Prophet Shu’ayb was sent to the people of Madyan. Madyan was the name of a tribe and also of a city.
The city was located in the northwest Arabian Peninsula between the territory of Hijaz in the south and that of Sham in the north. The people of Madyan were also known as the “dwellers of al-Aykah (the Woods)” (Al-Shu’ara’, 176).
They were descendants of Madyan, a son of Prophet Ibrahim from his third wife, Qaturah. Though all of them had not directly descended from him, they proudly claimed to be so. Thus, at no point of time were they complete strangers to the notions of Islam, prophet-hood and monotheism (tawhid).
The people of Madyan were renowned as great traders. They lived in prosperity. Their city was well developed and prosperous, exuding an aura of worldly success and elation.
Their city lay at the crossroads of several major trade routes that connected some of the world’s major trading midpoints, such as Yemen, Makkah, Syria, Iraq and Egypt.
However, they soon got carried away by their auspicious economic condition. They turned away from following the truth and worshiping the one true God in favor of falsehood and polytheism (shirk), and developed an array of evil practices associated with business, such as greed, egotism, cheating, stealing, violence and generally spreading mischief on earth.
Teaching Business Ethics
When Shu’ayb, their brother and fellow countryman, was sent to them as a prophet, he was tasked to return them to the ways of the truth and to remedy their repugnant business thought and actions.
However, they obstinately rejected him and his call, providing all sorts of shallow and selfish justifications. They were not ready, nor willing, to give up their way of life and to submit themselves to the will of their Creator.
Eventually – consistent with the laws of existence and history – they were afflicted with punishment. The earthquake overtook them and they became motionless bodies in their homes (Al-A’raf, 91).
Those who denied Shu’ayb – it was as though they had never resided there. Those who denied Shu’ayb – it was they who were the losers (Al-A’raf, 92).
The punishment was corresponding with the nature and extent of Madyan’s mischief. Their material prosperity was used as a means of their destruction. As they became a byword for economic injustice and wickedness, what had befallen them likewise became an exemplar of retribution and justice.
The following are five major lessons in business ethics that can be extracted from Prophet Shuayb’s experiences with his people.