By Imam Dr A. Rashied Omar
My wife, Leila, and I were privileged to attend a conference on reconciliation in Bosnia-Herzogovina from the 15th to the 17th of September 2022. The conference was convened by the Faculty of Islamic Studies at the University of Sarajevo and took place at the historic Ghazi Khusrev-Bey library. AlhamduliAllah, as is the case with all traveling and some conferences, there were many lessons learnt.
Unsurprisingly, we learnt that the reconciliation process in Bosnia-Herzegovina was arduous, ongoing, and flawed. One of the more inspirational lessons learnt by us during our visit to Sarajevo, however, was the remarkable and abiding legacy of Ghazi Husrev-Bey, the early 16th century Ottoman governor of Sarajevo. After Ghazi Husrev-Bey died in 1541 he bequeathed most of his wealth into a waqf endowment for the construction and the long-term support of religious and educational institutions, such as a Masjid, a Madrasa complex and a library.
As a result of the lucrative income generated by his waqf endowment after his death the first hospital was established in Sarajevo, and a clock tower and other public amenities were instituted. The remarkable lesson that we learnt from our visit to Sarajevo was that almost 600 years since his demise, the waqf and endowment legacy of Ghazi Husrev-Bey continues to benefit the citizens of Sarajevo. We arrived back home inspired by this experience and reflecting on how we could support the revival of the Islamic institution of waqf endowments in South Africa.
The Concept of Waqf Endowment in Islam
The concept of endowment known in Arabic as waqf (plural awqaf) is a well-known part of the teachings of Islam and a well-established practice of Muslims throughout history. In Islamic jurisprudence (Shari`ah law), waqf refers to an endowment made in the form of a voluntary and irrevocable charitable donation of a portion of one’s wealth in perpetuity.
There are many verses in the Qur’an that advise and encourage Muslims to be charitable and that pave the way for waqf endowments. One of the most relevant of these is verse 92 of surah Ali-`Imran, chapter 3, wherein Allah, the Lord of Guidance, proclaims: “You will not attain righteousness and piety (al-birr) unless you spend in alms giving freely from that what which you love. And whatever you give, God knows it well.”
Being the walking Qur’an i.e., the embodiment of the ethico-moral values espoused by the Qur’an, there are many ahadith from the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) that support the giving of charity (sadaqa). A few of these specifically endorse the making of waqf endowments i.e., a form of charity technically known as sadaqa-jariya that accrues ongoing tangible benefits for its recipients and blessings and rewards in the afterlife for the donor. In one such hadith reported by the companion Abu Hurayra (may Allah be pleased with him) and recorded in the authentic collection of Imam Muslim the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is reported to have proclaimed:
“When the human being dies, all their good deeds come to an end except for three: ongoing charity (sadaqa-jariya), beneficial knowledge, or a righteous child who prays for them.”
In response to the above Islamic teachings, Muslims have since the seventh century been pioneers in creating lucrative waqf endowments. The sterling example of Ghazi-Husrev-Bey’s waqf legacy in Sarajevo is thus not unique and without equal.
As a result of this strong tradition of waqf endowments over many centuries, the modern majority Muslim nation states have inherited huge endowments which preceded colonialism and have created special Ministries of Awqaf to administer these endowments.
The Revival of the Islamic Institution of Waqf Endowments in South Africa
In South Africa, we also have a long history of waqf endowments. It might be useful to recall that the first waqf endowment locally was undertaken by a Muslim woman, known as Saartjie van der Kaap, who endowed the first Masjid in South Africa, popularly known as the Awwal Masjid in the Bokaap in 1794. Another interesting fact is that the Shah Mohamed Trust established in 1925 is one of the earliest waqf endowments that funds and supports educational pursuits. He recorded in his will, drawn up in 1925, that upon his death five thousand pounds should be invested for the establishment of an Islamic College at the University of Cape Town.
During the last couple of decades South African Muslims have also witnessed a revival of waqf endowments with organizations such as the Awqaf Foundation of South Africa and the Gift of the Givers (literally Waqf al-Waqifin) taking the lead in not only revitalizing but also expanding the scope of the Islamic institution of waqf endowments locally.
Awqaf South Africa, established in 2000, has over the past two decades been active in taking their MY WAQF CAMPAIGN to every Muslim individual, family, business, and institution. Awqaf South Africa has also significantly broadened the kinds of community service programmes included in their waqf endowments. These currently include community empowerment through sustainable development programmes, education and research, environmental justice projects such as digging boreholes, and healthcare facilities such as free cataract operations. Moreover, they have also admirably expanded the beneficiaries of waqf endowments to include not only Muslims, but also our neighbours and fellow citizens within the broader communities with whom we interact on a daily basis.
In conclusion, I would like to encourage us to support the sterling work of organizations engaged in reviving the noble Islamic institution of waqf endowments. I would also like to encourage all of us to seriously consider donating a small portion of our wasiyya i.e., discretionary inheritances as sadaqah-jariya gifts, since the benefits will not only be reaped by the generations of Muslims who will follow us, but we will also procure its blessings and rewards in the life hereafter (akhirah).