Akhism – Business and Professional Ethics

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Through Akhism, which was an economic union and organization in Islamic history, it was intended that al Madinatu’l Fadhila (the Ideal Society) would be established among Muslims. There are many lessons that may be drawn from this particular experience in history.

Ethics is a system of rules and principles which regulates the relations between people, provides the society with trust, peace, order and bliss, and which is a touchstone of what it is good and what it is bad for society. Ethics, which is an indispensable part of the life of a society, is crucial in business life as well as in all other walks of life.

The most important component of a healthy society is ethics. The human creature is a being comprised of two aspects, material and spiritual, and s/he has needs associated with both of these two aspects. Belief and ethics constitute the spiritual aspect of the human being. If the spiritual aspect is ignored, it is inevitable sooner or later that the social problems will develop which are witnessed so extensively these days, such as lying, bribery, corruption, and cheating, which destroy the social order and make it difficult to live. For that reason, to overcome the aforementioned problems, every institution prefers to determine its own basic ethical principles.

From this point forward, the Islamic ethics-originated “business and professional ethics of Akhism (being in a brotherhood relationship)”, which is an exceptional union and organization in which a balance was achieved between spiritual and material life, takes our attention. Akhism was an economic, social and cultural institution which was prevalent in an area extending from Anatolia to the Balkans and Crimea between the 13th and 19th centuries. Akhism, which considers business as sacred and work as worship, which is dependent on cooperation and social solidarity, and which adopts quality and service to the customer as an important principle, represents an understanding of ethics which reinforces professional development through constant education.

There are two different views on the origin of the word ‘akhism’. The first one is that the word derives from ‘akhy’ which means ‘my brother’ in Arabic. The second one is that it originates from the Turkish word ‘akı’, meaning ‘generous’, which may be found in books such as Divan-u Lughati’t-Turk and Atabatu’l Haqa’iq.

Western Orientalists who have carried out extensive research on the issue have traced the sources of Akhism to the East, to the ‘Futuwwa’ (Chivalry) organizations which developed among the Arabs beginning in the 11th century.

The main markers of the vision of the Akhis were the futuwwanamas (the constitutions of the guilds), which originated from the Qur’an and the Sunnah. The futuwwanamas were the books containing the principles that needed to be practised, which the joining members used to read frequently. The futuwwanamas, containing the principles and rules which the Akhis obeyed and practised in their daily lives, were books which were Sufism-inspired and related to an education of ethics and virtue, and were aimed at training the ideal man. As it may be concluded, the fact that Akhism depends theoretically on the futuwwanamas based on Islamic principles shows to what extent Islamic ethics are effective in the understanding of the professional ethics of Akhism.

All the moral principles in Akhism are at the service of the Akhism institution’s ideal of establishing al Madinatu’l Fadhila, which is the perfect and prosperous society. In other words, establishing order on the earth is an indispensable purpose of the Akhis.

Therefore, since the purpose is to establish a perfect order and to systematize the principles of general ethics in a detailed way according to that order, undoubtedly, these moral principles, and the Islamic moral principles which are their roots, will be relevant particularly to business and professional ethics. We will enumerate a few of the informal professional ethical principles of Akhism which are formed as a result of this awareness:

  1. 1. “The Akhy should have work, especially a craft in which he will carry out his labour.”

We conclude that work is emphasised from the principle, “The Akhy should have work and a craft”. As a matter of fact, idleness is considered to be useless and irrational.

  1. 2. “The Akhy should engage in only one type of work or craft which is appropriate to his skills, instead of engaging in several different ones.”

According to that understanding, engaging in several different types of work is equal to engaging in nothing at all. Thanks to this understanding, every Akhy excelled in a specific craft. In that way, the quality of every product and the labour put into it was of the highest standard.

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As can be concluded, the Akhism organization stipulated that the Akhy should choose a craft and specialize in it, in order that the customer would get what he wanted in the best quality. Thus, it shifted the focus of the competition of the craftsmen to producing the high-quality goods required.

  1. 3. “The Akhy should be honest and should not seek ways of gaining more than he deserves.”

The Akhy considers the human being as the most honourable of created beings in the universe and holds them in great respect. As a result of this understanding, he would treat everybody fairly irrespective of their religion, race, colour and gender, and sanctions would be imposed upon those who did not do so.

  1. 4. “The Akhy should maintain solidarity.”

What is meant here by ‘solidarity’ is not in terms of corps et biens (life and property), but it is about making income cooperative, since the ambition for excess profits was definitely discouraged since it might destroy the feeling of solidarity.

  1. 5. “The Akhis regard the apprentices working with them as human beings whose skills need to be improved and who need to have a profession, rather than as workers to be exploited.”

We can infer from this informal business ethic that the master and the workers working with them used to regard their relationship as that of father-and-son, and thus they established a warm family atmosphere in business life.

  1. 6. “Akhism is against greed and abusive trading practices, running after collecting and saving money and property.”

What is basic in Akhism is licit income. It is a rule of professional ethics that an Akhy should be honest and not seek to earn more than he deserves. It is obvious that there is a high morality in the understanding of Allah and the human being which constitutes the culture and spirit of Islam. What makes having high morals a way of life is fear and love of Allah (taqwa). Therefore, to have high morals means to demand lawfulness and fairness in the name of Allah. Akhism does not allow illicit ways of earning, such as demanding more money for a product than it deserves, or seeking corrupt ways of earning because of greed and the desire to be rich.

  1. 7. “The Akhy is someone who prefers his brother’s demands over his own demands.”

The Akhis are not like those who say that every tub must stand on its own bottom. They were aware that the fire in a neighbour’s house might spring into their own house. For that reason, individual salvation does not mean real salvation. Therefore, if an Akhy who has already had his first customer realizes that his neighbour’s shop has not yet done any business, he guides the second customer to his neighbour, saying: “Excuse me, Sir! I have done my first transaction today. What you require is available in the neighbouring shop, and he has not yet done any business. Please, go there for what you need.”

  1. 8. “The Akhy should not own more worldly goods than eighteen drachms of silver.”

Akhism is against the inertia of capital. Capital should not be kept inactive and it should be put into the dynamism of the economy. By keeping the capital within the currency of the economy, this principle of Akhism serves the dynamism of economic life.

In conclusion, we need to accept that irrespective of its political and economic system, every powerful and prosperous community developed in science and technology needs to have a particular moral system and discipline, although it may be called ‘ethics’ or ‘business ethics’.

The concept of Akhism and its reality in the organization of Islamic societies has an important place in Islamic history in terms of socio-economic and cultural perspectives, because it was an exceptional institution which guided the people of Anatolia, the Middle East and the Balkans in terms of religious, moral, political and social perspectives for many centuries.

In the Akhy unions, in which the human being was regarded as a whole, the aim was to create the ideal man and the ideal society. For that reason, in the institution of Akhism, the individual was given not only professional knowledge and skills, but also religious, moral and social information and etiquette. The Akhis played an important role in society, with a training given in and out of work which was focused on practice and experience rather than theory. Akhy unions had a structure which could in many ways be a model for the contemporary syndicates, youth, educational and professional organizations with their moral, social and economic principles and virtues. It is certainly essential today that we develop modern models which will shed light on our paths, inspire us, and provide us with answers for the modern problems facing us. By depending on the experience of Akhism, we find we already have a blueprint to help us in this task.