The Islamic Waqf: Instrument of Unequal Security, Worldly and Otherworldly
55 Pages Posted: 29 Apr 2021
Date Written: April 22, 2021
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: Suggested Citation