Waqf (plural awqaf) is an endowment contributed by an individual to provide services to the community. The endowment is usually in the form of property, house or land, but over the course of Islamic history, there has been a wide diversity of awqaf.
While the purpose was to provide communities with needed services, various periods have seen shifts in the organization and administration of awqaf and in the directions in which the income from endowed property has been spent.
This site provides a platform for the presentation of waqf documents and space for discussion of the transformations experienced by this institution over the centuries. It also calls for an analysis of state-society relations and relations of power as the administration of waqf shifted from being an organic legal system concerned with serving communal needs to a government institution controlled by centralized states with hegemonic elites, ideologies, and governing infra-structures.
Waqfs constitute property held in trust, whose income is used for services to the community.
More specifically, waqf is associated with Islam due to the connections between major waqfs donated over the centuries and mosques, madrasas (schools), sufi zawiyas, and Qur’an manuscripts donated to mosques all over the Islamic world.
Today, awqaf are administered by states through religious hierarchies and the income from the vast waqf heritage is spent mostly on mosques, religious education, on the poor as a form of religious alms, and constitutes significant financial power in the hands of the state and its religious sectors that are structurally linked to it.
Historical research and actual reading of waqf documents underscore their great diversity, purpose, administration and beneficiaries over time. It is only with the modern period, under state centralization and colonial administrative rationalization that awqaf were dedicated to religious da’wa (evangilize, proselytize) and were controlled by religious hierarchies, with discursive power gained through control of educational and religious ideology.
One result of this process of centralization has been the loss of revenue from waqfs which had constituted the major resource for urban centers to upkeep streets, schools, waterworks, social needs and various specific needs like trusts for widows and homeless children.
The welfare state stepped in to fill the gap left with its control of waqf revenues; its efforts fell short and much of the problems existing in Muslim urban areas continue because of the lack of local initiative, control over endowments, taxes, zakat, land and resources (i.e. revenue and financing) which had been central to creation of waqfs over the centuries in the first place.