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Religious Foundations and Endowments


THE support of religion is a primary duty in Islam as in other religions. The giving of legal alms, called zakat, is one of the five pillars of the faith. It rests rather upon tradition than upon a precept of the Koran (Surah 2: 77) since every detail of its observance is borrowed from the example of the prophet. In its primary sense the word zakat means purification, since the gift of a portion of one's gain or property would purify the remainder. These compulsory alms were in the early days of Islam collected by the religious tax-gatherer, as they still are in some countries. Where Moslems are under foreign rule the rate is paid by every believer according, to his own conscience.

The usual amount is from one-tenth to one-fortieth of one's income; but charitable offerings are also praiseworthy. There are seven classes to whom legal alms may be given, viz. the poor, the homeless, the tax collector, slaves, debtors, religious war, and travelers1. Payment of zakat gives admission to paradise and those who withhold it merit punishment in this world and the next. It is to be paid by every adult Moslem from land-produce, cows, sheep, camels, gold and silver, and regular income of money. The rich are commended for paying the zakat for the poor. The collector of zakat has equal merit as he who takes part in the Holy War.

1 Zwemer's Islam, p.108; Dictionary of Islam, p. 769.

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All of the above details and many besides are listed in orthodox tradition and recorded in the canon law of Islam (Cf. Juynboll and also Wensinck's Handbook of Moh. Tradition, pp.264-267).

The channel through which these legal alms are paid was at first the caliph or imam, but is today the personnel of the mosque as the religious and social center of the Moslem community. The power of the "clergy" is never more real than in the handling and disbursement of religious funds. And in the history of all religions this power was open to abuse.

A recent illustration is found in the regulation of zakat, found necessary by the Netherlands government in its colonial possessions in Indonesia, so largely Moslem. A high government official states: "In the case of zakat, religious taxation, which bears a mark of charity, the government wants to maintain this freedom, the completely voluntary paying of this tax. Any pressure on the collection of the zakat had to be avoided, although it might be done with the best of intentions. Native officials are never allowed to receive any benefit from these voluntary contributions. In those districts where, as in the Sunda Lands, the old adat law prescribes that the taxes shall be collected more or less centrally and where the revenue thus becomes the most important source of income of the personnel of the mosques in the various capitals of the districts and the divisions, there the officials have to guard against malversation during the administration and distribution of the tax proceeds. In cases where part of the tax proceeds is, according to the adat, put into

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the treasury of the mosque, then the administration has to see to it that this money shall be used only for public worship and that not more than is necessary for local needs shall be put into the treasury. For this part is really a reduction of the income of the so-called "clergy" who serve the government in various functions and whose financial position is already far from satisfactory2."

But from the earliest times (when Mohammed was still alive) until our own day, the legal obligatory alms (zakat) led to quarrels, extortion, and other abuses. The tax-collectors were not beloved. They were like the publicans in the gospel record and for similar reasons. (Encyclopedia of Islam, Vol. IV:1204.) "Throughout the Moslem world the regulations about the special zakat at the end of the fast month are observed with particular scrupulousness; the people feel that it is part of the duties of ramadan and will serve to atone for any involuntary negligence during this month." And as it is preferable and customary to give these alms through the collector ('amil) their proper distribution falls to the personnel of the mosque. And they, from the earliest days until the present, have recognized the power of this office. Alms were used to win and re- tam converts. Margoliouth generalizes perhaps too bluntly: "The skill of both Abu Bekr and the prophet was displayed in retaining their hold on this slowly growing company. In the case of the poor it was done by subsidies . . . and we need not doubt that from

2 Government and Islam in the Indies, The Moslem world, Vol. 35:1, 1945, p. 17.

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the first the wealth which he controlled proved useful3." There is a famous verse in the Koran which justifies this practice (Surah 9:60). The Arabic dictionary by Fairozabadi commenting on the phrase "those whose hearts are inclined" to Islam, gives a list of thirty-two chiefs who received presents from Mohammed to make them believers (Vol. II p.118). And there is evidence that the custom of winning over converts to Islam by gifts of money or property continued for many centuries. The chronicles of Islam contain record4 of many cases of Christians and Jews accepting Islam by the sovereign's promise of emolument and honors (Margoliouth). In fact, as Juynboll remarks, tile very Arabic word used in this Koran passage (muallaf), "whose hearts are inclined" has become the common word for convert! Any Christian or Jew could easily pass from the tribute-paying class to the zakat receiving class by turning Moslem in the early centuries.

Also the public-treasury was primarily a religious fund for holy war and propaganda. We must emphasize again that this money was received and controlled for long centuries by the personnel of the mosque - whatever the particular name they bore.

In addition to zakat there were sadaka or freewill offerings made to "the priesthood of Islam," the imam, the mullah, the qadhi. These gifts or fees were for circumcision, at feasts, for writing amulets, funeral

3 Margoliouth's Mohammed, pp.97, 113. Cf. the chapter "Alms to win converts" in Zwemer's The Cross Above the Crescent, pp.89-100.

4 Juynball Islamische Gesetzes, p.106.

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prayers, weddings, etc. Instances are given in detail by Westermarck for Morocco which would also apply to the Near East and India. He lists charms, casting out Ann, circumcision festivals, the 'aqiqa sacrifice, etc5. The most important source of religious revenue, however, is not legal alms nor voluntary gifts but the institution of waqf. Since the time of the prophet, waqf, or religious endowment, has become without exception one of the most important economic questions in every part of the world of Islam. It strikes at the root of all schemes for modern development. In 1869 a Turkish historian wrote that "three-fourths of the real estate in the Ottoman Empire was waqf to the great loss of the treasury of the collateral heirs and of the creditors of the holder6." In Tunis, one-third of the land and in Algeria fifty percent was held by the religious authorities as waqf i.e. inalienable; thus creating an economic problem of the greatest importance at the time of French occupation. If real estate in Moslem countries could only be freed from the shackles of waqi, great advantage would follow both for agriculture and public credit. Drastic remedies have been necessary and have been applied by the governments of India, Algeria, Egypt, Syria, Turkey, and Russia. But the problem is one that touches Islam to the quick because the greater part of waqf-land and other real estate is religious endowment and controlled by the mosque-personnel, call them what you please.

5 See Index Vol.11, Ritual and Belief in Morocco.

6 For this and subsequent references see article by "Jurist" on Waqf Moslem World, Vol.4, pp.173-186.

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The term waqf in Moslem law signifies the dedication or assignment of property (real estate generally) to charitable uses7, in other words endowment. In no respect is the actual power of the clergy in any religion more evident than in tile control of money or land. The mosque as we have already seen is the religious center of the community, and from earliest times pious bequests (waqf, plural auqaf) were donated to the mosques to be perpetually administered. The administrator was often appointed by the donor but in most cases he belonged to the personnel of the mosque8.

As developed by the Moslem jurists this institution differs from all other forms of deed, will or endowment. It is possible that the laws enacted from the time of Abu Bekr were influenced by the Roman Law with which Islam came in touch in its conquests. "The aedes sacrae," says Gatteschi, "were exactly similar to the mosques which are the most strictly legal form of waqf." But according to the laws of Islam the gift is irrevocable and inalienable beyond all question, if it was in favor of a lawful, religious purpose. It becomes the property of Allah. The administrator may not divert the revenues to any other object, nor may the land be sold. If the administrator fails in his duty he may be removed by the qadhi. It is usual for the founder of a waqf to fix a salary for the administrator, from the revenue of the gift. The position of mutawally is therefore a lucrative one9. He, therefore appoints

7 Hamilton's Hidayah, Vol.11, p.334. Encydopedia of Islam, Art.

8 Ibid.

9 Article by "Jurist," Moslem world, Vol. IV, pp.183, 184.

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his children or relatives successors. In 1840 the Imperial Administration of Waqfs in Turkey, had 2000 officials whose salaries were paid out of these revenues; the abuses, anomalies and anachronisms led to attempts at reform10. In Egypt in 1910, the administration controlled 14,886 of these endowments of which the larger part were for religious purposes. For many centuries it was the sphere of the sharia', canon-law, and canon lawyers, of Islam to hold and administer these enormous properties and endowments. With British occupation, French conquest, and colonial administration in India and the Dutch East Indies, remarkable changes took place. Many knotty points of law were involved. In India, for many years judges of alien faith have decided cases of Mohammedan law, and not the least important of these have related to waqf. In 1924 it was estimated that the Ministry of Waqfs in Egypt appointed by the government from the Sheikhs of Al Azhar disbursed a total sum of not less than 750,000 pounds sterling per annum11.

In a letter to the Westminister Gazette, Edward Atkin of Alexandria, Egypt, called attention to the effect of British rule on the administration of waqf. Before the days of Kitchener, these huge foundations were often laxly and dishonestly administered; now they are under a regular department of the government. The correspondent wrote as follows: "Sir, as German agents in Moslem countries have, for many years past, carried on a mendacious campaign against British rule in

10 Ibid. 185.

11Moh. Abu Bekr Ibrahim, The Azhar University, p. 23.

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Egypt, alleging the robbery of religious trusts by Britain was the 'enemy of Islam,' I have taken the opportunity, whilst here on a short visit, to ascertain by the kindness of Ahmed Zaki Pasha, Minister of Waqfs, the figures from the records of the ministry showing the material benefits which have accrued to religious trusts by the more efficient management of estates. For brevity I have selected twenty years as sufficient for comparison. The period is 1895 to 1915. As in India so in Egypt, the trusts of Islam are scrupulously devoted to the uses of mosques, schools, etc., as ordered by decree of the high court or designated in the wills of pious founders:

The Statesmen's Year Book lists among the ministers of the Egyptian Government, the Minister of Waqfs and states that today the main centers of higher Islamic learning under the supervision of the Council and the University of El-Azhar are: The Faculty of Theology, The Faculty of Mohammedan Law, The Faculty of Arabic Language, The Higher Section of El Azhar University together with the following institutions of

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El Azhar, at Cairo, at Alexandria, at Tanta, at Asyut, at Disuk, at Damietta, at Zagazig, at Shebin-El-Kom, and at Kena12. So we see that the principal seat of Koranic learning is still the mosque and University of EI-Azhar, founded one thousand years ago, and that its influence extends over all Egypt and, through its endowments, its graduates and its press to every corner of the world of Islam. The mosque from the outset became an endowed institution not only in Cairo but in every metropolitan centre13.

12The Moslem World, Vol. VIII, p.420.

13Statesman's Year Book, 1941, p.852.

Heirs of the Prophets

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