Understanding Islam as an Entrepreneurial Religion

* This interview is originally published in My Salaam website.

Postdoctoral scholar Ali Aslan Gumusay’s work involves organization theory, entrepreneurship, business ethics and leadership. Here, he explains entrepreneurship from an Islamic perspective.

1. What are you currently working on?

At the heart of my research are issues around people, organizations and societal values, guided by the general question, “How do values and meaning shape organizations, and how are they managed?” In particular, I look at the role of religion in leadership, management, business ethics and entrepreneurship.

2. What is entrepreneurship from an Islamic perspective (EIP)?

Entrepreneurship from an Islamic perspective is based on three pillars: value creation, values enactment and a metaphysical pursuit towards God. It is a holistic approach that brings religious beliefs, values and meaning to the core of entrepreneurial endeavors.

3. Why is it important to acknowledge the role of religion in entrepreneurship?

Religion is a social fact that matters to millions of people around the world. Entrepreneurs, in particular, are often driven by purpose; that purpose is frequently based on an underlying faith. More explicitly, ventures are shaped by religious guidelines about products, processes and practices, beliefs, and behaviors.

4. How do the growing Islamic economies affect the study of Islam’s role in entrepreneurship?

The Islamic market grows due to three reasons. First, the global Muslim population is growing and expected to be around 2.3 billion in 2030. Second, many Muslims become more affluent customers. Third, it seems that their consumption is increasingly shaped by some religious awareness. All this makes EIP relevant.

5. What is the advantage of EIP over Western entrepreneurship theories in Islamic countries?

Oftentimes, Islamic countries try to adapt a Western theory to their context—and fail. EIP is more than a simple summation of Islam and entrepreneurship. It shapes the very core of what entrepreneurship is. This means that it does not simply add doing good to a profit-maximizing firm but rather reforms the notion and role of profit itself. 

6. Why do you see Islam as an entrepreneurial religion, and what sets EIP apart from other theories of entrepreneurship?

Islam encourages and enables entrepreneurial activities: opportunity, pursuit, risk-taking and innovation. It tells people to seek in this world but not be consumed by it. Its financial arrangements forbid interest and instead support financial investments that can be regarded as venture capital. And it explicitly allows anything that is not forbidden in social affairs (muamalat). In contrast, in worship (ibadat), everything that is not allowed is forbidden.

Unfortunately, many management scholars shy away from religion. EIP tries to depict the empirical reality of religious people. What sets it apart is that EIP theorizes the role of religion, which is so central to many Muslim entrepreneurs.

7. What are the challenges of researching and developing theories on EIP?

Generally, religion is a very contested topic, as many of us have strong views about it. At the same time, it is often viewed as a private concern and not a scholarly matter, and hence it is not discussed and theorized enough. Specifically, some scholars and managers think that management, as a science and practice, should not talk about religion. However, management is a social science and, I believe, needs to explain reality, whether that reality is religious or not.

8. How do you see your research making a difference?

I hope that my work gives people tools to understand how their own faith or the faith of colleagues, employees and other stakeholders impact their professional life. For instance, I told one manager about the notion of wor(k)ship; that is, that a Muslim manager combines work with worship. She responded, this is exactly what I do, wor(k)ship, and now I have a word for it.

Read more about Ali Aslan Gumusay’s work atwww.guemuesay.com.