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Waqf: the lost rich Islamic heritage

Written by Ismail Barreh Thursday, 25 August 2011 11:09   Waqf is a religious endowment in Islamic law. A donor designates something to be used solely for the benefit of the poor and needy. Photo credit: http://www.muis.gov.sg/cms/services/zakatwaqf.aspx?id=7616As A wave of change sweeps the Islamic world and Muslim countries are opening up to plurality and democracy, citizens of these countries now have the opportunity to play their role of a strong civil society. But for civil society to become sustainable, development in indigenous philanthropy is required.  The heavy reliance on foreign donors was never an effective solution to local society as it promoted an orientation to the needs and perspectives of the donor, rather than the community served. A heavy or exclusive reliance on government funding is worse as it comes with a heavy hidden tag price. Fee-for-services and other forms of income have also proven to be unsustainable. Islam has a rich heritage of philanthropic institutions that fostered social justice. Historically, Islamic societies developed a range of charitable institutions such as zakaat (a fixed percentage of a Muslim’s wealth which must be annually donated to the poor/community) boards, awqaf (a religious endowment in Islamic law), and diverse local structures that reflect the richness of Islamic cultures. These institutions were suppressed and marginalized during the waning years of the Ottoman Empire, the Colonial Era, and the period of nationalization that followed. Traditional charitable institutions were suppressed as part of the governments’ broader move against the private sector and elite families in favour of state-led development. Under this heavy-handed management, transparency and stakeholder participation disappeared. Islamic societies have a long and rich tradition of philanthropy, which has shaped development throughout the Muslim world and given rise to a variety of institutions – social, educational, and cultural, as well as religious. The oldest civil society institution, the waqf (religious endowment), combined the features of a philanthropy and social service agency. This combination is what made waqf a millennium-long success as a social institution. A charitable waqf is essentially a charitable trust whereby a donor designates something to be used solely for the benefit of the poor and needy. A restriction is placed on it to prevent it from being sold or owned by anyone, whether an individual or a group. The Prophet, peace be upon him, first encouraged the concept of waqf when Umar (RA) asked the Prophet, “Oh Prophet of Allah, I ...

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