongoing disagreements among Muslims on several issues. One of the most critical divisions in Islam is the split between Shi’a and Sunni. In brief, the Shi’a believe in the leadership of the Household of the Prophet after his passing, while the Sunnis believe in the leadership of other close companions of the prophet. In the beginning, this division was not deep, but gradually over the centuries these divisions deepened (Nagel, 1999).

There is no clear line of difference between the Sunnis and the Shi’a. All Shi’a believe in the Imamat—or spiritual leadership—of Ali, who was Prophet Mohammad’s son-in-law; but differences remain between different Shi’a sects such as the number of infallible Imams, and as a result what Hadeeth books or collection to draw from. There have been leadership and succession disputes among the Shi’a which have led to the emergence of different branches of Shi’a Islam. Zaydiyyah, Ismaili and Imamieh Shi’a (aka, the Twelve-Imami) are among the essential Shi’a denominations (Chelongar et al., 2009). We briefly describe the sects below.

Zaydiyyah

The Zaydiyyah (Zaydi) division of Shi’a is named after Zayd-ibn-Ali, grandson of Ḥossain-ibn-Ali. They believe that Zayd-ibn-Ali was the real Imam. They do not recognise a true Imam until he actively fights against tyrants. Therefore, unlike the Twelve-Imami Shi’a, the Zaydis recognise Zayd-ibn-Ali as the real fifth Imam because of his military campaign against the Umayyad government, which they believe was illegitimate. Most Twelve-Imami Shi’a think that Zayd-ibn-Ali’s brother, Mohammad Al-Baqir, was the true Fifth Imam. The Zaydis do not recognise him because he did not fight the Umayyad dynasty. Theologically, the Shi’a Zaydis are closer to the majority Sunnites than the other Shi’a. They differ on some fundamental principles with the Twelve-Imami Shi’a: they do not believe in the messianic notion of the Hidden Imam, Al-Mahdi, and do not believe that the Imams receive divine guidance that confers infallibility (Zaidon and Jafarian, 2018).

Ismaili

The Ismaili division, formed through the late 8th and early ninth centuries, stressed the twofold nature of the Quranic interpretation as both exoteric (exterior reality) and esoteric (interior knowledge). Ismailis believe that the family of the Prophet Mohammad was divinely selected, infallible, and guided by God to guide the Islamic community (Khalili, 2016). Ismailis believe that each Imam has the Light of God within himself, which is passed down in the line of the prophet (Goyushov et al., 2012).

The Twelve-Imami Shi’a accept as reality that after Imam Jaʿfar’s death (765), Imam Mūsā Al-Kāẓim took the place of the “Imamat” or leadership, but the Islamilis chose to follow another child of Imam Jaʿfar, Ismaʿil. Hence, this branch of Shi’a is recognised as the Ismaili. More or less, they believe that Ismail was the seventh and last Imam. Therefore, they are known as the “Seveners”, who later claimed that Ismail’s son Mohammad Al-Tamm would return at the finish of the world as the Mahdi to reinstate justice (Musa & Tan, 2017).

The Imamieh or the Twelve-Imami Shi’a

Imamieh Shi’a, which is also known as the Twelve-Imami Shi’a (in Persian) or Athnā ‘ashariyyah (in Arabic), is the largest branch of Shi’a. The sect is the dominant sect in Iran, Iraq, Azerbaijan, and Bahrain. Large societies of the Twelve-Imami Shi’a Islam also live in India, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and Pakistan, with some in Yemen, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Oman, the UAE, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Qatar, Tanzania and Chad. Iran had a Sunni majority until the early sixteenth century when a dynasty of Turkish culture, the Safavids, emerged and made Imamieh Shi’a the formal religion. Iran is today the only country which has approved Imamieh Shi’a as the public religion.

The very term “Twelve-Imami”, which is a word for word translation for “Athnā-’ashariyyah” in Arabic, refers to Shi’a’s belief in twelve divinely ordained Imams: twelve male offspring of the Prophet Mohammad. Like other Muslim groups, Imamieh Shi’a fully accept the unity of God, the Quran as the word of God, and Prophet Mohammad as the last prophet. But along with the words and the deeds of Prophet Mohammad, they consider the words and the acts of the infallible Imams from the family of the prophet, a divine reference point for the community of believers (Mohebali, 2009). Because the other Imams, who were Ali’s children, were killed, they are considered as martyrs. There is an element in Imamieh Shi’a beliefs as Shi’a Muslims believe that the last Imam, Mohammad Al-Mahdi, never died and lives invisibly (or “the Hidden Imam”) before he emerges to reinstate justice in the world. They believe that the return of Mohammad Al-Mahdi will come about at a similar time as the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, who will assist the final Mohammad Al-Mahdi against the evil figure in Islam (Sachedina, 1981).

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Rahmati, M.H., Intezari, A. & McKenna, B. A Shi’a Islam Approach to Wisdom in Management: A Deep Understanding Opening to Dialogue and Dialectic. J Bus Ethics (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-021-04958-2

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Keywords

  • Shi'a
  • Wisdom
  • Hermeneutic analysis