Waqf: ‘Revival of a Lost Heritage’

By Zeinoul Abedien Cajee

Awqaf SA embraced the challenge for the revival of the waqf system in 2000 with passion and dedication. 

Waqf is an institution that was initiated in the nascent city-state of Madinah  Munawwarah under the advice and guidance of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). 

It is recorded in our annals of history that, in the formative years, all of the Prophets’s Sahaba ( R A ) who had assets, wealth or property, made a waqf ie. placing their assets into the public domain fi-sabeelillah – the essence of waqf – transferring a portion of one’s wealth or property into Allah’s ownership for the benefit of various causes… be it the freeing of slaves, equipping the Prophet’s army, feeding the poor, taking care of guests, relatives, and animals, the construction of mosques, community centres and more. This was during what historians refer to as the “Formative” period. 

Famous amongst the waqfs of that period was the waqf of Abu Talha and his dear wife (R A) where they donated their orchard as waqf.

Another famous oft-quoted waqf was that of Umar Ibn al-Khattaab, who was later also the Amir al Mumineen. Upon the advice of the Prophet (S) he donated his orchard in Khybar, north of Madina as a waqf – not to be sold, gifted, or inherited but to be donated as a waqf. Interestingly this comes after the verse in Sura Aale Imraan 3:92 was revealed: “Never shall you attain birr until you give that which you love/cherish. And whatever you give, Allah is well aware of it” 

Indeed this verse caused a revolution in the spread of waqf making in Madinah and later in Makkah and throughout the length and breadth of the Muslim world and wherever Muslims went. Gifting/ giving to Allah and sadaqah in all its forms and shapes  became endemic and the hallmark of Muslims.

The waqfs were not only mosques but commercially productive waqfs that built and sustained Islamic Civilisation. So we find waqfs in Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Bosnia, Greece, Bulgaria, Cyprus, India/ Pakistan/ Bangladesh, Thailand, Al Andalus – Spain, Cairo, Morocco and many other countries. Turkey became known as the haven of waqfs.

The Post formative years saw the establishment of Mosque Universities or Madrasahs in Morocco, Cairo, Baghdad, al Andalus – mosques that became great centres of learning, not only in religious sciences but also in the natural sciences, mathematics, medicine, etc. It was a time when Muslims leaders greatly encouraged reading, writing, research, invention and there were various waqfs that supported these great scholars. 

“Among the many new forms of waqf that emerged during this period were: Sufi lodges (zāwiyah tekke/khanqa ); travelers’ inns; soup kitchens; public baths; famine relief centers, the construction and maintenance of tombs of scholars; hospitals (bimaristans); veterinary services, animal fountains; prayer rooms along travel routes; libraries; public water fountains; orphanages; public bathhouses; cemeteries, kindergarten/primary schools founded independently adjacent to many mosques for the primary purpose of teaching the Qur’an; institutions devoted to charitable causes such as freeing slaves, feeding the poor, paying debts, the distribution of gifts on the two Eids, and the preparation and burial of the deceased.” (Abdur Rashid)  

In explorer Ibn Batuta’s travels across the world, he witnessed waqfs in India, Iraq, Syria, China, and many far off places. This could only happen if the culture of waqf making and giving charity in the form of waqf was deeply rooted and endemic in Islamic culture and practice across the then Islamic world – a world without borders. 


How is it then that we have literally forgotten about this practice – a practice that spurred growth, knowledge, development, scholarship, and civilization? How is that this wonderful culture of waqf- making got removed from our being, our souls, and our way of life? That the culture of waqf-making got eradicated from memory, from our history books, from our mimbars, and from our scholars? Something went wrong somewhere. To a large extent the blame rests on colonization, and nationalization. 

Colonisers knew that the life blood of Islamic civilization was the waqf system. They knew that the Muslims were self-sufficient and self-reliant through their own waqf structures. They knew that Muslims had the technology and capacity to administer their own affairs, fund their own schools and institutions. In order to create a subservient, docile, dependent population, the colonisers had to, not only disrupt the growth of the waqf system, but to destroy it and remove it from the minds and hearts of the dominated populace.  

To crown it all, when colonisers left and when Muslim governments needed to fill their coffers, they nationalized whatever crumbs were were left.

“Nowhere in this long history, however, did the waqfs experience the universal and deliberate destruction that was inflicted upon them during the 19th and 20th centuries, a fact which can be attributed directly to western imperialism or to the process of westernisation.

Usurpation of waqf properties started under western pressure and continued under the indigenous modernists even after Islamic countries gained independence. Consequently, in most of the Islamic world today, waqfs are dilapidated.” (Elasrag), 

Now the time has come for Muslims to take back their Allah-given gift of a system that ensured self reliance and empowerment. Now Alhamdulillah, many muslims are working hard to revive this lost heritage.

The call today is for every Muslim male, female, professional, housewife, worker, business persons – to dedicate a portion of his or her wealth in the form of cash, property, jewelry, shares in businesses and companies, gold coins, or any other asset to start rebuilding and reviving the waqf system. It’s never too late. Reviving this sunnah will certainly bring great rewards for the donor as Allah has promised in various verses of the Holy Qur’an.

Are you ready? Contact Awqaf SA or visit their website for more details. Let’s join hands in reviving this Divine institution of Waqf.

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