RELIGIOUS FUNDS 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
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
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 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 satisfactory 2."
the earliest times (when
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:
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
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 record 4 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 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, etc 5.
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
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.
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 mosque 8.
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 one 9.
He, therefore appoints 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.
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
In a letter to the Westminister Gazette, Edward Atkin of
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 centre 13.
1 Zwemer’s Islam, p.108; Dictionary of Islam, p. 769.
2 Government and Islam in the Indies, The Moslem world, Vol. 35:1, 1945, p. 17.
4 Juynball Islamische Gesetzes, p.106.
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.
Hamilton's Hidayah, Vol.11, p.334. Encydopedia of Islam, Art.
9 Article by "Jurist," Moslem world, Vol. IV, pp.183, 184.
11 Moh. Abu Bekr Ibrahim, The Azhar University, p. 23.
The Moslem World, Vol. VIII, p.420.
13 Statesman's Year Book, 1941, p.852.