The Traveling Waqf: Property, Religion, and Mobility Beyond China
Islamic Law and Society, Vol. 25, pp. 121-155
35 Pages Posted: 24 Apr 2017 Last revised: 10 May 2018
Date Written: April 24, 2017
For most of their millennial history in China, Muslims have established pious endowments called waqfs that served a variety of functions, including providing land to build mosques. The founding of waqfs radically changed in 1949, when the Communists confiscated land. Recently, a Hui who was performing the hajj in Saudi Arabia discovered a pre-Communist waqfiyya or document that established a waqf in Gansu Province in northwest China. The contemporary Chinese property regime prohibits religious land and hence the waqfiyya is legally void, yet its return afforded the Hui an opportunity to reflect on the relationships between law, lineage, and public goods, laying a foundation for an historical anthropology of Chinese waqfs. Drawing on material from historical Gansu and ethnographic encounters, I argue that whereas shariʿa suffered a kind of “structural death” in China, it does have its own “afterlife,” as illustrated in documents that travel across time and assume new meanings through transnational mobility and memory.
Keywords: waqf, property, inheritance, memory, diaspora, historical anthropology, China
JEL Classification: Z12
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation