Sustainable giving through waqf: a view from South Africa

Ismail Munshi and Razina Davids

An ancient form of Muslim philanthropy is being reinvigorated and is adapting to contemporary circumstances

Regarded by many as the oldest university in the world, the Al Qarawiyyin mosque, university and hospital complex in Morocco were all extensions to a waqf donation established by a woman, Fatima al Fihri, in the year 859. By the 12th century, the educational complex alongside the mosque developed into a university and became an important seat of scientific education, attracting scholars from all over the Islamic world and even Christian scholars from Europe, the most prominent of whom was Pope Sylvester II. Al Fihri bequeathed her land to the community by designating it a waqf. In doing so, she gave it the protection that ensures that it still exists today.

What is a waqf?

Waqf (plural awqaf) is a deeply-rooted religious institution designed to boost social solidarity and empower communities. The simplest definition of this age-old tradition is that given by Ibn Qudayma, a 12th century scholar and mystic: ‘…bequeathing the property and dedicating the fruit’. What this implies is that waqf gives charities and gifts permanence and continuity so that people may benefit from them for generations, making it a truly sustainable institution.

 
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