Endow the Ummah

I think we can all agree that one of the underlying pervasive problems of the Ummah today is poverty with wide ranging ramifications. You could choose almost any indicator of development from education to nutrition and HIV Aids and you would find us at the bottom of the pile.

The organizations trying to address some of the issues are literally living from hand to mouth with cap in hand repeatedly begging for handouts for each and every initiative they wish to undertake. It is time for a change of approach.

There is an Arabian proverb that says, "Every man must scratch his head with his own nails." In other words, there comes a time as an individual or organization when you have to stand on your own and be self-reliant; If not entirely, then, at least to a substantial degree. Reviving the Sunnah of the creation of Awqaf or endowment funds is a highly recommended approach to achieve this.

Collins English dictionary defines the word 'endow' as, "to provide with or bequeath a source of permanent income"; and an 'endowment' as, "the source of income with which an institution is endowed."

It is a permanent saving fund established by a donor or group of donors for a charitable purpose. The funds are invested to protect and increase its value. The proceeds of the investments are then channeled towards the intended purpose. For example, running a mosque, school or dawah program. If for example, you need NIm per annum to run your mosque or school, an endowment fund of N8m could comfortably provide this from its income without touching the principal. Similarly, an endowment fund of N50m would easily provide income in the region of N7m to meet all the running costs of the organization.

Islaam is not a religion of poverty nor are we, as Muslims, lacking in basic resources. It is how those resources are organized and employed on both the personal and collective level that is the challenge facing the Ummah today. A waqf or endowment fund is a useful vehicle to harness our resources and create sustainable wealth and economic power for the Ummah. If we take a look at our history, we will find that it was widely and successfully used in the past to discharge our social responsibilities.

 Waqf (pl. awqaf) widely relates to land and buildings. However, there are waqf of books, agricultural machinery, cattle, shares and stocks and cash. There are three broad types of waqf/endowment.

Religious waqf

Mosques and real estate confined for providing income to spend on mosques' maintenance and running expenses are in the category of religious waqf .  This usually includes salaries of the imam, teacher(s) of Islamic studies and preacher(s). With the help of this independent source of financing, religious leaders and teachers are then able to take social and political positions of that of the ruling class. It will also enable us to attract the best minds to be our imams and teachers. In the history of Islam, the first type of waqf is the religious waqf of the mosque of Quba' in Madinah, followed by the mosque of the Prophet in the center of Madinah six months later.

Charitable waqf

Charitable 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 the environment, lending to small businessmen, parks, roads, bridges, dams, etc.

 Charitable waqf began with the Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam). A man called Mukhairiq made his will stating that his seven orchards in Madinah be given to the Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) after his death. In year four of the hijrah calendar, 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 (RA), who asked the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) what to do with a palm orchard he got in the city of khaibar and the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) said:

 "If you like, you may hold the property as waqf and give its fruits as charity."

Education in general has been the second largest user of waqf revenues. 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. The third big beneficiary of waqf is the category of the poor, needy, orphans, persons in prisons, etc.

A third kind of waqf started during the reign of Urnar, (RA) (635-645). When Umar decided to document in writing his waqf in khaibar, he invited some of the companions of the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) to witness the document. Jaber (RA), another companion, says that when the news broke out every real estate owner made certain waqf.  Some of those put a condition that the fruits and revenues of their waqf be first given to their own children and descendants and only the surplus, if any, should be given to the poor. This kind of waqf is called posterity or family waqf. Therefore, waqf in Islamic society may also be for one's own  family and descendants.

Management of waqf

The first duty of the waqf manager (mutawalli) is to preserve the property then to maximize the income of the beneficiaries. The waqf document usually mentions how the mutawalli is compensated for this effort. Conclusion Apart from our duty to develop economic power through the creation of investments that will sustain our activities, as Muslims, we have another major consideration. We cannot just invest our waqf money in anything. There is a halaal and a haraam way to earn money. Therefore, our endowments must be established and managed in a halaal manner. A waqf and its objectives have an important role to play in the sociopolitical life of Muslim societies and communities. Remember, "it is not poverty that is disgraceful but the failure to struggle against it." (Pericles) Wa la hawla wa la quwata ilia bilahi aliyul azim

Modified with permission from the article "Waqf sociopolitical aspects" by Dr Monzer Kahf, Shari'ah Advisor to Lotus Capital, the pioneer ethical investment company in Nigeria with shari'ah compliant financial solutions.

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