Famous Historical Awqaf

by | 15 Jun, 2020 | History

One of the defining features of the Islamic economy through the ages has been the utilisation of Awqaf. A number of Awqaf rose to prominence and remained in the collective memory of the Ummah, this article briefly sheds light on some of the Muslim World’s acclaimed Awqaf. This will inshallah help inspire the next generation to draw on their rich financial heritage.

The oldest surviving Waqf is the well (bi’r) of Uthman Ibn Affan (RA) known as the well of Roumah and located near Masjid Qiblatayn in Madinah. During the Prophet’s (ﷺ) lifetime a severe draught in Madinah caused the surrounding wells to dry up. Consequently, the community had to pay the non-Muslim owner (of the well of Roumah) for water. To mitigate this Uthman (RA) bought the well for the Muslims thereby gaining a spring in Jannah and creating one of the Ummah’s first endowments.[1] The  Waqf – and the well – still exists until the present day and continues to grow, as exemplified by a hotel in the vicinity of Masjid Nabawi that is being constructed with proceeds from the Waqf.

Between the ninth to the eleventh century some of Islam’s best institutions of learning were founded and due to their Awqaf have continued to impart knowledge for millennia. In 859, Fatima bint Muhammad Al-Fihri a pious heiress to a large merchant fortune, constructed and endowed the University and Masjid of al-Qarawiyyin in Fez modern-day Morocco.[2] The University still operates and is regarded as the oldest of its kind in the world. Great Islamic scholars and polymaths such as al-Idrissi and Ibn al-Khaldun graced its corridors. Likewise, during its thousand-year existence Al-Azhar (Cairo) a prestigious centre of learning was primarily financed via its Awqaf. Initially founded as a Jami’ (central) Masjid in 970-72 by the Fatimids it quickly became a centre of religious learning supported by Awqaf. Thirty-Nine years after its establishment (1009) the Fatimid ruler Al-Hakim endowed its first Waqf in the form of a donation of shops and buildings. Historians mention that it was these early pious endowments that allowed Al-Azhar to meet its financial responsibilities thereby allowing it to become financially independent and thereby sowing the seeds to its enduring importance.[3]  

Similarly, in Baghdad – capital of the Abbasid Caliphate – the Nizamiya college was founded, endowed and controlled by the famed Seljuq Prime Minister Nizam ul Mulk. Construction started in Dhul-Hijja 457/1065 and would be completed two years later. It had an estimated annual running cost of 15,000 Dinars which was covered by its Awqaf. The college would have a lasting impact on the study of Islamic sciences. Legendary Islamic scholars such as Shaykh Abu Hamid al-Ghazali served as chaired professors at the college.[4] While neither the Nizamiya nor its Waqf exist today, their legacy lives on through the intellectual and academic works of its faculty.

Arguably, no other society had endowments like the Ottoman Empire. A Turkish polity founded by Osman Ghazi – son of Ertugrul – which ruled for eight centuries and spanned three continents. Scholars estimate that more than half of the empire’s real estate was endowed.[5] Correspondingly new research suggests that this amounted to between forty-five and sixty thousand Awqaf. Those who were renown were endowed by Sultans (evkâf-ı selâtîn) usually to support the Camii (central) imperial Masjids of Istanbul.[6] The most prominent of these was the Sulemaniye Camii complex which was built by the master architect Mimar Sinan at the behest of the legendry Sultan Suleiman. It was endowed with the income from hundreds of towns. This totalled an estimated annual revenue of around five million akça (silver coins).[7]

 

as to Another intriguing and famed Waqf was the Ottoman practice of endowing ships that would regularly transport grain and other foodstuffs to the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah. A practice that likely had its origin in Mamluk times (the Mamluks were a slave dynasty that ruled Egypt).  At one time there were two hundred ships moored in Suez for this purpose. There has been some debate whether the boats themselves were endowed objects or if more conventional Awqaf paid for their purchase, either way the Waqf was central to their existence. Thus without the Awqaf these foodstuffs and the boats that transported them would not reach the Haramain, therefore Hajj itself would not be possible as the Hijaz did not have the agricultural capacity to feed thousands of pilgrims.[8]

The examples mentioned here are but a tip of the iceberg and something that the Ummah can continuously look back at with pride. We should aim for future generations to likewise look back with pride at our generation and make mention of the Awqaf we create today.

 

[1] Abu Sakina The well of Uthman (RA) Treasures of Madinah blog, and Sunan Trimidithi Hadith 307 and Sahih Bukhari Hadith 2778.

[2] Lulat, Y. G.-M.: A History Of African Higher Education From Antiquity To The Present: A Critical Synthesis Studies in Higher Education, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2005, p. 70:

[3] Amelia Fauzia Faith and the State: A History of Islamic Philanthropy in Indonesia Pg 58-9 check FN

[4] George Makdisi, Muslims Institutions of Learning in Eleventh-Century Baghdad, pg 19 onwards.

[5] Wael B. Hallaq, Sharia: Theory, Practice, Transformations (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 402. And Amy Singer, Charity in Islamic Societies (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 186.

[6] Kayhan Orbay, Imperial Waqfs within the Ottoman Waqf System endowment studies 1 (2017), 136, 139.

[7]https://www.academia.edu/5980522/The_Economic_Efficiency_of_Imperial_Waqfs_in_the_Ottoman_Empire

[8] Murat Çizaça, Awaqf in History and its Implications for Modern Islamic Economies FN 41.

Al-Azhar (Cairo) the Thousand year old prestigious centre of learning was primarily financed via its Awqaf. Thirty-Nine years after its establishment (1009) the Fatimid ruler Al-Hakim endowed its first Waqf in the form of a donation of shops and buildings. Historians mention that it was these early pious endowments that allowed Al-Azhar to meet its financial responsibilities thereby allowing it to become financially independent and thereby sowing the seeds to its enduring importance.

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