I found this article by Muhammad Ashour cross posted on Steven Zhou’s blog. Hat tip to Steven Zhou for his thoughtful analysis on issues pertaining to Canadian Muslims and the Middle East. Ashour’s article is definitely a timely read and something that supports what I’ve been saying about the new mosque leadership. Ashour brings up important issues of transparency when it comes to how funding is applied in various masajid and the need for social ventures in order to fund masjid operations. We had a such thing in history, the religious endowment or waqf. Unfortunately, Muslims are largely detached from their own history because either they think they are too forward thinking to look at pre-modern institutions or they deny the relevancy of any social institution or Muslim practice that can not be directly found in the Qur’an and Sunnah. But the religious endowment is an absolutely important institution that helped provide social services and humanitarian aid, supported students, and kept many masajid afloat. The only problem is that these days, Muslims want to see immediate returns on their investment rather than raising enough funds to start an endowment and then building. We keep fundraising for a new parking lot, or an addition, or to pay for a full time imam. Investing in an endowment results in sadaqah jariyah, but I’ll leave the fiqh issues to the scholars. Anyways, let’s start thinking long term folks!
My knowledge about the Waqf came from my Ottoman studies in undergraduate and graduate school. In a lecture I gave at Philadelphia mosque a few years ago I told the audience The pious endowments, or Waqf, played an important role in Ottoman economic and social life. Considered one of the highest of good deeds a Muslim could perform, it consisted of helping other people. Often the waqfs supports hospitals, bridges, baths, inns, hospitals, and markets. The wealthier the individual, the grander the waqf. Many of the audience members were elders, so they had gone through the transition from Nation of Islam to Orthodox Islam in 1975. They recalled that the mosque owned property and back then there were several thriving businesses. But much of this was dismantled during the later years of W.D. Muhammad. One audience member mentioned that there was still community property, they just had to figure out what to do next. I know there are many communities that look to buy property and develop it, and I have heard positive things about another Philadelphia community called Masjidullah. Unfortunately the website is down and I haven’t made it out that way. But they seem to have a lot of programming and I have been told they have a greater amount of transparency when it comes to their allocation of funds. Similarly, I have heard of other communities with development projects in the works, one lead by Imam Okasha in Southwest Philadelphia and another Masjid al Madinah in Supper Darby. I don’t know if these communities have a long term vision of creating endowments or whether or not they have their vision grounded in the Islamic tradition of waqf. But it would be interesting to explore that in a series of interviews. I guess I have another possible research topic at hand.
But going back to my original quote on tumblr. Unfortunately, I was mistaken about the origins of the waqf. A waqf is an established practice of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.). I did a brief search on information involving the waqf (pl. awqaf). I found this informative page, from a Malaysian organization, Khalifah Insitute’s website. In the article, it details the establishment of the first Islamic religious endowment:
In the history of Islam, the first religious waqf is the mosque of Quba’ in Madinah, a city 400 kilometer north of Makkah, which was built upon the arrival of the Prophet Muhammad in 622. It stands now on the same lot with a new and enlarged structure. Six months later, Quba’ was followed by the mosque of the Prophet in the center of Madinah. Mosques and real estates confined for providing revenues to spend on mosques’ maintenance and running expenses are in the category of religious waqf.
Philanthropic waqf is the second kind of waqf. It aims at supporting the poor segment of the society and all activities which are of interest to people at large such as libraries, scientific research, education, health services, care of animals and environment, lending to small businessmen, parks, roads, bridges, dams, etc. Philanthropic waqf began by the Prophet Muhammad too. A man calledMukhairiq made his will that his seven orchards in Madinah be given after his death to Muhammad. In year four of the hijrah calendar (a lunar calendar which begins with the migration of the prophet Muhammad from Makkah to Madinah in 622), the man died and the Prophet took hold of the orchards and made them a charitable waqf for the benefit of the poor and needy. This practice was followed by the companion of the prophet and his second successor Umar, who asked the prophet what to do with a palm orchard he got in the northern Arabian peninsula city of khaibar and the Prophet said “If you like, you may hold the property as waqf and give its fruits as charity.” many other charitable waqf were made by the Prophet’s death in 632.
Now, back the situation of our ailing communities. Why can’t our mosques pay for themselves? That is because we are not following the established sunnah of how to fund our most central social institution. And down the list, with our short sightedness, we fail to fund endeavors that would have a long term positive social impact. I found this section especially insightful:
With regards to use of waqf revenues the most frequent purpose is spending on mosques. This usually includes salaries of imam [prayer leader and speaker of friday religious ceremony], teacher(s) of Islamic studies, preacher(s). 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 example, upon the occupation of Algeria by french troops in 1831, the colonial authority took control of the awqaf property in order to suppress religious leaders who fought against occupation (Ajfan, p.325).
Although religious education is usually covered by waqf on mosques, education in general has been the second largest user of waqf revenues. Since the beginning of Islam, in the early seventh century, education has been financed by waqf and voluntary contributions. Even government financing of education used to take the form of constructing a school and assigning certain property as waqf of the school. 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 cAsali, 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 to 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. At times, majority of Muslim scholars used to be coming from poor and slave segments of the society and very often they strongly opposed the policies of the rulers (al Syed, pp. 237-258).
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 and patients. 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 riding animals both in Damascus (al Sibaci). There are awqaf for helping people go to Makkah for pilgrimage and for helping girls getting married, and for many other philanthropic purposes.
Thinking about these passages, I am reminded of how some our brothers and sisters are mistaken in their view of the past. Not long ago, I had a conversation with a sister who said, “Why study history? It is boring? It is dead. It is passed. It is the past.” But the forgotten model of endowment/waqf is why we should examine our history closely. We might see the more Islam in practice in models that worked, as opposed to being reactionary. We can be a constructive community, moving forward and addressing real social and spiritual needs. Let’s just think about the potential if we pool our money together to build endowments and hire trained people to manage them. Instead of each year our communities begging for what they need, the continual fundraising can help us thrive and flower.