The story of Waqf

Its past, present and future

Beginnings

“Give it in Waqf and spend from its produce.” [1]

Words of advice from the Prophet ﷺ to ‘Umar ibn Al-Khattab. ‘Umar had sought such words in respect of land, which, according to the narration, was the most precious land that had ever passed into his hands. ‘Umar was to retain the land, spend from its fruits on himself and his family as well in charity, benefitting the poor and needy. Yet, a share of the income was also to go to the managers of the land as well as in its maintenance, restoration and improvement. ‘Umar’s land was never to be inherited by his family, gifted away or sold off and the proceeds consumed. This was the Prophetic concept of Waqf, and as with everything which passed from the blessed lips of the Prophet ﷺ, the simple and beautiful advice given on that day in Madinah, contained hidden levels of wisdom, as was soon to be discovered.

waqf-with-meanings-no-text

The word ‘Waqf’ literally means confinement, holding, prohibition and detention. From an economic perspective, Waqf involves diverting funds and other resources from current consumption and investing them into productive and prospective assets which generate revenues for future use by individuals or the society at large. Waqf is therefore a combination of the act of saving and the act of investment, and it increases the accumulation of capital (human as well as financial) in the economy.

Before long many of the Sahaba were following in ‘Umar’s footsteps, to such an extent that Jabir ibn Abdullah said: “Every Companion who had the capacity, established a Waqf”. [2] The concept of Waqf was crucial to the development of the Muslim city state of Madinah and later to the expanding lands of the Muslim world. Encouraged by the Prophet ﷺ, the Sahaba formed new Awqaf (pl. of Waqf) from gardens, wells and fruiting trees and orchards, supporting the residents of Madinah, both the Ansar (existing residents of Madinah known as ‘the Helpers’) and the newly arrived Muhajireen (‘the Emigrants’ were those who had emigrated from persecution, particularly Makkah). Whether rich or poor, the Awqaf were created from a portion of the available wealth, each Sahabi eager to reap the rewards of this new and powerful concept. Perhaps most famously and certainly most profitably, in terms of Return on Investment (ROI), in the jargon of investors, was the well given over as Waqf to the Muslims by ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan; for its acquisition and transfer into Waqf he was promised no less than Jannah by the Prophet ﷺ. Continuing to this day, some 1400 years later, comprising now, far more than just a single well, it can be seen as a most profitable transaction, indeed.

Uthman and the Well

Accustomed to the plentiful supply of sweet Zamzam water in Makkah, the early Muslims settling in Madinah after the migration struggled to secure adequate supplies.  The most palatable water came from a well in the city named Rumah, but the Jewish owner insisted on charging the Muslims, even for a handful of water.

In an effort to alleviate the Sahaba’s difficulties, the Prophet asked the owner to sell him the well in exchange for a garden in Jannah. This was refused. Only money would be accepted.

When ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan heard of the situation and of the Prophet’s declaration of the reward in Paradise for whoever could secure the well for the community, he went to the owner and placed an offer to buy it. The owner declined once more, wishing to keep his source of income, at which point ‘Uthman asked him to sell half of it or rent the well to him for alternate days. 

Anticipating an immediate pay-out as well as on-going income, the owner agreed for each man to operate the well as he wished on alternate days.

Unsurprisingly, on his day, ‘Uthman would give away the water for free to anyone who came. This resulted in everyone going to draw water from the well on ‘Uthman’s day, leaving the owner with no customers. Realising his lack of options and to salvage what financial benefit he could, the owner offered to sell his share of the well to ‘Uthman, who readily agreed a price of about 20 thousand dirhams.  ‘Uthman then assigned the well as a Waqf in Allah’s name. A Waqf for all Muslims to drink from freely.

Later on, one of the Companions came to ‘Uthman and offered to buy the well for double its price.  However, ‘Uthman continually asked him to raise his offers, without accepting any. When the Companion finally asked him who would offer a higher price, ‘Uthman responded, “Allah.”

The following decades saw date-palms start to grow around the well.  Subsequent rulers over the centuries attended to and cultivated more of them until they reached around 1550 in number. 

Nowadays, the dates from these palms are sold in markets and the proceeds divided into two; one half is distributed amongst orphans and the poor, the other half goes into a special bank account in ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan’s name, overseen by the Ministry of Endowments. The funds in this account have been used to buy land in the central area of the city next to the Prophet’s mosque along with the construction of a hotel.    The land is also officially registered in the local municipality under the name of ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan. [3]

Residences were also given as Waqf; Zubair ibn al-Awwam placed his houses as Waqf for the immediate benefit of his children and the perpetual benefit of the poor and needy. Anas ibn al-Malik had a property in Madinah which he placed as Waqf and would reside in whenever he went for Hajj and passed by Madinah. [4]

When the need arose to support new converts traveling from place to place, the Prophet ﷺ dedicated a plot of land he owned in Khaybar where he built a guest house to shelter travellers, similar to today’s hotels. [5]

Of course, on the religious side, it can be argued that the first Waqf that ever existed is the sacred building of the Ka`bah in Makkah since the Qur’an (Aal’ Imran 3: 96) mentions that this is the first house of worship of God established for the people. There is no doubt however, about the third most holy site of Islam, Masjid Al-Aqsa. The entire Masjid complex is a Waqf administered by the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf.

Growth

the University of Al Qarawiyyin is the oldest existing, higher educational institution in the world.

As in other areas of Islamic law, the rules of Waqf were soon codified by Muslim scholars and this went hand in hand with work undertaken to understand the underlying theory of Waqf and its role within society. Waqf became a core component of Shariah law and as a result the institution experienced exponential growth in Muslim lands. Waqf supported core infrastructure like mosques, wells, hostels, agricultural lands and irrigation systems. Much of the urban and rural development in the Islamic economy during the period from the time of the Sahaba and through the first few centuries of Islam, can be attributed to Waqf.

Universities, seminaries and libraries

Not only did Waqf support infrastructure, it also funded research and development. Science, literature, architecture, writing, calligraphy, textiles and technology were all beneficiaries of Waqf funds created during this second period. Some of the most notable seminaries in Islamic history were formed at this time as Waqf.

Al-Idrisi’s_world_map
World map created by Al-Idrisi in the 12th century CE. Al-Idrisi was linked to the Baytul Hikmah (Map is positioned South at the top, Arabia is in the centre, and Europe towards the foot of the map) 

The House of Wisdom

The Abbasid Caliph Harun Rashid gave his wealth to establish a large library as Waqf in 830 CE, which became known as Baytul Hikmah (House of Wisdom). This was a public library in Baghdad with a large collection of materials on a wide range of subjects. Books written in Greek, Latin, and Persian in the fields of medicine, alchemy, physics, mathematics, astrology and other disciplines were also collected and translated by Muslim scholars at that time. [6]

As the resident experts serving the Baytul Hikmah undertook significant other roles in Baghdad, the institution became much more than just a library. Scholars and academics from the Baytul Hikmah usually served as engineers and architects in major construction projects, kept accurate official calendars, and were public servants. They were also frequently medics and consultants. Huge research projects were launched from Baytul Hikmah. For example, a project to map the world was launched from this Waqf institution, as well as a research project to determine the real size of the Earth.

The Caliph Al-Ma’mum further established Waqf institutions for astronomical observatories in Baghdad, and he was also the first ruler to fund and monitor the progress of major research projects involving a team of scholars and scientists. [7]

Baytul Hikmah was not the only library or educational centre; by now Andalusia was also booming with Waqf institutions. Caliph al-Ḥakam II (961–976CE) established a Waqf library of 400,000 catalogued volumes and founded twenty-seven free Waqf schools in Cordoba, attracting scholars from the East to teach in the city’s university. [8] Private libraries flourished all over Muslim Spain, and it was said that Cordoba was the greatest book market in the western world in the 10th century. [9]

Africa is home to many high profile Waqf institutions. The grand al-Azhar mosque and university was established in 970 CE and it continues to be funded by Waqf proceeds to this day. In 1986 alone, more than £147 million was allocated by the university to finance the development and expenditure of its fifty-five faculties, which included remunerations for 6,154 academics.  In addition to higher education, Al-Azhar oversees a national network of schools with approximately two million students. As of 1996, over 4,000 teaching institutes in Egypt were affiliated with the University. [10]

Al-Azhar masjid
Al-Azhar Mosque and University in Cairo, Egypt
Qarawiyyin_floor_plan

The oldest university in the world

The Al Qarawiyyīn Mosque and Madrasah College in Fez, Morocco founded in 859 CE by Fāṭimah al-Fihrīyah is another high-profile Waqf. UNESCO confirms that the University of Al Qarawiyyin is the oldest existing, higher educational institution in the world. The Al Qarawiyyin university, mosque and hospital complex are all additions to an original endowment by al-Fihrīyah, who bestowed her land to the community by specifying it as a Waqf. Consequently, the University of Al Qarawiyyin still operates to this day, serving as proof of the importance of Waqf in the birth of the modern university. The endowment model was copied by many of the earliest universities in the West including some of the earliest colleges in Oxford and Cambridge.

Alchemy_of_Happiness
A 1308 CE copy of Kimiya-yi Sa'ādat (Alchemy of Happiness) one of the famous works of Imam al-Ghazali.

The Nizamiyyah Institute was amongst the largest and most prominent Waqf institutions. The Sultan Nizam al-Mulk appointed the renowned scholar Imam Al-Ghazali as a professor of the school. Offering free education, it has been described as the “largest university of the Medieval world”. In 1096, when al-Ghazali left the Nizamiyyah Institute, it housed 3,000 students.

Waqf institutes continued to flourish during the Abbasid (754-1258 CE), Ayyubid (1171-1249 CE) and Ottoman (1299-1924 CE) periods, with the establishment of thousands of schools, libraries, universities and other public bodies. Records from the early 12th Century CE show:
  • more than seventy schools, fully funded by Waqf proceeds, in Jerusalem
  • 142 universities, funded by Waqf proceeds, in Turkey
  • 87 schools and universities run solely on Waqf in Cyprus
  • 800 and 786 universities in Cecenistan (Chechnya) and Azerbaijan respectively funded by Waqf sources [11].

Hospitals

Another significant recipient of Waqf were hospitals (known as a ‘bimaristan’ meaning ‘house for the sick’); the first to be recorded during the Islamic era was in the 8th Century CE in Damascus, a hospice built by the Umayyad Caliph al-Walīd ibn ‘Abdul Malik. This Waqf facility arranged for guides to be supplied to the blind, servants to the crippled, as well as quarantine and monetary assistance to lepers. [12]

As medical facilities developed, many common services and characteristics were established. For instance, bimaristans served all people without charge, regardless of their wealth, race, religion, citizenship, or gender and the Waqf documents stated that nobody in need was ever to be turned away. There was no time-limit a patient could spend as an inpatient, Waqf and when the fully recovered patient was discharged, they were given fresh clothes and a sum of money to compensate for the time they had been unable to work.

Men and women were admitted to separate but equally equipped wards, which were further divided into mental disease, contagious disease, non-contagious disease, surgery, medicine, and eye disease. The wards were staffed by trained and well-paid physicians, nurses, assistants, cleaners and servants.  An on-site pharmacy provided the prescribed medicines and each patient was given the foods advised for their heath in the necessary portions. [13]

The Bimaristan – a place for the sick

The hospital was not just a place to treat patients, it also served as a medical school to educate and train students. Knowledge and experience were gained by students and physicians through lectures, practicals, discussions and self-study in the attached libraries filled with books on medicine and other relevant subjects. Islamic hospitals were the first to keep written records of patients and their medical treatment, allowing further research and development of therapies, much of which has informed modern medicine.

In 931 CE, Caliph Al-Muqtadir learned of the death of one of his subjects as a result of a physician’s error and immediately ordered his advisor Sinan ibn Thabit, one of the most senior physicians in Baghdad, to prevent doctors from practicing until they were duly examined and licensed. From this time on, licensing exams became mandatory and only qualified physicians were allowed to practice medicine, their numbers reaching over eight hundred and sixty in Baghdad alone. [14]

Medical facilities flourished and hospitals continued to rise throughout the towns and cities in the Islamic world, including North Africa.  In 1160 CE, the Andalusian Rabbi Benjamin Tudela quantified over fifty hospitals in Cordoba and another sixty in Baghdād. Three facilities were well known in the Islamic world: al-ʿAḍudī in Baghdād (est. 982 CE), al-Nūrī in Damascus (est. 1154 CE) and al-Manṣūrī in Cairo (est. 1283 CE). [15]

Bimaristan of Nul-al-din (zoom in on door)
Entrance to the Bimaristan of al-Nūrī in Damsacus

Waqf Multiplicity

Beyond libraries and seminaries, Awqaf funded various other needs of life from marriage to travel and more. With the institutionalisation of Waqf, and as a result of ordinary citizens utilising its power, it was now ready to take the next step and become synonymous with civil society itself. And whilst the state was still very much present, securing the borders and overseeing justice, much of the institutions of society were decentralized and overseen by a multitude of Waqf.

Peak

Pick up the pieces and take them with you to the custodian of the Waqf for Utensils.

Starting from the turn of the 14th Century CE and spanning over the next six centuries, the Ottomans witnessed the peak of Waqf, and were also destined to experience the decline of this tremendous institution.

According to official records of the General Directorate of Waqf Archives of the Ottoman Empire, now located in Ankara, Turkey, a total of 26,300 awqaf that were officially recorded as having existed in the empire. The Ottomans had Sultanic and other large awqaf which provided charity on a grand scale to the urban population. In fact, a major portion of the Waqf assets were from the Ottoman elite.

The innovative Awqaf of the Ottoman Empire:

Arguably one of the most innovative uses of Waqf was to establish Külliye. The term derived from the Arabic word kull meaning “all” and were meant to refer to the complete system of Waqf which were created in these locations.

Although they varied in size and scope, many of the most magnificent Külliye each had a complex of buildings, centred around a mosque with surrounding buildings housing a madrasa and/or college, kitchens, bakery, a public fountain, a guesthouse for travellers, a hospital and other buildings for various charitable services for the community, as well as, for example, a market as an income-producing section to pay for the buildings, maintenance and staffing of the Külliye.  The Külliye environment resembled a university campus and it was often the cultural and scientific centre of a city.

Külliyye mosque
Sketch of the Külliyye built in Sarajevo in 1457 CE

In 1457 CE, the Ottoman governor of Sarajevo, Isa-Beg Isakovic, built a Külliyye mosque complex in honor of Fatih Mehmet who had conquered Constantinople four years earlier. 

Intended to form the centre of Sarajevo, the Külliye grew as each successive governor over the following decades added a new public service building or a smaller mosque at the periphery, until the core of Sarajevo was encircled by sixteen mosques by the end of the 15th Century CE. The covered market that Isa-Beg built, as well as his public bath, or hamam, were established under the same Waqf as the income producing properties to fund the Külliye.

Kulliye of Selim II

The Külliye of Selim II in Edirne, Turkey, is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was commissioned by Sultan Selim II, and was built by the imperial architect Mimar Sinan between 1568 and 1575. It was considered by Sinan to be his masterpiece and is one of the highest achievements of Islamic architecture.

An Early Waqf Document
The first page of an early Waqf document from the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts. Waqf funds were formulated by individuals at all levels of society and documents were created by the Waqif (founder of the Waqf) to set out how they wished for the proceeds of the Waqf to be utilised as a record for all posterity.

In addition to the Külliye, both the Ottoman governance and the ordinary citizen began expanding the types of Awqaf that were created, harnessing the power and flexibility of the concept of Waqf to reach new levels of social enterprise and benefit. Amongst the multitude of different Awqaf were the following:

  1. Credit Waqf – In the town of Bursa in modern day Turkey, there was a type of waqf institution entirely devoted to supplying credit to the public – nothing less than a primitive banking institution. A survey register from the second half of the seventeenth century showed over 250 institutions of this type in a town of some thirty thousand inhabitants.
  1. In Istanbul, Sultan Mehmed II inaugurated the comprehensive reconstruction of the city after conquering it in 1453 CE, virtually rebuilding it. Ninety-three years after the conquest, 2,515 waqfs are known to have been set up in the part of Istanbul inside the defense walls. This means on average a total of 27 new waqfs added each year and a minimum of two per month. To comprehend the Sultan’s good works and reconstruction activities in Istanbul, it is essential to first understand the Ottoman waqf system.
  1. Revenue WaqfEconomically profitable investments were sometimes registered as investment or revenue awqaf in Seljuk and Ottoman cities. Revenues generated from rooms in inns that had been donated were used, for example, to cover the expenditures of the city’s madrasas.
  1. Soup Kitchen Waqf – In the Anatolian cities, Waqf founders often donated property in the form of buildings, which they allocated for charitable institutions known as imarat (soup kitchen) to serve the entire population. They also donated a portion of their wealth to create an annuity trust whose revenue was used to covering expenses of the imarat.
  1. The Haramayn Waqf – It was traditional Ottoman practice to develop and secure the Hajj pilgrimage routes, to maintain and repair the water ways, to supply the needs of the poor in the Holy Cities of Makkah and Madinah.
  1. Social Security Waqfs – Operating as the Ottoman social security institution, these Awqaf helped people in distress and need. 
  1. Waqf founded by Women – According to 16th century records, 916 of the 2,515 waqfs established in Istanbul between 1493 and 1546 were founded by women. Among these, Ayasofya Hürrem Sultan Hamam (Bath), commissioned to Mimar Sinan in the 16th century, is an active Waqf even today.
  1. Waqf Libraries – Another aim of Awqaf were to promote public education. To this end, public libraries were built as part of the complexes commissioned by the sultans. Sultan Mahmud I is noteworthy for having had three such libraries built: Hagia Sophia Library (1740), Fatih Mosque Library (1742) and Galatasaray Library (1754).
  1. Waqf Waters – Public service was the Ottoman state’s raison d’être. Providing water for public use and drinking was therefore a key Waqf objective, and weirs, wells and fountains were common all over the city.

Ibn Battuta’s travels in Damascus & the Waqf for Utensils

“The varieties of the endowments at Damascus and their expenditure are beyond computation, so numerous are they. There are endowments in aid of persons who cannot undertake the Pilgrimage, out of which are paid to those who go in their stead sums sufficient for their needs. There are endowments for supplying wedding outfits to girls, to those namely whose families are unable to provide them with the customary paraphernalia. There are endowments for freeing prisoners and endowments for travellers out of which they are given food, clothing, and the expenses of conveyance to their countries. There are endowments for the improvement and paving of the streets, because the lanes in Damascus all have a pavement on either side on which the foot passengers walk, while riders use the roadway in between. …

As I went one day along a lane in Damascus, I saw in it a young slave-boy out of whose hand there had just fallen a Chinese porcelain dish and had broken into bits. A crowd gathered around him and one of them said to him, ‘Pick up the pieces and take them with you to the custodian of the Waqf for Utensils.’ So, he picked them up and the man went with him to the custodian, to whom the slave showed the broken pieces and thereupon received from him enough to buy a similar platter.” [16]

With Waqf being so synonymous with civil society, it was inevitable that as the fabric of the society began facing external and internal pressures throughout the Muslim world, that Waqf itself would begin to erode. This zenith of Waqf in the Muslim lands, which had lasted for several hundred years, was sadly fated to end.

References

[16] Gibb, The Travels of Ibn Battuta (A.D. 1325–1354), trans. and ed. with revision and notes from the Arabic text by C. Defremery and B. R. Sanguinetti, vol. 1 (London: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers, 1829), 148–49.

Decline

It is notorious that since the vakoufs [Awqaf] have been administered by the government nothing has been done to maintain the works of public utility.

The 19th and 20th Century experienced a near complete implosion within the Waqf sector. From the hundreds and thousands of Waqf across the Muslim world – providing for all manner of public good works – by the early to mid-twentieth century all but a few hundred remained and many of these in nothing but name.

Much has been written on the reason for this rapid degeneration in a once vibrant and powerful force for good in the world. The main factor appears however to be the rapid colonisation of much of the Muslim world by western powers, which at the same time heralded the decline and fall by 1923 of the Ottoman Empire. This was followed by the movements of nationalism which swept the world, including Muslim nations in the first half of the twentieth century.

Colonialism weakened and then destroyed the fabric of much of the society upon which Waqf had implicitly relied. As the colonial powers gained strength in the newly conquered lands, much of what was Waqf was confiscated into the “public purse”. The death knell for the remainder of the Awqaf was brought about by the rise of new nation states, which due to a combination of corruption, usurping and poor administration led to the bankruptcy of much of the remaining Waqf.

The decline of Waqf

Education morally and physically is set aside. Notwithstanding…a soup kitchen at Rhodes from which soup is distributed thrice a week to the indigent musulmans, no other pious or benevolent institutions exist on the island. There is no hospital, no infirmary, no asylum; the lame, the blind, the mad, and the old are all left to their fate…(the reformers) have laid their greedy hands on nearly all vakoufs [waqfs] of the empire…Hence, with very few exceptions, we see the heads of mosques and the medressehs in abject poverty, the rabble of religious students in rags, the most beautiful of temples and minarets shamefully neglected and hurrying into decay…It is notorious that since the vakoufs have been administered by the government nothing has been done to maintain the works of public utility.” [17]

The key factors in the decline of Waqf throughout the world can be summarised as follows:

Spiritual decline

To give in Waqf, one must understand the dual benefit in this world and for one’s permanent life after death. Waqf thrives on the idea of multiplying and increasing one’s reward in the Hereafter perpetually. Thus, when the belief and desire decreases among the people, the thrust for Waqf also decreases. The latter centuries saw an overall decline in the desire to give Waqf from a spiritual perspective. As such, Waqf declined as did other charitable payments and gestures.

Intellectual decline

Supply and demand work together even in Waqf. In the early centuries, there was great demand for investment in intellectual growth and inquiry. There were several researchers, entrepreneurs and scholars who presented great ideas for investment. These demands spurred the supply side and Awqaf were setup to support such causes. With the decline and fall in innovation, creativity and intellectual enquiry, the demand and appeal to direct funds to such causes diminished.

British troops marching by Nusretiye Mosque in Istanbul in 1920. Armistice of Mudros (Oct. 30, 1918) and Treaty of Sevres (Aug. 10, 1920) severely punished Turkey for its alliance with the Central Powers and the Armenian massacres. Istanbul was made an in
British troops occupying Istanbul in 1920 and marching past the Nusretiye Mosque. The Ottoman Empire would end within three years after a span of 624 years.
Manuscript image
Many Awqaf, which had been around for generations and often hundreds of years, were ended on the pretence of lack of documentary evidence, despite the common knowledge of the local community that the assets were Waqf.

External pressures

With the increase of colonial influence, the management of the Waqf sector changed hands. Colonisers installed their own people and restructured the Waqf system to suit their needs. [18] External advisors with no formal background in Waqf management and no alignment in vision with Waqf were appointed. They reshaped the financial and administrative side of Waqf, plunging many Awqaf into chaos.

Corruption

There are several reports of governors and Sultans unlawfully usurping Waqf assets. In fact, classical Islamic jurists even highlight this issue in their law manuals. Corruption ensued when the Waqf system was centralised by the government, resulting in expensive transaction cost, embezzlement, and Waqf funds being forced as loans to prop up the state. [19]

Taxation

From the dawn of Islam until the 19th Century, Waqf was tax exempt. Waqf was not subject to any Zakat or other types of taxation. Waqf was inalienable and could not be transferred as inheritance either. Individuals could set up a private Waqf and benefit from the Waqf assets without paying any Zakat or other forms of payments on the Waqf asset. It was this special status which really propelled Waqf forward and encouraged people to consider placing assets into Waqf. However, in the early 19th Century taxes began to be imposed on Waqf Funds. This removed a major incentive to Waqf and decreased the desirability of Waqf. Taxing Waqf effectively meant that a person could not sell the Waqf asset and nor would their progeny inherit, yet they had to pay duty on the Waqf assets even though it was not regarded as their own wealth. It also made the management and running of the Waqf much more difficult and forced many Awqaf into bankruptcy over time.

Bureaucracy and poor service

Excessively complicated administrative procedures were installed to deal with Waqf and the provision of service and management to the sector was very poor. In the 19th Century, many authorities demanded a review of all Waqf documentation. Waqf boards and trustees were often given no more than 40 days to comply with the order and present the original Waqf documents or face seizure of Waqf assets, cancellation of Waqf and transfer of the property to state ownership. Despite there being common community knowledge of the presence of Waqf, many of these documents had been lost over the centuries, and Waqf property often relied on witness testimonies and had no documented proof, something which was unsurprising given the length of time these Awqaf had been run. Similarly, much of the judicial rulings in this area of law had gone unregistered, leading to a dearth of written evidence. As a result, at a stroke, countless Waqf funds, which had been run for centuries, ceased to exist. [20]

Conclusion

Since the middle of the 20th century, Waqf as a practical concept has been largely not existent in the world. Yet, there are now seeds of hope, which if nurtured correctly, have the real potential of leading to a renewal and re-growth of Waqf in the 21st century.

References

[17] Quote of Charles McFarlane, British consul to Rhodes, after his visit to the Ottoman Empire in the 19th Century

[18] Baqutyan, Waqf Revival: A Policy Perspective in Journal of Science, Technology and Innovation Policy 4 (2) [2018].

[19] Aslam et al, The Possible Role of Waqf in Ensuring A Sustainable Malaysian Federal Government Debt in Procedia Economics and Finance 31 pp. 333 – 345 [2015].

[20] Third Sector Center for Consultancy and Social Studies. Obstacles of Endowments: The most prominent obstacles (the offense of bureaucratic governmental systems on waqf) [2018].

Future

It was ‘Umar’s Waqf.

What does the future for Waqf hold, and is there a way that this noble institution, once so glorious and now but a pale imitation, can be revitalised? The 21st century has witnessed a boom in discourse on Waqf and the desire to establish Waqf as an instrument for Islamic social finance and welfare. Again and again however the process has faltered. There remain some key issues which prevent the widespread adoption of Waqf as it was first envisaged and implemented by the Prophet ﷺ and the Sahaba and subsequent generations of Muslims.

 

Problems

  1. Knowledge

Waqf legal theory and contemporary application requires much more research and development. Several Islamic institutions across the world have earmarked significant resources to address this. The Accounting and Auditing Organisation of Islamic Financial Institutions (AAOIFI) have revised and launched the Waqf Sharia Standard and developed Waqf governance guidelines. Similarly, INCEIF and ISRA in Malaysia  and other Islamic institutions and academies across the world are adding to the body of useful knowledge. Yet, there is very little trickle down of this knowledge to the ordinary Muslim.

  1. Awareness

At its height Waqf was a part of the fabric of Muslim society. There was a Waqf for every conceivable need and Waqf played a role in financing scientific and entrepreneurial endeavours. There was no need to educate Muslims on the role and benefits of Waqf because it was plain for them to see Waqf as a practical reality. However, with the end of Waqf as a lived concept by the early to mid-twentieth century, Muslims no longer had any tangible example of what Waqf is and how it can transform society. This in turn led to a vicious cycle of greater indifference and lack of knowledge to the concept. To reverse this process requires Muslims to once again feel and see Waqf in their daily lives, in order to return it to a lived concept.

  1. Approach

The approach adopted by many who have dedicated their personal and professional lives to reviving Waqf has focussed on the entirely charitable aspect of Waqf. This is understandable given the great benefits that accrued in the past to society through the charitable aspects of Waqf. It has been rationalised that if Muslims were only to finance charitable Waqf projects they would begin to see the difference this model of sustainable financing could make and they would switch their mindset to thinking about the root causes of issues and solutions which provide long-term benefit. However, the reality has been somewhat different. Waqf charities have existed for more than twenty years in western countries but they have always struggled to raise funds, have provided little in the way of tangible benefit in the minds of ordinary Muslims and have as a result failed to re-ignite the imaginations of Muslims.

This charitable first approach, also restricts the amounts that can be given in Waqf. Whenever a donation is made to a charity, the donor no longer has any right to benefit from those assets. Despite the generosity of the Muslim community this inevitably means that individuals will have less to potentially give as Waqf, often restricted to small cash sums. In the donor’s eyes, these smaller sums can then either be given to causes that provide tangible benefit immediately or to Waqf which is notoriously difficult to provide easy to understand perceivable benefit, due to the element of long-term investment and maintenance inherent within Waqf. The choice is often an easy one and it is usually not Waqf that comes out on top.

 4. Vision

Waqf is a new venture. As with any new venture there is understandable trepidation and wariness on the part of donors to finance something which is unproven. This could be solved over the long-term but that would also require a much greater uptake of Waqf amongst the general Muslim public. Waqf needs visible results, rapid uptake and acknowledgment amongst the general public if it is really to become mainstream. The current model does not provide this possibility, that if nothing else, has been proven over the last two decades.

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The approach of I Waqf promises a new dawn for Waqf in the world.

iWaqf is providing the solution

Is there something missing in our current approach? We believe so, and looking back at the example of the Prophet’s ﷺ advice to ‘Umar, the missing component becomes clear. When ‘Umar gave his land at Khaybar into Waqf, he was the one who was in charge of the Waqf. It was ‘Umar’s Waqf. He was not required to give up his land to the ownership of some other person or entity, he was in charge. Because it was his Waqf and the Prophet ﷺ had advised him that he should and could spend the proceeds on himself, his family and relatives, there was no question of worrying about not being able to provide for his family. He could retain as much or as little of the income as he wished. Of course, for his own long-term benefit, the more that went to charity, to help the poor and needy and build the pillars of a sustainable society, the more he ultimately benefitted in the hereafter, yet it was not a binary choice of retaining the benefit for oneself and one’s family or giving in charity. A personal Waqf allows an individual to constantly adjust how much can be given to charity, in good times, perhaps more, in difficult times maybe less, the flexibility remains.

This one key insight, solves many of the problems and barriers to the re-introduction of Waqf in the world today. No longer is an individual necessarily worried about giving larger sums in Waqf. No longer does Waqf seem like an abstract and distant concept. No longer (if explained) correctly is knowledge as much of an issue. Waqf returns to becoming an everyday concept for Muslims. Additionally, somewhat counter intuitively, charities benefit more in this personal Waqf first approach then the traditional charity Waqf first approach. The reason is that now much greater proportions of the assets of the Muslims are given in Waqf, there is a much greater pool of resources from which charities may seek funding.  This is turn enables the charitable Waqf sector to flourish and to demonstrate the very real benefits of Waqf to society. Beyond this the scope and implications of a thriving Waqf sector – which is connected and visible – for civil society, for entrepreneurship and funding of good works, is immeasurable.

A final call

Surah Baqarah tells the story of a Prophet looking down on a valley floor from upon high. The valley had once sheltered a city of old. The city was the city of his childhood. It was the place of his roots and the place which he had called home, a once vibrant and joyful place. Yet now it was reduced to rubble. A wasteland of collapsed homes, forgotten streets and broken dreams. This Prophet passing by on his donkey, turned his gaze towards the heavens and asked his Lord how this broken city could ever be revived. His Lord answered his question and in turn demonstrated to him that it is He who has power over all things:

Or (take) the similitude of the like of him who passed by a township which had fallen into utter ruin, he exclaimed: “How shall Allah give this township life after its death?” And Allah made him die a hundred years, then brought him back to life. He said: “How long have you remained?” (The man) said: “I have remained here a day or part of a day”. (He) said: “No, rather, you have remained for a hundred years. Look at your food and drink which have not rotted! Look at your donkey. And so We may make you a sign for mankind, look at the bones, how We combine them and clothe them with flesh.” When this was shown clearly to him, he said: “I know that Allah has power over all things.” [21]

The Ahadith mention that the reason that Allah had made him die (some say sleep) for a period of 100 years, was so that in that period of time Allah had planned to revive the city. Initially a small group of people had slowly begun filtering into the area. After a few decades a small settlement on the ruins of the old had been established. It flourished. More people settled and by the time the Prophet had been revived, the city was once more a vibrant home to a nation of people. A nation revived from rubble in 100 years.

And so, it can be with Waqf.

The purpose of recounting the stories of past glories, is not to evoke purposeless nostalgia, bring upon a sense of despair or an indifference to the world as we now find it, but rather in order to provide inspiration, embolden action and to plant the seed of fortitude in the face of adversity. Those who have passed away have had their account sealed, save for the people, physical objects and mental/spiritual knowledge they have left behind which provides continuing benefit to mankind. Our path remains before us.

Will we stand up to the task of reviving Waqf from its current broken shell, to the grand vision and noble wisdom embodied in the words of the Prophet ﷺ?

“Give it in Waqf and spend from its produce.” [22]

References

[21] Surah Al-Baqarah; 259

[22] Sahih Muslim, Book of Waqf

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