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The Islamic Sustainability Approach In ESG

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Credited with revolutionising the American transportation industry in the 20th century, Henry Ford once remarked that: “A business must be run at a profit, else it will die. But when anyone attempts to run a business solely for profit and thinks not at all about a service to the community, then also the business must die, for it no longer has a reason for existence”.

Nearly a hundred years since, these words of wisdom remain true. Perhaps, even more so now than ever, with Islamic sustainability taking center stage. Indeed, we have witnessed time and again, episodes of excessiveness, and the sole and unchecked pursuit of profits that have led to global financial crises.

ESG is a spirit beyond profit, and is therefore a fitting reminder of the role of ESG in helping build a more resilient and sustainable future.

Islamic Principles And The UN SDGs

The Islamic transaction (muamalat) principle aspires to build a shared sustainable future for employees, consumers, shareholders, and the community, in accordance with the requirements of Shariah, observing the guidance from the United Nations Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aim to bring the world’s countries together in order to eradicate all forms of poverty, reduce inequalities, promote human rights, combat climate change and promote good governance within organisations.

Overall, the correlation of the 17 SDGs and maqasid-al-Shariah (objectives of Shariah) aim to push the globe towards a more sustainable and resilient path, as well as building a better community and for society’s economic, social, and environmental consequences.

Maqasid-Al-Shariah

The call for maqasid-al-Shariah not only complies with Shariah requirements but also achieves the intended outcomes of Shariah. These focuses on the enhancement of well-being of people through the preservation of wealth (mal), faith (din), lives (nafs), lineage (nasl) and intellect (‘aql).

The word ‘maqasid’ means objectives, aspirations or aims, while Shariah is ‘the Divine law as revealed unto the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him)’. Therefore, the term ‘maqasid-al-Shariah’ means the objectives and goals underlying the Law of Islam.

Islamic finance is developed to emphasise the attainment of positive value creation and prevention of negative impact. In a broader sense, maqasid-al-Shariah covers the accomplishment of well-being and the avoidance of harm: “Do good, do no evil – Amal Ma’ruf Nahi Munkar.”

Islamic Sustainability In ESG

Image by rawpixel.com on Freepik

An Islamic sustainability economic definition is that the current economic needs must be within the scope of not causing harm to future generations. In Islam, the rights of a person and the organisation are clearly defined by religion.

It is further strengthened by the application of the code of ethics in business dealing based on Islamic values. For that, ethical investments and social responsibilities of individuals also apply to business, which is the catalyst in promoting economic sustainability.

Islam does not prevent any form of trade and business, as the religion recognises that work and business are part of the worship of God. An individual or a company is entitled to a return from capital commitments and efforts in the context of an economic venture. The only concern is the context of the application of ESG elements to the profit-making process, as long as it is subject to the scope of ESG compliance.

In a business context, any business that claims to comply with the Shariah jurisdiction must be clear about their role in society in providing goods and services that serve public interest in addition to profit. The permissible range of choices of Islamic investment is wide, as long as it involves investment in companies and businesses that undertake the deployment of funding on Shariah-compliant businesses and operations.

“Developing a comprehensive and robust ESG response is becoming increasingly crucial to enhance business resilience and viewed as an important catalyst for long-term value creation,” said Tan Sri Abdul Wahid Omar, Chairman of Bursa Malaysia.

Businesses that aim to be relevant in the long-run sees the investment of adhering with ESG requirements paying off, regardless of conglomerate
corporations or SMEs. Conglomerates will benefit from positive reputation building and branding apart from complying with regulatory requirements, while SMEs will be benefiting through access to better financing capacity from financial institutions who adopt ESG through respective Value-Based Intermediation (VBI) initiatives. Non-monetary aspects include wider market access to business opportunities.

Main component of Islam

Source: Certified Professional Shariah Auditor (CPSA) reference book

Islamic Sustainability: The Way Forward

ESG and Islamic sustainability is going to be a megatrend and the E(nvironmental), S(ocial), and G(overnance) concepts are key market and business drivers today and in the future. The holistic adoption of Islamic principles in Shariah-compliant businesses is in line with the spirit of ESG without affecting the whole business practice.

Fulfilling the ESG agenda will ensure the prosperity of businesses by focusing on profit, people and the planet; while ESG criteria will be used to guide businesses based on corporate policies and to encourage businesses to act responsibly within the ESG framework. Businesses have no other choice but to gear up their readiness to embrace the ESG agenda within their respective organisations.

With Islamic principles induced, it will smoothen the whole agenda of Islamic sustainability.

About the Author

Haji Mohamad Faisal is a Managing Partner of Faisal Malik & Co (CA), a member of Islamic Finance Committee (IFC) of Malaysian Institute of Accountants (MIA), a Director of Islamic Shariah Audit Malaysia (ISAM). He is also a Certified Professional Syariah Audit Malaysia (CPSA). He can be contacted at admin@faisalmalikco.com.

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