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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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The Qur'anic Philosophy of Competition and Strategic Management
in the Qur‘an


The Qur'an provides a philosophical basis for the concept of competition and Strategic Management as we view them in the modern perspective. According to Thompson and Strickland (2001:3), a company’s strategy “consists of the combination of competitive moves and business approaches that managers employ to please customers, compete successfully, and achieve organizational objectives.” This authoritative statement about company strategy makes it clear that strategy is needed for competitive strength in the short term because the company needs to survive in the long term. Thus we can arrange the concepts of strategy, competition, and survival in a hierarchical order: survival requires competitive strength and competitive strength calls for appropriate strategy. Interestingly, as we will shortly see, the concept of Strategic Management is based on the above-mentioned hierarchical ordering of the three concepts. Strategic Management, viewed logically in light of the above sequence of concepts, refers to the formulation and application of strategies in the management of organizational activities to achieve competitive strength in the short term and ensure survival in the long term. The Qur’anic philosophy of competition to be discussed shortly will add new dimensions to this conceptual definition.

The Survival Game:

Life, along with success, is a game of survival for man. Charles Darwin (1809:1882) first discovered this bitter truth in the biological dimension, while its sociological dimension has been known for thousands of years, perhaps since the very beginning of thoughtful living by the Homo sapiens. History bears ample evidence to the fact that man’s survival on the earth is a function of his strategic approach to life, an approach which must include a holistic view of reality. Now, therefore, wise men no longer value the traditional belief that a superpower looks after man from outside. Not surprisingly, God Himself clarifies that He is the only Superpower but He should not be misconceived as being somewhere outside; on the country, as will be clear from the following verses, as far as man is concerned, the alleged outside is just inside him.

Your Lord is self-sufficient, full of Mercy; if it were His will, He could destroy you, and in your place appoint whom He will as your successors, just as He raised you up from the posterity of other people (6:133).

The concept of survival of the fittest and natural selection is unquestionably evident in the above verse. The following verse also testifies to this statement:

It is We Who created them, and We have made their frame strong; but when We will, We shall replace them with others like them in exchange (76:28).

The above verse refers to the process of evolution through which God shaped man’s body in different stages, reminding us of the fact that it was, and still is, a game of survival. The following verse alludes to this truth with a more specific reference:
He ... created Death and Life, so that He may try which of you is best in deed (67:2).

A concatenation of deaths and lives, constructing a continuum of possibilities for evolution through natural selection, which offers survival only to those who come up with good strategies in their activities (“best in deed”), is, therefore, something more than what it appears to be like on the face value. It is the reality that calls for strategic turns in thought to create intelligence, flexibility, and wisdom.

But what is the foundation of the strategy that will ensure survival? The following verses answer this question:
Before this we wrote in the Psalm following the Reminder, “My honorable servants shall [survive and] inherit the earth.”

God has promised to appoint [as survivors] those of you who believe [in the Unity of God] and perform honorable deeds as [His] representatives on earth ... (24:55)

These verses proclaim that those activities that are performed with a holistic approach in the mind keeping in view the ecological unity of reality, are honorable and create value for survival. The Qur'an says that man must not do injustice to himself. In fact, if he does injustice to anything on earth, it will amount to no other than doing injustice to himself, as his being is related to everything in the universe somehow or other:

If God were to punish men according to what they deserve, He would not leave on the back of the (Earth) a single living creature (since the existence of every other living being is linked with men’s activities somehow or other) (35:45).

According to the Qur’an, a sin is an act of injustice to oneself. The following verses reveal this truth:
Say: O my servants who have transgressed against their (own) souls, despair not of the Mercy of God, for God forgives all sins for He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful (39:53).

This view of sin and justice or injustice is strongly in harmony with the view of sin and injustice held by modern ecology and environmental sciences. For example, Golley (1999), in his book A Primer for Environmental Literacy, means a lot when he makes the brief comment: The self and the environment form a whole (p:8). The widely popular Gaia Hypothesis put forward by James Lovelock (1919- ) states that “the Earth’s surface conditions are regulated by the activities of life”. The following verse summarizes this hypothesis:
God has created Heaven and Earth for a true purpose, and so every soul may be rewarded for whatever it has earned (through what it has done), and they will not be harmed (because the mechanism of the creation itself serves as the formula for transforming activities into events that represent consequences of those activities) (45:22).

This hypothesis implies that were life to be eliminated, “the surface conditions on Earth would revert to those interpolated for a planet between Mars and Venus (Margulies and Hinkle 1988 quoted in Golley 1999:31)". The verse (35:45) quoted above directly echoes this comment.


The above discussion clarifies that unless man follows good strategy, he cannot survive on earth, and unless a strategy is considered from an ecological point of view, it cannot be considered viable. In other words, man has to consider strategy and ethics together.

But how can one unify strategic management practices and ethics? The Qur’an gives an excellent solution: by following the philosophy of competition – a competition between two good courses of action leading toward the better:

      ......... compete in doing good deeds (5:48).
They believe in God and the last day (of reckoning/judgment/performance appraisal) and they enjoy what is right and forbid the wrong, and they compete with one another in hastening to do good things, and those are among the good. And whatever good they do, they shall not be denied it (and they shall reap its reward), and God knows those who guard (against evil deeds) (3:114-115).

These verses say that the long-term consequence of competing in doing good things is always good and only those who believe in meeting the bad consequences of their deeds and expect an unbiased performance appraisal can do that. But those who define justice from their own self-centered points of view, on the contrary, engage themselves in unhealthy competition.

And you will see many of them competing with one another to hasten in sin (bad deeds) and exceeding the limits [of ethics and law], and their eating of what is unlawfully acquired [earned through unethical competition, bribery, adulteration etc.]; certainly evil is that which they do (5:62).  

The most important guiding principle of competition, however, is having patience, for the absence of this important dimension of competition may destroy the very purpose thereof:

O you who believe [in the unity of all reality], persevere in patience and constancy (of efforts and of such patience): compete in such perseverance.... And fear God that you may prosper (3:200).

This verse relates competition and success (prosperity, development) by perseverance and patience. It is at this point that the ethics of competition demands to be considered part of the philosophy of strategy.

If the result of competition always leads activities from the good toward the better, then the strategies developed to aid such competition will always be holistic, viable, and constructive. And it is only those who have a strong feeling of responsibility to the world that can follow this philosophy:            

Surely We offered the trust (the responsibility of bearing the truth) to the heavens and the earth and the mountains, but they refused to be unfaithful to it [because they knew that it would be impossible for them not to transgress the limits] and feared from it, and man has turned unfaithful to it; surely he is unjust (to himself), ignorant [of who he is in relation to the Truth that he is bearing] (33:72).


         j      Golley, Frank B., A Primer for Environmental Literacy (University Press, India 1998).
         k      Thompson, Jr. Arthur A., and Strickland III, A. J., Strategic Management: Concepts and Cases (McGraw-Hill, Irwin 2001).



Continued ...



Author of:

Secret Knowledge of the Qur'an