Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- The Islamic endowment [waqf] is an Islamic institution par excellence and its foundations are established on the Sunnah of the Prophet. In the Sahih Muslim collection of Hadith, it is narrated on the authority of Abu Huraira, that the Prophet Muhammad [pbuh] said, “When a man dies, his acts come to an end, but three; continuous charity, or knowledge (by which people) benefit, or a pious son who prays for him (the deceased).” In this context, the “continuous charity” is endowment [typically denoting a building or plot of land put in trust to the community].
In another Hadith of the Sahih Muslim collection, “Ibn Umar reported that Umar [Ibn al-Khattab] acquired land at Khaibar. He came to the Prophet [pbuh] and sought advice with regards to it. He said, ‘Oh messenger of God, I have acquired land in Khaibar. I have never acquired property more valuable than this, so what do you command me to do with it?’ Thereupon the Prophet said, ‘If you like, you may keep the corpus intact and give its produce as sadaqa [financial aid]. So Umar gave this as sadaqa, and declared that the property must not be sold or inherited or given away as a gift. So Umar [Ibn al-Khattab] gave this [sadaqa] to the poor and the needy, to the nearest kin, and for the emancipation of slaves, and in the cause of Allah and to the pilgrims and travellers. There is no sin for one, who administers it, to eat something from this in a reasonable manner, or if he feeds his friends and does not hoard up goods (for himself).”
In another version of this Hadith, the Prophet is reported to have said “keep the plot [of land] but distribute its fruits.”
In the Sahih al-Bukhari collection of Hadith, Anas Bin Malik relates that when the Quranic verse ‘By no means shall ye attain righteousness unless ye give (freely) of that which ye love’ [Surat al-Imran, Verse 92] was related to the Prophet (pbuh), Abu-Talha got up saying ‘Oh, Prophet of God, what I love above all is my garden, Bairuha, and I want to give this to charity for Allah’s sake.’ The prophet relied, ‘Well done! It is a profitable property. I have heard what you said, and I recommend that you distribute this [property] amongst your relatives.’ Abu Talha said, ‘Oh, Messenger of God, I will do (as you have suggested).’ So, Abu Talha distributed this garden amongst his relatives and cousins.’
Imam al-Bayhaqi quoted Jaber as saying that all of the Prophet’s companions who were [financially] able gave endowments.
The Prophet’s companions recognized the importance of endowments in advancing society and bridging the gap between rich and poor, and they raced to do this. The successors followed in their [the Prophet’s companions’] footsteps, and so clerics, merchants, and even caliphs and princes gave out endowments, some of which continue to provide benefits to Muslims until today. Endowments can come in the form of constructing mosques, schools, and even hospitals, as well as giving money towards relatives or towards the Two Holy Mosques. There have been endowments large enough to see the construction of shelters for travellers and pilgrims, as well as veterinarian clinics and others. In order to see the importance of endowments to the Muslim world, and how widespread these are, let us recall that during the revolutionary period in Egypt, its endowed land consisted of almost half a million Feddans.
Since its very early days, the Islamic caliphate has been keen to systemize and supervise endowments, with the first endowment institute being established during the Umayyad caliphate under the rule of Caliph Hisham Ibn Abd al-Malik. However with the collapse of the Ottoman caliphate, and the [western] colonial domination of Islamic lands, seeing the importance that endowments played to the Muslim community, the colonial forces sought to weaken this system in order to control Islamic society and curb its independence, and the authority of its leaders and clerics. These endowment institutes remain weak until today. Therefore Muslims today should move to develop and promote such institutes thereby enabling them to play their required role, and this is by taking advantage of the western experience in this field, which in just a short time managed to transform endowment institutes into professional bodies. God willing, my article next week will focus on this particular experience and how to make use of this in promoting Islamic endowment institutes.