By Abdullahi Abubakar Lamido
Waqf, translated as Islamic endowment, simply means a perpetual charity. As a strategic Islamic socio-economic institution, it entails dedicating a benefit-creating or revenue-generating asset for the sustainable provision of free public services to the society – especially for the less privileged. It can be created by an individual, a group of individuals, a corporate body or even a governmental institution. Waqfable asset is that which is legally owned by the endower and is cable of perpetually creating benefit or generating revenues which would be channelled to defined religious or charitable purposes.
From the dawn of Islam passing through the periods of the companions, Umayyads, Abbasids, Ayyubis and the Ottomans, waqf was maximally utilized as a unique instrument for addressing virtually all aspects of societal religious, economic, educational, healthcare and environmental development needs. In fact, what “substantial historical evidence” suggests, as established by Islamic economic historians like Murat Cizakca and before him, Marshall G.S. Hodgson, is that, “waqf, not zakah was the most important institution for redistribution of wealth” in Muslim history.
Historically, waqf has sufficiently financed virtually all aspects of public welfare and developmental needs, especially education and healthcare. To wit, in the area of education, it was used for building schools, libraries, laboratories, student hostels and lodgings for teachers, scholars and researchers. It also funded scholarships, payment of teachers’ salaries and the provision of food, clothing, learning and instruction materials as well as creating conducive teaching-learning atmospheres. Great Muslim Universities were built as waqfs and have continued to be substantially financed from waqf proceeds. It grew so ubiquitous that “A person can be born in a house belonging to a waqf, sleep in a cradle provided by that waqf, be educated in the school of the waqf and read the books provided by it, become a teacher in the waqf school, earn a waqf-financed salary and at his death be placed in a waqf-provided coffin for burial in a waqf cemetery”.
Relating to health, waqf has been used to build hospitals, clinics and medical laboratories which provide a wide range of free medical services, including surgery. It is documented that it was due to the advancement in service provision through waqf that the need was not even felt for governmental ministries or departments for education and health, as these were fully financed by waqfs.
Education and health were not the only areas of waqf interventions. Waqfs sustainably financed all forms of social, economic and community development services including transportation, environmental protection and beautification among others. At some historical epochs, various Muslim nations relied on waqf sources for a substantial portion of their national income. Waqfs were used to finance the building and maintenance of mosques, traveller’s lodgings, orphanages, bridges, water-wells, public conveniences, soup kitchens, roads, street lights and gardens. In fact, in many Muslim communities, waqfs were created for the sustainable provision of all conceivable public welfare services. Until the colonization of Muslim societies, waqf remained a significant contributor to socio-economic development in many Muslim countries. It was colonialism that changed the subject of the formula.
Having realized how waqf provided social, cultural and economic independence to especially Muslim scholars and intellectuals, who incidentally were usually the most resilient class against selfish imperial policies; the colonial “monsters”, implemented well-orchestrated policies that saw to the hibernation of the waqf sector. They syphoned many waqf assets, weakened many, deliberately rendered many irrelevant, and calculatingly destroyed the functioning and autonomy of waqfs by subjecting them to government control. They created governmental ministries that coordinate waqfs, with all the negative consequences of that.
Worth stressing is the fact that western imperialists destroyed the waqf system in Muslim lands only after they had already copied the concept from the Muslim Middle East through the crusaders, and then developed it as an instrument for financing developmental services. In her celebrated 1988 study titled “The Influence of the Islamic Law of Waqf on the Development of the Trust in England: The Case of Merton College”, Monica Gaudiosi established that it was actually the waqf institution that gave birth to the concept of Trusts and Foundations in the West. Modified and enhanced waqf was used to establish great western institutions such as the Merton College which still shares clear similarities with the waqf institution. And except for a few changes in the English law of Trust, most features of waqf have remained unchanged in the western practice of Trusts till date.
Interestingly, for more than two decades now there has been a growing global waqf reawakening. From the Middle East to Africa, and from the West to the East, waqf consciousness has continued to balloon. Despite the big blow that colonialism did to the waqf sector, making it reduced to merely an atomized institution concerned with financing some aspects of the spiritualties, the global Muslim communities have now rejuvenated their commitment to reposition waqf as a dynamic Islamic, third sector socio-economic institution. Waqf is seen and promoted as an engine of poverty reduction, wealth creation and distribution, employment generation and socio-economic development. In 2016, the World Bank noted that if properly harnessed “even if partly”, waqf, alongside zakah, can eradicate poverty in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. For a long time, combine global assets are estimated to be close to USD 1 trillion and growing.
Conversely, the story of waqf in Nigeria is largely different from other Muslim communities like Turkey, Morocco, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and even others like Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. Yes, waqf knowledge and practice have existed in Nigeria for well over a millennium. But for several reasons, including historical, it was not comprehensively institutionalized in Nigeria’s pre-colonial history as a holistic, comprehensive socio-economic institution that provides a wide range of public welfare and developmental services. Its knowledge and practice have largely been reduced to the religious waqf, mostly mosques, cemeteries and religious schools. Even these waqfs, hardly had other revenue-generating waqfs for their sustainable funding as obtained in other climes.
But why should waqf be of great significance to Nigerian Muslims? It is of course factual that poverty is largely a Muslim phenomenon in Nigeria. All official statistics show that the states with the highest poverty rate are the Muslim dominated states. The majority of the Muslim population live in sorry conditions of socio-economic deprivations; poverty, hunger, squalor, illiteracy and poor healthcare. Muslims account for the highest number of out of formal schools and vulnerable children. These – combined with other factors – have resulted in rising insecurity and underdevelopment. For long, the solution to this has been largely viewed by many as the sole responsibility of the government. Only a few have realized that while governments have a great responsibility, Muslims can only alleviate their sufferings if they explore, among other things, Islamic socio-economic institutions in addition to agitating for good governance.
One important instrument that can significantly reduce the poverty and socio-economic backwardness of the Nigerian Muslims is no doubt the waqf institution. The flexibility and dynamism of the waqf institution provide for the mobilization of diverse resources in the forms of cash, landed properties, real estate, and other resources, which would be developed and invested, such that their revenues and fruits would be channelled to developmental services.
Nigerian Muslims already have the potentials for this. The long history of Islamic belief and practice, the enthusiasm of the population towards anything connected to Islam, the high spirit of giving that exist within the rich, middle class and even the masses, the availability of Islamic intuitions such as mosques, Islamic schools and media channels, the prevalence of governmental and non-governmental zakah and waqf institutions, among others, all provide a handy infrastructure that can be explored and utilized in the campaign for a new holistic waqf regime in Nigeria.
Particularly, the growing atmosphere of waqf consciousness among the elites and Islamic scholars, as exemplified in the increased awareness creation and establishment of Islamic charitable foundations in especially the last five to seven years, all point to existing opportunities for making waqf a veritable instrument for socio-economic empowerment. All this can also be added to the vast arable land an array of professionals and intellectuals that the Muslim community is blessed with. It is our opinion that with these and several other potentials, if philanthropic waqf were to be well studied, promoted, institutionalized and maximally harnessed and utilized, poverty would be largely reduced and socio-economic empowerment would be greatly triggered in Nigeria.
In this regard, there is the need to utilize several platforms for waqf discourse such that its potentials would be unearthed, its dimensions analyzed, its impediments examined; goals defined, priorities set and methods of actualizing the dream well spelt out. These platforms should bring together the Islamic scholars, business persons, professionals, community leaders and all important stakeholders to common thinking tables. In the light of this, the AZAWON Newsletter presents itself as a primary platform for debating, dialoguing and analyzing waqf matters (alongside other Islamic social finance instruments).
Scholars, intellectuals, professionals and other concerned citizens are therefore invited to continue contributing articles, reports (written, pictorial or otherwise), opinions, comments and all valuable information that can enrich and smoothen the journey to making waqf a serious business in Nigeria.
Malam Abdullahi Lamido is the Chairman, Zakah and Waqf Foundation, Gombe, Nigeria. He can be reached via email@example.com.