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Theory of Knowledge

Reconstruction of Qur’anic Thoughts with an Attempt to Unify Rationalism and Empiricism

By S.M. Zakir Hussain (Bangladesh)

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Concepts of Generic Business Strategies
in the Qur‘an


There are several descriptions of and commandments for strategic conducts in the Qur‘an that can be juxtaposed with the generic concepts of business strategies to find illuminating parallels between managerial experiences and the divine codes of conduct. Such juxtaposition, over and above serving the purposes of academic interests and quenching intellectual thirst, can also redirect our freedom of choice in our management practices in order to help reconsider the limits of our freedom of choice in our vigorously competitive activities. Moreover, such a descriptive-analytical study will encourage us to reconsider the empirical implications of the related assertions of the Qur'an vis-à-vis the real situations of planned activities by the modern calculative man.

The need for competition:

God instructs man to deliberately get involved in competitive activities:

Compete in doing good deeds (5:48).

Understandably, this prescribed, and unquestionably essential, competition in doing good things has been designed for no other than promoting development and thereby ensuring greater well-being of worldly life. Life is a struggle, recognized as such not only by man throughout history but also by God Himself, which He describes in a succinct language:

Surely we have created man into toil and struggle (90:4).

The vital force of this struggle is the never-ending enthusiasm for the ‘better’ in place of the ‘good’, for today’s good, if not replaced by the better, will surely turn out to be worse in the near future. Hence the necessity of a continual escalation of efforts. This longing for the better is the only healthy course of behavior in a world of evolving reality, a course true of even religious beliefs and practices.

And follow the best that has been revealed to you from your Lord (39:55) .

Those who listen to the Word, then follow the best (among the available alternatives) of it; those are they whom God has guided) by enabling them to make prudent choices) and those it is who are men of understanding.

In the above verses God emphasizes the necessity to understand the importance of choosing the best among the alternatives available.

Thus the significance of the competition for the better easily enlightens us to look for a philosophy of competition which will ensure a sustainable development.

Product Innovation:

Product innovation or product development is “offering modified or new products to current markets (Kotler and Armstrong 1996:42)”. It is a growth strategy for companies. The philosophy of this strategy is contained in the following verse:

None of Our revelations do We cancel or cause to be forgotten, but We substitute something better or similar (2:106).

Here God talks of replacing specific verses of the Qur‘an to fit the needs of the changing reality. The principle underlying this process is replacing something good with something better, which precisely matches with the idea of product innovation. This strategy has special advantages; it can shake up the structure of competition by broadening an industry’s customer base, rejuvenating industry growth, and widening the degree of product differentiation among rival sellers. (Thomson & Strickland 2001:96).


Offensive Strategies:

There are various types of offensive strategies that serve different purposes in different situations. Offensive strategies “are aggressive and amount to directing challenges to competitiors’ market positions (Thompson & Strickland 2001:55).” They are meant to capitalize on the company’s strengths. The main principle of all offensive strategies is summarized in the following verse:

“... Assault them at the (proper) gate: when once you are in, victory will be yours (5:23) .

We can paraphrase this verse in business phraseology as follows to bring out its strategic implications:
Assault them before they are awake with distinctive competitive advantages; once you have successfully crafted and applied your moves, you will gain a competitive advantage.

Market Segmentation Strategies:

“Market segmentation involves aggregating prospective buyers into groups that (1) have common needs and (2) will respond similarly to a marketing action. The groups that result from this process are market segments, a relatively homogeneous collection of prospective buyers (Berkowitz et al. 2000:256).” Once a market has been studied thoroughly and segmented, the company can fruitfully devise product differentiation strategies. “In its broadest sense, product differentiation involves a firm’s using different marketing mix activities, such as product features and advertising to help consumers perceive the product as being different and better than competing products. The perceived difference may involve physical features or nonphysical ones, such as image or price (Berkowitz it al., 2000:256).”

“... Take precautions, and either go forth in parties or go forth all together” (4:71).

We can relate specific implications to different phrases of the above verse as follows:

Take precautions: Have strategic motive; be calculative; be proactive; do the necessary analysis before taking any decision.

Go forth in parties: Set different sub-goals to achieve the overall goals;
segment the field and develop distinctively different sets of moves; maintain a portfolio.

Go forth all together: Conglomerate; coordinated efforts; strategic control ie, maintain a togetherness in the segmentation.

The compact integration of the two phrases “go forth in parties” and “go forth all together” reminds one of the need for unbroken coordination among all differential moves, of the need for a feeling of unity behind all diversity. The following verse very succinctly emphasizes this necessity:

Those who ... separate what God has ordered to be joined ... cause losses only to themselves.

One implication of the clause “what God has ordered to be joined” can be “what are to be essentially and naturally interconnected according to the related laws of equilibrium”. Keeping this implication in mind, one can conceptualize a wide range of phenomena related to segmentation strategies from the above verse. Most of all, as far as strategies are concerned, firm determination is no less important than intellectual inter linking of activities in becoming successful in the present times. This is put forth in the following verse:

You shall certainly be tried and tested in your possessions and in your personal selves; and you shall certainly hear much that will grieve you .... But if you persevere patiently ... then that will be a determining factor in all affairs (3:186).
Game Theory:

Game theory is the deductive, mathematical approach to formulating counter strategies vis-à-vis the strategies already formulated by the competitor. “Instead of asking, inductively, what we can infer from the competitor’s past behavior, one seeks to determine a rival’s most profitable counter strategy to one’s own ‘best’ moves and to formulate the appropriate defensive measures. This is the approach which game theory has adopted (Baumol 1997:438).” The following verse gives a beautiful analogy to this approach:

And (they) plotted and planned, and God, too, planned, and the best of planners is God (3:54).

Here God tells us that He formulates His plans in light of the plans formulated by wicked people and that it is through the plans of theirs that His plans work. Not only that, the juxtaposition of the two opposing moves “(they) planned”and " God, too, planned" by connecting them with “and” implies that God’s formulation of plans is the cumulative outcome of the formulations of those who plan against the Truth, which is why His plans turn to be the best. It, therefore, can be said to have served as a perfect analogy of the logical structure of the approach of the Game Theory.

Differentiation Strategy:

According to Michael E. Potter, “Competitive strategy is about being different. It means deliberately choosing to perform activities differently or to perform different activities than rivals to deliver a unique mix of value (quoted in Thompson & Strickland 2001:148).”

God has adopted this very attitude in differentiating the rituals of Islam from those of other religions previously revealed – the attitude of deliberately being different from others mainly for the sake of uniqueness. The following verse is worth considering; it relates to the sudden change in the Qibla (direction faced in prayer) while earlier the Muslims followed the Qibla of the Christians:
The fools among the people will say: “What has turned them from the Qibla to which they were used?” Say [O Muhammad (PBUH!]: to God belong both East and West ... We appointed the Qibla to which you were used, only to test those who followed the apostle from those who would turn on their heels (from the Faith). Indeed it was (a change) momentous, except to those guided by God (2:143).

Although the change was “momentous” to those who would falter in their faith, it was actually insubstantial for those who had perfect faith, because faith has basically nothing to do with the physical direction to which one faces during one’s prayer, since the East and the West both belong to God and since:

Virtue does not mean for you to turn your face towards the East and the West, but virtue means one should believe in God [Alone], the Last Day, angels, the Book and prophets (2:177).

Rather, it was a matter of creating uniqueness in rituals. God Himself avers that each human being, even each group of people, has their unique choice – the peculiarity of feeling arising out of their common cultural make-up, historical conditioning or genetic characteristics, to which the rituals deemed to be valuable to them must be matched in a natural way. Such uniqueness of man’s individual, social, as well as cultural psychology is precisely described in the following verse:

... They would not follow your Qibla; nor are you going to follow their Qibla; nor indeed will they follow each other’s Qibla (2:145).

This lack of flexibility of people, considered individually or in groups, is responsible for all the individualities in the panorama of human personality. God tells us that this diversity, including the overwhelming continuum of biodiversity, is His deliberate creation:
If God had so willed, He would have made you a single people, but (His plan is) to test you in what He has given you (4:48).

This phenomenon accounts for the need for differentiation, market segmentation, and overall, adding a uniqueness to every product and brand to trap people’s choices as if through the process of the natural selection.

TQM as Strategy:

Total Quality management (TQM), an outgrowth of an emerging American perspective on quality that can be traced to changes in Japanese management practices immediately following World War II, is a management view that strives to create a customer-centered activity aimed at attaining quality-related goods. It is not merely a technique, but a philosophy anchored in the belief that long-run success depends on a uniform commitment to quality in all sectors of the organization (Gatewood et. all. 1995:182).

The concept of TQM rests largely on five principles (Gatewood quality work the first time, focus on the customer, strategic holistic approach to improvement, continuous improvement as a way of life, and mutual respect and teamwork. The essence of the philosophy of TQM is contained in the following verse:

Not equal are things that are bad and things that are good, even though the abundance of bad may dazzle you; so fear God, O you that understand, (so) that you may prosper (5:100).

The following striking implications of the above verse are worth paying attention to:

  • Quality and non-quality should be deliberately distinguished from each other.
  • Quality and non-quality cannot be distinguished except by the use of proper understanding.
  • External appearances of goods neither imply nor ensure quality.


  • Quality is as much a matter of ethics (“so fear God”) as of strategy (“(so) that you may prosper”).

The last point is very instructive. It establishes the TQM as a strategic movement for a sustainable competitive advantage, which is echoed in the following words of Stoner et. al. (1996:287): “A successful TQM program may change the structure of an organization through conversion to a more team-oriented, work-empowered approach; it changes the culture as the commitment to quality is institutionalized and organization members at all levels think about quality in new way; and it changes operations through improved processes, clarified instructions, modeling of behavior by top management, and training in new ways to accomplish work. This form of strategic implementation is far from easy.” This “far from easy” approach only can ensure improvement and successful survival:

Have we not made for him [ = man] a pair of eyes? ... And shown him two highways? But he has not chosen the path that is steep (hard) (90:8-11).

Obviously, the Qur‘an says that only those who have understanding (having a pair of eyes) choose the “far from easy” path.

Ethics as strategy:

Business ethics refers to moral principles and standards that define acceptable behavior in management. Ethical considerations exist in nearly all management decisions (Gatewood et. al. 1995:92). In the modern times one of the most important issues regarding managerial responsibilities is the ethical consideration because, as many critics say, we “live in the time of ‘the ethics crisis’ (Stoner et. al. 1995:106).” The issue has attracted the attention of business thinkers so much that some analysts are resorting to spiritual speculations in order to transform the values systems of managers (see, for example, Chakraborty 1996) by inviting their attention to holistic approaches in which spirituality would be accepted as the background. Ethics relates business strategies to both the internal and the external environments. Therefore, any strategic approach needs to be holistic to be successful (see Hutchinson in Welford and Starkey ed, 1996:85ff). Ethics, at the fundamental level of any organization, has the greatest ‘survival value’. In the words of Wood (1994:134): “Ethical standards develop so that all those choice-making individuals who make up society can live together”. As a result, business ethics goes beyond legal issues; ethical decisions foster trust among individuals and in business relationships. Unethical decisions destroy trust and make the continuation of business difficult, if not impossible (Gatewood 1995:93). All these points make it clear that ethics can not be adopted as the best strategy in business. God also says so in the Qur‘an:

Fight in the cause of God those who fight you, but do not transgress limits, for God loves not transgressors (2:190).

The above verse declares that there should be ethics even in battles.

O you who believe, stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to God, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor, for God can best protect both, and if you distort (justice) or decline to do justice, surely God is well-acquainted with all that you do (4:135).

In the above verse God assures “protection”, and thus survival, for those who, if needed, oppose themselves to do good deeds. This is the strategic benefit of doing justice. The following verse reveals this truth with glaring directions:
O you who believe, guard your own minds (from evil); if you follow (right) guidance, no hurt can come to you ... (5:105).

1.   Baumol, William J., Economic Theory and Operations Analysis (Prentice-Hall of India Pvt. Ltd. 1997).
2.   Berkowits, Eric N., Kerin, Roger A., and Redelius William, Marketing (Irwin Mc-Graw-Hill 2000).
3.   Chakraborty, S.K., Ethics in Management: Vedantic Perspectives (Oxford University Press, Delhi 1996)
4.   Gatewood, Robert D., Taylor, Robert R., and Ferrel, O.C. Management: Comprehension, Analysis, and Application (Irwin 1995)
5.   Hutchinson, Colin, Corporate Strategy and the Environment see Wellford and Starkey.
6.   Kotler, Philip and Armstrong, Gary, Principles of Marketing (Prentice Hall, NJ, 1996).
7.   Stoner, James A.F., Freeman, R. Edward, and Gilbert Jr., Daniel R, Management (Prentice-Hall 1996).
8.   Thompson, Jr. Arthur A., and Strickland III, A.J., Strategic Management: Concepts and Cases (McGraw-Hill Irwin 2001).
9.   Welford, Richard and Starkey, Richard, (eds.), Business and the Environment (University Press, India 1996).


Continued ...



Author of:

Secret Knowledge of the Qur'an