Waqf and Sustaining Economic Development

Role of Waqf in Sustainable Development (P. 2)
By Monzer Kahf
Muslim Economic Expert

In Part One of this study, Dr. Kahf has elaborated kinds and objectives of Waqf in Islam. In Part Two, he studies the role of Waqf in sustaining economic Development.

Social Role of Waqf in Sustaining Economic Development

The permanent nature of Waqf results in the accumulation of Waqf properties that are devoted to provide capital asset that produce an ever increasing flow of revenues/usufructs to serve its objectives. Add to this the diversity of its objectives that provides support for widespread activities. This huge accumulation of Waqf plays an important role in the social life of Muslim societies and communities.

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Kinds and Objectives of Islamic Waqf

Reforming the Waqf Institution

Let us take a quick glance at certain historical experience that gives us an idea on how much this can provide of sustainable development. Information extracted from the registers of Awqaf in Istanbul, Jerusalem, Cairo, and other cities indicates that lands of Awqaf cover considerable proportion of total cultivated area. For instance, in the years 1812 and 1813 a survey of land in Egypt showed that Waqf represents 600,000 feddan (= 0.95 Acre) out of a total cultivated land of 2.5 million feddan (Ramadan, p. 128); in Algeria the number of deeds of Awqaf for the benefit of the grand mosque in the capital Algiers was 543 in the year 1841 (Ajfan, p. 326); in Turkey about one third of land was Awqaf (Armagan, p. 339); and finally in Palestine the number of Waqf deeds recorded up to middle of the sixteen century is 233 containing 890 properties in comparison with 92 deeds of private ownership containing 108 properties (IRCICA, p. L). Under normal productivity assumptions, these properties alone are sufficient to provide huge amount of revenues for benevolent activities and to raise the quality of life in each of these countries.

With regards to use of Waqf revenues, the most frequent purpose is spending on mosques. This usually includes salaries of imams, teachers, and preachers in addition to carpeting, cleaning, water supply, and oil (today, electricity) for the lights. With the help of this independent source of financing, religious leaders and teachers have always been able to take social and political positions independent of that of the ruling class.

For instance, upon the French occupation of Algeria in 1831, the colonial authority took control of the Awqaf properties in order to suppress religious leaders who fought against occupation (Ajfan, p. 325).

Follow the Shari`ah Zone

Although religious education is usually covered by Waqf on mosques, education in general has been the second largest recipient of Waqf revenues. Since the beginning of Islam, in the early seventh century, education has been financed by Waqf and other voluntary contributions. Government financing of education very often used to take the form of constructing a school and assigning certain properties as Waqf for spending on it.

Awqaf of the Ayubites (1171-1249) and the Mamalik (1249-1517) in Palestine and Egypt are good examples. According to historical sources, Jerusalem had 64 schools at the beginning of the twentieth century all of them are Waqf and supported by Awqaf properties in Pales­tine, Turkey, and Syria. Of these schools 40 were made Awqaf by Ayubites and Mamalik rulers and governors (Al `Asali, pp. 95-111). The University of Al-Azhar is another example. It was founded in Cairo in 972 and was financed by its Waqf revenues until the government of Muhammad Ali in Egypt took control over the Awqaf in 1812 (Ramadan, p. 135).

 Waqf financing of education usually covers libraries, books, salaries of teachers and other staff, and stipends for students. Financing was not restricted to religious studies especially at the stage of the rise of Islam. In addition to freedom of education, this approach of financing helped creating a learned class not derived from the rich and ruling classes.

 This approach of financing helped creating a learned class not derived from the rich and ruling classes.

At times, majority of Muslim scholars used to come from poor and slave segments of the society and very often they strongly stood in defense of the public masses and opposed the policies of the rulers (Al-Syed, pp. 237-258).

This created an extremely important process of dynamic social change in the Muslim society that is unprecedented in the history of Humanity. Offering Waqf-financed education meant that the poor has an equal opportunity with the rich to acquiring education at a time when education reflects in power and wealth. This contributed a lot to the dynamics of leadership change and wealth circulation in the Muslim society, circulated power and wealth and eliminated chance of creating aristocratic class that monopolizes wealth and political power.

 The third big beneficiary of Waqf is the category of the poor, needy, orphans, persons in prisons, etc. Other users of Waqf revenues include health services which cover construction of hospitals and spending on physicians, apprentices, patients, and medicines.

One of the examples of the health Waqf is the Shishli Children Hospital in Istanbul which was founded in 1898 (Al-Syed, p. 287). There is also Waqf on animals whose example is the Waqf on cats and the Waqf on unwanted domestic animals both are in Damascus (Al-Siba`i). There are Awqaf for helping people go to Makkah for pilgrimage and for helping girls getting married, and for many other and all philanthropic purposes one can think of.

Waqf in the Twentieth Century

During the colonial period of the nineteenth and good part of the twentieth century, the colonial occupying powers found it to their advantage to continue following the inherited patterns of central control of Awqaf. The general atmosphere of underdevelopment and backwardness which was prevailing in the Muslim world also enveloped the Awqaf properties and reduced drastically their revenues.

Furthermore, the western system of education which was introduced by the colonial authorities and supported by newly created economic opportunities gave a strong blow to the traditional education which was financed by an already underdeveloped Awqaf.

Many Muslim countries established a branch of the government for Awqaf and religious affairs. 

Independence of most Muslim countries in the second half of the twentieth century created national states with new leadership that often took negative stands toward Awqaf. For instance, many Waqf properties in Syria, Egypt, Turkey, Tunis, and Algeria were added to public properties of government or  army or were distri­buted through land reforms and other means and methods while governments in those countries took responsibilities of spending on mosques and left-over religious schools including Al-Azhar university in Cairo. For this Purpose many Muslim countries established a branch of the government for Awqaf and religious affairs. After stripping it of the developmental and productive content, the term “Islamic Awqaf” is now mostly used to refer to mosques only and is left with the boundaries of “religious affairs.”.

 However, a few countries such as Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and recently Sudan, Qatar, Kuwait, and Algeria took a few steps to revive and develop the properties of Waqf. They enacted new laws of Awqaf which helped recovering, preserving and developing several Awqaf properties. Sudan, Qatar, and Kuwait went a step further to enact laws that provide a legal framework to encoura­ge people to create new Waqf properties under the names of Awqaf projects in Sudan and Awqaf Uses or Funds in Qatar and Kuwait respectively. These countries provided a mechanism for community-financed new Awqaf enterprises that serve major social objectives such as helping the poor, building hospitals, schools, and youth centers and providing them with revenues to finance their running expenses.




1.      Abu Al-Ajfan, Muhammad, "Al-Waqf `ala Al-Masjid fi Al-Maghrib wa Al-Andalus" [Waqf on mosques in North West Africa and Andalusia], in Studies in Islamic Economics, International Center for Research in Islamic Economics, King Abdulaziz University, Jeddah, 1985, pp. 315-342.

2.      Armagan, Servet, "Lamhah `an Halat Al-Awqaf fi Turkia" [a glance at the state of Awqaf in Turkey], in Al-Amin, Hasan `Abd Allah, ed. Idarat wa Tathmir Mumtalakat al Awqaf, Islamic Research and Training Institute (IRTI) of the Islamic Development Bank, Jeddah 1989, pp. 335-344.

3.      Al-`Asali, Kamil Jamil, "Mu'assat Al-Awqaf wa Madaris Bait Al-Maqdis, [Awqaf institution and the schools of Jerusalem], in the Proceedings of the Symposium of Awqaf Institution in the Arab and Islamic World, Institute of the Arab Research and Studies, Baghdad 1983, pp. 93-112.

4.      Basar, Hasmat, ed. Management and development of Awqaf Properties, IRTI, Jeddah 1987.

5.      Islamic Research Center for History, Culture and Arts (IRCICA), The Muslim Pious Foundations [Awqaf] and Real Estates in Palestine, Istanbul 1982.

6.      Bu Jalal, Muhammad "Nahwa Syiaghah Mu'assasiyyah  li Al-Dawr Al-Tanmawi li Al-Waqf" [Toward an Institutional Formulation of the Developmental Role of Waqf], unpublished paper, General Secretariat of Awqaf in Kuwait, September 1996.

7.       Ramadan, Mustafa Muhammad, "Dawr Al-Awqaf fi Da`m Al-Azhar", in Proceeding of the Symposium of Awqaf Institution, op. cit., pp.125-148.

8.      Kahf, Monzer, "Al-Nusus Al-Iqtisadiyyah fi Al-Qur’an wa Al-Sunnah" [Economic Texts in the Qur’an and Sunnah], Scientific Publication Center, King Abdulaziz University, Jeddah 1995.

9.      "Waqf and its application in North America", presented at the First International Conference on Fiqh, Dallas Tx, USA 1998.

10.  Al-Kubaisi Ahmad, "Mashru`iyyat Al-Waqf Al-Ahli wa Mada Al-Maslahah Fih" [legitimacy of family Waqf and its benefits], in the Proceedings of the Symposium of Awqaf Institution in the Arab and Islamic World, op. cit.

11.  Al-Siba`i, Mustafa, "Min Rawa'i` Hadaratina", al Maktab al Islami, Beirut 1969.

12.  Al-Syed, `Abd Al-Malik, "Al-Waqf Al-Islami wa Al-Dawr Al-Ladhi la`ibahu fi Al-Numuw Al-Ijtima`i fi Al-Islam" [Islamic Waqf and the role it played in social development in Islam], in Idarat wa Tathmir Mumtalakat Al-Awqaf, op.cit., pp. 225-304.

13.  Zarqa, Mustafa, "Ahkam Al-Awqaf" [Shari`ah rules of Awqaf], Damascus University Press, Damascus 1947.

14.  Abu Zahra, Muhammad, "Muhadarat fi Al-Waqf" [lectures on Waqf], Dar Al-Fikr Al- ‘Arabi, Cairo 1971.

15.  Yagan, Zuhdi, "Al-Waqf fi Al-Shari`h Al-Islamiyyah wa Al-Qanun", Dar Al-Nahdah Al-‘Arabiyyah, Beirut 1388 H.

16.   Encyclopedia Americana, 1994, V 7, 8 and 27.

17.  The New Encyclopedia Britannica, 1995, V 3.

Paper presented to the conference on Sustainable Development in the Light of Maqasid Al-Shari`ah, Kadah, Malaysia Dec. 13-15, 2010.
Related Links:
Kinds and Objectives of Islamic Waqf
Islamic Finance and Sustainable Development
Dr. Monzer Kahf is currently working as an independent Consultant/Trainer on Islamic Banking, Finance, Zakah, Awqaf, Islamic Inheritance, Islamic estate planning, Islamic family law, and other aspects of Islamic Economics, finance, Islamic transactions (Mu'amalat). He has written in the field of Islamic Economics, Finance, and Banking during his career.

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