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WAQF . The Arabic term waqf (pl. awqāf) denotes in Islamic law the act of founding an endowment, the endowment itself, and also the endowment institution. A synonym, mainly used by Mālikī jurists, and hence in North Africa, is abs, ubs, ubūs, abīs (pl. abās ). The literal meaning of both roots is "stop," "block," or "suspend." In the context of the endowment institution, these terms refer to the legal situation of the property (al-ʿayn ), which by the act of endowing is blocked from taking part in any commercial transaction, while its yields (al-manfaʿah ) are devoted to charitable purposes.

The waqf is conceived of as a continuous, voluntary charity for the sake of Allāh and his religion. The founding of endowments is highly recommended to believers, and they are promised rewards for their meritorious acts in the here-after.

For a long time, studies of the Islamic endowment institution centered on its legal aspects. In the last few decades of the twentieth century, a large number of scholars turned their attention to economic, social, political, and cultural aspects of the waqf. Discrete studies revealed the true dimensions of the institution, its actual working, ways in which the letter of waqf laws was made to coexist with the requirements of real life, the broad spectrum of purposes financed by endowments, and their impact on the public sphere and on the discourse between rulers and society. A great deal of traditional wisdom concerning the waqf was questioned, and differentiation was introduced into general statements traditionally accepted and repeated over and over again. Moreover, new insights were gained on a variety of other subjects, such as gender relations, urban studies, and many economic, social, and cultural aspects of the regions studied. A true picture thus emerged of the central importance of the endowment institution as a means for financing Islam as a society and as an integrative institution of the community of believers (the ummah ) in the premodern era.

The origins of the endowment institution are traced traditionally to early adīth s (traditions deriving from the Prophet and his companions). The rules governing endowments were elaborated in the course of the eighth and ninth centuries. Modern research points to either the Byzantine piae causae, ancient Arabic customs, or pre-Islamic Iranian law as the main inspirations or influences on the legal form of the waqf.

Waqf law is an integral part of the sharīʿah (the sacred law). Application of the law, and difficulties and conflicts arising from it, have thus been handled by the ʿulamāʾ (the sharīʿah specialists), who alone were qualified to interpret the laws. The law covers every aspect of the waqf and differs in detail according to the schools of law and even within one school. Major elements of the law concern the beneficiaries of endowments, their administration, and the type of property that may be constituted as waqf and its legal status.

An endowment enters into effect immediately upon its foundation (unless it is a testamentary waqf). It is considered irrevocable by most jurists and must be perpetual. A valid purpose for the benefit of which the proceeds of an asset can be endowed is defined as qurbah; that is, anything likely to bring the founder nearer to God. This very broad definition includes contributions toward the general welfare of the community of believers, as well as care for the family or other individuals. The founder of an endowment is thus allowed almost complete freedom to determine its beneficiaries. The founder can designate a general charity of his or her choice as immediate beneficiary of the endowment. The waqf would then be referred to as waqf khayrī (charitable endowment). Alternatively, the founder can designate a succession of beneficiaries, the primary and intermediary of whom are either specific members of the founder's family or other individuals, male or female. The endowment would then be described as waqf ahlī or dhurrī (family waqf). However, families are not conceived of as permanent. Since no endowment is valid unless it is perpetual by nature, the founder has to name, as ultimate beneficiary, at the end of the chain of family members, the poor or a general charity (khayrī) of an equally permanent character. A third kind of endowmentswaqf mushtarak consists of a combination of ahlī and khayrī elements.

Endowments soon became by far the most popular form of voluntary charity in Islam. They were made by all strata of the populationrulers, high officials, men and women, rich people as well as people of modest means. Endowed assets covered considerable proportions of all kinds of properties in every Muslim town, as well as vast agricultural areas. They included large as well as modest properties. Endowments benefited individuals and groups, such as family members, freed slaves, and other individual Muslims, members of professional guilds, inhabitants of specific neighborhoods, groups of common origin, the poor in general, or the poor belonging to a specific social groups, even groups of animals. They were also the principal vehicle for financing public services, political and economic interests, including the religious cult, education and learning, welfare and health services, municipal services, colonization, urbanization, and economic infrastructure. The scope of voluntary charity in Islam, the purposes it served, and its importance in the public sphere thus reached proportions beyond what was common in other civilizations.

Non-Muslims living under Muslim rule (ahl al-dhimmah ) could and actually did found waqf s. Their beneficiaries had, however, to qualify as qurbah according to both Islam and the founder's religion. An endowment by a non-Muslim in favor of his offspring, of the poor of his religious community, the poor of his church, synagogue, or neighborhood, or the poor in general, was valid under these rules. Endowments by a non-Muslim to benefit a mosque or in favor of a synagogue, a church, priests, or monks were invalid. Ways were found, however, to circumvent these limitations so that non-Muslim religious establishments could benefit from endowments.

Charity, piety, and the hope for recompense in the world beyond were the ideological motivations for founding endowments. Several, more practical reasons are mentioned in the literature to explain the proliferation of endowments in the Muslim world. Political reasons, such as enhancing their prestige and securing local support, followers, or clients, were found to have been at the root of endowments by rulers, governors, high officials, and local notables. Circumvention of the inheritance laws was a major motive for establishing waqf s, particularly, though not exclusively, among the common people. Islamic inheritance law divides the estate among a very large number of heirs. Disposition by testament is limited to one-third of the estate and may not be made in favor of a legal heir. Testamentary endowments had to follow these rules. Regular waqf s, that is, endowments that enter into effect immediately on their pronouncement, put no restrictions on the founder as far as the beneficiaries or their shares are concerned. The natural inclination to determine who will inherit one's property could, thus, be satisfied. Moreover, according to Abū Yūsufone of the founders of the anafī school of law, whose rulings have been widely followedfounders can name themselves as first beneficiaries of their endowments, and thus enjoy the income from the property as long as they live. This regulation prompted people belonging to the Malīkī school of law, particularly in Algeria and Tunisia under Ottoman rule, to establish their endowments with a anafī qāī and according to Abū Yūsuf's ruling. Moreover, contrary to inheritance, the endowment kept the property intact, dividing among the beneficiaries the income thereof only. It could thus secure a regular income to the founder's descendants in generations to come. Modern research put differentiation into some of the traditional, sweeping arguments, which listed the protection of property from confiscation or exemption of endowments from taxes as motivations for founding waqf s. Endowments were shown not to have been immune from confiscations. They were, in fact, subject to taxation, unless special exemption was granted by the authorities.

Founders of endowments are free to appoint a succession of administrators (nāir, mutawallī, qayyim ) to their waqfs. The first administrators are frequently the founders themselves (according to the Malīkīs this invalidates the endowment). When no administrator is provided by the founder, the qāī appoints one. The necessary qualifications of administrators, the limits of their freedom of action, and the circumstances in which they can be dismissed are all laid down in the law. Administrators are entitled to about 10 percent of the income from the endowment under their control. They are responsible for the maintenance of the property, renting it out, and distributing the proceeds among the beneficiaries according to the provisions laid down by the founder in the endowment deed (waqfīyyah ). Major institutions financed by endowments, such as those benefiting large mosques, soup kitchens, or the poor of the holy places of Islam, were, however, handled differently. All endowments whose beneficiary was one of these institutions were lumped together to form the patrimony of that particular institution. The political authorities usually had either direct or indirect say in the appointment of their administrators and hence also in some matters concerning their management and the distribution of their income. Administrators of family and public waqf s acted under the qāī 's supervision, who alone was entitled to approve extraordinary transactions. Qāī s in the Ottoman Empire were assigned specific duties concerning public foundations: they audited the administrators' financial statements, assisted in preparatory works preceding major repair and maintenance works on waqf properties, and kept a watchful eye on the administrators appointed by the Ottoman center.

Basically, only immovable property of a permanent, eternal nature that yields a usufruct (manfaʿah ) can be endowed. There are, however, some exceptions, such as horses and weapons for holy war; movables that follow endowed property (trees, slaves, animals, agricultural tools), books, various utensils, and mīrī land in the Ottoman Empire, whose ownership (raqabah ) belonged to the state (these endowments were called waqf ghayr aī ). The most notable exception are cash waqf s (waqf al-nuqūd ), which were widespread, particularly in the core lands of the Ottoman Empire.

Among classical jurists, opinions differ as to the ownership of the endowed property. Many jurists hold that upon endowing the asset, ownership is transferred to God. Others claim that it is transferred to the beneficiaries or remains with the founder; neither, however, has actual rights of disposal. All jurists agree that once the property is endowed it becomes inalienable and is thus withdrawn from any commercial transaction. It cannot be sold, mortgaged, or the like. Moreover, no long-term or permanent leases are allowed in principle, for fear that they would eventually lead to the loss of the asset to the waqf. Administrators of endowed property were thus left with one option only for engendering profit from assets under their controlletting them for a short period, usually limited to one year for urban properties and three years for rural ones. In time, two main ways were, however, devised by jurists in order to overcome economic problems arising from the rule of inalienability: long-term or perpetual leases (differing in some details and known by different names in various parts of the Islamic world; for example, ikr, ʿanāʾ, ijāratayn, khulū or murād, inzāl, jalsah ) and exchanges (istibdāl, muʿāwaah ) of endowed assets. (The Shāfiʿī and the Shīʿī schools do not allow istibdāl; in the other schools, conditions governing exchanges vary slightly.) These transactions were allowed only in very exceptional circumstances, when the property was dilapidated and there was no other way for the waqf to secure income from the asset. Each such case had to come before the qāī, who, before approving the proposed transaction, examined all elements of the contract and made sure it was in the best interest of the waqf.

For a long time, criticism of the endowment institution, by both Muslim and Western writers, focused on the administration of public waqf s, its inefficiency, neglect of the endowed properties, and particularly on abusive practices on the part of administrators, rulers, and governors, who frequently enlisted in their manipulations the assistance of corrupt qāīs. Allowing for the proliferation of long-term or perpetual leases and exchanges of good and undamaged properties came under particularly heavy fire. Indeed, modern studies have documented the dismemberment of waqf s as a result of such corruptive practices. However, other discrete studies have shown that inefficiency, neglect, and embezzlement were neither inherent to the system, nor necessarily the rule. Instances were documented attesting to careful and dynamic management of public endowments, rational use of their funds, and the introduction of policies that, by means of a flexible interpretation of waqf laws, catered to the economic and social needs of the population and at the same time secured the interests of the waqf.

In the course of the nineteenth century, institutional reforms were introduced in both the Ottoman Empire and Egypt with a view to concentrating endowments under governmental supervision. An important by-product of these reforms was the publication of semi official codifications of waqf laws. Attempts were made under protectorate and mandatory rule to further improve the management of waqf properties. Much more radical steps were taken by colonial regimes, for instance the French in colonial Algeria. With the establishment of modern states in the Middle East, and particularly after the overthrow of monarchical regimes in some of these states, public criticism of the waqf increased. It now centered around the most basic characteristics of the institution and their incompatibility with economic development, budgetary policy of a modern state, and the social and political objectives of the new regimes. Consequently, reforms in waqf law were undertaken, particularly in the course of the second half of the twentieth century. Administration of endowed property was concentrated under special governmental ministries. In some countries (e.g., Turkey, Egypt, Syria, and Iraq) reforms amounted to the nationalization of public waqf properties, the total or partial abolition of family endowments, and, in some cases, prohibition of their establishment in the future. Former waqf lands were distributed as part of agrarian reforms. Various, less radical reforms in the law pertaining to endowments were introduced in other countries (e.g., Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen).

See Also

Islamic Law, article on Personal Law.


Semi official codifications of the anafī waqf law are: Muammad Qadrī Pāshā, Kitāb Qānūn al-ʿAdl wa-al-Ināf lil-Qaāʾ ʿalā Mushkilāt al-Awqāf, 3d ed. (Bulaq, Egypt, 1902); and Ömer Hilmi, A Gift to Posterity on the Laws of Evqaf, translated by C. R. Tyser and D. G. Demetriades, 2d ed. (Nicosia, Cyprus, 1922). A good introduction to broader knowledge on the subject, including an extensive bibliography, can be found in R. Peters et al., "Waf," in The Encyclopaedia of Islam, new edition, vol. 11, pp. 5999 (Leiden, 2000). A detailed bibliography on the subject can also be found in Miriam Hoexter, "Waqf Studies in the Twentieth Century: The State of the Art," Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 41, no. 4 (1998): 474495. Special issues of the following journals are dedicated to the waqf and include a number of important studies on the subject: Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 38, no. 3 (1995); and Islamic Law and Society 4, no. 3 (1997). Edited volumes comprising essays on the waqf are: Le waqf dans l'espace islamique: Outil de pouvoir socio-politique, edited by Randi Deguilhem (Damascus, 1995); and, with emphasis on the modern period, Le waqf dans le monde musulman contemporain (XIXeXXe siècles): Fonctions sociales, économiques, et politiques, edited by Faruk Bilici (Istanbul, 1994). For the role of waqf in the public sphere, see The Public Sphere in Muslim Societies, edited by Miriam Hoexter, Shmuel N. Eisenstadt, and Nehemia Levtzion (Albany, N.Y., 2000), particularly the following articles: Haim Gerber, "The Public Sphere and Civil Society in the Ottoman Empire," pp. 6582, and Miriam Hoexter, "The Waqf and the Public Sphere," pp. 119138. On the contribution of the waqf toward alleviating poverty, see several articles in Poverty and Charity in Middle Eastern Contexts, edited by Michael Bonner, Mine Ener, and Amy Singer (Albany, N.Y., 2003).

Miriam Hoexter (2005)

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The common textbook definition of waqf (pl. awqaf) as a "charitable and religious trust" only partly conveys the much richer history of these institutions. Awqaf always had familial and political dimensions along with, as well inseparable from, the purely pious ones. These dedications did provide ways of organizing welfare and piety, but also ways of passing from one generation to the next wealth as well as the social power that wealth insured. Most endowments mixed private and public dimensions.

In technical terms, a waqf depends on the "stopping" (one basic meaning of the Arabic root verb, waqafa) of some piece of property. An owner surrenders his/her rights of possession to God. The house or field or garden so dedicated should never again pass to a human owner—unless replaced with something of equal value. The person making the dedication (the waqif) retains two important powers. He can distribute the income of the waqf in any way that does not violate Islamic sensibilities (a waqf to support a tavern would be bad): therefore, donors as well as their near relations can receive the income from such a trust. Also, the dedicator appoints a trustee (mutawalli) who administers the income of the waqf. Donors are free to appoint as mutawallis themselves, their children, and grandchildren.

Although permanent, in theory, the historical record shows that most awqaf were fragile. The earliest engraved announcement of a waqf so far discovered emerged from a heap of rubble in Palestine. As the economic, social, and political needs of people whose livelihoods depended on endowments changed over time, succeeding generations inevitably altered the terms of the trusts until they ceased to resemble their founders' dictates concerning the disposition of real property and its income. For example, in postcaliphal states such as Mamluk Egypt, rulers sometimes seized endowments established by their predecessors and set about recreating them to suit a different understanding of their own epoch's religio-political needs. Colonial regimes and the nationalist states that succeeded them followed the practice of "Islamic" states by renewing and reconstituting endowments.

Muslim endowments acquired a kind of dual status in almost every region of the Dar al-Islam. On the one hand, their status according to scholars of shari˓a/fiqh (the terms badly translated as Islamic law) was a constant source of debate although they generally agreed that awqaf should be permanent. On the other hand, the institutions themselves continually evolved to suit the economic, social, as well as political circumstances of particular times and places. Of the four madhahib of the contemporary Muslim world, the Hanifite seems to have the most elaborate doctrines concerning endowments.

In a brilliant study of the shrine (Mazhar-e Sharif) of Hazrat ˓Ali in what is now Afghanistan, Robert McChesney has traced a series of awqaf over a period of four hundred years. Custodians (mutawallis) were the central figures in Mazhar-e Sharif's waqf complex. A few families managed to pass the guardians' office along a direct line of descent. Such continuity merely deepened a particular group's commitment to the Mazhar. Custodians of ˓Ali's shrine concentrated on the management of a vast irrigation project watering the fields dedicated to this holy place. McChesney shows that over time the valuable canals fell into disrepair. The total amount of land under cultivation declined. Even so, the value of the produce from the shrine's lands remained considerable. Managing relations with the power holders attracted by that wealth was a second task falling to the overseers. In this case, describing the history of a particular waqf gives insights into the ways that political organizations shift. At Mazhar-e Sharif, shrewd management brought a relatively smooth transition from the period of Uzbek domination to the era of Pushtun ascendency marked by the creation of Afghanistan.

Several important studies by Carl Petry are founded on information provided by the awqaf connected to the Mamluks of Egypt and their families. Sultans and great emirs founded mosques and theological seminaries (madrasas). Since their sons were not likely to inherit any political power, endowments provided the only economic future the dependents of Mamluks could have. Therefore, women featured prominently in the awqaf of Mamluk Egypt.

The history of Mamluk women and their awqaf find analogies in the rest of the Muslim world. Women founded and managed many of their own endowments. Females in the early modern Dar al Islam probably had more economic and social power than they possessed in more recent times.

Mamluks had a peculiar place in medieval Egypt. They were of foreign birth. They were Central Asians or from the Caucausus Mountains: Turks, Circassians, and the occasional Mongol. As martial artists, they differed in almost all social ways from the Arabic-speaking peasants of the Nile basin. Their status as warrior-slaves was not inheritable. Therefore, many high-ranking Mamluks planned the economic and social futures of their families, especially that of their womenfolk, with awqaf. Their wives and offspring could receive stipends guaranteed by endowments' incomes. Egyptian religious scholars (ulema) also figured in the Mamluk way of waqf making. As educated members of the Arabic-speaking majority, ulema were often go-betweens representing the rulers to their subjects. Scholars were, therefore, a favorite choice when appointing custodians.

Other studies of single places in periods of transition can yield insights into the political as well as the social operations of awqaf. Miriam Hoexter's study of the endowments managed by ulema of Algiers city in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries establishes a model for analytical social dimensions of endowments. Most of the trusts in her study were actually founded, under the Hanifi rite, in the interests of the donors' own families. But the urban population of Algiers suffered from violence that had both internal and external orgins. When creating a waqf, the poor of the Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina were often the residual beneficiaries of the income. The scholars of Algiers city honestly managed those endowments. Almost every year for nearly a century, they managed to forward a tidy sum in coin to poor Algerians living out their lives in Mecca or Medina.

Colonial regimes often thought of themselves as preserving and reforming Muslim institutions. Gregory Kozlowski describes some of the ways in which colonial governors in India not only changed the character of specific endowed establishments, but shaped all subsequent views, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, concerning the legal status of awqaf. Because imperial regimes shaped the characters of the independent states that succeeded them, attitudes that were colonial in origin have exerted some power on the present day Muslim nation-states. In particular, colonial and post-colonial regimes tended to suppress any awqaf primarily dedicated to the founders' families. The second trend was to have a state-controlled bureacracy administer all public dedications. Government-controlled endowments were sometimes the core of one or another officially endorsed versions of Islam.

In the years since 1950, old trends of the history of endowments have continued. Particular institutions are still fragile and depend upon watchful managers. Circumstances of the moment still shape Muslim philanthropy. HAMAS began its life as a charitable trust for Palestinians. Much of its work continues to be feeding the poor or tending to the sick and wounded. New kinds of waqf that have a global focus have emerged as a prosletyzing tool for Saudis and Iranians. Others with a less confrontational approach dedicate themselves to such noble tasks as preserving Islam's architectural heritage. Though their institutional shape may alter, awqaf will be a feature of Muslim life in the years to come.

See alsoEconomy and Economic Institutions ; HAMAS ; Law .


Hoexter, Miriam. Endowments, Rulers and Community: Waqf al-haramayn in Ottoman Algiers. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1998.

Kozlowski, Gregory C. Muslim Endowments and Society inBritish India. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

McChesney, Robert D. Waqf in Central Asia: Four HundredYears in the History of a Muslim Shrine, 1480–1889. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1991.

Petry, Carl F. Protectors or Praetorians? The Last MamlukSultans and Egypt's Waning as a Great Power. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994.

Gregory C. Kozlowski

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An Islamic endowment created by its founder to dedicate specific property for the benefit of a particular public good (waqf khayri) and/or the donor's family (waqf ahli).

A waqf (Arabic plural, awqâf ) may be composed of any kind of durable property whose use or income provides communal benefits, including mosques, hospitals, libraries, schools, canals, roads, and water fountains. The donor will write the charter for the administration of the waqf and appoint its initial trustees. The kaʿba in Mecca, the center of the Muslim pilgrimage, is the archetype of a waqf.

The first waqf established by Muhammad's community was the mosque at Quba in Medina. Charitable waqfs were established soon after when Muhammad dedicated seven orchards inherited from a follower to provide for the poor and needy. During the caliphate of Umar some donors established family waqfs, dedicating the income from their estates first to provide for their own descendents, with the surplus going to the poor. In the classical period of Islamic civilization the waqfs were an integral part of the economic and civil society infrastructure.

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, after the colonial powers had, to varying degrees, marginalized the waqfs, the secular states that succeeded them dismantled or appropriated them to a significant degree throughout most of the Muslim world. Motivations were partly economic (that the permanent nature of waqfs tied up resources that might be more effectively reallocated), but mainly political, aiming to increase state function, authority, and wealth at the expense of the civil (especially, the religious) sector. After appropriation of waqf lands for the benefit of multinational corporations by the shah of Iran, for example, migration of evicted tenant farmers to the cities contributed to the discontent leading to the revolution that established the Islamic Republic in 1979.

Despite the diminution in their properties, size, and autonomy, the waqf remains a significant element of Islamic society. In recent years they have experienced a resurgence, especially in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, and Algeria.

see also kaʿba.


Makdisi, George. The Rise of Colleges: Institutions of Learning in Islam and the West. Edinburgh, U.K.: Edinburgh University Press, 1981.

denise a. spellberg
updated by imad-ad-dean ahmad

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Muslim public religious trust or endowment (plural, awqaf). It may consist of any kind of income-producing property used for the benefit of the community: to maintain schools, colleges, hospitals, mosques, shrines, charities, or any such public institution or activity. The literal meaning of the Arabic word is "prevention" or "stopping," in the sense of preventing some significant property from ever being owned by any private interest, or from being sold or disposed of. (Private individuals may also create a waqf for the benefit of family or charity, but the word as used here refers to a communal foundation.) Control of awqaf confers political influence and has often been the subject of contention between religious and state authorities and is either controlled or regulated by the state. At some times and places the awqaf have been in control of a major portion of a community's property. In Iran in the 1930s, for instance, awqaf controlled a sixth of all agricultural land. In contemporary Palestine/Israel, properties controlled by a waqf include the Haram al-Sharif (which rightly includes, according to many Muslims, the Western Wall).

SEE ALSO Haram al-Sharif.

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Waqf (pl., awqāf). Legal term in Islam, to prevent something (by dedication) falling into the possession of another, hence especially the dedication of land, buildings, etc., to religious purposes, or for family endowments. The alienation of waqf land in Israel/Palestine has been a particular source of grievance to Palestinian Muslims.