In the modern world, Muslims – those who embrace Islam and its laws – account for approximately 21.01 percent or 1,409,139,261 of the entire world population. Muslims also represent a majority in more than 50 countries. This means that more than one person in five heeds Islam’s call, embracing the religion at a rate that makes it the fastest-growing of all religions on earth.
The values that this one-fifth of the world’s population shares are very strong. Islam is equated with identity and defines behavior in a way that makes ‘how’ things are done as important as the ‘things’ themselves, so the gap between belief and behavior is almost non-existent. A strong sense of community and welfare underpins all activity in the Islamic world and informs its business ethics (Beekun 1996).
The impressive number of the Muslim population translates into real economic figures, with some Muslim countries today being, by far, among the richest in the world. Moreover, those 1.4 billion Muslims live in economically feasible numbers in almost all countries in the world, with very few countries reporting small Muslim minorities that are hard to capitalize on commercially.
The largest Islamic body, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), is composed of the economies of 57 member states, 50 of which are overtly Muslim. The remaining members have large Muslim populations, although Muslims are not a majority in them. The percentage of Muslims in Russia, e.g., stands at approximately 15 percent, yet Russia is a member state. India, on the other hand, has a Muslim population of 150 million but its membership into the OIC is blocked by some countries, mainly Pakistan, due to geopolitical reasons. Those 57 countries have a combined GDP of nearly USD 8 trillion (before the oil boom of 2008). The richest country on the basis of GDP per capita is the United Arab Emirates. On the basis of per capita GDP, Qatar is the richest country with incomes exceeding USD 62,299. The recent boom in oil prices has significantly increased these figures in all oil-producing Muslim countries. In 2008, Abu Dhabi, a member emirate in the United Arab Emirates, had a per capita income of USD 75,000, double that of most European countries, and almost double the US figure. These countries currently import USD 1 trillion worth of products and export USD 1.4 trillion, creating a growing combined market of USD 2.4 trillion.
Islam encourages work in general, and trade and commerce in particular. The Quran states: ‘God has made business lawful for you’ (Quran 2:275), and Prophet Mohammad says: ‘Nine-tenths of sustenance is in commerce’. Prophet Mohammad was himself engaged in commerce before prophethood. He was a successful businessman known for integrity and he bore the title, ‘the trustworthy’ (Kattih n.d.). Islamic business practices and perspectives represent an alternative to the way business is conducted today. Islam requires that traders, both organizations and individuals, achieve a balance between commercialism and humanitarianism, and between profit and social responsibility. Not only does this approach to business conduct provide a solution to the problems of profiteering, customer exploitation, irresponsible corporate governance, and environmental destruction, it seeks to promote positive aspects of business such as honest conduct, reasonable profit, fair competition, high standard of service culture, business partnership, cooperation, the minimum wage for employees and basic consumerism principles such as the right of buyers to return purchased goods (Yusoff 2002).