The Islamic Waqf: Instrument of Unequal Security, Worldly and Otherworldly

55 Pages Posted: 29 Apr 2021

See all articles by Fatih Serkant Adiguzel

Fatih Serkant Adiguzel

Duke University, Department of Political Science

Timur Kuran

Duke University - Department of Economics

Date Written: April 22, 2021

Abstract

Until the modernizing reforms of the 19th century, the Islamic waqf played a massive role in the economy of the Middle East, the Balkans, and North Africa. Formally, it was a trust founded by an individual; income from the endowed assets financed designated services in perpetuity. The largest waqfs were established by members of high officials of the ruling dynasty to provide social services now supplied by municipalities or charitable corporations. These Islamic “state waqfs” have been the focus of case studies that make the waqf seem mainly a supplier of public goods. Using an original data set consisting of Istanbul waqf deeds from 1457-1923, this paper explores the functions of Islamic “regular waqfs”—waqfs founded either by elites below the top echelon or by commoners. The typical regular waqf had a relatively modest endowment and architectural footprint. In a setting characterized by weak property rights and legal system that favored males, Muslims, and state officials, it was established principally to provide material security to its founder and his or her descendants. Providing public goods was not among its major functions; neither was assisting the poor. Founders belonging to a disadvantaged group, including women, were especially likely to prioritize wealth sheltering. Regular waqfs thus served to perpetuate prevailing worldly inequalities through material security to the wealthy. They also aimed to create inequalities in the hereafter. Their major functions included financing prayers to expiate the sins of founders and their families.

Keywords: waqf, philanthropy, charity, public good, inequality, elite, redistribution, property rights, wealth shelter, religion, Islam, Islamic law, Islamic court, Istanbul, Ottoman Empire

JEL Classification: N95, G51, P50, O53, K11

Suggested Citation

Adiguzel, Fatih Serkant and Kuran, Timur, The Islamic Waqf: Instrument of Unequal Security, Worldly and Otherworldly (April 22, 2021). Economic Research Initiatives at Duke (ERID) Working Paper No. 305, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3836060 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3836060

Fatih Serkant Adiguzel

Duke University, Department of Political Science ( email )

140 Science Drive (Gross Hall), 2nd floor
Duke University Mailcode: 90204
Durham, NC 27708-0204
United States

Timur Kuran (Contact Author)

Duke University - Department of Economics ( email )

213 Social Sciences Building
Box 90097
Durham, NC 27708-0204
United States

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