Waqf Institutions – Innovative Ways to Infuse Dynamism

Waqf institutions could assume greater role in welfare and development of the community by expanding the ambit of their objective and functioning.

By Syed Tahsin Ahmed

Waqf is defined as a permanent dedication by any person, of any movable or immovable property for any purpose recognized by the Muslim law as pious, religious or charitable. However, it is noticed that a vast majority of Awqaf (plural of Waqf) have restricted their sphere of activities to pious and religious aspects alone. Invariably, the charitable activity is either non-existent or when it does exist in a few institutions, it is not their primary or secondary focus.
The concept of Waqf came into existence during the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) himself. When Hazrath Umar approached the Prophet seeking his advice as to how to make the most pious use of a piece of land in Khaiber which he had purchased, the holy Prophet replied: ‘tie up the property (asl or corpus) and devote the usufruct to human beings, and it is not to be sold or made the subject of gift or inheritance; devote its produce to your children, your kindred, and the poor in the way of God’. Thus, utilizing the income from the waqf for assisting the poor was an integral part of the concept of Waqf.
The thrust towards charitable activities was also given by the Prophet and Masjid-e-Nabvi at Madinah served as its centre. Zakat and sadaqat were deposited in the Baitulmaal. It was the practice of the holy Prophet to have four heads of accounts in the Baitulmaal which should be separate from each other. These were:-
Khums al-Ghanaim: To this head of account, one-fifth of the spoils of war, one-fifth of buried treasures and one-fifth of whatever is mined from different quarries were deposited.
Sadaqat: Zakaath, sadaqath etc. were being deposited under this.
Khiraj and Fai : For deposit of Jizyah and taxes paid by non-Muslims.
Dawai: Proceeds from lost properties, unclaimed properties as well as property left by a person having no heir was deposited under this.
Thus a streamlined procedure was evolved by the Prophet to help the poor and the needy. It continued under the caliphate later. During the caliphate of Hazrath Umar, Baitulmaal became a larger institution and features like stipends for the poor, the unemployed, women who were pregnant or nursing and had no one to care for them. Most accurate records of the animals received in charity by the Baitulmaal were maintained by entering the features, colour and age of the animals.
Baitulmaal in the present scenario
Coming to the present, we notice that a few waqf institutions, more specifically the mosques, have a Baitulmaal functioning as a subsidiary institution. While the managing committee members give all the importance to the functioning and maintenance of the mosque, the Baitulmaal receives step-motherly treatment. The only source of income to the Baitulmaal is through the sale of sacrificial skins during Idul Azha. Some Baitulmaals which are a bit more active collect zakaath amount during Ramazan. Of course, there are a few, or rather very few Baitulmaals which function on a larger scale, but that is an exception, rather than the rule.
A pro-active Baitulmall can take care of the needs of the poor Muslims residing in the vicinity of the mosque to which it is attached. It can help check dropouts from schools, fund the professional and technical education of students, or arrange for their coaching for competitive exams or even help those requiring medical assistance.
The Central and State Governments have begun sanctioning funds for the socio-economic upiftment of the minorities. For better utilization and their percolation to the really need micro-level planning is imperative. The Baitulmaal attached to mosques can come handy for identifying such persons by maintaining ‘Millat Register’ of the residents such as introduced by the Millat Management Society of India in Bangalore.

Role of NGOs and Awqaf

India has made rapid strides in poverty reduction and improvement in literacy since Independence. Inclusive growth which aims at taking the benefits of economic growth to all regions and communities has been the buzzword since 11th Five-Year Plan. The Central Government has around 300 welfare and development programmes, several of them exclusively for the minorities.
A majority of these programmes are implemented through the credible and efficient NGOs. The Sachar Committee Report had lamented the lack or absence of such NGOs among Muslims which could act as service-providers. It has to be realized that a registered Waqf institution can act as an NGO on par with a society, trust or not-for-profit company. In a study conducted by the Karnataka State Minorities Commission in the year 2008, it was revealed that out of the 559 NGOs working for minorities in Karnataka, only 13 were Waqf institutions, although there were 32,000 Waqf institutions in the State. It is indeed shocking.
Since Waqf institutions exist in almost everywhere, and are endowed with considerable infrastructure, they could be roped into implementing the welfare schemes by expanding their ambit beyond purely religious activities. Even the Sachar Report had urged inducting the Waqf institutions into this role.
Innovative Waqfs: Some novel concepts too have been noticed in the Waqf sphere in other countries. For instance, in Bangladesh, Waqf can be created for intellectual property consisting of copyright for books. The Khairun Prokashani Wakf has been created by Moulana Abdur Rahim, a renowned Islmaic scholar. Another scholar Moulana Abdul Khaleq too has dedicated the sale proceeds of 20 of his books towards a Waqf institution.
Cash Waqf: Bangladesh has shown the way for ‘Cash Waqf’ wherein the money pooled in from donors (who are called waqif) is invested in income-generating ventures. The main corpus of fund remains intact while profits from its investments will be spent for charitable purposes, mainly for poverty alleviation, creating jobs or for qarza e hasna. The donations to the main corpus act as sadaqa e jaariya (ever ongoing contribution).
The Cash Waqf was first introduced in the Ottoman era in Egypt and rediscovered and is being successfully implemented in Bangladesh, Malaysia, Singapore and the United States. In contrast to the traditional Waqf where only properties are dedicated for the purpose, Cash Waqf has the advantage of even poor people making small donations. Besides, these waqfs are immune to encroachment, unauthorized occupation, litigation and acquisition by Government. They also have high liquidity whereas landed properties of the traditional waqfs have low degree of liquidity.
Social Islami Bank and Cash Waqf Certificate: Prof. M. A. Mannan, who holds a doctorate from Michigan University has made pioneering effort in bringing in innovative practices in the field of Awqaf in Bangladesh. He has authored a book titled Cash Waqf: Living by giving and sharing and is the founder chairman of the social Islami Bank Ltd (SIBL), Bangladesh.
SIBL is a novel banking model which aims at alleviating poverty and empowering families through social investment based on participatory economy. It has introduced a Cash Waqf Certificate Scheme which provides an opportunity for making investment in different religious, educational and social services. Since these Certificates are of different denominations, even people of lesser means can afford to purchase them.
Perhaps study and emulation of certain of these models could enable the Muslims to expand the ambit of Waqf beyond its conventional sphere. It is time dynamism is injected into the Waqf institution through perpetual innovation.
(The author is a retired Karnataka Administrative Service officer who had three tenures as Secretary cum CEO of the Karnataka Board of Awkafs. He can be contacted at [email protected])


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