Saturday 10 October 2015

Abrahamic Religions and Professional Ethics

I was interviewed yesterday by a PHD student from Palestine on whether the values of Abrahamic Religions should be embedded in the ethical standards of accountants. 

Before we go into some of the issues raised during the interview, I would like to acknowledge my respect and appreciation for the dedication that she has in pursuing knowledge. Given the calamities that are faced by Palestinians due to the behaviours of the Israelis occupiers, her determination to pursued the PHD in Malaysia is something which I could not imagine to be possible. She has to leave her daughters and son under the care of her husband at home while she is here completing her study. She works for the Palestinian Ministry of Finance where salary is not guaranteed due to the challenges they are facing. Yet, her studies if self-funded.

The change in the government in Egypt makes the situation worse. The Israelis are given better treatment by the Egyptians compared to the Palestinians. The Israelis can enter Egypt without visa 24/7 whereas the border between Egypt and Palestine is only opened for few days in two to three months! Palestinians are not allowed to travel by air into Egypt unless the border is open. Hence, she has to keep her travelling stuff on standby all the time in case she has the opportunity to go back and see her family.

Coming back to the interview, her main contention is that more than half of accountants in the world embrace the Abrahamic faiths. Given the common values shared by the religions, embedding those values in the code of ethics should strengthened the application of the code by Christians, Jews and Muslims who are accountants.

I have a different view.

I believe that if one is really faithful to one's belief (including the believers of the Abrahamic faiths) compliance with the code of ethics would be second nature. As the Abrahamic religions are founded in the belief of God as the Superior Being and humans are His servants and would be made accountable for all their acts and behaviours before Him in the Hereafter, such believe should drive people to do the right thing. If, however, the beliefs and actions are disjointed for whatever reasons, embedding the religious values in the code would not make any difference.

Hence, while the values are common and should technically guide those who are faithfuls to the right conducts and behaviours, the belief itself can have a range of tenacity. The stronger it is, the higher the chances that one would be acting properly, and vice versa. 

I shared with her the example that I had been using especially when dealing with Muslim auditors. It is premised on the hadith - Wathila ibn al-Asqa’  narrates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said, “Whoever sells defective goods without declaring it remains in the wrath of Allah or [he said)] the angles keep cursing him.” (Sunan Ibn Majah 2873).

When an auditor issues an audit opinion, he makes a statement that the audit complies with approved auditing standards. What is the auditor did not even bother to ensure that such standards are complied with in his or her work? would it not transgresses the line declared in the above hadith?

As a conclusion, I view that beliefs reside in the hearts of the professionals whereas code of ethics are conducts which have been collectively agreed by accountants worldwide, irrespective of their beliefs, values and cultures. I do not see any of these conducts which are against the values of Islam, my belief. 

Hence, if I am good Muslim, it would be natural for me to comply with the expectations of the code since they are technically "Islamic" in the first place. However, if I am a weak Muslim and do not bothered about the Day when I will be judged by Allah for all the things that I have done in this world, adding an additional chapter in the code would be just a waste of time. I will just skip the chapter!

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