Keeping while Giving: The Perpetuation of Inequalities through the Islamic Waqf

60 Pages Posted: 29 Apr 2021 Last revised: 22 Jan 2024

See all articles by Fatih Serkant Adiguzel

Fatih Serkant Adiguzel

Sabanci University - Sabanci University

Timur Kuran

Duke University - Department of Economics

Date Written: January 18, 2024


In premodern Western Europe, private philanthropy, including charity, never exceeded one percent of private wealth. In principle, this share could have been greater in other regions, for instance, in the Middle East, where Islamic institutions regulated economic life. In the premodern Middle East, privately endowed trusts known as waqfs used their income partly to finance social services. Because they came to control massive resources, waqfs might have intermediated substantial redistribution. Using an original data set of Istanbul waqf deeds from 1453 to 1923, this paper shows that “regular waqfs”—waqfs ordinarily founded by people outside the sultan’s close circle—served mainly to shelter wealth and to finance prayers for the salvation of founders and their kin. Supplying temporal social services was among their minor functions; and seldom did these services target the poor. Records of waqf functions and expenditures indicate that they could not have alleviated poverty appreciably. In providing material security to prosperous families, regular waqfs perpetuated material inequalities. Among the services that they funded commonly were prayers for expiating the sins of waqf founders and their families. Hence, the intended effects of regular waqfs included the extension of temporal inequalities into the afterworld.

Keywords: waqf, inequality, elite, redistribution, property rights, wealth shelter, philanthropy, charity, social service, religion, afterlife, Islam, Islamic law, Istanbul, Ottoman Empire

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

Suggested Citation

Adiguzel, Fatih Serkant and Kuran, Timur, Keeping while Giving: The Perpetuation of Inequalities through the Islamic Waqf (January 18, 2024). Economic Research Initiatives at Duke (ERID) Working Paper No. 305, Available at SSRN: or

Fatih Serkant Adiguzel

Sabanci University - Sabanci University ( email )

Estambul, Tuzla 34956

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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