The main research attempts guiding questions about management research agendas had been relevance questions versus rigor questions. Researchers have also attempted to set management research agendas in particular sectors. To the best of the authors’ knowledge, no research, however, has addressed the infrastructural and foundational questions of what moral priorities and ethical principles should guide the future development of management research. Because the Islamic theological approach is a “transcendental values integration” approach, it presents a potentially viable source of reference particularly for scholars interested in ethical philosophical paradigmatic approaches. Islamic literature has presented guiding principles as to how to balance priorities through the Jurisprudence of Priorities (Fiqh Al-Awlawiyyat). The purpose of this exploratory conceptual paper is to synchronize the Islamic background literature on the jurisprudence of priorities with management research development and agendas. The research is exploratory in nature.
The paper is conceptual, merging Islamic literature with management research for the development of a framework to potentially guide management researchers in prioritizing their research agendas.
The research resulted in the conceptualization of a framework aiding researchers in the prioritization of their research agendas.
The research has implications for management scholars who are interested to prioritize their research projects and agendas. The research presents a schematic diagram and guiding framework through which scholars can reflect on their choice of research topics.
The research is also relevant to funding agencies as they devise the funding priorities in the management field.
This paper addresses the unique and foundational question of what moral priorities and ethical principles should guide the future development of management research. The authors build on a religious-philosophical approach, drawing on the Islamic jurisprudence of priorities as a literature base. The authors, therefore, address the key principles of responsible research regarding how it can be relevant on the infrastructural level to society and how the benefit to key stakeholders should be tackled. To the authors’ knowledge, this was not done in previous literature.
El-Bassiouny, N., Amin, A. and Jamal, A. (2020), "Individual choice of management research agendas: Ethical guidance from Islamic prioritization heuristics", Journal of Humanities and Applied Social Sciences, Vol. 2 No. 1, pp. 33-45. https://doi.org/10.1108/JHASS-09-2019-0047Download as .RIS
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Copyright © 2020, Noha El-Bassiouny, Ahmed Amin and Ahmad Jamal.
Published in Journal of Humanities and Applied Social Sciences. Published by Emerald Publishing Limited. This article is published under the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) licence. Anyone may reproduce, distribute, translate and create derivative works of this article (for both commercial and non-commercial purposes), subject to full attribution to the original publication and authors. The full terms of this licence may be seen at http://creativecommons.org/licences/by/4.0/legalcode
The history of management science tells us that it is in a continuous state of development. Scholars have attempted to highlight relevance issues in management research by aligning research with different stakeholders (Czarniawska and Soderberg, 2016; Starkey and Madan, 2001). Scholars have also highlighted rigor issues in management by contemplating different ontologies, epistemologies and methodologies (Kieser and Leiner, 2009). However, when it comes to highlighting guiding principles for the process of prioritization of research fields and agendas, the management literature remains completely silent. Management scholars are confronted with prioritization problems when they have to select or choose between two or more research projects because of limited resources and time. A “priority is relative right of a requirement to the utilization of limited (or scarce) resources”. When we prioritize, we decide that one project is more worthy of the available resources than another project. The contradiction between research that sets agendas for particular contexts or fields (e.g. corporate social responsibility [CSR] research in Ahen and Zettinig, 2015; B2B marketing research in LaPlaca, 2013; and service science research in Ostromet al., 2010) and the lack of general guiding principles across management sciences appears to suggest a paradox. This paradox is magnified with recent calls for management science to prioritize and focus on “Societal Grand Challenges,” which are pertinent issues facing mankind that needs attention from management scholarship (George et al., 2016; Adler, 2016).
On the practical level, research stakeholders stipulate certain research agendas that relate to funding schemes. Further, stakeholder alignment is characteristic of Gibbons–Nowotny Mode 2 scientific research, which is the direction (management) research is moving toward (Hessels and van Lente, 2008; MacLean et al., 2002; van Aken, 2005). According to sociologist Nowotny (2006, p. 3), “major advances in scientific understanding depend on selecting research priorities and the right kind of research question.”
In addition, on the academic level, according to the Academy of Management Journal editors, “topic choice is one of the least revisable aspects of any submission” (Colquitt and George, 2011, p. 435). This note indicates that the process of research prioritization is critical on both academic and practical levels.
If we look at the history of management science, we will find that it has been developing in association with capitalism as an ideology while emphasizing performance metrics and maximizing shareholder/corporate benefit (Djelic, 2016). Religion, on the other hand, has occasionally informed management research on issues that have to do with philosophy, ontology and moral purpose (Helfaya et al., 2016). One of these guiding religions is Islam. Because the Islamic theological approach is a “transcendental values integration” approach (El-Bassiouny, 2014), it presents a viable source of reference particularly for scholars interested in philosophical paradigms that have ethics at their core. Islamic scholarship has presented a process of prioritization to all aspects of life including knowledge domains through the field known as jurisprudence of priorities. This field deals with the problems of loss of balance and the relative importance of issues over other issues. The field focuses on prioritizing issues so that more important issues are given higher priority over less important ones. This prioritization is based on the rules of Islamic legislation (Shari’ah) guided by the revelation and mental reasoning (Mohammad, 2014).
Accordingly, the key question that we address in this exploratory research is: How to derive an Islamic ethical approach to individual prioritization of management research? By examining the role of ethics and religion, we hope to enrich and expand the discussion on the prioritization of research. Although research agendas in management are constrained by institutional factors, individual scholars have considerable freedom in deciding what to work on. We aim to provide an overarching ethical framework that can guide and inform an individual scholar’s research topic decision-making process.
The remainder of this paper is structured as follows. First, a discussion of the current state of setting management research agendas is presented. This is followed by a briefing on the jurisprudence of priorities in Islam. Then, reflections on the prioritization heuristics for the setting of management research agendas based on the Islamic perspective are presented. Finally, the paper concludes with critical questions for academic institutions and scholars interested to advance their management research agendas.
Factors affecting setting of management research priorities
Several factors affect the choice of management research priorities. At the institutional level, academics are faced with the pressure to “publish or perish” (De Rond and Miller, 2005). They set their research agendas based on the more publishable topics as informed by theoretical advancements in the field as well as by mimicking other academics who have successfully published. Indeed, many scholars derive their research agendas from the “future research directions” sections of manuscripts that are published in prestigious scholarly journals. This gives legitimacy to their research. Legitimacy can also be obtained from research agendas set by business schools, which address issues relevant to practice or scholarship. Even Google Scholar groups researchers with the same interests around keywords. Anomalies in research and being too unique might pose the threat of illegitimacy.
On the micro-personal level, factors such as the cognitions of the researcher (and cognitive biases), beliefs and personality influence the process of identifying research interests.
Without a doubt, all the factors mentioned above are legitimate reasons for conducting management research. According to the literature, a further focus on Mode 2 research in management, which is context-specific, transdisciplinary and accountable to society, will also help to tackle the relevance gap (van Aken, 2005 – refer to Appendix Table A1 for a briefing on the difference between Mode 1 and mode knowledge production), and there are traditions in the management research that are in line with Mode 2 such as action research and grounded theory approaches (MacLean et al., 2002). Our main pertinent and persistent question remains, however: What ethical prioritization heuristics affect the process of setting individual management research agendas?
As shown in Appendix Figure A1, researchers do not set their agendas in a vacuum; they are affected and bounded by societal, institutional, group and personal factors consecutively. However, within all these factors, choice remains viable. In this area of choice, researchers have the academic freedom to choose their research topics. According to Nowotny (2006, p. 3), “the pursuit of excellence needs an autonomous space, where curiosity is the driving force, pursued by individual creative minds.”
On the professional level, the Academy of Management has stipulated five criteria for topic choice (Colquitt and George, 2011, pp. 432-435):
“Significance: Taking on Grand Challenges”
“Novelty: Changing the Conversation”
“Curiosity: Catching and Holding Attention”
“Scope: Casting a Wider Net”
“Actionability: Insights for Practice”
Scholars have also called for the cross-fertilization of management research with other disciplines (Hodgkinson et al., 2002; Zahra and Newey, 2009) and in different contexts such as the Arab Middle East (Zahra, 2011). This further warrants looking into different perspectives, such as the Islamic moral philosophy.
Briefing on jurisprudence of priorities in Islam (Fiqh Al-Awlawiyyat)
In Islamic scholarship, the jurisprudence of priorities:
[…] means the most appropriate way of understanding the rulings that are in conformity with the objectives of the religion through achieving the most important and beneficial benefits, warding off the evils or the lesser harm of them, as well as observing the results that may be caused by these rulings (El-Seoudi et al., 2012, p. 821).
As a general introduction, according to the Islamic legislation (Shari’ah), there are five ultimate goals (Maqasid ash-Shari’ah–El-Bassiouny, 2014), which are in the following order:
the preservation of faith (ad-din);
the preservation of life (an-nafs);
the preservation of mind (al-aql);
the preservation of progeny or posterity (an-nasl); and
the preservation of wealth (al-mal).
Whatever action or deed that complies with the ultimate goals of Islamic legislation is classified as maslahah (or benefit). According to Isa and Man (2014, p. 4):
Islam can be regarded as religion of fitrah (innate human nature) due to the consistency of its teaching to bring benefit to mankind (not just Muslims)… Humans by nature incline to secure the absolute maslahah (benefit) and prevent the absolute mafsadah (harm or evil).
In terms of prioritized levels, there are three tiers of maslahah meant to preserve the ultimate goals of the Shari’ah (Maqasid ash-Shari’ah) in the following order:
Daruriyyat (the necessities or essentials): These represent the basic needs to live and comply with the ultimate goals of Islamic legislation. According to Isa and Man (2014, p. 5), “five things that are preserved in Shari’ah (Maqasid ash-Shari’ah) are included in this category.” In the case of a management scholar, these would cover the need for researching into topics that are considered essentials (daruriyyat) for society (see examples in the coming section).
Hajiyyat (the needs or complements): These are the needs that facilitate human life. For example, Muslims can have shorter prayers when traveling “beyond a certain distance” (Isa and Man, 2014, p. 5). Such concessions aim to prevent undue hardship and severity.
Tahsiniyyat (the luxuries or embellishments): These “include things that are related to acceptable norms and behaviors which can bring human life towards perfection” (Isa and Man, 2014, p. 5). In the case of management scholarship, these would cover topics that do not focus on current or existing problems but may involve improvements into an already-saturated research domain (or a satisfactory situation).
As shown in Appendix Figure A2, daruriyyat takes precedence over hajiyyat, which in turn takes precedence over tahsiniyyat. If necessities compete, priority goes to the order of the ultimate goals of the Shari’ah (e.g. preservation of faith/religion comes first, then preservation of life).
In the following section, we present some of the relevant priority heuristics based on Islamic scholarship (Isa and Man, 2014; Mohammad, 2014). These priorities are meant to preserve human well-being and maslahah (benefit) as per the ultimate goals of the Shari’ah especially in cases when benefits have the same ranking. These are collected from Al-Shohoud (2009), Isa and Man (2014) and Mohammad (2014) among others:
Priority for greater benefit over smaller benefit
In the Islamic perspective, the Holy Quran tells us that deeds are not at equal levels. For instance, the Holy Quran (9:19) says:
Have you made the providing of water for the pilgrim and the maintenance of al-Masjid al-Haram equal to [the deeds of] one who believes in Allah and the Last Day and strives in the cause of Allah? They are not equal in the sight of Allah. And Allah does not guide the wrongdoing people.
This verse shows us that striving for the cause of Allah in all forms is preferred and prioritized. When this is reflected to management scholarship, it connotes that Islamic researchers need to preserve their research intentions for the sake of God.
Likewise, the greater benefit precedes the lesser benefit in all deeds including research.
Priority for societal/collective well-being over individual well-being
In Islam, collective well-being is sacred and includes individual well-being. In case of conflict, collective well-being takes precedence over individual well-being. This is clear in cases of monopoly, for example, where providing goods to people abundantly presents their collective well-being, which precedes individual corporate well-being (Mohammad, 2014).
Damage is not to be removed with similar or greater damage
Any kind of damage is prevented in Islam. According to the Holy Quran (16:90), “Indeed, Allah orders justice and good conduct and giving to relatives and forbids immorality and bad conduct and oppression. He admonishes you that perhaps you will be reminded.” This is a global verse that encompasses all kinds of bringing good/benefit and preventing harm.
Ends do not justify means
Contrary to popular wisdom, in Islam, the ends don’t justify the means. Both means and ends have to be ethical and within the boundaries of Islamic legislation (Shari’ah).
Preventing harm is prioritized over bringing good/benefit
As a general rule in Islam, if evil and benefit compete, they have to be both weighed in terms of importance. For example, Allah says regarding wine and gambling in the Holy Quran (2:219), “They ask you about wine and gambling. Say, ‘In them is great sin and [yet, some] benefit for people. But their sin is greater than their benefit’.” This verse means that the harm in drinking alcohol and gambling is greater than the benefit. Therefore, we should seek preventing the harm, so alcohol and gambling are prohibited. This was prior to the complete prohibition of wine and gambling in Islam as it had followed a gradual process.
If, however, the weight of the evil is small and the benefit is greater in terms of importance, then the lesser evil can be tolerated for the sake of the greater benefit.
Definite benefit is not forgone for sake of imagined harm
If there is a benefit from the deed, in Islam, it is recommended to do it despite fears of any imagined harm.
Priority for quality over quantity
Quality takes overall precedence over quantity. The majority is generally not praised in the Holy Quran. According to the Holy Quran (12:103), “And most of the people, although you strive [for it], are not believers.” This verse tells us that the quality of people is more important than their quantity.
Priority for knowledge over action
The Holy Quran says (47:19):
So know, [O Muhammad], that there is no deity except Allah and ask forgiveness for your sin and for the believing men and believing women. And Allah knows of your movement and your resting place.
This means that knowledge precedes action in Islam. According to An-Nawawi (1999, p. 1026):
Abu Hurarirah (may Allah be pleased with him) reported: The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said, ‘Allah makes the way to paradise easy for him who treads the path in search of knowledge’ [Muslim].”
Priority for understanding over memorization
There is a prioritization for comprehension and in-depth understanding of religious and worldly knowledge over memorization per se. Allah says in the Holy Quran (9:122):
[…] and it is not for the believers to go forth [to battle] all at once. For there should separate from every division of them a group [remaining] to obtain understanding in the religion and warn their people when they return to them that they might be cautious.
Priority for objectives over appearances
Intentions and objectives of actions take precedence over appearances. Muslim believers are asked to contemplate Allah’s creation and reason about it. Allah says in the Holy Quran (3:190-1), Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the night and the day are signs for those of understanding. Who remember Allah while standing or sitting or [lying] on their sides and give thought to the creation of the heavens and the earth, [saying], “Our Lord, You did not create this aimlessly; exalted are You [above such a thing]; then protect us from the punishment of the Fire.” Islam makes faith an act of the heart which is an internal belief system that is reflected in the appearance of the Muslim and his deeds.
Prioritization of development of new ideas over mimicking old ones
Allah says in the Holy Quran (17:36), “And do not pursue that of which you have no knowledge. Indeed, the hearing, the sight and the heart – about all those [one] will be questioned.” This means believers are ordained to be creative in their understanding and development of new ideas. This is prioritized over stagnation and lack of understanding.
Priority for gradualization (At-Tadarruj)
In Islam, believers are told that Allah created the world in six days. Allah says in the Holy Quran (10:3):
Indeed, your Lord is Allah, who created the heavens and the earth in six days and then established Himself above the Throne, arranging the matter [of His creation]. There is no intercessor except after His permission. That is Allah, your Lord, so worship Him. Then will you not remember?
Muslims believe that Allah could have created the world in one day as He is capable of all things. However, this is to teach believers to take matters gradually. This also applies to knowledge domains.
Priority for work that has more lasting impact over temporary one
There is a prioritization process for work that has a lasting impact on and benefit for the world. In this case, if the believer is to choose between two deeds – one that has immediate benefit and impact and another that has a more lasting impact – the latter is prioritized in Islam.
According to An-Nawawi (1999, pp. 1026-1027):
Abu Hurairah (may Allah be pleased with him) reported: The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said, ‘when a man dies, his deeds come to an end except for three things: a ceaseless charity (sadaqajariyyah); a knowledge which is beneficial, or a virtuous descendant who prays for him (for the deceased)’ [Muslim]
This tells us that deeds and actions that have a lasting impact are prioritized in the Islamic paradigm.
Priority for work that has more benefit to others than to self
Altruism and self-sacrifice are recommended in Islam. Therefore, work that has extending benefit to others is prioritized over work that benefits only the person him/herself.
Priority of fundamentals over superficials
Islam ordains the believers to set high purposes and focus on worthy goals and objectives. Hence, deeds that focus on necessary benefits are prioritized over those that focus on superficials and luxuries.
Having highlighted some of the pertinent prioritization mechanisms in Islamic jurisprudence, it is important to note that priorities change with changes in time, place and situations/contexts (Mohammad, 2014).
Reflections on prioritization of management research agendas in Islamic perspective
Contrary to the development of management scholarship that has been in tandem with the development of capitalism, in the Islamic jurisprudence of priorities, the preservation of wealth is important, but it comes last in terms of the order of the ultimate Shari’ah goals. Wealth is in the person’s hand rather than his heart. It is preceded by the preservation of faith, then life, then mind and then posterity. This implies that research into CSR, if we can say that it aims at the preservation of life and posterity, for instance, would take precedence over mainstream research that addresses the corporate goal of profit maximization. This does not mean that all scholars need to research into CSR. Yet, this is governed by knowledge (because there is a priority for knowledge over action as mentioned previously), by research interest and by the surrounding context because priorities differ by changes in time, place and situations. Overall, however, researchers are encouraged to research into essentials/necessities (daruriyat) related to the five ultimate goals of the Shari’ah in the Islamic perspective.
In terms of general implications, if we take the example of the research prioritization process for the marketing field by the Marketing Science Institute (2016), we will find that the priorities are ranked based on the companies’ needs, which, although is a legitimate process, is missing out on other important stakeholders, including customers themselves. An alternative participatory approach could include highlighting the difference between essentials, complements and embellishments to different stakeholders, then asking them to rank order potential research topics based on that.
For example, in the Islamic paradigm, research into religion and management is a priority because it is important for the preservation of faith. The emphasis on the role of faith in the modern world is not new and has been highlighted previously by the World Economic Forum (WEF) (2010). Also, research into sustainability management is considered essential for the preservation of life. We can also say that research into management education is important because it is critical to the preservation of mind. Research into young consumers, for example, and into sustainability for the preservation of the future of young generations is prioritized. Also, research into the ethical means of preserving wealth is important, which albeit is indeed a worthy goal, it is not the only one as shown from the above discussion.
It is important to note here that actions are judged by their intentions in the Islamic perspective. According to An-Nawawi (1999, p. 13):
Umar bin Al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him) reported: ‘Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said, ‘The deeds are considered by the intentions, and a person will get the reward according to his intention. So whoever immigrated for Allah and His Messenger, his immigration will be for Allah and His Messenger; and whoever immigrated for worldly benefits or for a woman to marry, his immigration would be for what he immigrated for.
Scholars interested to conduct management research need to ask themselves some rhetorical questions:
Is the research essential (a necessity) or a complement (a need) or an embellishment (a luxury)? Naturally, research into the essential necessities for any of the five ultimate goals of Islamic legislation (preservation of faith, life, mind, progeny/lineage and wealth) is prioritized.
In case of a tie, that is, two competing research interests that are necessities, and the researchers have to choose between them for a limited budget or other resources, they should rank them based on the priorities of the surrounding context (e.g. the development priorities of the country). The reference to context is in line with management research move toward Mode 2 knowledge production.
Then, researchers should go back to the prioritization heuristics noted earlier. For example, they can examine which has more public/collective benefit.
When it comes to the priority for the greater benefit over the smaller benefit, we can postulate that research that has more extending benefit (to others) is to be prioritized. As to the priority for collective well-being over individual well-being, research that benefits the group is prioritized over research that benefits the individual. For example, research that benefits society and is prioritized by society takes precedence (e.g. the development priorities set by nations and countries or the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations).
When it comes to the rule that damage is not to be removed with similar or greater damage, one can postulate that research should be in areas that are legal and ethical as guided by mainstream business ethics literature and the codes set by international organizations such as the United Nations Principles for Responsible Management Education.
As for the rule that ends do not justify the means, research into means should be ethical and so should the end to the research itself (i.e. why it is conducted).
Preventing harm is prioritized over bringing good. For example, research into preventing corporate irresponsible behavior is prioritized over research into corporate responsible behavior, albeit both being important.
Because the definite benefit is not forgone for the sake of the imagined harm, if there is envisioned definite benefit for the research, it should be conducted despite imagined harm (e.g. potential military applications to the research – if this can be considered as harm to mankind).
As to the priority for quality over quantity, the quality of publication takes precedence over the quantity. Because there is also a priority for knowledge over action, scholars should study into field of interest before researching. There is a definite priority for understanding and contemplation over memorization, therefore, critical thinking and in-depth understanding is prioritized.
Objectives take priority over appearances. Accordingly, the objective of the research should take precedence over the publication outlet despite that this is usually not the norm nowadays given the pressures to publish highlighted earlier.
There is a priority for the development of new ideas over mimicking redundant ones. Accordingly, novel researches are favored over extensions to existing ones. There is a priority for gradualization. Scholars should, therefore, put in mind to study their fields gradually, be focused on minor questions before addressing major ones.
There is also priority for work that has more lasting impact. Research envisioned to have a lasting impact, therefore, takes precedence over lesser ones. There is also a priority for work that has more benefit to others than to self. Priority, therefore, goes to work that is more beneficial to others, even if not best to self (e.g. for promotion and tenureship in business schools).
There is priority for focusing on fundamental and pertinent research questions over superficial issues. Accordingly, focusing on key research domains that are essential to the preservation of faith, life, mind, posterity and wealth (the objectives of Islamic legislation – the Shari’ah) is prioritized.
Because priorities change with change in time, place and situational contexts, research importance is also projected to change with time, place and context.
The main research attempts guiding questions about management research agendas had been relevance questions versus rigor questions. Researchers have also attempted to set management research agendas in particular sectors. To the best of the authors’ knowledge, no research, however, has addressed the infrastructural and foundational questions of what priorities and principles should guide the future development of management research. In the Islamic perspective, all deeds are not equal. This also applies to research. The present manuscript highlights the prioritization heuristics for conducting management research on the individual (micro) level that resolves the paradox of lack of guiding principles for setting management research agendas. This is especially important for researchers from the Islamic world. The pertinent questions to management scholars are: Can we prioritize work that has a more lasting impact? Can we prioritize fundamentals (as defined for e.g. by the Academy of Management “Societal Grand Challenges” –George et al., 2016 – that are in fact in line with the concept of collective interest in Islam) toward the advancement of Mode 2 management science?
Mode 1versus Mode 2 knowledge production
|Knowledge produced in the context of application||Like Mode 2, Mode 1 characterizes a range of methodologies which might be described as traditional or positivist science. However, across the range of approaches which might be regarded as Mode 1, the knowledge is not produced in the context of application. Rather it is framed, driven, and produced in a predominantly theoretical context|
|Transdisciplinarity||Gibbons et al. point out that Mode 1 is disciplinary as opposed to transdisciplinary (1994, p. 3)|
|Heterogeneity and organizational diversity||Whereas Mode 2 focuses on multi-faceted problems, which are typically addressed by heterogeneous teams populated from a range of organizations, this is not the case with Mode 1. In Mode 1 problems are usually tackled by homogeneous teams from a single (academic) organization|
|Social accountability and reflexivity||Given the prevalence of both theoretical and organizational homogeneity in Mode 1, it is less likely to produce true social accountability. Also its preference for positivist approaches reduces the likelihood of reflexivity being a key feature of the knowledge production process or at least the likelihood of this being an acknowledged feature of the research|
|Diverse range of quality controls||Mode 1 is typified by a comparatively uniform approach to quality control. Outputs are generally evaluated from the standpoint of the particular discipline concerned and the evaluation itself is usually driven by senior academic peers|
Source: MacLean et al. (2002, p. 205)
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The authors are grateful to Professor Mostafa Khalil of Dawah and Islamic Culture at Al-Azhar University.