Financing Kindness as a Society: The Rise & Fall of Islamic Philanthropic Institutions (Waqfs)
an estimated 75 percent of arable land in the area of today’s Turkey, one-fifth in Egypt, one-seventh in Iran, one-half in Algeria, one-third in Tunisia, and one-third in Greece. At the end of the eighteenth century, an estimated 20,000 waqfs in the Ottoman Empire had a total annual income equal to one-third of annual government revenues, and perhaps including as much as one-half to two-thirds of arable land.
from about the tenth century, private waqfs replaced zakāh as ‘the vehicle for financing Islam as a society…they offered the material foundation for most specifically Islamic concerns, supporting religious, social, cultural, and economic activities, while equally serving political functions…Through the waqfs, the various civic essentials and even amenities were provided for on a private yet dependable basis without need or fear of the intervention of political power.
Each joint of every person must perform a charity every day the sun comes up: to act justly between two people is a charity; to help a man with his mount, lifting him on to, it is a charity; a good word is a charity; every step you take to prayers is a charity, and removing a harmful thing from the road is charity.
The believer is obligated to instruct their child in generosity and charity just as they are obliged to instruct them in monotheistic doctrine and belief, for the love of this world is the source of all sin.
When a human being dies, their work comes to an end, except for three things: ongoing charity, knowledge benefitted from, or a pious child who prays for them.
The formative period for Islamic philanthropical institutions
None of you (believers) will attain true piety unless you give out of what you cherish: whatever you give, God knows about it very well.
ʿUmar said: ‘I have acquired land in Khaybar, and I have never acquired property more precious to me than it. What do you command me to do with it?’ The Prophet ﷺ replied, ‘If you want, sequester its principal and dedicate (the profits) for charitable purposes.’ Ibn ʿUmar said, ‘ʿUmar gave away the yields as alms on the condition that it (the principal) not be sold, given away as a gift, or inherited. ʿUmar gave the yields away as alms for the poor, kin relations, freeing of slaves, (the funding of) military expenditures, travelers, and guests. It will not be held against the one who administers it if they eat from it in an appropriate manner or gives something to a friend so long as they do not appropriate any of the property.
The post-formative period for Islamic philanthropical institutions
The maturation period for Islamic philanthropical institutions
The establishment of ribāṭs in all Mamluk urban centers reached a peak in the latter half of the thirteenth century and the first half of the fourteenth. The Ribāṭ al-Baghdādīyah, established in Cairo in 684/1285, was the most famous ribāṭ devoted exclusively to women. The daughter of the Sultan Baybars, Tidhkarbay Khatun, endowed the institution for the benefit of a female mystic called Zaynab al-Baghdādīyah, after whom it was named. Shaykhah Zaynab had already acquired a large following among the women of Damascus when Tidhkarbay invited her to come to Cairo. The ribāṭ was located next to Baybars’ khanqah and was probably intended as a sister institution. In 694/1295, the amīr ʿAlāʾ al-Dīn al-Barabah established a ribāṭ for the use of Sitt Kalla, the widow of another senior amīr. In 715/1315, the amīr Sunqur al-Saʿd attached a women’s ribāṭ to the madrasah he endowed in the city. Al-Maqrizī and Ibn Ḥajar agree that the primary function of these ribāṭs was to provide shelter for widows, divorcees, and abandoned women. At least six additional ribats for widows and old women operated in the Qarāfah cemetery during the fourteenth century… Syrian cities had an even larger number of women’s religious houses. In Damascus, the term ribāṭ had come to mean a specifically female place of worship. A Damascene author, Ibn Zufar al-Irbīlī (d. 726/1326), remarks that a ribāṭ is a khanqah devoted exclusively to women (al-rubūṭ hiya al-khawāniq allatī takhtaṣṣu bi-l-nisāʾ). He then enumerates twenty such institutions, fifteen within the city itself and an additional five in its suburbs.
The varieties of the endowments at Damascus and their expenditure are beyond computation, so numerous are they. There are endowments in aid of persons who cannot undertake the Pilgrimage, out of which are paid to those who go in their stead sums sufficient for their needs. There are endowments for supplying wedding outfits to girls, to those namely whose families are unable to provide them with the customary paraphernalia. There are endowments for freeing prisoners and endowments for travelers out of which they are given food, clothing, and the expenses of conveyance to their countries. There are endowments for the improvement and paving of the streets, because the lanes in Damascus all have a pavement on either side on which the foot passengers walk, while riders use the roadway in between…As I went one day along a lane in Damascus, I saw in it a young slave-boy out of whose hand there had just fallen a Chinese porcelain dish and had broken into bits. A crowd gathered around him and one of them said to him, ‘Pick up the pieces and take them with you to the custodian of the endowments for utensils.’ So he picked them up and the man went with him to the custodian, to whom the slave showed the broken pieces and thereupon received from him enough to buy a similar platter.
…a quintessential system of welfare, used both to develop the economy of the city and to guarantee the material conditions and well-being of many of the city’s inhabitants. It contained elements of prestige and display, and of protection of family wealth. For many of the inhabitants of the city, it was a cradle-to-grave institution, for a man could be born into a waqf house, sleep in a waqf cradle, eat and drink from waqf provisions, read in waqf libraries, teach in a waqf school, take his wage from the waqf administration, and when he died, be put in a waqf coffin and be buried in a waqf graveyard. It was the waqf institution that fed, educated, housed, washed, and gave medical treatment to the population. It provided people with a livelihood and rescued them in times of natural disaster. They went shopping in the waqf shops, they prayed in the waqf mosques; and the physical features of their city were to a great extent shaped by the waqf. In short, life in Istanbul without the waqf institution was unthinkable.
The transformation era for Islamic philanthropical institutions
If the line of descendants ended, the poor of the Jewish community would become the beneficiaries, a purpose accepted in Islamic Law. If, for some reason, the revenues could not be spent on the poor, then the money should be used for the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. Thus in her waqf, Bannita articulated the seemingly remote possibility that there might one day be either no poor people among the Jews in Jerusalem or no Jews left in the city…That some Jews and Christians saw fit to make endowments according to Muslim law, recorded before Muslim legal authorities, suggests that they acknowledged the strength of Muslim legal institutions in safeguarding their own interests.
The deterioration period of Islamic philanthropical institutions
Education morally and physically is set aside. Notwithstanding…a soup kitchen at Rhodes from which soup is distributed thrice a week to the indigent musulmans, no other pious or benevolent institutions exist on the island. There is no hospital, no infirmary, no asylum; the lame, the blind, the mad, and the old are all left to their fate…(the reformers) have laid their greedy hands on nearly all vakoufs [waqfs] of the empire…Hence, with very few exceptions, we see the heads of mosques and the medressehs in abject poverty, the rabble of religious students in rags, the most beautiful of temples and minarets shamefully neglected and hurrying into decay…It is notorious that since the vakoufs have been administered by the government nothing has been done to maintain the works of public utility.